September 29, 2013

Colorado Drinking September 2013 -- Part 2

Alright, now it's time to talk beer and breweries. Let's stick with Denver today.

Prost Brewing

Prost Brewing is a small brewery in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver that focuses on German beer styles, both top and bottom fermenting styles. Prost has a fun atmosphere in its taproom, blending a welcoming beer garden design with just enough cheesy German fanfare to make it a fun place to hang out and drink some damn good beer. Prost doesn't lean on the more unusual side of German brewing, like Gose and berliner weisse, instead Prost brews the basic German beer styles very, very well. The beers are clean and well constructed. No imperial stouts, barrel aging, or hop overloads. Instead, they are beers brewed with the precision German brewing demands. They are the types of beer beer douches on the rating sites demean because they aren't imperial stouts or IPAs. However, there is a lot of subtle flavor and they are ideal beers to split among beer geeks and non-beer geeks. My favorites were the marzen and dunkel. Both did a great job of showcasing a lot of malt character without being cloying.

Hogshead Brewery

Hogshead is a small brewery in Denver in the Slo-Hi neighborhood that focuses on English beer styles and cask presentation. As you can see in the picture of the brewhouse to the right, it's not a fancy system. There is a 10 BBL system and a 1 BBL system (according to the website. I didn't see the 1BBL system). Like Prost, Hogshead focuses on making traditional beers within their selected country's styles rather than bastardizing them as we tend to do in this country. No fruit beers, no American hop blends. Just straight up, solid versions of English beer styles.

Cask presentation is a big part of of what Hogshead does. You can often get beers on both draft and cask, which allows for an interesting side-by-side comparison. As a huge fan of cask beer, I was really excited to see multiple beer engines in the taproom. Unfortunately, the problem with serving on cask is that you can't just switch out casks when a cask runs out, like you can with kegs. When we showed up early Saturday night, there were only a couple beers on cask. That made me sad but we didn't have too much time to stick around so I made both my beers cask pours.

I enjoyed both the ESB and pale ale on cask. In my mind, ESB and (English) pale ale are not different styles although ESBs tend to stick to East Kent Golding for hop character while pale ales may be a little more diverse. Both beers were distinctly different. The ESB was a little sweeter and more malty than the pale ale. The pale ale was a little drier and showcased a more dominant hop character.

Crooked Stave

Crooked Stave needs no introduction for fans of sour and funky beers. Chad Yakobson's brewing company puts out a mix of sour and brett beers that are highly sought after by beer geeks. As a plack on the taproom wall states, he is the Hipster Beer King. Yakobson is probably the world's foremost expert on brett brewing and it shows through his beers. The beers are complex and in my opinion, have improved since his first runs when he was brewing out of Funkwerks. What I found most interesting about Crooked Stave was how divided our group was over which beers we liked. Outside of one or two beers, all four of us had very different likes and dislikes. Several of the beers are very different from what you find elsewhere, even from other sour brewers. As you can see from the picture above, Crooked Stave employs a wide range of fermentation vessels, from fifty-some-odd gallon wine and spirit barrels to large foeders to traditional stainless steel fermentors.

Crooked Stave's staple beer is Surette Provisional, a multi-grain saison fueled with brett and wood aging. It's funky and slightly sour. Surette Provisional is one of Crooked Stave's original beers, having appeared at the initial location at Funkwerks as Surette and a second version as Surette Reserva. Earlier versions felt like the flavors did not meld well together, as opposed to the current version which is well constructed and complex. Easily among one of the best saisons produced in the country.

Crooked Stave also produces St. Bretta, an all-brett beer that is slightly funky and dry. Each season the beer gets treated with a new fruit. It seems like this year is all citrus (I'm not sure if it is always citrus and will always be citrus). Spring was tangelo, Summer and Fall were blood orange and Seville orange but I forget which is which. The tangelo version was a big hit among everybody. I really enjoyed St. Bretta both with and without the fruit. A nice, light beer that doesn't pack the huge punch of some of the other beers but still has a lot of subtle flavor going on.

The favorite at the table, myself included, was Sucker Punch, a big 10% ABV sour with a sharp tartness and a deep complexity. Caramel comes through the sourness without creating the weird balsamic vinegar character of most sour beers with big caramel notes. I believe this beer is a sour version of Good Glory, Crooked Stave's biere de garde. The keg died while we were there but it was replaced with a Flanders red (which I forget the name of) that was also excellent. I would have drank more of the replacement beer but we were all getting hungry so we departed for Hops and Pie.

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