August 20, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 2

Well, I meant to get this posted over the weekend but what was supposed to be a nice weekend of studying and a little beer drinking turned into a disaster as one of my cats developed a urinary tract infection and starting pissing blood all over the house, then the lamp in the TV blew out and the battery in one of our cars died. So I got really far behind on the weekend. On a positive note, I am having good luck culturing the Dupont strain out of a bottle of Saison Dupont that's going in my spelt saison later this week.

So moving back to better times in sunny Colorado, our first beer stop was in Denver where a lot of breweries and beer bars are popping up in the trendy LoDo and HiDo districts. Denver is definitely giving Fort Collins a run for its money as the Colorado beer capital. Although Breckenridge seems to have smartly diversified itself across the city, there seems to be plenty of thirst to go around.

Denver Beer Company

Our first Denver stop was the obviously-named Denver Beer Company for their first anniversary party. DBC is located just on the fringe of a trendy shopping area in what looks to be an old auto garage. They have nicely developed a fairly small building into a brewery and tap house with some seating outside with hops growing overhead, creating a nice beer garden feel, especially when the bay doors are opened. The anniversary party was fun, there was a good crowd, some food trucks and a band to accompany the festivities. The actual brewing area seems very small. I'm not sure what volume they can brew but I would be surprised if they were brewing on more than a 3BBL system.

Their beers were interesting although not always particularly competitive with established Colorado breweries. The IPA was barely reaching the top of the pale ale category in terms of hop aroma, bitterness, or flavor. The stout was very average. They make a rauchbier which was a nice lager with a solid smoke flavor without being overwhelmingly smoky. It was smoky enough to appease a rauchbier fan but not so overloaded with smoke to turn away a more casual drinker. DBC also makes a kaffir lime wheat beer that we didn't try but I heard from many people is a great beer.

The most interesting beers we tried were their graham cracker porter and an imperial version of the same beer. The graham cracker porter had some very clear maple and biscuit-cracker flavors hidden in the beer. If somebody handed it to me and didn't tell me what it is I would figure out it was a porter but I'd have to do some work putting the maple and biscuit-cracker elements together. Knowing it was a graham cracker porter, my mind put the flavors together almost right away. It was a pretty good beer. I think some people would like the beer better if the graham cracker elements were more potent and up front but I still enjoyed the beer. The imperial version was somewhat strange. The graham cracker elements were largely lost behind more bitterness, more chocolate malt and more alcohol. The maple and biscuit-cracker flavors would sometimes dart out in the background of the beer. I wish they had imperialized the graham cracker element more rather than trying to fit those elements into what was almost a robust porter.

The biggest takeaway for me is that they share a real homebrewer's approach to brewing. Rather than brew the same beer 1000 times in as large of quantities as they can, they intentionally brew small batches and rotate through various recipes and just sell whatever they want through their tap house and whatever accounts they have. That cuts both ways. On one hand, brewing doesn't get boring and you can brew whatever the hell you want. On the other hand, if your recipes aren't perfected, then you're selling a lot of imperfect beers and making a questionable name for yourself in a very competitive market. I felt like most of the recipes were really early in the perfection process and might have been too young to be brewed and sold. I know many breweries constantly tweak recipes for months or even years to dial it in perfectly, but I wonder if they started the brewery with solid recipes or started the brewery and then starting working on recipes.

I wonder about their viability without having a stable line up that people can learn to love. It sounds like the kaffir lime wheat is gaining traction as a fan favorite but if it's rarely around, it's hard for people to want to go from something more pedestrian like a lime wheat to trying out a fresh hop IPA or rauchbier (both beers they brew). It's an interesting model and should be remain in business as the market gets continuously more competitive, it might prove to homebrewers looking to go pro that it is possible to go pro and just brew whatever you want, whenever you want.

But hey, my rambling thoughts can't be taken too seriously as criticism of their beers or business model because they are a year old and had a packed house all day. So good for them. I'm glad I got to go, try their beers and get a slight sense of how they operate. (If you know more details about the brewery, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.)

