Thursday, December 8, 2011

‘Tis The Season

It is that time of year again. The leaves have long since fallen, and snow is on the ground. This year has blown by and it is hard to believe it is already December. Speaking of December - on my beer calendar for this month there are a couple of important entries: keeping an eye out for winter warmers, and preparation for the upcoming Beerdrinker of the Year competition.

Seasonal Beers

This is a great time of the year for winter warmers. Most breweries brew something special for the cold weather – whether it is AC Golden’s Winterfest (Coors), Sierra Nevada’s Celebration, or your local brewpub’s specialty. It is a great time to visit your local brewery or pick up that special six-pack at the liquor store.

If you’re in the Denver area, one great place to go to try out a number of seasonals, including special releases, is the Falling Rock Tap House. ( They’ve got specialties from Colorado, other parts of the country, Belgian Noels, and great beers from all over the world.

Tonight I happen to be bundled up at home, and I am partaking in 4 Calling Birds from The Bruery in Placentia, California. It is an 11% abv Belgian-Style Dark Ale, and the fourth in their annual series. (What will they do after 12?) For lovers of spiced beers, Barleywines, Strong Ales, Imperial Porters, and Wassail, this time of the year cannot be beat!

2012 Beerdrinker of the Year Search

You could be the next Beerdrinker of the Year. If you are reading this blog you are a beer lover – and that is the first step! To apply you need to submit a Beer Resume. This document must include your beer philosophy, details on your passion for beer, and your 2011 beer experiences. It should “detail the entrant’s understanding of beer and its history and importance to civilization, and the entrant’s efforts to educate others to the joys of great beer.” And all of this cannot exceed three 8.5 x 11″ pages in 12-point font. Your beer resume needs to be emailed into the Wynkoop no later than Saturday, December 31st. There are a few other rules, so make sure and check out the official Beerdrinker of the Year web site for all of the details. (

As an example, and to view the resume that got me into the finals, check out my 2009 resume. Each year, all of the beer resumes received by the Wynkoop are reviewed and thinned down to the top 10, at which point they are sent out to a panel of experts around the country to select the three finalists. Those lucky three will be flown to Denver for the finals on February 25th, 2012, at which time seven wigged & robed judges will ultimately select the winner.

The winner will receive free beer for life at the Wynkoop, $250 at their local brewpub or beer bar, apparel, and their name will be engraved on the Beerdrinker of the Year trophy at the Wynkoop Brewery.

A good resume will take some work, so hopefully you’ve already started, or are touching up a previous year’s application. (I submitted a resume in 1997 and 2005 before my 2009 resume got me to the finals.) I encourage all of you to take a shot at the ultimate beer accolade!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Denver Beer Company

Denver, CO
1695 Platte St, Denver, CO 80202

Colorado now has over 120 craft breweries, and it seems like every month another one opens. Is there a market for all of these new breweries? Is there room for even more? It is definitely getting harder to make one’s product stand out in an already crowded liquor store beer rack. But Coloradians love their beer, and in Denver people love their neighborhoods. So when it comes to neighborhood brewpubs - not concerned about mass distribution - there does seem to be space for newcomers.

I recently visited the relatively new Denver Beer Company, which opened in August. This fine new craft brewery is located on Platte Street west of downtown and serves the Platte River Valley and Highland neighborhoods. Denver Beer Company was opened by Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford. I’ve known Charlie for years from his time as a brewer at the Wynkoop. He is definitely one of those fun loving, gregarious people that is just a pleasure to be around.

He also knows his beer. Charlie attended the Siebel Institute of Technology and the Doemans Brewing Academy in Munich, and has earned his International Diploma in Brewing Technology. For those that attended SBM XVIII back in June of 2010, the “Hoppy Bunny” I served was a specially-dry-hopped blend of 2/3 Olde Rabbit (brewed by Andy Brown and I at the Wynkoop) and 1/3 “Charlie Wine”, a very strong Barleywine concocted by Mr. Berger.

Better use for an auto repair shop

The new neighborhood brewery is located in a renovated 3,400 square foot auto repair shop. To fill the void, Charlie and Patrick traveled out to Newington, Connecticut to purchase and pick up a used seven-barrel system from an old “Hops Grill” brewery that closed. Back in Denver on Platte Street, the tap room and brewery share the same large open space. When I arrived late on a Saturday afternoon there was that unmistakable humidity in the air and the wonderful smell of a fresh mash. Though packed with locals, there is plenty of room for everyone given the generous amount of floorspace. It is a unique atmosphere. In addition to the brew system in the back of the building, there are also oak barrels shoved against the walls here and there. Some of the old hydraulic lifts from the building’s auto repair days are still used to hold up tables and one corner of the bar.

There is a “beer garden” in front of the building along the street with a number of picnic tables. The large auto garage doors were closed when I visited, but open up to unite the indoor crowd and beer garden dwellers during warm days. Large, soft Bavarian style pretzels are served inside the pub, while a private food cart out front serves larger snacks outside.

Neighborhood Pale Ale - a new style?

And yes, the beer is good too! If you’re like me you typically look over a brewery’s web site before visiting to get a feel for what they offer. Don’t spend too much time doing that with The Denver Beer Company. They did not have a single beer on tap that was listed on their web page. To date every beer they have brewed has been unique. I’m sure at some point they will settle in and serve a few regulars in addition to the one-off beers, but for now it is a free for all. (in a good way)

I sampled their Hefeweizen, NPA (Neighborhood Pale Ale – locals provided homegrown hops), Stout and Whakapapa IPA. The IPA was my favorite. Whakapapa is a Maori word for “layered.” In this case layered… as in hops. (And yes, one of the hops came from New Zealand) The clear gold color was a bit deceiving. The beer was not clean at all having a pungent, sticky, resinous and very piney flavor, which led to a pleasant, lingering hop finish. The beer was brewed with US, German and New Zealand hops. It was definitely not one-dimensional and picked up flavors from the various hop additions from around the globe. It was a unique IPA that hop-lovers will enjoy. That is if there is any remaining.

So is there room for any more breweries in Colorado? If they are like the Denver Brewing Company, I believe so. And judging from the large crowd of locals, this new brewery will not have any trouble being successful.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The R-Bar is Back!

Earlier this month I returned to God’s Country to visit family and take in the MSU Homecoming weekend festivities. I took the short flight from Denver to Billings and, as usual, my parents were waiting for me in front of the airport. From Billings Logan we proceeded directly to the Railyard Ale House (A great music and craft beer establishment owned by my parents and managed by my Nephew) to check out what was new on tap. Shortly thereafter we wandered across the hall to Carter’s Brewery (they share the building) to sample some of Mike’s Belgian specialties. A great way to start off my trip.

Bozeman Bound

On Friday my father and I suited up and headed out to Bozeman. We arrived in the late afternoon via the Main Street exit off of I-90. The town was decorated with blue and gold and already buzzing with excitement. I was also excited, because this was to be my first look at the “new” Rocking R Bar.

