Colorado is always such a wonderful place, even outside of all the delicious beer...but the beer definitely helps. The weather was pleasant and among all the drinking I also got to enjoy the outdoors with a nice four hour, 7.6 mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to the drinking and hiking, I also had the benefit of brewing with two friends up there, which was the first time I had ever brewed with somebody other than my wife. It was interesting to see other brewers' processes and equipment. They have a gravity-based system using keggles and a cooler mash tun. I helped them work out a hazelnut porter recipe that smelled delicious going into the fermenter. They are ambitious about entering the pro brewing world. You can check out their website at http://tinyassbrewery.com/.
In addition to some great brewery visits, I also enjoyed some beers beyond their own brewery doors and some of them deserve a shout out. Even if you don't care much for beer reviews, please check out the last one. It's a really crazy but amazing beer.
- Wynkoop's Patty's Chile Beer - although I actually drank this at Breckenridge's Alehouse in Denver (which has great food and beer), I meant to try this beer last time I was in Colorado since I actually went to Wynkoop. Unfortunately, I didn't like this beer as much as some of the other chile beers around the state. It had some heat but the chile flavor was a combination of fresh anaheim and ancho chile. I thought the heat was in a strange place of either needing more or less. The chile flavor had a nice complexity from the combination of fresh and smoked chiles but I didn't find the combination personally appealing. I think the anaheim could be better replaced with something more flavorful like poblano or hatch chiles (although hatch chiles are an anaheim variant, they seem to be packed with way more flavor). Anaheim chiles, to me, seem to be barely more chile-flavored than bell peppers, which are extremely mild.
- River North Unified Theory - This beer hails from a Denver brewery but I drank it at the very excellent LoDo Denver restaurant Freshcraft. It is an oak-aged imperial wit. I don't normally venture into the imperial wit category (if that even is a category) because it is usually a code for an extremely hoppy wit-like beer that aggressively hops and aggressively spices the beer which makes it loose all the delicate flavors and sessionability of a good wit. However, this beer was quite interesting. It clocks in at just 23 IBUs but the bitterness balanced the malt sweetness with only a hint of hop flavor or aroma coming through. At 8.5% ABV, it needs that extra kick of bitterness for balance. The oak provided some nice vanilla notes that played well with the spices. The spices were definitely more aggressive than a normal wit but thankfully it wasn't all corriander. The spices were a combination of citrus-y corriander and orange peel with earthy spices and yeast notes. Although the wheat-y flavor was a little lost in everything else going on, it was a tasty beer. My only criticism is that the blend of oak notes, yeast flavors and spices seemed slightly disjointed, but maybe that is intentional because I kept having to go back to the beer to take sips and try to pick out and enjoy each flavor. Maybe some additional time or slight adjustments to the spice profiles would make this beer reach perfection in my opinion but as it is I would definitely drink it again.
- Russian River Consecration - This delicious sour dark ale was my second RR beer ever and my first RR sour. Delicious and not at all over-hyped IMO. I found this beer on tap at The Cheeky Monk in Westminster just outside of Denver. At $11 for a half pint it was pricey but worth it. I had hoped to bring home some RR bottles but the only ones I found around the liquor shops was Damnation but I have a bottle in my cellar from my last Colorado trip. Anyway, this delicious beer screams complexity and sour in a way I can only hope to come close to with my own sours (yes, I know MoreBeer has the Consecration kit, but I mean more for my own process). The sourness is upfront with a blend of the soft sourness of lactic acid but a more tart, cutting edge of acetic acid that really made those currant flavors stand out. Slight brett funk plays well with the chocolate, Cabernet, spice and earthy, tobacco-like notes. As excited as I was to taste this beer and as incredible as it is, I'm going to tell you now I had a couple of beers that stood above Consecration as my favorites on this trip.
- Lost Abbey 10 Commandments - This was my first Lost Abbey beer, but I wasn't really enjoying it. Ten Commandments is Lost Abbey's upgraded Abbey Ale taking it from a dubbel to sort of a quad. Unlike most quads that feature a lot of sweetness and those dark candy sugar flavors, this beer had some sharp acrid notes and an overpowering amount of raisin that made it taste like caramelized raisins taken to burnt. I could see how this beer would appeal to fans of imperial stouts and robust porters with the sharper dark malt flavors but it wasn't for me. Before any Lost Abbey fans get their feathers ruffled, let me say that they really redeem themselves with another Lost Abbey beer I had that I'll discuss later. My wife also tried Inferno Ale and really enjoyed it. We also brought home a bottle of Carnevale Ale, so I haven't given up on Lost Abbey after one beer.
- The Bruery Mischief - We don't get Bruery beers in Texas, so I was happy to see this beer also on The Cheeky Monk's draft list. This Belgian Golden Strong Ale was enjoyable on many fronts. It definitely follows in Duvel's path but has it's own flavor profile. The pear and pepper notes stand out but there's a good malt backbone and some other interesting citrus flavors going on. Mischief is dry hopped with American hops, which is responsible for those citrus flavors. This beer definitely benefits from a warmer serving temperature. At first the beer was good but as it warmed up the flavors really developed and I went from liking it to loving it. The Bruery labels this beer as "hoppy" but it's a little misleading. The beer doesn't come across any more hoppy than Duvel. Those citrus flavors could just as easily be yeast or fruit-derived. None of the usual hop flavors come through in a way that suggests the beer is more hoppy than the style's standards.
- Firestone Walker Double Double Barrel Ale - I got to sample this incredible beer at Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids in Longmont. Double DBA is a barleywine-strength version of FW's standard Double Barrel Ale, which is a nice English bitter-style ale. DDBA is a very reputable beer for good reason. Hoppy in every sense, it favorably lacks the enamel-stripping bitterness of many west coast hoppy beers. DDBA has a notable bitterness but the hops also make a pleasant addition of flavor and aroma to an interesting but easy to drink blend of English malts. The oak notes add some smoothness and flavor to the beer, making it easily one of the best barleywines I've ever tasted. I would happily enjoy this beer again but sadly this is another west coast brewery we just don't receive in Texas.
- Breckenridge Brewing Agave Wheat on cask with orange tea and elderberries - yeah, read all of that together again. They really served that. Actually, I enjoyed this beer at Breckenridge's Alehouse at Amato's. Breckenridge very wisely has an expanded presence in Denver that includes a couple restaurants (the Alehouses) that serve tasty food and a solid lineup of beers that feature many Breckenridge beers but also a good mix of other beers. They also keep a cask offering, which was calling out my name before I even knew what was on tap. When I want a wheat beer, I usually reach for a weizen-style beer but I was intrigued by the idea of a wheat beer on cask. Even more intriguing was the cask additions of orange tea and elderberries. This beer was one of my top two beers of the trip. It arrived in the usual copper color with a nice foamy head. The smell was complex and almost chai tea-like. The flavor was an avalanche -- excuse the pun, if you can -- of complexity. The wheat presented the perfect background for the rest of the flavors. The agave took a backseat to the citrus and elderberry. The tea provided tannins and some extra bitterness to help offset what could have otherwise been a beer too sweet to really enjoy. The wheat beer was definitely very different on cask. Lacking the sharper carbonation, the sweetness of wheat can become cloying and the mouthfeel can get a little too dense but the tea helped add balance to the sweetness and the dense mouthfeel actually encouraged slow sipping to enjoy teasing out the different flavors. If there was ever a beer to convert those who refuse beer in favor of wine or mixed drinks, this would be it; but the beer had such a great flavor and depth it should not be dismissed as a "chick beer" or competitor in the nasty, overly sweet malt beverage market for women a la Zima or Smirnoff Ice.