Monday, August 27, 2012

Brewpub Crawl In Colorado - Part 2

This is part two of a two part guest post by Brady Umfleet.

Stop #7 Eddyline Brewing

Author Brady Umfleet
This brewery is located in Buena Vista a town north of Salida. This is a difficult to find place. It is in a faux area of downtown, you know one of those that developers build to make it look like it is part of some other development. There is a main street in Buena Vista. But then there is South Main Street where the brewery is located. Walking in you get the out door sports vibe. A very small bar of about 4 stools is opposite the door. My wife and I tried the CPA (Colorado Pale Ale) and the Chili Porter. The bartender who was unaware I was sitting at the bar, even after she helped two guys next to me, and she didn’t know what Chilies were in the beer. None the less it was good. May be worth a stop if you are actually in Buena Vista, otherwise head town to the cool town of Salida.

Stop #8 Amicas Pizza and Microbrewery

Following a long soaking in the Salida Municipal Hot Springs we rolled into Amicas located in downtown Salida on a rainy Wednesday night. This place was very busy with tourists and locals. Walking in you must get a table then you can order food. However, there is a bar next to the register area that had 7 house brews on tap; Bomber Blonde Ale, Headwaters IPA, Big S Brown, Rex’s Amber Ale, Ute Trail Pale Ale, and a very interesting and good Black beard’s Delight German style Black Lager, and an interesting Honey Bourbon Brown 10 year Anniversary Ale. I have to say the black lager, IPA, and 10th Anniversary Ale were very very good and were imbibed by several in our party. What was interesting is that we were able to order beers and then when we ordered our food we would tell the person how many we had, a real honor system. We really enjoyed this brewery.

Stop #9 Breckenridge BBQ Brewpub

Our first brewery visit in Denver was to BBB. This location is located in the south side of Denver, near the Santa Fe arts district. My wife and I had a large sampler that included; Lucky U IPA, Small Batch 471, 72 Imperial, Well Built (barrel aged) ESB (our favorite), and a few more that I can’t recall. The Well Built was a beer that memories are made of; unfortunately we couldn’t score a bottle or two to bring home with us. The atmosphere was laid back on a Thursday afternoon. A few beer geeks and I assume a few workers from other breweries were there since they all wore the same brewery gear. We had the Carolina BBQ and some kind of crazy good chicken and sausage sandwich.

Stop #10 Renegade Brewing

The Renegade brewing logo
The brewery is located in a small building with two rolling garage doors that are opened in nice weather. The atmosphere is slightly industrial and the clientele young professionals, you know the type-those who ride bikes to work and are likely in the tech industry, a pretty chill place. We had a sampler that included; Ryeteous (Rye IPA), Descendant (Pale Ale), Elevation (DIPA), and a few more including a Russian Imperial Stout. We really enjoyed the Elevation and the Russian Imperial Stout. The service was very good and though they didn’t have food there was a Cuban/Vietnamese sandwich truck parked outside. We could have lingered longer but we wanted to head to our hotel.

Stop #11 Great Divide Brewing

Great Divide beer line-up

This is a must visit when in Denver, but try to avoid Rockies game days and 4-5pm ish.

Located a short walk to Coors Field Great Divide was a brewery we were really looking forward to visiting. Walking in to the tap room you almost literally run into the bar. There were about 15 beers on tap and since it was firkin Friday there was another bonus beer. My wife and I tried; Hercules Double IPA, and an oaked version, Titan IPA, Claymore Scotch Ale, and Wolfgang Dopplebock. We would have liked to try samplers of several more, but because it was packed and we were going to the game we settled on the above brews. With the exception of the oaked Hercules, which my wife didn’t care for as much because of the strong oak flavor, we really enjoyed the beer. We didn’t buy any food from the pizza truck outside, but we did see the pies and they looked great.

The service was bad, yeah it was busy, but it was bad. For example, three bar tenders were working, but all three were helping the half a bar nearest to the door (which wasn’t even as busy as the other side). So if you were on the other side of the bar you might as well been in Colorado Springs. We would love to go back but during a less crushed time.