After Denver Beer Company we hopped to Alehouse at Amato for some beer and food but since I already talked about that great cask conditioned Agave Wheat with citrus tea and elderberries in the last post I'll move on.

Great Divide Brewing Company

We do get some of the Great Divide beers in Texas, especially the Yeti series, which Great Divide is most and best known for. Rightfully so, the Yeti is a good imperial stout that hinges more on the malt side than the hops. Great Divide also makes some other good beers. In particular, my wife and I really like Hoss, their rye lager. Sadly, for whatever reason we don't get it in Texas (probably a legal issue). We also tried Hades, their Belgian Golden Strong Ale, which was good. We brought back a bottle of each, because we also do not get Hades in Texas. We also liked Wolfgang, their doppelbock, another beer not distributed in our hood. Some of the other offerings were less of a hit. We weren't a fan of the scotch ale. It was lackluster.

I had hoped to take a tour of Great Divide but timing just wasn't on our side this trip. Ultimately, I had a ridiculously bad experience at Great Divide. The bartenders in the tap room had some issue serving us because we were getting hardcore ignored and when I tried to place an order, halfway through the bartender just walked off. Yeah, they were busy, but not so busy they wouldn't even make eye contact with us for a good fifteen minutes while they served people who had just walked up to the bar. It's too bad because I'd probably go back to the taproom on future visits to Denver but I don't really feel like vacation is a good time to be treated poorly (is there ever a good time for that?) and I can find the beers all over town.

Copper Kettle Brewing Company

Copper Kettle is a small brewery operating out of a working class neighborhood beyond the trendier areas of downtown and near downtown Denver. Their tiny three barrel system should not be overlooked. They make a combination of exotic beers only a homebrewer could love along with some staples. What's interesting is that unlike the beer bars in trendier areas, packed with beer geeks, the tap room here was filled with locals. To them, this gem is just the local watering hole. Although I wanted to stop in and sample some of their other beers, it was getting late and we had other plans so we stopped in to grab a growler of the 2011 GABF vegetable beer category gold winning Mexican Chocolate Stout. Still an excellent beer. Seriously, if you find yourself trying to hunt down a beer gem in Denver, visit the unassuming Copper Kettle for some great and well-priced beer.

Left Hand Brewing

After giving ourselves a day to recoup with a 7.6 mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, we ventured out to Longmont where we visited Left Hand and Oskar Blues' Homemade Liquids & Solids. (As an aside, I'd really like to hit the brewery and tap room and Oskar Blues next time. They serve all kinds of weird one offs in the tap room.) At Left Hand's tap room I enjoyed the Sawtooth ESB on cask (the best way to drink it) and a dark mild that I really wish they would bottle. My wife had a taster flight and tried their Oktoberfest, which was slightly above average and their hefeweizen, which I felt was lacking in some yeast flavor and body, which seems to be typical of many domestic hefeweizens. While at Oskar Blues, I tried Left Hand's Hopfenweiss, another that seems not to receive bottling treatment. Hopfenweiss, a take on the hoppy weiss-style beers, was superb. It wasn't really hoppy but there was some nice hop flavor. Most notably, unlike the hefeweizen, it had great yeast flavor and solid, thick hefeweizen mouthfeel. Hopfenweiss was one of my favorite beers on the trip, probably my second or third favorite. I would be extremely happy if Left Hand would bottle this beer (or at least send me a growler).

Left Hand gets a lot of credit, deservedly, for Milk Stout but really Left Hand makes a lot of excellent beers and they probably don't get enough credit for their other beers. They make a lot of English-focused beers (with some good German beers here and there) and I think really dominate in that market but English-styles are often subordinate to American versions of the same or similar beers and struggle to compete in hype with Belgian and American styles (which are both all the rage, as you know...). So keep on keeping on, Left Hand. Fight the good fight.


Ok, it's late so I'll try to come back around with the final part of my Colorado beer bonanza when I take on Fort Collins.

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