August 23, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 4

It's about time to roll up my Colorado adventures this year with its final post. In this last post, I'll touch on the last two breweries in Fort Collins: Equinox Brewing and Funkwerks. I'll try to get this finished up while my spelt saison is boiling.

Equinox Brewing

Equinox Brewing is a fairly new Fort Collins operation, having opened its doors in 2010. It's located in a more downtown area from the Lincoln Avenue breweries (Funkwerks, Fort Collins Brewery, Odell) and New Belgium. It is a small shop seated next door to a homebrew supply shop. Equinox specializes, at least as best as I could tell, in UK beer styles (Irish, Scottish and English) and popular UK formats, like cask conditioning. We were tipped off to this place by one of the bartenders at FCB who said they had good beers.

Since we were already feeling good from our prior visits, we decided to just get a taster tray and if we had time try some of the different offerings. What's cool about Equinox is that each table has a flip chart for the tasting trays so you have a quick rundown of each beer and its ingredients. Unfortunately, we weren't really impressed with most of the beers. They weren't bad, they just didn't stand out. However, the last beer in the tasting tray was an oatmeal stout that we both agreed was excellent. We ended up running low on time to stay at Equinox but since we were only happy with one of the beers we didn't see it as an efficient use of time to stay there.

It's too bad Equinox doesn't play at the same level of the other breweries in Fort Collins. Their UK-focus makes a nice addition to the other breweries in town. There's obvious Belgian presence (New Belgium and Funkwerks), FCB makes an interesting mix of German styles, stouts and IPAs, Odell makes a diverse line up but outside of stouts there really isn't a lot of UK-focused brewing in the city. However, let me curb my criticism by pointing out the oatmeal stout alone was worth stopping back by for and I'm sure some of their other beers are probably pretty good. Let me also say that Fort Collins residents obviously have a higher opinion of Equinox because there was a steady stream of customers even in the short time we were there.

Funkwerks

I really love Funkwerks. In my opinion, they are the star of Fort Collins. Not only do they produce delicious beers but I always have a memorable time there. This trip exceeded expectations as usual. I hate that I've always had enough to drink before getting to Funkwerks to drink more beer there but on the other hand I have the most fun being there towards closing time because the staff gets really lax about letting the customers have fun.

This trip we knocked out a sample tray and a full serving of Dark Prophet. I'll give the beers a run down:

  • Saison - The obviously named saison is the flagship Funkwerks beer in the modern, bigger style, clocking in at 6.8% ABV. It's the most Dupont-like beer, with a good malt backbone letting the yeast flavors come through. The yeast adds plenty of citrus fruit and pepper aroma. 
  • Tropic King - My wife's favorite; also a bigger saison at 7.5% ABV. It's a darker saison with those yeast flavors playing back up for the Rakau hops that bring out tropical fruit flavors. I'm not as big of a fan of this beer because I don't really like mango and there's plenty of mango coming out of those Rakau hops.
  • Bastogne - Proving Funkwerks can make a funky beer, this darker saison is in the amber range with lots of hops and finished with brett. Bastogne uses Opal hops, which add some earthy, spicy, grassy notes like a combination of Fuggles and Saaz. I though this beer was interesting and complex without being too noisy to enjoy. My wife did not like.
  • Monarch - This beer is a 50/50 blend of Tropic King aged seven months in chardonnay barrels and fresh Tropic King. It's a very different beer from the regular Tropic King. The tropical fruit flavors and aromas have tempered into a nice peach flavor and aroma that's very nice. 
  • Belgian IPA - Exactly what it sounds like. It was a really good Belgian IPA with good hop flavor and aroma but the yeast esters still come through, rather than get lost in the hops. It reminded me of A'Chouffe Houblon but with a thicker mouthfeel. 
  • Dark Prophet - This dark saison is aged in bourbon barrels. The barrel and bourbon notes come through very noticeably, giving the beer a lot of vanilla and spice with some dark fruit in the background. Again the yeast is featured well in the flavor and aroma.
We also brought back a bottle of Fruition, which is a saison with apricot and pink peppercorns. Another delicious beer, the yeast character plays well with the apricot and pink peppercorns. I read some other reviews that denigrated the beer for not having a dominating apricot flavor and too much pink peppercorn but I actually liked that the apricot and pink peppercorn were not the stars of the beer but merely equal players. Fruit beers are usually dominated by fruit and spiced beers tend to be equally as heavy handed. The apricot hits the right note just between getting lost in the beer and detracting from the flavor and being too bold and overwhelming the other flavors. Instead, the apricot adds some tartness and and complexity to the flavor. The pink peppercorns jazzes up the apricot and plays well with the pepper notes from the yeast.


