Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top Three's from Colorado

Here is a list of my favorite taprooms, breweries and beers that we, RandumInk and myself, visited and sampled during our trip to the picturesque state of Colorado.
If you have visited any of these places or sampled any of these beers and disagree with my assessment, please feel free to leave a comment. I look forward to reading your comments.

Favorite Taproom

1. Dry Dock
2. Odell
3. New Belgium

Favorite Boulder Bar/Eatery

1. West End Tavern
2. Illegal Pete's
3. The Kitchen Next Door

Favorite Boulder Brewery

1. Avery
2. Mountain Sun
3. Upslope

Favorite Sour Beer

1. Avery's Bad Apple
2. Avery's Ross' Mom
3. New Belgium Tart Lychee

Favorite Colorado Brewery

Favorite Beer

1. Funkwerks - Ron Burgundy
2. Odell - Myrcenary
3. Dry Dock - Apricot Blonde
3. Avery - Lilikoi Kepolo


Friday, June 22, 2012

Fort Collins Brewery Tour

If you ask a beer drinker what the greatest beer city in America is, most answers will include: Portland, OR, Asheville, NC and San Diego, CA. After visiting Fort Collins, CO, I believe it deserves to be mentioned with these other great beer cities. Nestled against the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is home to eight innovative breweries.
The first of the eight breweries that RandumInk and I visited was New Belgium Brewing. The New Belgium brewhouse and taproom is more reminiscent of a ski lodge or ranch home than a brewery. It is a breathtaking building with its bay windows, giant 4 x12 pillars and substantial size. As we entered the taproom, I was shocked at the beauty from old memorabilia (bikes and pictures), the endless enthusiasm from the staff, and the engineering marvels of the draft set-up. I think this was the first time that I saw draft lines come down from the ceiling, but to make things even cooler, the draft lines ran through two giant support pillars. 
After my shock and awe dwindled to the point where I was ready to read the draft list, I decided to get Billy’s Beer, while RandumInk chose the Tart Lychee. Billy’s Beer was essentially an Imperial Hefeweizen or Weizenbock even though they didn’t call it either. At 9.1% ABV, Billy’s Beer was dominated by alcoholic phenols suppressing the traditional banana, clove, and bubble gum qualities. The Tart Lychee, the newest member of the Lips of Faith series, was a delicious sour beer with overtones of lychee and notes of cinnamon. The tartness was accentuated by medium level carbonation, allowing the fruit to resonate up front and through the finish. On a ninety-degree day, this beer truly hit the spot.    
We each decided to get two more tasters. I selected the Valentine Ale and the Cascadian Dubbel and RndumInk selected the Pink Peppercorn IPA and another Lips of Faith beer, Cocoa Mole. The Valentine Ale, a raspberry saison, looked and smelled just like raspberry Kool-Aid with a light, pillowy head. The taste was nice, but it had an artificial quality that didn’t quite jive with my palate. The Valentine Day was a very interesting take on the style, but I think the fruit adjuncts overtook the traditional yeast and funk that most people expect, and enjoy, from saisons. The Cascadian Dubbel was very dry and exploded with roasted malt character. I really enjoyed this American hybrid because the Belgian esters and American hops were nicely balanced.  All-in-all, New Belgium is a drinking experience that I will never forget, but it was time to head to our next stop, Odell Brewing Company