For those who are not familiar with the history of the Rocking R, it has gone thorough some renovations and seen some tough times. On March 5th, 2009 a massive gas explosion completely destroyed the R-Bar and surrounding buildings, and much of the historic city block. Tragically one young woman lost her life in the early morning disaster. The scenes out of Bozeman that day were surreal. Freezing cold temperatures, ice, steam, smoke and fire – and a chunk of downtown destroyed.

Since the accident the affected section of Main Street Bozeman has been blocked off – that is how I last saw it after being back for Homecoming last year. But a few months ago, on July 26th, the R-Bar reopened. On the drive through town, it was good to see the new development rise from the rubble. The R-Bar is back. The restaurant Boodles, which was also destroyed, has been replaced by Santé Fe Reds, which moved into downtown from its old location on North 7th Ave. (Did they trade places? I think the R-Bar moved over and Reds is where it was.) The other interesting thing is that it is difficult to distinguish one establishment from the other. They look similar from the front, and Rocking R branded sandstone adorns each side of both establishments. They are not linked in any way. I’m not sure how the R-Bar pulled off that marketing feat.

The Real "Old R-Bar"

Now for some additional history. Despite what current MSU students call it, the R-Bar before the explosion was not the “old” R-Bar. To me the old Rocking R was the lovable dive that existed before the first renovation in 1998. The “real” old R-Bar smelled like a stale-beer soaked men’s locker room. After the 1998 renovation, it reopened and was considered too nice by most regulars. They served calamari for appetizers, and the bathrooms actually had real plumbing. Where had all the good times gone?

Well, the “new/new” R-Bar is even nicer yet. From a beer selection standpoint, things have changed since I was in college. The Rocking R now serves classics from around the globe (9am on Homecoming morning I always start off with a Guinness), as well as wonderful Montana specialties from breweries such as Kettle House (Cold Smoke Scotch Ale), Lone Peak (Nordic Blonde) and Yellowstone Valley Brewing (Huckle Weizen). Of course you can still order a draft Schlitz too. The old/old R-Bar was much more famous for quarter beers and pitchers of Kamikazes than craft beer… which they did not serve. So the new beer selection is one big plus. And now the front of the Rocking R opens up to the sidewalk. Main Street Bozeman has changed over the years. It now has a very electric feel like Lodo in Denver or the Gaslamp district in San Diego. (Smaller and Montana-style of course.) The street is packed, and people drinking at The R are now part of it. And it is difficult on Homecoming Weekend to have a beer out on the sidewalk and not know every third person that walks by. It is a very nice addition having the bar open out on to the street. If you have not been back to visit the new Rocking R, try to get there before the weather turns so you can enjoy a drink outside.

Remember the Jukebox?

For those that still long for R-Bar 1.0, I’ve listed some songs from the famous jukebox. (Thanks Countryman!) For those that spent any time there, this list should bring back memories of playing pool and bar fights.

Hank Williams Jr. – A Country Boy Can Survive
George Strait – Amarillo By Morning
Charlie Daniels Band – Devil Went Down to Georgia
Jimmy Buffett – Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw
Steve Miller Band – Jungle Love
Golden Earring – Radar Love
The Who – Squeeze Box
Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
Sawyer Brown – Race Is On
Marty Robbins – El Paso
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
Garth Brooks – Friends in Low Places
Jimmy Buffett – Come Monday
Meatloaf – Paradise by the Dashboard Lights
Pearl Jam – Alive
Social Distortion – Ball and Chain
Sweet – Fox On The Run
Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
Steppenwolf – Magic Carpet Ride
Shelly West – Jose Cuervo
Johnny Cash – I Walk The Line
Marshall Tucker Band – Heard It In A Love Song
Lynard Skynyrd – Free Bird
The Doors – Whiskey Bar
Billy Idol – Prodigal Bules
Nazareth – Hair Of The Dog
Warrant – Cherry Pie
Danzig – Mother
Pearl Jam – Even Flow
Garth Brooks – Rodeo
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Fishing In The Dark
Toby Keith – Should’ve Been A Cowboy

Where there any others? I don’t think so…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

30 things to add to your to do list

The latest issue of Zymurgy magazine had a segment titled “25 things to add to your bucket list.” This inspired me to come up with my own list of things for a beer lover to strive for. I hate the term “bucket list”, so to me this is just a “to do” list. It is somewhat Colorado focused and has a lot of European items – several from Germany. I’ve checked most of these off my list, but still have a number of items that I need to work on.

I know I’ve missed a bunch, so please leave comments and let me know your ideas of things that should be added!

1) Attend the Colorado Brewer’s Festival in Ft. Collins, CO. It is held each year on the last full weekend of June in Old Town.

2) Tour the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO. This is the world’s single largest brewery, and one of the only places to see an operating maltings.

3) Tour a local craft brewery. (Preferably your home brewpub) See how this differs from the Coors mega brewery.

4) Visit the Orval Monastery (Abbey Notre-Dame d'Orval) in southern Belgium. You can’t drink there, but the pub on the road leading out is a great place to drink an Orval after wandering the historic monastery ruins. If not Orval, visit one of the other six Trappist breweries.

5) Attend Oktoberfest in Munich.

6) Drink a beer that is stronger than a typical wine.

7) Get a certificate or degree in Brewing Sciences. For example from UC Davis, Siebel or better yet Weihenstephan.

8) Host a beer & cheese-pairing event for your friends.

9) Tour a Lambic brewery near Brussels.

10) Visit the best beer hall and beer garden in Austria – Augustiner Bräu Kloster Mülln in Salzburg.

11) Drink a Guinness and listen to traditional music in an old Irish Pub. (Not here - in Ireland!)

12) Make the 7 1/2 mile, 4000’ vertical trek up to the Watzmannhaus near Berchtesgaden, Germany. You will be rewarded at the top with German specialty dishes and great Bavarian beer!

13) Drink a local Montana craft beer in a real, old-school western watering hole. A couple of recommendations would be the “New” Atlas Bar in Columbus, MT (aka The Dead Animal Bar) or the famous Grizzly Bar in Roscoe. Ideally this is done after a day hiking the Beartooth Mountains or floating the Yellowstone or Stillwater.

14) Visit the Baroque church and beautiful beer garden of the Kloster Andechs south of Munich. This Benedictine monastery has brewed beer since 1455. It is called the “Der heilige Berg”, the holy mountain.

15) Attend the Great American Beer Festival – held every fall in Denver, Colorado.

16) Drink a Real Ale in a traditional pub out in the English countryside.

17) Take the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) exam and become a beer judge.

18) Visit a real Zoigl house brewery in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria, Germany. (

19) Join a “beer of the month” club.

20) Tour the brewery and underground caves of the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Pilsen, Czech Republic. This brewery is the origin (“Urquell” in German) of the most prolific beer style on the planet.

