Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeping Up

It is hard to keep up with this writing stuff when all you would rather do is brew and drink.  Springtime chores, active kids, and daydreaming about starting a real brewery has been far more interesting than writing things down.  I am, to my figure, about four posts behind.

Last Friday my wife and I went to the Denver Art Museum's fund raising event "Uncorked".  It was a wine tasting event, but lucky me, 18 Colorado breweries sent representatives with good beer.  Interestingly, they put the beer guys all upstairs and the wine downstairs.  The wine areas were packed with people, and virtually no one was upstairs with the beer.  No one, that is, except me.  It was interesting that the beer was so unattended, the wine snobs were all downstairs.  I had most of Colorado's breweries and brewing reps to myself.

It becomes interesting to be asking questions that are no longer easily answered by the poor beer reps.  I asked ingredient questions (which were mostly answered), process and brewing questions, (in which answers were given partial credit), and licensing and distribution questions (which went completely unanswered).  Most of the reps were the sales guys, some were brewers, none were the business folks.  I was probably a pain in the ass, as there were so few people there that they had to deal with me.

Beer tastings are interesting to try to get a sense of trends.  Breweries either bring their flagship products to promote their brand, their new products in need of promotion, or their seasonal or unusual products to promote their diversity.  Failing that, they bring one dark, one light, and one amber (or one hoppy/strong instead of one dark), so that everyone can find a product they like.  I don't know why 3 beers is the norm for these events, but it always seems to be.  From surveying the selections from each brewery, you get a sense of the brewing.  For this tasting, it was interesting to see the trends here in Colorado.

The most notable trend was one I have spoken a lot about.  Hops are still in vogue, and the India Pale Ale is still King of the Craft Beer World.  Ten of the 58 offered beers were IPAs, at least three more were hop bombs under a different name, and one was an India Brown Ale.  Yet, three more were American Style or English Style Pale Ales that have distinct hop characteristics.  One quarter of the beers offered were beers with a prominent display of hops.

The second trend was a notable lack of Belgian Inspired seasonals.  Of course, New Belgium Brewery brought 2 Belgians (a Trippel and 1554 (Black Beer)), their other offering was their new Ranger IPA, but except a farmhouse seasonal from Great Divide, and an Oak Aged Sour (Woodcut No. 3 Crimson Ale) from O'Dell's, there were no others.  Speaking of wood, O'Dell's was the only wood aged beer (that I recall...except maybe for the Wheat Wine, see below).  I grant, though, that the wood aged beers (and probably Belgians) are more usual winter seasonals.

Thirdly, three of the breweries offered Scottish Ales (Bristol, Grand Lake, and Oskar Blues).  Great Divide has a Scotch as a seasonal, but didn't offer it.  Bristol (Laughing Lab) and Oskar (Old Chub) have them as regular offerings and could be considered flagships.  Interestingly, the Scottish from Grand Lake Brewing was made with peat smoked malt and tasted similar to mine.  I can't decide if I like it much or not, but I do know that I would like mine better with less peat smoked malt.

Fourthly, Wheat, Wheat, Baby.  Chalk it up to the time of year and it is often a light beer drinker's favorite, but I counted 8 wheat beers including flavored styles and a Wit.  There was an interesting twist, however.  Fort Collins Brewery had what they labeled a Wheat Wine.  I would characterize it as an Imperial or Double Wheat.  I had read about the "Imperializing" of  pale beers (such as Wheat and Pils), but never had one.  It is akin to a Barley Wine (over 8% ABV if I recall correctly) but made with wheat.  I was impressed.  There was an elegance to it....but, really, I would just rather have a glass of wine, I think.

Lastly, outside of the lighter beers (Wheats and Pale Ales) there was a lack of traditional English offerings including 4 stouts (2 flavored), two porters (one flavored), four brown ales (one flavored, one India style), no Bitters.  And after IPA and Wheat beers, the next most common was the amber or American Amber Ale.  The American Amber Ales need a makeover or some public relations.  I usually avoid Ambers these days as I think them boring.  But the style is a rather broad category that could include more Irish Red type Ambers (malty) or ones with west coast hoppiness (both sides of the spectrum I appreciate).  Some ambers in between give the style a bad name in being the easy introduction to craft brewing....(ie Craft Beer 101).  I figure that using the term "amber" is advantageous for the brewer in providing a beer that is a safe choice for the lighter beer crowd.  I have railed on the fact that the term amber is not enough information for me and the style "American Amber" is too broad in comparison to the reference of "American" in American Pale Ale.  I am probably missing out on some decent beers at my avoidance of beers with the adjective "Amber" in their name.  I didn't try any that night.

So, I found some of the same on-going trends in this little sample of Colorado Beers, but also some additional beers for thought.  Amber needs a makeover to be exciting again.  Traditional (non-Imperiaized, non-flavored) styles with the exception of Pale Ale seem to be waning.  Bitter is non-existent (also due to fact that Bitter is a draft style...some say pale ale is just bottled bitter).  Scottish and Reds are perhaps taking the place of the traditional Browns, Stouts, and Porters.

And what was my favorite beer of the night?  Good question.  I can tell you that I was impressed with Fort Collins Brewery, and have fallen in love all over again with O'Dell's products as of late.  Those two, along with Oskar Blues were my favorite tables of the night.  But my favorite beer?  I had two.  Bristol's Laughing Lab Scottish Ale is a beer (like O'Dell's 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat) that introduced me to the possibilities of craft beer and brewing so many years ago.  Until recently, I hadn't had a Laughing Lab in the last decade, but it will be a beer that I will have to have when I see it on tap.  It was my close second.  My favorite beer of the night came to me from across the State from the small but mighty brewing enclave of Durango.  The unpretentious SKA Brewing and their traditional Buster Nut Brown Ale.  It is the reigning silver medalist in the English Brown Ale category from last September's Great American Beer Festival, but Ska's rep didn't say so.  He just said, "Here.  You'll like this".  

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