Stop # 12 Sandlot Brewing at Coors Field

Behind the scenes at Sandlot
OK, this is a first for us, a brewery in a baseball park. I will add this to the brewery in a casino in Connecticut I visited many years ago. This place as a steep cover charge and thankfully it does because you shouldn’t be tempted to visit otherwise. A large bar, seating area located at the north entrance to Coors Field. On tap were Coors, Coors light, Sandlot Red Ale, and a couple of the Blue Moon beers. So, having never drank a Coors in my life I ordered one of those and ordered the Red Ale (brewed on site). I somewhat enjoyed the Coors but the Red Ale was neither malty nor hoppy, and frankly it was watery and thin. My wife and I left half of each and departed. In the ball park we found a stand with CO beers such as Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale, Left Hand, and Odells. We enjoyed a bottle of Odells IPA.

Stop #13 Strange Brewing

Gluten free beer must be 
in plastic cup, it's the law.
Our final beer stop in CO, and frankly even I was beered out by this time. Strange Brewing located in an industrial strip mall not far from the Mile High Stadium just west of downtown Denver. When we arrived we spotted the food vendor and the smell of something good. Walking into Strange the bar is located directly opposite of the bar. There is also a rail with stools near the bar. There were about 6-7 beers on tap, but to be honest we were tired and went for a Cherry Kriek, and a Gluten Free Lemon Pale Ale. I hereby swear to never drink another gluten free beer again. The Cherry Kriek was very good but it was $8 a pint. We liked this place and would have enjoyed it more if it weren’t the last stop on our beercation. Thursday nights are $1 ounce steak night-they (the food vendor) grill them on the patio to order.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blanche De Chambly

Unibroue is a brewery in Quebec, Canada that has it's beginnings as a 1990 buy-out of the already existing Brasserie Massawippi located in North Hatley, which produced the first craft beer meant for commercial distribution. After becoming one of the most successful microbreweries in Canada, Unibroue was soon acquired by Sleeman Breweries, which itself was merged with Sapporo brewery in 2006.

Blanche de Chambly is Uniboue's flavorful, relatively low alcoholic Belgian ale with plenty of phenolic spice and fruity esters. There's coriander in the nose and sweet orange peel comes on strong in the taste. With all that going on, I was surprised how un-impressive I was with this beer. Sure, it's quaffable but what detracts from the possibilities offered by those initial flavor components is the overly sweet bready flavors with a heavy handed candy sugar presence that feels cloying and burdensome. It impressed me as that of an under attenuated tripel. As if it didn't quite reach it's potential before being bottled. Consequently it lacks the crisp dry mouthfeel that I want from a witbier.

According to Wiki "Chambly is the very first ale brewed by Unibroue and as Belgian tradition dictates for white ales, it is named after the city in which it is brewed. In 1996, Chicago's Beverage Testing Institute declared Blanche de Chambly 'The World’s Best White Ale.'"

My feeling is that this beer is brewed to appeal to the masses rather then to adhere to the ideals of the Belgian Witbier style. But that's just me.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Yeast Inventory

    While cleaning out my brewing area I set aside all of the empty yeast vials that I accumulated over the years. Although I've thrown away many more vials than I've saved and as a standard practice I use a lot of US-05 dry yeast, never the less, the remaining collection revealed some telling statistics about my brewing habits.

    The first and obvious is how often I brew wheat beers and my preference for Whitelabs hefeweizen yeast WLP300. As you can tell from the picture below, I have far more empty vials of that yeast then any other. I use it for my standard German hefe and also a dunkelweizen recipe that I brew without changes at this point. Besides the great flavor I get from this yeast, I've discovered over time that fermenting with it at low ale temperatures (low 60's f. in this case) has a considerably influence in increasing the amount of phenols in the finished beer, a flavor component that I really enjoy.

    Empty vials of Whitelabs yeast
    The other clear indicator from my stack of vials is how often I attempt to brew classic English style ales. I've gone through a number of those type of yeast on multiple occasions trying to find that perfect combination of fruity ester by products, malt dominance and great flocculation. Some I like better than others but they all contribute an unacceptable level of diacetyl for my tastes. But all those trials led me to try the WLP013 London ale yeast on the last couple of beers I brewed. An ESB and most recently an Irish red ale. The WLP013 came through with the esters, malt presence and excellent clarity and with the added reward of being a very low diacetyl contributor. Finally, I've discovered my 'go-to' English ale yeast.

    As I spent some time peeling the labels off of these vials to send in to Whitelabs to redeem for some free yeast I remembered back to when I first started brewing. My brewing buddy and I would try to save some money on yeast by salvaging from previous batches.  The funny thing was that we tried to put the salvaged yeast back in those tiny tubes to re-pitch! I don't know what we were thinking. Now, I save yeast in wide mouth mason jars or juice jars and dump the entire content into the fresh wort for the new batch.