21) After a long hike, reward yourself with a cool beer above tree line.

22) Walk the eight miles of the “Brauereienweg” (brewery trail) and drink at the four breweries in the small community of Aufseß, Bavaria, Germany.

23) Visit the Railyard Alehouse and four breweries of Billing Montana’s “Brewery District.”

24) If you don’t already know how, learn how to brew, or at least help a homebrewer friend. Taste and smell the ingredients and learn the impact of ingredients on the final product.

25) Visit the Bräustüberl in the beautiful 1250 year old community of Tegernsee south of Munich.

26) Drink a pint at Colorado’s oldest craft brewery, the Wynkoop in lower downtown Denver.

27) Drink a Rauchbier along the Regniz River in Bamberg, Germany.

28) Host a Single Malt Scotch Whisky tasting. The events my friends and I host are called “Red Meat and Scotch.” Beer drinking is also allowed.

29) Take a limo brewery tour in the “Napa Valley of Beer”. (

30) Visit the Hallertau region of Bavaria north of Munich in late August and admire the beautiful hop fields.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Drinking In Alaska

During the “bribe the judges” segment of the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year finals, Sterling Alaska finalist Bill Howell offered the judges, me included, an invitation to visit he and his wife Elaine in Alaska. The pledge was unconditional, win or lose. (He did end up winning as you now all know.) I’m not sure if he ever thought anyone would take him up on the offer, but this year Joycelyn and I did.

Sterling is located on the Kenai Peninsula. When planning a trip to Alaska, one must keep in mind how big of a state you are visiting. It is approximately 20% of the land mass of the entire lower 48. So unless you have an endless summer, you have to pick and choose areas to visit. We chose to tour the Anchorage area, the Kenai Peninsula, and Prince William Sound. It looks like a tiny fraction of the state on a map, but unless one takes a cruise, it is probably the most productive way to spend two weeks in our 49th state.

It offers all of what most travel to Alaska to see. Wildlife, hiking, fishing, birds, glaciers… and of course beer. Alaska has 24 breweries, more than a third of which are easily drivable within this area. Kenai offers the highest concentration of breweries with four serving the 50,000 residents of the Peninsula. (Not to mention a fine Meadery in Homer.)

Kenai Breweries

Bill and Elaine were wonderful hosts. In addition to showing us the local sights, and spending a night listening to Hobo Jim (“Alaska’s State Balladeer”), they shuttled us to all three of the breweries in the Sterling area.

We first visited Kenai River Brewing Company ( in Soldotna. The front of the brewery serves as a small tap room and a place where customers can buy and sample beer. None of the brewers were present, but Bill knew the gal working the counter and we were allowed to go back to the brewing area. Bill gave me a quick tour of their 10 barrel system, which now includes two shiny new 20 barrel cylindrical-conical fermenters. Kenai River is packaging their product in twelve ounce cans, and demand has been robust. I did notice in the liquor stores that only a few of the breweries in Alaska do sell six packs. Others serve only in their pubs or restaurants, or put out specialty bombers to sell in liquor stores. Kenai River’s new fermenters were needed to keep up with demand. After a brief tour we enjoyed a pint while chatting with the attendant. I partook of their Breakfast Beer, a smooth, clean, and jet black Stout brewed with oatmeal and lactose. This brewery has a solid lineup of ales, lagers, and an American-style Hefeweizen.

Next it was up the north road toward Nikiski to visit Kassik’s Brewery. ( Frank Kassik was nice enough to give Bill and I a tour of his shop. Over the years he has pieced together quite a setup. The brewery started off modestly with a used seven barrel system, and has been updated over time to keep up with demand. He uses a diatomaceous earth filtration system before packaging, which I enjoyed looking over. (Joycelyn’s brother mines DE) Kassik’s currently bottles some of their offerings in bombers, but they are also considering a canning line. Frank, like many other brewers I met in Alaska, seem a bit overwhelmed at times with their own success. They’ve gotten on a horse which has taken off, and now they’re on for the ride! A better problem to have than not being successful. Demand for quality craft beer is strong in Alaska.

After the tour Frank and his wife poured us eleven samplers from their tap room. They even broke out a 2008 Barleywine, which was a real treat. It had a wonderful roasty-caramel and dark fruit flavor and a nice hop finish. Kassik’s beers in general are not over-the-top, I found them all true to style and very enjoyable!

We finished at the St. Elias Brewery (, which can’t be missed right on the south side of the Sterling Highway just east of Soldatna. St. Elias is a full-on pub (not just tap room) with a restaurant serving excellent pizza and other dishes. After the four of us were seated, head brewer Zack Henry took a break from brewing, came by our table, and gave us a tour. “What do two beerdrinkers-of-the-year talk about when they get together?” he asked Bill and I. “Single malt Scotch Whisky, naturally,” I replied with a smile. Zack and Bill are good friends, and Bill has brewed with Zack on his system before. The brewery section of the building was packed with every bit of free space being consumed by equipment or barrels. Zack is doing a lot of experimentation with wood. His seasonal Off The Hook is a wonderful Belgian Dubbel aged for six months in second fill bourbon barrels. Even with the second fill of beer, the barrels still imparted a distinct whiskey flavor. Zack also broke into his private stash for us giving Bill and I a chance to sample the same beer but aged in virgin oak. The result was two different beers highlighting the impact of the wood. Zack is also experimenting with cask ales. Currently St. Elias has a Firkin Thursday using gravity feed Ales out of pins, but they are considering purchasing a couple of beer engines for their cask ales.

Like Frank Kassik, Zack appears a bit overwhelmed. The price of success. St. Elias typically carries five staples and four seasonals. The seasonals get more interesting during the winter when he has a bit more time to experiment when things slow down after the tourism season.

The fourth, and oldest, brewery on the Kenai Peninsula is the Homer Brewing Company. Alaska and it locals have very strange alcohol laws, and it is very apparent here. The brewery can provide two small samples, and beer for takeout, but that is it. To circumvent this restriction, the brewery has set up a small tent in an empty lot next door. Customers can buy beer from the brewery and go around the corner to drink and socialize. They serve their beers in 20 oz used Sobe bottles with screw on lids. A very interesting packaging method that I have not seen before.

I sampled several of their creations, but my favorite was their Old Inlet Pale – a murky gold/brown ale with a very nice nose of fruity yeast and earthy hops. It has a sweetish, light flavor with a mild hop finish. In my opinion a fine Bitter that would be excellent served out of a beer engine.

If you ever visit Homer, a must visit pub is the Salty Dawg out on the spit. Locals and tourists pack this tiny den telling fishing stories after a day out on Kachemak bay. (some true) The Dawg definitely has character. You name it and it was hanging from the ceiling. Thousands of dollar bills, pictures, signs, hats, bras, etc. And while enjoying the atmosphere, have one of the Homer Brewing beers they serve. A young bartender that looked exactly like a 25 year old David Crosby – hair, walrus mustache, vintage shirt and all, served my bottle. The Salty Dawg is a must visit in artsy Homer.