We didn’t have to drive very far from New Belgium to reach Odell’s--thirty seconds was all it took, as Odell's was just down the road. The Odell’s taproom had a much different vibe then New Belgium. While New Belgium was bursting with energy and a visibly business savvy design, Odell’s was more traditional and pub-like, which I really appreciated. Since I didn’t select a hoppy beer at New Belgium, I decided to try the Myrcenary Double IPA, while RandumInk continued to build on his love of sours with the Footloose Blonde Sour Ale. The aroma of the Myrcenary was amazing. It was rich, citrusy, and mildly dank. I was surprised at the clarity of this ale because of its grain bill and hop additions. The taste was everything you want in a Double IPA: massive hop character with just enough malt backbone to keep it from becoming a hop bomb, this ultimately became one of my favorite Double IPAs, and I would place it alongside Sculpin and Double Sunshine
After finishing our pints, we ventured to our third stop, Funkwerks. From the outside, Funkwerks looked more like a Mexican cantina than an all-saison brewery. Its stucco walls are painted bright neon green, a very eye-catching yellow, and hypnotic light blue. Funkwerks, as the name implies, doesn’t make traditional beer or have a traditional beer portfolio. Instead, they specialize in developing and pushing the limits of saisons. We were really excited to taste the ingenuity and creativity of the brewmasters behind this funky beer style. Having watched New Brew Thursday’s interview with the owners, Brad and Gordon, I had envisioned a much bigger facility, but it seems I'd let my imagination get the better of me. Funkwerks, although small, produced arguably the best beer during our Fort Collins brewery tour. 
We decided to get the tasting flight, along with a ten ounce pour each. I was excited to try the Codename: Ron Burgundy. Goulet!!! On the website, it says that the Ron Burgundy is based upon an Oud Bruin recipe, but fermented with a saison yeast and then aged in French oak barrels for several months. The taste of this beer was very complex. Fruit characters, roasty malts, and woodiness all came together each sip. It was absolutely delectable. RandumInk settled upon the Alchemy for his ten-ounce pour, a play on the Belgian tripel that was very light and contained an abundance of citrus notes. I think Emily, my triple expert, would have loved this combination of two Belgian beer styles. We completed our Funkwerks experience with the flight of samples. My two standouts from this five sample flight were the Codename: Farmhouse and the Flagship Saison. Each was a standout for completely different reasons. The Codename: Farmhouse contained a malty character that reminds me of British ales, which complemented the saison qualities very well. Their flagship Saison may be the best American saison I have ever tried. It was the perfect mix of citrus notes, peppery spiciness, and just enough hop character to remind you that it is an American interpretation of the style. It was a fantastic beer from an outstanding brewery. 
To complete our Fort Collins tour, we left Funkwerks and headed into downtown to Equinox Brewing. Equinox Brewing was a very small and intimate brewery. With twelve beers on tap, I needed time to survey the taplist, and I decided to end my tour the same way I started it--with the Supergiant Imperial Hefeweien, Equinox's take on an Imperial Hefeweizen. This wheat beer far exceeded my expectations. It burst with banana flavor and finished dry, which I really enjoyed on the ninety-degree day. The mouthfeel was very creamy and silky, reminding me of Ayinger’s Weizenbock. When compared to Billy’s Beer from New Belgium, the Equinox version was far superior because it contained all the traditional elements of a Bavarian Wheat beer along with American brashness to produce a very bold and unique product. 