I know some people aren't huge fans of Funkwerks because they don't make exotic saisons and don't get into the hyped (but also delicious) modes of saison like brett saisons, rye saisons, or really hoppy saisons. Funkwerks does a good job of making saison digestible -- as it should be -- with an interesting malt profile and enough hops to let the yeast be the star -- as it should be. I like pretty much any kind of saison, as long as it is made well, but I don't think every saison needs to be either crazy or a Saison Dupont clone. Funkwerks does a good job of making saison a delicate beer and making their beers their own. Oh well, if you don't like it, that's just more for me.

Barrels quietly add extra deliciousness
After having some beer in the taproom, we found ourselves sharing the bar with one of the Funkwerks brewers and an Avery brewer. The Funkwerks brewer invited us back to the brewery to play. I was feeling pretty good at this point so I split my time between listening to the two brewers talk about their respective brewing processes and sticking my head in everything. My head went into the kettle, the mash tun and at one point, I even opened the hot liquor tank (I asked first) and stuck my head in. Guess what was inside? Yeah, hot water. I didn't shove my head in the water, so I left injury-free.



I didn't stick my head in the barrels or kegs
There are pictures of my hilarity, but I don't think I'll post them up here. I will post this one, and that should tell you a lot about how awesome of a time I was having. I mean, how often do homebrewers get to run wild in a brewery at the same time as hanging out with the brewers? Not very often. Unfortunately, like last time I was here and we were allowed to go back in the brewhouse for pictures and met Chad Yakobsin of Crooked Stave, I was having too good of a time to really geek out and ask all the questions I probably should have. I also didn't want to interrupt the conversation between the two brewers because I was getting a lot of good information just listening to them. (Unfortunately, I forgot a lot of it.)

One thing I do remember distinctly is that the brewer said all their beers are brewed with 3711. That makes sense, because all the saisons share the same yeast qualities and from a practical standpoint, it's easier to deal with fewer strains, especially saison strains that can be temperamental and tricky. However, I did see on their blog that the Belgian IPA, Scepter (a cognac barrel-aged Belgian golden strong ale) and another beer use a different strain. So I'm not sure if the blog is misleading or what the brewer meant was that all the saisons are fermented with 3711. At a minimum, that says you can make some really delicious saison by working with that beast of a strain.

What might make you really jealous about this brewer is that he had homebrewed exactly one batch before he took a brewing job at Funkwerks. Yeah, I'm serious. That's what he said. Now, he has an applicable degree (I seem to think some sort of biology or engineering degree) and was working in that field for a little while before Funkwerks approached him about the job. Well, I'm sure he deserved the job. He designed the Belgian IPA and it was a great beer so he definitely knows what he's doing. The takeaway from that story is that if you are a homebrewer looking to become a pro brewer, breweries really don't need more homebrewers, they need people who can add other value to the business.


So I hope you enjoyed my adventures in Colorado this time. Next time I hope to experience more new breweries and try to get myself in more trouble at Funkwerks. I know there are constantly new breweries popping up in the Denver area so I'd like to see more new action. I also took the opportunity to bring home some bottles that aren't available in Texas. From left to right is Great Divide Hoss, Great Divide Hades, Funkwerks Fruition, Dry Dock Vanilla Porter, Lost Abbey Carnevale Ale, Goose Island Pere Jacques, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire and Fort Collins Brewery Z Amber Smoked Lager. We've already polished off the Fruition (reviewed above) but we will try to savor these other beers more slowly. I'm excited to put the JP dregs to work in my own sours.

Is there a Colorado brewery you love I haven't hit? Thought I unfairly abused a brewery in my review? Please leave comments.


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