Craft Brewers Convention 2014 Pt. One – Awash in Diverse Colorado Beers

By April 24, 2014Featured
Fresh beer in the Colorado air at Denver Beer Co

Fresh beer in the Colorado air at the Denver Beer Co

As I have recovered from the massive 2014 CBC in Denver, one of my take aways is how much varied brewing there is in Colorado – and how important beer is to the fabric of the state itself.

Symbolic of this relationship between Colorado and beer was that the keynote address this year was given by John Hickenlooper – the governor of Colorado – and ex brewery owner. John (born in Narberth PA) proudly pointed out that he has the only governor’s mansion in the country with two taps!

As far as I know Denver has the only baseball stadium in the country with an actual microbrewery inside. (OK, so it’s owned by Coors – it’s still a micro brewery – at Wrigley you have to go to a hidden area just to get Wild Goose.)

More on the mood of the convention and state of the craft industry in my next post (“part two”) but for now let me paint for you a picture of some of the abundance of really good and different quality craft breweries I was able to check out…

1. Verboten Brewery in Loveland – This was a stop on the CBC’s Fort Collins Brewery Tour. They call themselves the smallest brewery in Colorado (3bbl) – Josh Grenz talks about how they have been basically brewing new styles since they opened in 2013.

“We take advantage of being in the same office park as a distillery (“Dancing Pines”) so we can make unusual beers aged in liquor barrels brewed with spices. We made our own version of ‘Kentucky common’ called ‘Angry Banjo’” (a sour mash amber beer that tradition says was made from the mash leavings of Kentucky bourbon distillers). Happily for me – Josh put some of it in fragrant bourbon barrels and called it “Mountain Man”.

 

I am stunned at the barrels...and the beer at New Belgium

I am stunned at the barrels…and the beer at New Belgium

2. New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins – Yes, one of the biggest craft brewers in the nation – this state of the art, sustainability focused, bicycle and outdoor lifestyle oriented brewery exemplifies Colorado brewing. Owned by their employees, New Belgium now has one of the largest (if not THE largest) wood aging programs in the nation. Standing in “the woods” surrounded by 20 foot tall foeders of sour and other beers awed even the most seasoned visiting brewer.

I got to try some of the base sour beer used in their great “La Folie” brew – which had been racked in oak with blackberries. Virtually still, it was packed with flavor – amazingly great – coming from a brewery that pumps out 250 bbl batches of craft beer every 2 hours.

We toured the canning and bottling lines (pulling a cool Ranger IPA off the line for refreshment) Is there funky artwork? Check. Foosball tables in the brewery? Chandeliers made of beer cans and bicycle wheels? Of course. An energized team of successful people making a lot of great beer – indeed.

3. Denver Beer Company – in the gentrified “Lo Do” section of Denver – we found a well scrubbed/20 – 30 something Blue Grass and iPhone crowd that loved their beer. With a large open beer garden and food trucks, it reminded me of San Francisco – but with a Rocky Mountain natural vibe. Beers varied from wine barrel aged sours (“Rouge on Rouge”) to “Kaffir Lime Wheat” and “Raspberry Duchess Yum Yum” which seemed to be a favorite of the young female professionals that appeared to be the majority of the crowd.

I found some of their beers to be pretty solid, and others a bit too fruity and unbalanced to my taste – but you can’t beat sitting outside enjoying a fresh beer in the Denver breeze, some live music and wood fired pizza from a gourmet food truck, can you? A great place to start the night with a few (hundred?) friends.

4. Jagged Mountain Brewery – Wandering back to the hotel from after CBC session libations we wandered right into the Jagged Mountain – a nice little set up with live music and a bunch of tasty beer selections.

My friend really dug the “Key Hole” session IPA and live “mountain music” by a local band “Chain Station”, I focused (more or less) on the flavorful Saison “Spearhead” at 8 abv. The brewery was not really separated from the taproom, and people could wander amongst the tanks as the laughter and music wafted by. A nice surprise to find just walking through town.

Choose your favorite wild beer - many choose from at Crooked Stave

Choose your favorite wild beer – many choose from at Crooked Stave

5. The Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (at The Source). OK, I met the Crooked Stave folks at the SF Beer Fest in February, and sampled a number of their collaboration and “gypsy brew” wild beers over the past couple of years and I am a fan. They know Brett like few know Brett – and they are inventive and make some outrageous and sophisticated wood aged wild beers.

Took a cab out to “The Source” – a beautiful rehabbed old stone warehouse now carved into hipster spaces including a charcuterie, high end liquor store, whisky bar and mexican restaurant. In the back is the Crooked Stave location, with a shiny new brewhouse (yet unused) looming over the taproom.

Oh yes, the beers were great (Their “Between the Staves” aged in cognac barrels was sublime) and it attracted a beer savvy crowd as well as a number of brewers from the CBC showing their colors. Our new friend Phil – a brewery consultant who helped brewers in Asia set up their breweries – enjoyed the Surette (Wood Aged Farmhouse Ale with a grain bill including Oats, Rye and Spelt fermented and aged in oak with Brett and Lactobacillus.)

It was beer geek heaven (as much as a place that sells $9 wild yeast wood aged drafts in Denver can be), and I was happy to see Scott and John from “Round Guys Brewing” of Lansdale Pa at the bar that night. We all enjoyed a sour and were amazed at the stainless steel “coolship” that was part of the state of the art brewhouse. (A coolship is a flat open tank used to expose raw beer to the open air – to cool and collect wild yeast).

We visited a number of other breweries and beer bars during the CBC – as well as tasting a lot of great beers from across the country. But what stands out was the diversity of the breweries and taprooms so easily accessible to the lucky folks in Colorado.

From the tiny Verboten with it’s spiced and liquor aged specials, the huge New Belgium with barrel “forests” and modern production facilities, the trendy and fun Denver Brewing, downtown neighborhood Jagged Mountain – to the exquisite artisan wild beers of Crooked Stave, there really is a brewery for everyone in Colorado. And for the world of craft beer enthusiasts – the more different good beer experiences you can have, the better the world is.

Bike on out to New Belgium in beautiful Ft. Collins Co

Bike on out to New Belgium in beautiful Ft. Collins Co