I am extremely grateful to RandumInk and his Pops for the tour of a great American beer city. If you love beer and have never made it to Fort Collins, I highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Mad Fermentationist

This past holiday season, my wife gave me a great gift, a homebrew kit. With absolutely no homebrewing experience, I needed to do a lot of online research and reading of homebrewing books to become competent with the equipment. Through all this research, the one online resource that I kept referring to was the The Mad Fermentationist. The Mad Fermentationist documents homebrewing recipes, brewing methodology, and tastings of Michael Tonsmeire's outstanding collection of homebrews. Much of this outstanding beer collection revolves around his fondness of sour ales. Since I developed an affinity for sour ales, I was instantly drawn to keep reading and I have never missed a new post.
With very few "human" resources, I have sent Michael multiple questions via twitter and he always responds promptly with thorough answers (yes, I know there are only 140 characters. He's clever). Recently, Michael posted that he has accepted the position of beer consultant for a new upstart brewery in San Diego, Cal, Modern Times Beer. I wish him all the best with his new beer venture on the west coast. 

Cheers to the Mad Fermentationist!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Saturday at ABCF 2012

After volunteering for the Friday evening session, I was super amped to attend the Saturday afternoon session with SouthernEMBaumbusch and RandumInk. With the possibility of a torrential downpour, we decided to get the Seaport very early hoping to be covered by its colossal overhang. We succeeded and an added bonus, we were extremely close to the front of the line... SUCCESS!! During the next hour, we developed a minor game plan to hit the booths that really sparked our interest. The following are the highlights of this plan and its ultimate demise in the face of delicious craft beer.
As soon as we stepped upon the festival floor, we headed straight for Lawson's Finest Liquids. With all other booths clear of attendees Lawson's already had a line for fifty drooling and salivating beer drinkers. Between the four of us, we were able to try all four offerings: Double Sunshine IPA, Maple Tripple, Knockout Blonde and Permagrin Rye Pale Ale. I sampled the, Maple Tripple, winner of the World Beer Cup silver medal for Specialty Beer in 2012. It was absolutely AMAZING! This brew was a concoction of maple syrup, brown sugar, earthy bitterness and balanced malt character. At 12% ABV, this beer is extremely smooth and surprisingly drinkable. In my opinion, Sean Lawson is among the greatest brewers in the United States with a beer portfolio that must be envious of American brewers. If you ever the chance to buy, drink or sample his products, do so and they wont disappoint.
After multiple sounds of, "That's amazing!" or "Try this," we found DC Brau Brewing Co. on our floor plan and quickly headed in their direction before a line formed. Having returned from DC two weeks prior to the festival, I had already sampled The Citizen and The Public Ale, so I decided to select, On the Wings of Armageddon. This Imperial IPA had a hazy orange hue with a pungent aroma of citrus with a hint of spice. Even in my small sampling glass, the head and its retention were remarkable. This very hop forward ale was an excellent contrast to the sweetness of the Maple Tripple. I have come to really appreciate this brewery and their offerings. I wish them all the best during SAVOR week in DC!

After sampling from these two booths, our plan fell apart, so here are my highlights from the rest of afternoon.    

I was very lucky to find two amazing summer beers Apollo from Sixpoint and Gold Standard Export Kellerbier from Brooklyn Brewery because neither brewery was included in the original "plan." Apollo, a Kristalweizen, was very light, crisp and refreshing. It burst with banana and melon with excellent backing from the light wheat malts. Gold Standard Export, a Keller Bier, had a very nice grain quality that worked extremely well with the lemon zest and tartness.  Garrett Oliver et al. hit a home run honoring this rare and unique beer style.
During the middle of the fest, we noticed that the Cambridge Brewing Company line was very short, so we decided to stop allowing @Baumbusch to sample multiple brews. To our astonishment, the 2010 vintage of Arquebus was still available for tasting. This "summer" barleywine is like none other with its cornucopia of fruit flavors thats includes apricot, pear, melon and apple. These fruits are coupled with subtle oak and vanilla notes creating a very pleasant initial taste. Once these fruits and barrel-aging characteristics wash over the palate, a wave of tartness finalizes the taste profile of this amazing interpretation of the barleywine style.
The biggest surprise of the festival came when we stopped at the Enlightenment Ales booth. Head brewer, Ben Howe, formerly of Cambridge Brewing Company, is now producing three styles of beer, Biere de Champagne (Brut), Table Beer and Saison. While his table beer and saison are well crafted beers, the brut was simply amazing. The labor intensive process of creating this beer style shone with every sip. It was hard to believe that something so refreshing with such a light mouthfeel could reach 11 ABV. White fruits, apple, melon and pear created a fruitiness that worked on levels. WHAT A BEER!   

The ABCF is a great beer event and one that I look forward to every year. I can't wait to see what the Alstrom Brothers and American craft brewers have up their collective sleeves for next year!


Top three beers:

1. Weizen Stout - Rising Tide Brewing Company
2. On the Wings of Armageddon - DC Brau
3. Maple Tripple - Lawson's Finest Liquids

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Friday at ACBF 2012

Sadly, the American Craft Beer Fest has come to a close. It was an amazing two-day experience volunteering Friday for session A and then attending session B on Saturday with SouthernEMRandumink and Baumbusch. Here is a rundown of my highlights from Friday.