Our time in Anchorage was limited, but we did make it to the Glacier Brewhouse ( and restaurant right in the middle of the downtown area. This was by far the most commercial pub or brewery I visited while in Alaska. It is popular, and it was packed. There was a wait to be seated, but one nice thing about visiting Alaska in the summer is that there is little time pressure. It stays light late – the sun doesn’t go down as much as it just spins around the horizon. With that said, we were able to find a table in the self-seating pub area after about 15 minutes. A wonderful alder smoke fills the restaurant from fish cooking over open fires. The brewhouse is visible on the other side of a glassed-in wall. Glacier has a great selection of beers - nine on tap, a couple of them cask. The cask Pale Ale I had was hand drawn without a sparkler on their beer engine – a wonderful pint, and what a cask ale should taste like! This is a great place for an excellent dinner and great selection of craft beers.

Joycelyn and I also visited Humpy’s Alehouse (, which is just a block away. During the tourist season it is crowded and loud, but a nice pub atmosphere regardless. We shared a table with a couple that were nice enough to let us join them. Humpy’s has Alaska’s largest selection of beers on tap, including 21 Alaskan beers, a number of which come from isolated breweries like Silver Gulch and Denali Brewing Company. My favorite was Silver Gulch’s Epicenter (7.9% abv), which was served in an 8 oz snifter. Though billed as an American Strong Ale it had a very mead-like character. Epicenter was dark gold, like a Maibock, with a thin white head. It had a fairly clean, though slightly estery nose. It was quite sweet with a light body, and finished with notes of clover honey. The alcohol content was very deceiving. It tasted quite light and was very pleasing.

We also drove to the Midnight Sun Brewery south of town, but it was closed. ( Unlike us, make sure and check times before visiting any of the breweries listed. Like I noted earlier the tap rooms can have strange laws. With that said, I did taste some excellent Midnight Sun offerings at Humpy’s and during my travels. Bill also gifted me a 2008 Arctic Devil Barleywine that was superb. Thanks Bill!

There are two other breweries in downtown Anchorage that I did not get a chance to visit - The Snow Goose Restaurant & Sleeping Lady Brewery ( and the Anchorage Brewing Company ( The latter happens to be in the basement of the former. Anchorage Brewing is a new project of former Midnight Sun head brewer Gabe Fletcher. All of Gabe’s beers are barrel aged with brettanomyces and bottle conditioned. I’m not sure you can visit the brewery at this time, but look for his first offering, bombers of Whiteout Wit, at select liquor stores. The final brewery in Anchorage is Moose’s Tooth (, which is east of downtown. From what I hear from other beer lovers, it offers great beer and is a hopping pizza joint.

To sum up!

In my experience, all of the restaurants and pubs we visited showcased a solid selection of fine local craft beers. Alaska has evolved to have a great beer culture, and why not. The climate lends itself to hardy drinks. I enjoyed several stouts while in the state, something that is not as quenching during the summer months in a warmer climate. I’ve always said, “Never drink a beer from a country that does not have a true winter.” Well Alaska is a state, not a country, but you get the picture. Alaska and beer simply go together.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Single Malt/Hop Beers

Double Simcoe IPA

Last week I was drinking Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe IPA and it inspired me to write a blog entry about single malt/hop beers that I’ve intended to write for quite some time. But before diving in to the broader topic, a little information about Double Simcoe IPA. This Imperial India Pale Ale is brewed by Weyerbacher of Easton, Pennsylvania using only a single hop – Simcoe. It pours a hazy copper color with a sticky off-white head. As to be expected, the nose is all Simcoe. There was plenty of citrus and grapefruit, but even more pine. The taste was dominated by the single hop being highlighted, but there was also plenty of caramel along with some phenols and a touch of diacetyl to keep the beer from being one-dimensional.

It had a warming character in the finish (it is an 18 proof beer) along with more Simcoe character as I exhaled. An excellent imperial IPA that was well balanced, and it did an excellent job of highlighting Simcoe hops added at various stages during the brewing and fermentation process.

Why Not Simplify

Single ingredient beers are an excellent way to learn more about the character one particular ingredient contributes to the finished product – whether it is a single malt, or single hop. Often as homebrewers we are programmed through the many books, magazine articles, and Internet posts we read to use a variety of specialty malts and a number of different hops types to add complexity. And most US craft brewers have their roots in home brewing, so this mindset carries over to our local specialty beers. There is nothing wrong with this, and many beers benefit from this approach. And I must admit, there are times I love brewing an “everything but the kitchen sink” Porter. But there is also something to be said about simplicity in brewing. Many of the world’s greatest beers are put together in a very simple manor.

Example - Bavaria Beers

One thing that really surprised me at first during my travels through Bavaria while visiting breweries was the lack of specialty malts. While touring the brewery at Kloster Reutberg (south of Munich) the brewer and guide took us to the attic where the malt was stored. Besides the cat, whose job was to keep the mice away, all I saw were hundreds of bags of Helles Malz (Pils Malt) and Dunkles Malz (Munich Malt). Reutberg’s Helles is brewed with 100% Helles Malz, and their Dunkles is brewed with, you guessed it, 100% Dunkles Malz. Their Bock is a stronger version of the Dunkles. Their amber Festbier is made with a 50/50 blend of the two. Rather simple. As you know many Bavarian beers are world class, and Reutberg’s fit into this category. This proves it doesn’t take an elaborate grain bill to brew great beer.

I got the same story from Winkler Bräu’s brewmaster Karl Winkler. (Schlicht, Oberpfalz – east of Nürnberg) Karl said they purchase their malt from a local maltster. The grain bills at Winkler Bräu are also very simple. With respect to hops, they exclusively use locally grown Hallertauer, with the exception of their Pils, which is hopped with the more expensive Saaz from down the road in the Czech Republic. What is the result? In my opinion, their lager beers are second to none.

Homebrewers – Give it a Try

As a homebrewer don’t be afraid to simplify. If you want to have a better idea what type of character Vienna malt will contribute to your beers, brew a 100% Vienna malt beer. If you’re a hophead, back off of the hop potpourri and simply try one variety. This can be very educational. In the process of designing a beer to brew, you can then rely on these beers to better understand how those hop varieties will influence the finished product. On the single malt side, I just brewed a 100% Maris Otter English Barley Wine. Weighing in at 16%, it has plenty of malt character and complexity. The key is to use fresh, quality ingredients, and the result is sure to be good - simple or not.

Nobody wants to brew a bland beer, but complexity can be derived from other factors than adding multiple specialty grains or hop additions of varying types. The yeast obviously contributes a significant amount to any beer’s character. But other factors also have a major influence on the finished beer – such as brewing water (think Burton upon Trent), mash schedule (decoction), fermentation process (closed/open), lagering, and even how a beer packaged and dispensed. (Warm and flat from a beer engine?) All of these factors can be tweaked to add character to any beer. As a homebrewer our options are limitless, and we are not constrained by fixed systems or budgets.

