Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A visit to Funkwerks

After six years in Durango and multiple trips to the Denver-Boulder area, I finally made it to Fort Collins recently to check out some of city's craft brewers.

A lot of craft-beer fans would have made a beeline to New Belgium Brewing, the third-largest craft brewer in the nation by production volume, trailing only Boston Beer Co. (maker of Sam Adams) and Sierra Nevada Brewing.

Instead, we steered to a craft brewer that's relatively new, small and interesting. Funkwerks was founded in 2009 by an accomplished homebrewer, Gordon Schuck, and an accountant, Brad Lincoln.

(It's interesting how many craft brewing partnerships involve one dude who really knows beer paired with another dude who can keep a business running).

Schuck is a Belgian beer geek who won a gold medal at the 2007 National Home Brew Competition for his saison. His brewery reflects that — every beer on tap is Belgian-inspired.

A lot of breweries take a crack at a saison, but only a few make these beers the center of their breweries (The Bruery in southern California and Upright Brewing in Portland, Oregon come to mind). The rise of these sorts of breweries that focus on one style is a major trend in craft brewing the past five years or so.

Funkwerks occupies a space abandoned by Fort Collins Brewery. It's a nice spot, with a good patio and a shady tree, a just-right modern-feeling tasting room and plenty of space in the back to do the dirty work. The brewing goes down on a 15-barrel system.

I had the $8 sampler, which I'd recommend. It will get you the whole range of their beers (seven on tap during my visit), poured into Belgian globe glasses. It's a substantial portion of beer, and you'll want to be prepared for it.

Funkwerks' flagship beers are its saison and white, both bottled in 750 ml wine-style bottles. These are understated beers. Neither is the best of its kind I've ever had. Rather, they're just nice Belgian-style ales that go down easy, with inoffensive flavorful profiles.

Their best beers were their lightest and their heaviest. Their light one, appropriately named Casper, is 5 percent ABV and light as a ghost. It was wonderfully refreshing for a hot summer day.

The heavy entry was Maori King, an 8 percent ABV imperial saison with a depth of flavor not found in the standard saison (6.8 percent ABV). Interestingly, it uses Rakau hops, a New Zealand variety of which I was heretofore unacquainted. Promising, this one.

Fortunately, Maori King is Funkwerks' next bottled beer, joining the white and saison due to popular demand (at last tweet, Funkwerks had bottled Maori King and was waiting for labels to arrive, which shouldn't take long). Their bottled beers are available in the Denver area. My guess is it'll be awhile before we see them down in our corner.

Funkwerks isn't quite yet at the level of Upright or The Bruery, for example. But I love where they're going. Fine Belgian-style beers are a joy, and the Denver area was due for a niche Belgian brewery like Funkwerks. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

It'll be fun to see what Funkwerks does next.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wheelsucker Wheat release Saturday

On Saturday, Wheelsucker Wheat Ale will be released at Ska Brewing Co. as the brewer-bicyclists arrive from their five-day, 470-mile tour of Colorado.
This is the third year of the bicycle tour first organized by Ska and Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder. The ride continues to grow, with participation this year by cyclists from Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons and Sierra Nevada Brewing of Chico, California.
"Craft beer isn't about getting rich and cutthroat business practices; it's about following your passions and doing what you love, it's about being part of your local community and working with people who are just as psyched to be in the business as you are," Adam Avery, president and co-founder of Avery Brewing, said in a news release.
Each evening along the tour, the brewers are teaming up with other craft breweries along the course to hold fundraising parties, with profits from pint sales, raffles and auctions going to local charities.
Participating breweries along the route include Tommyknocker Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery, Eddyline Brewpub, The Brick Oven Restaurant, Ouray Brewing and Colorado Boy Brewery.
"We’ve had quite a few brewers from around the country express interest in this," said Dave Thibodeau, Ska's president and co-founder. "I think it has the potential to become huge, whether it remains a brewer’s tour and another fun way to hang out with fellow brewers while trying to make a positive difference in our communities, or one day possibly opens to the public.”  
Last year Oskar Blues joined Avery and Ska on the tour. Steve Grossman and others from Sierra Nevada Brewing are also joining their Colorado brewing brethren, the first time a non-Colorado brewer has joined the ride.
The tapping party begins at 2 p.m., Saturday, July 21. Proceeds will go to the La Plata County Safe Roads Coalition
Wheelsucker Wheat Ale is a strong, flavorful wheat ale brewed by Ska and Avery. It won Beer at 6512's inaugural Beer of the Year award in 2009. Check out that post for details on the beer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ska Brewing loses in L.A.