I arrived at the festival quite early, 3:00pm, to help set up brewer booths and stations. I know this is weird, but I was both in shock and intimated by these amazing craftsmen and craftswoman. Once I overcame this middle-school giddiness, I spent much of time running around collecting an endless supply of ice and tubs for brewers and district representatives. With tired forearms and a thirsty palate, I decided to scope out the floor hoping to talk with brewers about their products.
My first stop was at Gardner Ale House located in Gardner, MA. Attracted by the name, Downtown Smokey Brown, I starting asking questions focusing on the "smokey" part of the beer's name. The head brewer, Dave Richardson, explained how he experimented with many types type of wood and smoked malt settling with Cherry Wood because he felt it imparted a subtle smoke quality that complimented the malt backbone of this delicious brown ale. Cheers to experimentation!!!
Next, I ventured to the section of the floor that I would visit time and time again, the DC Brau Brewing booth. Their four beers, The Citizen, Penn Quarter Porter, On the Wings of Armageddon, The Corruption and The Public were perhaps the best overall portfolio at the festival. Later, during the festival on a break from pouring, I talked for ten minutes with the crew about their beer and beer culture in DC. What a great experience!
These amazing experience continued as I meandered through the convention center. With one volunteer standing at the Cambridge Brewing Company booth, I ventured over to view what they would be pouring during the festival. I was stroked to see that Mass Appeal, Ozymandias and Arquebus 2010 were available for sampling. As I read the signs, assistant brewer, Sean Nolan and the volunteer began discussing the brewing intricacies of Mass Appeal. Sean Nolan's enthusiasm about this beer was contagious, so I politely waited to enter into the conversation. We conversed about the citrus that went into the beer and the fact that he and colleagues learned that zesting/peeling a kumquat (I think...) is much more difficult than they initially envisioned. The conversation finished with Sean giving us a rundown of the five yeast strains that were used to ferment the official Boston Craft Beer Week beer (one yeast strain from Idle hands, Night Shift, CBC, Mystic and Enlightenment), which I wish I could remember more of because his knowledge was staggering.
My one of final stop before tickets holders entered the floor was at Night Shift Brewing. Here, I had the opportunity to finally taste Viva Habanera, an ale brewed with agave nectar and habanero peppers. The combined spiciness from the rye malts with the addition of habanero peppers to secondary fermentation provided an excellent level of spiciness without the vegetable quality of the pepper. I am a huge fan of Night Shift and I wish them all the best in the coming months.
After sampling this amazing pepper beer, I quickly returned to my booth, Left Hand Brewing for the arriving festival goers. The five beers that we, Brain Sweeney and I, poured were Juju Ginger, Smoke Jumper, 400 Pound Monkey, Fade to Black Vol #3 and the absolutely amazing flagship, Milk Stout. Our booth was slammed for the entirety of the session. It was great to talk with patrons about their beer tastes and to see their reactions to this well crafted beer. I especially enjoyed when patrons asked for my opinion and I got to delve deeper and explain various nuances of the beer to help them make a selection for sampling.
It was a welcomed sight when my "pour replacer" arrived because this meant I had thirty minutes to sample more delicious beer. I walked directly to Rising Tide Brewing Co where I started a conversation  with head brewer, Nathan Sanborn. Much of conversation revolved around, Ursa Minor, an amazing weizen stout. I asked about the recipe, percentage of wheat malt and why he decided to use wheat rather than oatmeal. He was extremely personable offering very thorough answers which I really appreciate. Cheers to Nathan and his crew! Can't wait until their beer reaches Boston.
My final stop of the night was NoDa Brewing Co, which conveniently, was located adjacently with Rising Tide. Here, I sampled Coco Loco Porter, Ghost Hop White IPA and Monk's Trunk. All of Chad Henderson's products were exquisitely balanced allowing all components of the beer to shine through. As I was sampling my last selection, Monk's Trunk, I noticed Chad blended it with Ghost Hop for himself. I asked if I could also try a sample and he obliged and am I sure glad that he did. This blend of hops, Belgian esters, and the creamy mouthfeel of a Witbier was one of my favorite things that I tasted over my two-day experience.