So keep in mind, some of the world’s best beers, lagers and ales, are very simple. I feel keeping the grain bill uncomplicated and hop schedule straightforward is an excellent way to produce fine beers, and learn more about what that particular ingredient lends to the character of the finished product.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Napa Valley of Beer

People call the Front Range in Colorado the “Napa Valley of Beer” - and for good reason. Arguably there are a few places in the United States that approach the brewery density and beer culture here, but none exceed it. I do not have an accurate count since the number changes almost weekly, but Colorado now has in the neighborhood of 150 breweries, almost all of them west of I-25 and concentrated in or near the foothills. So with all of these breweries, there must be a tourism business opportunity, right? Yes. Napa Valley has the Wine Train, and Colorado now has a number of traveling brewery tours.
Last Saturday friends Matt, Skye, Beggi and I signed up for one of these tours with Front Range Brew Tours ( (I do not want to promote any specific tour organization, but since I am now familiar with these guys, I will give some background on how they operate. I believe others are similar.) The scheduling is somewhat flexible, but for us the meeting point was Union Station in Lower Downtown Denver at 10:30 am. No better way to start the morning! A Ford Excursion limousine was waiting for us and a crew of ten other beer enthusiasts that we were going to spend the day with. The tour comes with a hired designated driver as well as a guide from Front Range Brewery Tours. In the week leading up to the tour, the guide proposes a rough itinerary to everyone over email, but he is willing to be flexible to accommodate the wishes of the customers. Since there is usually more than one group, it may take some cooperation between the tour-goers if there is a desire to visit different breweries or locations, etc., but changing things up is not a problem. On this particular day our goal was to visit taprooms in seven breweries starting in Ft. Collins, then Longmont and finally Boulder. A beer and lunch break was scheduled in the middle, and the guide tries to squeeze in at least one full tour of a brewery at some point during the day.

I’ve never been on the Wine Train, but I have toured numerous Napa and Sonoma wineries. The beer tour crowd, in contrast to wine lovers (in my experience anyway), is every bit as passionate about their beverage, but much more laid back and less formal. On our tour we were paired with ten others – all a decade or so younger than we were. They definitely fit the passionate, yet casual mold. A very fun group! The atmosphere on the road was electric with tunes cranking in the limo, which was equipped with everything except for Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua. We had coolers, ice, and plenty of beers to keep us hydrated between stops.

In the end we only made it to six breweries. New Belgium, Fort Collins Brewing Company, and Odell Brewing in Ft. Collins, Oskar Blues in Longmont, and Twisted Pine and Avery Brewing in Boulder. As we arrived at our second stop, Odell’s, a tour was just starting, so we all grabbed a complimentary St. Lupulin and joined in the group. In my opinion, no matter how many tours one has been on, you can always learn something from visiting a new brewery. And this tour was no different. I am glad that we were able to see Odell’s behind-the-scenes operation, because my favorite US beer right now is their Woodcut. ( Woodcut is not a specific beer, rather a series. Each year they select one style, jack it up (imperial/double) and brew it in a small batch to later be aged in virgin American oak barrels. The result is amazing. I’ve had all three over the years (No. 3 is the latest) and they all have a strong, yet amazingly pleasant and smooth oak character from the first use of the wood. There is no brett tang, just a strong, clean beer letting the wood shine through. On the tour we saw the stacks of new barrels used to age the beer in this series as well as their new 750ml bottling line, which Odell uses to cork finish their premium offerings. Woodcut is brewed on their smaller pilot system, but we also were educated on their primary 50-barrel setup. One unique thing I learned about Odell Brewing is that they have traditionally used diatomaceous earth (DE) filtration to polish their beers.
This is not uncommon, though DE is more widely used in the wine industry and as a swimming pool filter. It appears that they are trying to phase their current system out, and we got a first hand look of their new/future centrifuge filtration system. This is the first time I have seen such a system in use at a brewery. It sounds like they have high expectations for extending the shelf life of their beers by and additional three months with this new technique. Like I said, each brewery tour brings a little something new.

After being chauffeured to Ft. Collins, Longmont, Boulder and back, we were dropped of at Union Station where we started. All of us wanted to continue, so we walked across the street to the Wynkoop to wind down with a few more pints. All in all I have to say it was a very fun and educational day. I strongly recommend one of these tours for any local, or beer-loving tourist planning to visit the Front Range. It is a great way to meet other enthusiasts, sample a number of great beers, and tour a new brewery or two. The guides are willing to be flexible to accommodate the wishes of each individual group. Finally, I would not describe myself as a glamour-seeker, but it was nice for once to be escorted around in a limo while drinking beer, listening to music, and sharing experiences - especially with such a fun group of people.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Snowcave Camping 2011

It is that time of the year again. Last Saturday a number of friends and I made our annual (19 years now I think) pilgrimage up to 10,200 feet in the Rocky Mountains west of Ward Colorado for a weekend of snowcave camping. Building the caves amounts to a lot of work - digging for hours with clothes soaked inside and out. But in the end it is well worth the effort. After the cave is dug, firewood cut, and clothes changed; it is time to pull a half litre out of the snowpack “fridge” and crack it open.

While enjoying our first beer, we usually take a short hike away from our campsite over to the frozen Red Rock Lake. There is nothing better than drinking a well-deserved beer with the spectacular Indian Peaks and the continental divide in the background! In addition to the beauty, it is a quite tranquil atmosphere with little else around besides an occasional fox and “camp robbers” swooping in to steal food when the opportunity arises.

As far a beer drinking goes, this trip is often a good time for my “Doppelbock” challenge. But this year I changed up the selection a bit. I did bring one Doppelbock (Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock), but I included a couple of other styles too. I started with a nice crisp and refreshing Stiegl Pils, transitioned to the Asam-Bock, and for a nightcap I brought a 750 ml Cuvee Van Der Keizer Rood.

Stiegl Pils (Stieglbrauerei – Salzburg)

I’ve always been a huge fan of this beer - possibly because it reminds me of Salzburg, which is one of my favorite cities in Europe. Stiegl Pils is a clean, crisp and refreshing Pilsner style of beer. It is not a Czech Pils, rather more closely related to the Bavarian style Pils beers bedewed across the border. Austria sometimes gets forgotten about in the beer world that, in central Europe anyway, tends to focus on Bavaria. But some of my favorite breweries are in the Salzkammergut region. Augustiner Bräu Kloster Mülln in Salzburg brews a wonderful Märzen (their sole offering), and is home to one of the best beer halls and beer gardens in the world. Edelweiß Weißbier (Hofbräu Kaltenhausen) is also brewed in the towering mountains just outside of Salzburg. The Salzkammergut region borders Bavaria, and in this area Austrians and Bavarians have a lot in common – much more so than the Bavarians and the rest of Germany. So it should be no surprise that the Austrians know a thing are two about brewing.

Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock (Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei – Weltenburg Bavaria)

Remember when Doppelbock used to be a strong beer? Now in the days of extreme beers, 7.2% abv is not that big of a deal. But Doppelbocks are still strong, and Asam-Bock lends itself quite nicely to being a “warmer” while sitting around a campfire surrounded by snowdrifts and mountains. Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei’s Asam-Bock is a perfect example of a dark (Dunkler) Doppelbock with an intense malt aroma, rich flavor of decoction mashed Munich malt, and a very clean lager finish. There are beers now that are much stronger, but not many that are better when you want a clean and malty winter warmer.

Cuvee Van Der Keizer Rood (Brouwerij Het Anker – Mechelen Belgium)

This was the first time I have ever sampled the Rood. (Red) The Cuvee Van Der Keizer Blauw (Blue) is without a doubt one of the best beers in the world. I’ve written about Blauw in this blog before, and Zymurgy published my “You’ve Gotta Try This” write up on this Belgian beer two years ago. I love it. I very much enjoyed the Rood, but it is quite different than the Blauw. The former is 10% abv while the latter is 11% abv. One percent less, but still plenty strong enough to take the edge off. The pale Rood has a much different flavor profile than the dark cousin. It pours a cloudy honey color and has a subdued nose – especially compared to the blue which explodes with malt and dark fruit. Its flavor is spicy and well balanced, and it finishes with a mild “Belgian” character. I expected an extremely malty lighter version of the blue, but it was really a different beer all together. Probably in the Belgian Strong Pale Ale style. I would not rate it as high as its dark companion, but still very nice.

Don’t forget the Whisky

Of course the campers, myself included, also had to bring up our favorite campfire Whisky to sip on along with our beers - Laphroaig 10. “It doesn’t taste as smoky around a fire…” Laphroaig is definitely a wonderful blend of sweet, salt, road tar, and iodine. Probably not suited for the first time Whisky drinker, but once you get a taste for it is addicting. I’m not sure the if the term “nip and a half” exactly fits here, since we were not drinking Scotch Ale, but nonetheless it is nice to chase world class beers with a touch of Whisky.

I suppose that is enough about the snowcave camping trip. Next weekend some friends and I will be taking a guided, all-day brewery tour to Ft. Collins and back. I’m looking forward to that experience, and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pagosa Brewing Company

Pagosa Springs, CO
118 N. Pagosa Boulevard

Last fall my wife and I decided to head south to Pagosa Springs to enjoy a relaxing weekend before I was to start a new job. This trip had been on our schedule for years. Pagosa Springs is a beautiful little town sandwiched in the mountains and surrounded by the San Juan National Forest. It is home to a spring much celebrated for its therapeutic powers - one of the largest and hottest natural springs in the world. It is also home to the Pagosa Brewing Company. (PBC)

The brewery and pub are what you think of when you think of the rural west. On one side there is a small, cozy restaurant offering a simple menu (the salmon fish & chips are highly recommended), and right around the corner is the bar for those that want to belly up with a view of the brewhouse. A mobile home parked on the premises serves as the kitchen since the main building is not large enough to house both that and the brewery. The fit staff has to shuttle food and plates back and forth. PBC’s courtyard is much bigger than the brewing building itself. It offers a pleasant outdoors atmosphere - well sheltered by mature, towering pine trees. There are several fireplaces outside to take the chill off on cool days/nights. The entire place has a very mountain community western feel to it. Locals flock there, kids and all.

Pagosa Brewing Company features a relatively small five-barrel system. They have seven of their own beers on tap as well as two guest taps – one from Dry Dock in Aurora, CO, and the other from Ska Brewing down the road in Durango. A sample tray gave me a good feel for all of their excellent offerings.

Favorite Beer

My favorite PBC beer was their “Poor Richard’s Ale.” This beer originated as a recipe challenge five years ago to develop an authentic beer for Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday celebration. Head brewer, Tony Simmons, researched the Colonial era in his quest for a suitable beer recipe fit for Benjamin Franklin. He discovered that brewers of that time most likely used creative ingredients in their beers due to shortages of imported hops and malted barley. Along those lines, Tony’s recipe included ingredients available to brewers of the time such as corn and molasses.

Tony must have done his homework well, because his recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale was awarded the most authentic Colonial Ale. In recognition of the honor, his recipe was brewed by over 100 breweries for the big birthday party. Tony was even flown out to Philadelphia, Franklin’s hometown, to brew his own recipe at one of the local breweries.

Poor Richard’s Ale is now a regular offering at PBC. I would classify it as an Old Ale. It was dark red with a nice thick head. There was malt and a slight molasses note on the nose. The body was thinner than expected - probably due to corn being included in the mash. The flavor was dominated by malt and a strong dark sugar flavor, and it finished with dark crystal malt and a slight roasted note. This beer very much reminded me of a beer I’ve brewed for years called “Old Rabbit.” I call it Old Rabbit because it is an Old Ale brewed with Brer Rabbit molasses. (added to the boiler) My Old Rabbit may be a touch fuller-bodied than Poor Richard’s Ale, but other than that, very similar. I serve the Old Rabbit out of my Angram Handpump in my basement. PBC has a rotating cask offering, and their Poor Richard’s would be a great candidate to be served “warm and flat” out of their Beer Engine.

Worth Noting

One thing that really impressed me about PBC was a commitment to educate their patrons about beer and brewing. I just missed it, but they hosted a four-year vertical tasting of their Nipple Mountain Barley Wine. It takes forethought and patients (and discipline) to save beer for events like this. But when done right, such tastings can be very educational and display how strong beers mature over time. Nice job guys!

While in Town

If you get to visit Pagosa Springs, make sure and take time to relax and enjoy the springs at the resort. You can also take the beautiful one-hour drive west to Durango and visit their wonderful breweries - Carver, Ska, Steamworks, and Durango Brewing. And don’t forget to visit the PBC and have a Poor Richard’s Ale in the courtyard around a fire.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Phil Farrell – 2011 Beerdrinker of the Year

He finally did it. On his fourth trip to the National Finals, Phil Farrell of Cumming, Georgia took the title of Beerdrinker of the Year at Saturday’s competition held in the Mercantile Room of the Wynkoop Brewery. All three finalists (the other two being James Clark of Springfield, Virginia and Mike Dixon of Wake Forest, North Carolina) proved that they were more than worthy to be on the national stage with their deep knowledge of all things related to beer. But in the end Phil emerged putting in a strong and consistent showing from his opening statement to the finish. He nosed ahead during the “nasty round” of questions, as well as the sensory perception segment.

This was possibly one of the most entertaining finals in years, with each of the three having the standing-room-only crowd in tears laughing at times. Mike played his southern accent to the delight of the audience, and James’ start to finish theme of Kama Sutra and beer was one of the more creative things the competition has ever seen.

