Monday, September 28, 2009


Rare Beer Tasting, Denver, CO

On the day I was leaving for my brief visit to Detroit, a message was posted on the American Homebrewer's Association list server that volunteers were needed for the 1st Annual (I hope) Denver Rare Beer Tasting, called Pints for Prostates, benefiting USToo, an organization dedicated to helping prostate cancer survivors, their spouses/partners and their families. The event was organized by Rick Lyke, a prostate cancer survivor himself, and encourages men in a non-threatening way to take charge of their health and get the PSA screening. Next year is my 40th year, and it will be time for me to start getting regular checks myself.

I was lucky that I checked my e-mail while I was at the airport, as I was free on Friday, and there was nothing in the world I would have rather been doing.

So on Friday morning, I headed off to Wynkoop Brewery in Lower Downtown (LoDo) to volunteer. The event was being held in Wynkoop's pool hall on the second floor above the bar/restaurant, and brewery facilities. Now if you have never been to Wynkoop, it is Denver's first brewpub and it was started in 1988 by now Denver Mayor, John Hickenlooper. The pool hall is the entire second floor and is a large, open space with 20 foot ceilings and perhaps 20 tournament sized billiards tables. I can tell you a secret, too. Pool is free in the afternoons, and the beer ain't bad either.

I checked in with Rick Lykes, the event organizer, and was sent to help hang the brewery signs above the serving stations. Not that they really needed my help (they were almost done), but I tried to be as helpful and friendly as I could. After that, I was told to choose a brewery to serve for. As luck would have it, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales would be serving their 2006 and 2007 vintages of their Biere de Mars. I still felt bad for not going to visit this brewery when I was in the Detroit Area. This was my chance to meet these guys, and try their beer.

When Mike (VP of Sales) and Ron (Brewer/Owner) arrived, Mike recognized my name when I introduced myself. I apologized profusely for canceling my tour with him (he called it "standing him up") and for the rest of the afternoon, he made fun of me for that, as well as discussing Molson on my blog....that's fair. At least he read the blog. Then, disaster was realized.

As I said, Jolly Pumpkin sent two vintages of the same oak aged beer for the tasting. Two things were discovered: 1. not all of their beer arrived at the festival (about 1/2 of it was missing), 2. The ink on the labels that told which vintage was which was printed with water soluble ink. So, they had half of their beer, and they didn't know which they had. #2 was partially my fault, as 1/2 of the beer was on ice when I arrived, and I added (thinking I was being helpful) the other half to the bin. Luckily, they know their beer and were able to determine that most of what had arrived was their 2006 vintage. As a result, we were pouring 1 oz tasters instead of the festival's three ounce limit.

The beer itself is a Biere de Mars, which traditionally is a maltier version of a Biere de Garde, a darker version of the Saison (French for Session). Jolly Pumpkin's version is oak aged and bottle conditioned and utilizes Brettanomyces yeast (often referred to as Brett) to give it a sour taste. It was described to me as more like a Sour Flemish Brown Ale than its Saison roots. The 2006 vintage was oak aged for 27 months and bottle conditioned for a year and a half. It was sour, but very drinkable. I think it was around 7% ABV. Any way you cut it, it was a very special beer indeed.

Most of the festival goers were true beer experts and aficionados, and a few people who didn't know a thing (with more money than sense) about beer. All were very nice, even after we ran out of beer. I was told once and again while I was serving, that Jolly Pumpkin's Biere de Mars was the best beer at the festival. I was hoping that I was representing them well, as I was extremely proud to serve this special beer from my home State of Michigan.

After we ran out, I was free to join the tasters. I got to taste almost everything. I missed Wynkoop's Mead, by only about 1 minute. As I arrived, the were unscrewing the tap handle. I also missed Sam Adams Utopia, and Brooklyn's (Wild 1). I was told that perhaps the wrong beer was sent from Dogfish (Raison d etre, instead of Raison D' Extra), and Brooklyn's beer was very limited (like ours). I especially enjoyed New Glarus' (Wisconsin) Golden Ale. I got to speak directly to New Glarus' Brewmaster, Daniel Carey, a rock star in the craft beer world (in my opinion) about his beer and starting a brewery from scratch. His wife (who runs the brewery) hand labeled the brewer's notes on the bottles. I also liked Allagash's (Portland, Maine) Fluxus (Ale brewed with sweet potatoes and pepper), New Belgium's (Ft. Collins, Colorado) Trip II, and Bison's (Berkeley, CA) Double White. I spoke briefly with Bison's brewer (as I had been in their brewery in 2006), and he said that he was forced out of his location due to zoning violations. He could have used my expertise as my career is dealing with zoning, and my passion beer. He is now brewing in Ukiah at the Mendocino Brewing Company on the south side of town (I have been there, too). Still, no beer was better than "my" Biere de Mars. In my opinion (as with many others), it was the best beer of the festival.

I can't wait until next year, I have already offered to volunteer again, and will do so as long as I am allowed or able. My many thanks to Mike and Ron at Jolly Pumpkin. If you happen to be (or live) in Michigan, check out Jolly Pumpkin's Ales in stores, or at their two brew pubs (on Main in Ann Arbor, or up in beautiful Traverse City). My winter's are better here in Denver, but Jolly Pumpkin makes me want to move back home even more. I hope I paid my penance for skipping Jolly Pumpkin while in Michigan.

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