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.

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