Phil is a commercial pilot, homebrewer, and BJCP certified judge. In 2010 he advanced to Grand Master Beer Judge Level II – an accomplishment only 15 people have ever attained in the 25-year history of the BJCP. He has tasted beer in every country in Europe, all 50 states, and every US territory. His basement beer pub features six taps, three refrigerators and a 15-gallon brewing system. In 2010 alone he visited 32 states and 18 countries in search of beer, and logged 11,000 miles on his family’s RV.

As the winner Phil will receive, among other things, $250 to spend at his home pub (Five Seasons North in Alpharetta, Georgia), a beer brewed in his honor by the Wynkoop for next year’s competition, free beer for life at the Wynkoop Brewery, and worldwide recognition. It is always tough to not win, but Mike and James should be very proud of their performance too. I am sure both will be back in the finals in the future.

In the 90 seconds Phil had for his closing statement, he pulled out his harmonica and sang a parody of Bill Joel’s “Piano Man” renamed “Chicken Man.” For those that know Phil, they understand the chicken reference. I’ve posted Phil’s lyrics below.

Congratulations Phil, and welcome to this elite club!

Chicken Man

by Phil Farrell, with apologies to Billy Joel

Its four o'clock on a Saturday,
The Beer Judges all shuffle in,
There's a rubber chicken sitting next to me,
Asking "Phil when are you going to win?"

He says Phil will you brew me that Barleywine?
I'm not really sure how it goes,
But it was big and bold before you got so old
Back when I wore feathers for clothes.

la di da diddy da......etc

Brew me a beer you're the Chicken Man,
Pour me a beer tonight,
'Cause we're all at the bar in the Wynkoop,
And beer gets us feeling all right.

Monday, February 21, 2011

2011 Beerdrinker of the Year Festivities

This coming weekend is the National Finals for the 2011 Beerdrinker of the Year competition. If you are in the Denver area, or have the means to travel, don’t miss this event – it is the most prestigious title in the country for beer aficionados. This year’s three finalists are James Clark of Springfield VA, Mike Dixon of Wake Forest NC, and Phil Farrell of Cumming GA. Being involved in the selection process, and having reviewed numerous resumes, I can guarantee you that these three are on a different level when it comes to beer knowledge and appreciation. (more about James, Mike and Phil below)

The competition will be held in the Wynkoop Mercantile Room on Saturday, February 26th starting at 2 pm MT. Get there early to nab a seat and have time to enjoy happy-hour priced beers, including the Strong Scotch Ale brewed to honor last year’s champion Bill Howell.

Also this year, for the first time, there will be Beerdrinker of the Year Beer Dinner on Friday night, February 25th. The Friday night before the competition is always reserved as a meet and greet for the judges and the three finalists – an opportunity to let everyone settle in, relax, and get to know each other. But this year Wynkoop marketing and idea man Marty Jones decided to open up the event to the public. There will be a special four-course dinner hosted by the three finalists (since they don’t have enough to worry about already) and the 2010 champion Bill Howell.

Salad - Scottish Bangers, malted vinegar slaw and apples served with Ska ESB

Soup - Lamb stew in a sourdough bread bowl with Wynkoop's Beerdrinker of the Year Scottish Strong Ale

Entree - Grilled Tri-tip steak, twice baked potato, roasted garlic and thyme butter and succotash served with Avery Dugan imperial IPA

Dessert - Flourlesss chocolate habanero cake and creme anglaise served with Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti and Wynkoop's The Coupler imperial barrel-aged milk stout.

This is a great opportunity to mingle with the finalists, judges and other beer lovers, and enjoy a wonderful dinner. More information about the Friday and Saturday events can be found at:

After the dinner get a good night’s sleep, because Saturday’s competition promises to be superb with three great beer minds going at it. Here is some additional information about the finalists.

James Clark, a Springfield, Virginia homebrewer, beer traveler and beer ambassador. In 2010 he visited 17 breweries, attended over a dozen beer festivals and held beer events at his home that welcomed as many as 160 people. In 2010 he visited 15 establishments in 4 countries on All About Beer magazine’s "125 Places to Have a Beer Before You Die" list.

His philosophy of beer drinking: "Live life to the brim! I was a late arrival to beer drinking but I caught up quickly. I didn't have my first beer until I was 31, but it was a German Pilsener in Germany. In the last 16 years I've been going full throttle; drinking, brewing, studying and visiting my way to the top of the beer expert's pyramid."

His home beer bar: RiRa's Irish Pub, Arlington, Virginia

Mike Dixon, a Wake Forest, North Carolina beer lover, certified national beer judge and beer organizer. Dixon has tasted beers from 44 states and 39 countries and visited over 600 beer establishments in the US and Belgium. His extensive volunteer beer work includes working to change his state’s beer laws and promoting North Carolina’s homebrewing culture. He is a four-time semifinalist, this will be his first time in the Beerdrinker finals.

His beer philosophy: "A well crafted beer is the perfect accompaniment to any meal or event. Life is too short to be wasted on beer without flavor and every glass of beer should be a new adventure. Every day I am working to improve my beer knowledge and beer experience."

His home beer bar: Horniblows Tavern, Raleigh, NC

Phil Farrell, a Cumming, Georgia commercial pilot, homebrewer, grand master beer judge and four-time Beerdrinker finalist. He has tasted beer in every country in Europe, all 50 states, every US territory, as well as 1000s of the world’s pubs, breweries and brewpubs. His basement beer pub features six taps, three refrigerators, and a 15-gallon brewing system. In 2010 he visited 32 states and 18 countries in search of beer and logged 11,000 miles on his family’s RV.

His philosophy about beer: "Fear no beer. All of my "beeroes" (beer heroes) were fearless. In my short beer lifetime, a wasteland has been turned into a paradise…and I live in the best beer country in the history of the planet. Beer helps connect people. Beer is the greatest gift ever given to the human race and is meant to be shared with others.

His home beer bar: Five Seasons North in Alpharetta, GA.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse

Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH
Kehlheim, Bavaria, Germany
Style: Weizenbock – Collaboration (8.2%abv)

Last month Joycelyn and I were in California to spend Christmas with her family in McArthur. On the four-hour trip north from the Sacramento airport to her hometown, we stopped (as usual) at the Liquor Barn in Redding. This liquor store has the best selection I’ve found along our path, and I always discover something new that is available in California that I cannot get in Colorado or Montana. This year one beer really caught my attention – Schneider Weisse’s Hopfen Weisse. I though I had tried all of Schneider’s offerings, either here or in Germany, but this beer was new to me. It turns out Hopfen Weisse is collaboration between Schneider Weissbierbrauerei in Germany and Brooklyn Brewery in New York.