The crack beer journalists at Beer at 6512 (ahem) rarely post a full press release. But as press releases go, this one from Ska Brewing Co. is a gem, and heavy editing would only kill the humor. We have here perhaps the definitive beer competition humblebrag. Take a look:

Judging has been completed in the 2011 Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition, and Ska Brewing didn’t win a single medal, or even an honorable mention. Despite winning gold and silver medals in the 2010 competition, Ska came up empty-handed this year.

“Our friends at Odell Brewing and Lagunitas Brewing won medals,” said Dave Thibodeau, Ska Brewing President and Co-Founder. “Last year we won two medals in L.A… Samuel Adams Light won a medal. How am I supposed to tell our shareholder about this?”

Despite recently winning two medals at the Australian International Beer Awards—a silver for Modus Hoperandi, and a bronze for ESB, out of 1195 total entries—Thibodeau remained strangely focused on the loss. The medals in Australia weren’t the only recent wins, either, with Ska winning a silver medal at the Denver International Beer Competition for Buster Nut Brown Ale, and a two medals at the North American Beer Awards—a gold for Pinstripe and a bronze for Steel Toe Stout.

“We’ve actually been winning a lot of medals this season, but this loss at L.A. is all I can think about,” said Bill Graham, Ska Co-Founder and Overlord of Brewing Operations. “I know [Ballast Point Brewing’s] Sculpin IPA is a nearly perfect IPA, but I thought Modus would bring home some hardware. Nebraska Brewing didn’t even name their IPA. I don’t know where the justice is in this crazy mixed-up world.”

According to well-placed sources, Ska has actually won as many competition medals this season as they ever have, including a previously unmentioned bronze for Modus Hoperandi IPA and a silver for ESB at the AmeriCAN Craft Beer Festival.

That fact notwithstanding, Thibodeau insisted on putting out a press release about Ska’s “loss” in L.A.
According to a Ska PR manager who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, Thibodeau didn’t even want to make the release funny, or poke fun at beer competitions in general. “Press releases are supposed to show your company in the best possible light,” said the source. “No one here listens to me. We’ve been winning things left and right, and all these guys can think about is not winning at one event. I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 5 Colorado summer beers

A great summer beer must be light. It must be refreshing. It must also be flavorful and interesting. In Colorado, where the winters are long and cold and the summers are sunny and beautiful, craft breweries have the summer beer dialed in. The five beers pictured above and praised below represent the best Colorado summer beers.

All five represent different styles and separate breweries. Three are ales, two are lagers. Two are from Durango; three are from the Front Range. Two are Belgian-inspired, two are German-inspired and one is Mexican-inspired. Two are strictly summer seasonals, while the other three are light beers brewed year-round.

This isn't a definitive ranking. But it gives you an idea of the quality and breadth of summer beers in Colorado.

1. Great Divide Colette
7.3 percent ABV

It was a pleasant surprise when Great Divide Brewing of Denver started bottling a first-rate saison in six-packs. Before Colette, it was impossible to find a saison locally that wasn't sold in expensive bomber bottles.

The price would be irrelevant if the beer weren't great. Fortunately, Colette, a summer seasonal, is among the best saisons anywhere. This tasty Belgian-inspired farmhouse ale took home a silver medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

Saisons are wonderful, yeasty beers that manage to be light and refreshing and extraordinarily flavorful. Colette is as good as it gets. (Full review here).

2. Ska Mexican Logger
4.2 percent ABV, 18 IBUs

It's difficult to make low-alcohol beers like Ska's Mexican Logger carry much flavor, because alcohol acts as a sort of wave on which flavor can ride.

While Mexican Logger is light in alcohol, this little beer punches far above its weight. The deliciousness that is Ska's Mexican Logger defies explanation. Just drink it. (Full review here).

3. Left Hand Polestar Pilsner
5.5 percent ABV, 33 IBUs

The folks in Longmont got something right when they brewed their Polestar Pilsner. This lager has a perfect amount of hopping that doesn't get in the way of the funky yeast flavors. Delicous. Refreshing. Not to be missed.

4. Steamworks Colorado Kolsch
4.8 percent ABV, 17 IBUs

Not long ago, I found myself sharing an affordable $8 pitcher of Colorado Kolsch at Steamworks' bar in Durango. It was a hot day, and this ale was everything I needed at that moment in time. This kolsch is another beer that manages to be very flavorful while relatively low in alcohol.

It's also one of Steamworks' signature beers, and one of the cooler cans (or bottles) around, featuring the Colorado flag.

5. Avery White Rascal
5.6 percent ABV, 10 IBUs

A fantastic Belgian-style witbier from the consistently excellent Avery brewery in Boulder. These sorts of Belgian-style wheats are tough to pair with food, but they're great on their own and with some foods.