Joining Forces

Collaboration beers are not unique. They have been around in the US for well over a decade. (Probably since the dawn of brewing thousands of years ago, right?) The first major collaboration I remember was back in 2004 called “Collaboration not Litigation Ale” made by Avery and Russian River. Both breweries had Belgian-style beers called “Salvation.” Instead of fighting over which brewery owned the name, they decided to join forces. Since that time I have noticed a major trend and many more collaborative offerings. Along with wood aging, over-hopped ales, and extreme beers, collaboration beers have become the craze.

The Germans?

With all of that said, I was surprised to see the Bavarians getting involved. Most collaboration beers I’ve seen have been US – US or US – Belgian joint efforts. Which makes sense. The Belgians are crazy, open-minded, “anything goes” brewers never bound by rules or norms. And the only country in the world that tops them when it comes to creativity would be the United States.

But the Germans are anti-Belgians. German brewers are almost exclusively classically trained (most at the world’s most famous brewing university – Weihenstephan), and with extreme discipline they methodically crank out consistent and delicious, high-quality beers within the ridged structure of the Reinheitsgebot. The Germans are engineers that brew. So along with another collaboration, the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) / Weihenstephan holiday special “Infinium,” I was a bit surprised to see Hopfen Weisse.

It is not like Schneider and Weihenstephan are renegade breweries; these two are a pair of the most famous and traditional breweries in Bavaria. In 1872 Georg Schneider almost single handedly brought Weissbier back to popularity in Bavaria, and the brewery today is very traditional brewing exclusively wheat beers. Weihenstephan Abby is home to the famous Technical University of Munich brewing school, and is the location of the world’s oldest continuously operating brewery – licensed in 1040 and still operating. Two very famous and traditional breweries letting their hair down a bit.

The beer – Hopfen Weisse

Brewmasters Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery) and Hans-Peter Drexler (Schneider Weissbier Brewery) have long admired each other’s work. (Garret is a master chef and author of “The Brewmaster’s Table” and a wonderful ambassador for the craft beer industry.) Hopfen-Weisse (Hopfen means hops) is a collaboration between the two creating a pale Weissbock (strong wheat beer) that has been dry hopped with the noble hop Hallertauer Saphir. It is billed as a blend of Bavarian craftsmanship and American ingenuity. Traditional Weissbier is almost always lightly hopped (< 15 IBUs) and never employs finishing hops. The goal is to de-emphasize hops and let the body of the wheat and the flavor and aroma of the unique yeast shine through with lots of fruit and clove. Hopfen Weisse is not an extreme collaboration (like many), rather a “noble” deviation from a classic Weizen.

After purchasing a couple of these beers at the Liquor Barn, I finally got a chance to sample them in the small town of McArthur. On the nose I initially detected the classic Weizen clove aroma followed by a dose of fresh, grassy noble hops. The hops were not overpowering, but definitely there – and not citrusy like an American IPA. The high carbonation of this beer helps drive all of these aromas out of the beer. In the glass it was a turbid orange color – a touch lighter than Schneider’s original Weissbier despite the higher alcohol content. Its flavor was packed with banana and clove along with pleasant, grassy hops. It had lots of body and that silky wheat beer viscosity. The Nachtrunk was like a standard Weissbier, but with a drier hop note. Overall, Hopfen Weisse is not a drastic deviation from Schneider’s standard product, but definitely unique. I never thought I would taste a “classic” German Weizen with a significant hop character!

If you get a chance to pick up a ½ liter of this beer let me know what you think. Also, I would like to hear what your favorite collaboration beer is. I’m always looking for new specialties to try.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hickenlooper’s InaugurAle

Last night the Wynkoop tapped Hickenloooper’s InaugurAle, a beer brewed to honor the Koop’s founder John Hickenlooper. For those that have not heard, the former mayor of Denver won last November’s gubernatorial election and will be sworn into office on January 11th. To celebrate the occasion, head brewer Andy Brown created the special brew.

The beer

Inaugurale is a cross between a Brown Ale and a Winter Warmer. Weighing in at 6.8% abv, it is definitely not a Newcastle Brown Ale clone. The beer is actually an offshoot of the former Wynkoop staple Flying Artillery Ale. (Now a rotator.) There are a few twists for this version, including the use of local ingredients. Inaugurale is made with oats, honey malt, crystal malt, black patent, chocolate malt, and Colorado-grown base malts. In addition, Colorado beet sugar is added to the boil for complexity and to boost the original gravity. Given this beer is brewed to honor Colorado’s governor-elect, it is fitting that Colorado ingredients make up the majority of the frementables. Andy Brown’s concoctions are consistently delicious, and Inaugurale is no different. My friends and I had a few pints last night and enjoyed every drop. Governor-elect Hickenlooper was in the building for the tapping, and he signed a poster of the beer’s logo for the brewers. Andy came by our table proudly showing it off and said he intended to frame the poster and hang it in the brewery.

Started a Revolution

John Hickenlooper is obviously popular in Denver and Colorado, but he is more than that to area beer lovers – he is a hero. John and three friends (Russell Scherer, Mark Schiffler, and Jerry Williams) had a vision back in 1988 – to open a brewery in a run-down part of old Denver. But there was a problem. At the time, Colorado law prohibited brewpubs. John successfully lobbied to have that law changed, which laid the foundation for the opening of Colorado’s first modern era craft brewery, The Wynkoop Brewing Company. Now, 22 years later, there are over 100 breweries in Colorado – the “Napa Valley of Beer.” The governor-elect was not simply lucky, being at the right place at the right time, rather he paved the way for craft brewing and started a revolution. Now when people think of Colorado, they think of beer. (A quick aside. Joycelyn and I were bellied up to the bar eating dinner at a packed Czech-style restaurant in Stockholm Sweden back in 2008. A Swede sitting next to us at the bar was eavesdropping on our discussion and found out we were from Colorado. He excitedly butted into our conversation and went on and on about how bad he wanted to visit Colorado and travel around touring all of the breweries and take in festivals. Not England, not Germany, not Belgium, but Colorado! We’re big, even in Europe!) And not only did John and his buddies create an industry, they revitalized an entire section of the city of Denver – an area now affectionately known as LoDo (Lower Downtown). During my first visit to the Wynkoop in 1990, there was nothing except for vacated buildings and bums for blocks around crossing of 18th and Wynkoop streets. Now that area of town is bustling with activity with restaurants, bars, clubs, and of course other breweries, at every turn. Would this have happened anyway without John? Maybe… eventually… probably… But it still took someone with the vision to do it, and John was that person.

It will be great to have a friend of business and brewing serving as the Governor of Colorado. If you get a chance, head down to the Wynkoop for a pint of the beer made in his honor. Only 15 barrels of Inaugurale were made, so it will probably be gone before the end of January. And while you are there take some time to walk around the halls and side rooms of the main level and upstairs of the building. You will be able to see some great old pictures of the brewery building and the area from the late 80’s. It is amazing how much things have changed in a little over two decades.