There's a nice hint of citrus along with ample Belgian yeastiness. This Rascal is worth confining in your refrigerator, until you can let it runneth over the top of your glass.

Please feel free to argue in the comments below. I tasted all five of these with my wife and a friend. My wife would have ranked White Rascal and Polestar Pilsner up top. My friend would have ranked the pilsener lower. Others would have included local favorites Durango Wheat and Carver's Raspberry Wheat. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Steamworks servers get beer educated

Steamworks Brewing Co. servers have been undergoing a mass education in beer and food pairings, styles and brewing knowledge.

Forty-five of the brewpub's servers have gone through the Cicerone certification program to become what the organization calls "certified beer servers."

In essence, Steamworks aims to have 45 beer sommeliers able to guide customers in their choices.

“Anyone can call themselves a beer expert,” Steamworks co-founder Kris Oyler said in a news release. “But when consumers want just the right beer, they usually need assistance from a server who really knows beer flavors, styles and brands. A Cicerone can assist.”

Oyler is leading by example, earning his beer server certification. He continues to study for the Certified Cicerone exam.

This is something new and interesting. It once again shows the beer world following in the footsteps of wine, where sommeliers are trained to pair various red and white wines with certain foods. There's a danger in taking things too seriously, but it can't hurt to have servers who know what they're serving.

The program probably only makes sense for restaurants that take craft beer seriously. Production-focused breweries wouldn't have much use for beer sommeliers.

Steamworks' "certified beer servers" have shown proficiency in beer storage, sales and service; beer styles and culture; beer tasting and flavors; brewing ingredients and processes; and pairing beer with food. To earn the Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone designations, beer servers must demonstrate more comprehensive knowledge in all the aforementioned areas.

“Many consumers don’t know the difference between a pale ale and a lager, or a stout and a porter, let alone what flavors are found in a hefeweizen or K├Âlsch,” Oyler said. “Education is an important part of the Steamworks culture, so the Cicerone certification program has provided us with a structure to help ensure our servers have top-notch skills, which they can then share with our patrons. We want all expectations to be met when people drink a Steamworks beer.”

In addition to Oyler, Steamworks staff members earning the certified beer server designation are: Aaron Albosta, Jesse Armer, Ken Baker, Mike Brace, Jen Burgstahler, Stevonna Chavez, Nicole Clark, Sean Clark, Ben Colia, Stephanie Dieter, Theo Dillingham, Cassie Farr, Lea Gibbens, Landon Griffin, Jason Haley, Joel Hayes, Brandon Herrera, Chip Hosfeld, Marc Howard, Stevi Jaworsky, Steve Kammerer, Wilson Lawrence, Josh Lengner, Ken Martin, Katie Matney, Brian McEachron, Shirley Melton, Sean Moriarty, Sena Nissen, Sabrina Olsen, Derek Raimo, Rick Rivera, Spencer Roper, Mitra Sabeti, Jorge Sanchez, Keara Sandy, Devin Schuck, Brian Skyles, Erin Skyles, Lauren Turner, Shelton Urquidez, Alice White, Dave Woodruff and JD Zent.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

A San Juan IPA and Old Glory on the rooftop of Ouray Brewery, July 1.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Comparing Colorado pilseners

Thanks to W.J. Doyle Wine & Spirits, a new Durango liquor store that lets customers mix six-packs, I recently had the chance to compare two tasty Colorado pilseners side by side.

Pilseners are light lagers, originally from the Czech Republic and later Germany, with substantial hopping and a crisp finish.

The pilseners both come from northern Colorado breweries with good track records of producing high-quality craft beer: Left Hand Brewing Co. of Longmont and Avery Brewing Co. of Boulder.

Left Hand's Polestar Pilsner comes in at 5.5 percent ABV and 33 IBUs, using Magnum, Mt. Hood and Sterling hops along with Weyerman pilsner and pale two-row malt. It's distributed in 12-ounce bottles.

Avery's Joe's Premium American Pilsner is less boozy but more hoppy, at 4.7 percent ABV and 42 IBUs. It's brewed with Magnum and Hersbrucker hops and unspecified two-row malt, and distributed in 12-ounce cans featuring the image of a gangster-looking dude.

Both beers pour a pale yellow with an off-white head. The pilseners taste differently, though. The Left Hand pils is funkier and yeastier, with moderate hopping. The Avery pils is cleaner but much more aggressively hopped.

Both are good beers. I slightly prefer Left Hand's funky complexity to Avery's big hop taste, but to each their own. You can't go wrong with pilsener, a fantastic style for summer.

The Fourth of July tends to be an industrial lager holiday. I'm sure the liquor stores will sell plenty of Coors and Budweiser. But if you want to keep it craft, and you should, pilsener is an excellent option.