    Easy to pitch, salvaged English ale yeast

    Also revealing but not surprising is how few lager yeasts I've gone through. With high temperatures here where I live in California and the fact that I'm gone to Mexico in the Winter prevents me from fermenting too many lagers at proper lager temperatures. But, I still try to get a few lagers brewed in November before we head south for the Winter. I reluctantly leave them to lay up for several months in the kegs waiting for my return.

    Another favorite beer of mine is the classic Belgian tripel and I use the WLP500 for that purpose but for the most part I'm brewing American pale ales, IPA's and Imperial IPA's and for those I pitch dry yeast, Safale US-05 which is like the work horse of ale yeasts. It gets the job done with good attenuation, moderate flocculation and a clean finish.

    As the Fall approaches, I'm gathering what I need to brew in Mexico this year and I'll be taking a couple different types of liquid yeast. Chances are I'll stow away some of my favorites and hope they don't get to warm on the trip south. I'm also planning to culture some Belgian yeast from bottles of imports that I can get pretty easily in San Miguel and of course I'll bring a fist full of US-05 to get the job done.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Brewpub Crawl In Colorado

    This is part one of a two part guest post by Brady Umfleet.

    My wife and I planned a trip to Boulder and Denver in conjunction with our friend’s birthday celebration in Salida. Since we are craft beer lovers we decided to hit as many breweries as possible because we wanted to make sure my wife visited her 100th brewery during our trip. We were also interested in exploring the happening craft beer scene is CO. We also love baseball and have always wanted to visit Coors Field for a ball game. We were two weeks or so too early to watch our Cardinals play at Coors Field however we did watch the Phillies and the Rockies. As a result of my pre trip research and our visit I believe the CO is the craft beer epicenter. Sorry San Diego, this is not only because of the constant opening of breweries, but also because of the extent of craft beer penetration in the state.
    Brady enjoys a pint
    Stop #1
    Twisted Pine
    TP is located off one of the main drags of Boulder. Walking in on a rainy Saturday night it was buzzing with a full crowd of locals. There were about 12 beers on tap and my wife and I tried the Hoppy Girl (released that night, Hoppy Boy with jasmine and hibiscus added), Hoppy Boy IPA, Ghost Face Killah (the Billy’s Chilies beer with Ghost Pepper added), Big Easy Off Beat Brown Ale (with wasabi, horseradish and honey), and a cream stout. The stand outs were the Hoppy Girl, Hoppy Boy, and the Big Easy. Overall the beer was solid and if we lived in Boulder this could be our local. The atmosphere is nice and basic and is mos’ def a locals place filled with bicyclists and townies.

    Stop #2
    Avery Brewing

    Even though our GPS sent us on a long roundabout path to Avery Brewing it is actually located on a road that cuts through Boulder. Needless to say this beer destination was busy on a rainy Saturday night. My wife and I were able to score one of the few tables in the barrel room which was a wonderful, intimate, and sedate area of the brewery.
    Our server was great and helped us to pick out a mega sampler. I recall we tasted the following brews; 19 Anniversary Ale (Belgian Triple), IPA, Buddha’s Hand (a stand out Belgian Pale Ale), Collaboration not Litigation Ale (Belgian String Dark, again a stand out), Ellie’s Brown Ale, Hog Heaven Barley Wine (a solid sedate BW), Maharaja (Double IPA, had another pint of this), Salvation, The Reverend, and a sour beer along the line of Rodenbach (of which we had the last glass, ever). Being able to sit among the barrels with my wife was a very good experience as we were able to carry on a great conversation away from the hustle and bustle of the main bar area. If you are in Boulder you really do need to make this a destination.

    This brewery is located about 12 miles north of Boulder on the Diagonal Highway in Longmont. About 10 years ago I visited the original location in Lyons and was looking forward to checking out another Oskar Blues location with my wife, especially since they began to can and widely distribute their beers. Frankly, I haven’t cared for their canned beer because they have often been flat, but I do recall enjoying their beers during my visit to Lyons. As you drive to this location, don’t be tempted to stop at the large free standing building with Oskar Blues logo plastered on giant faux grain silos this is, I am not kidding, two blocks from the actual brewery. This is their restaurant, pass this location and hang a left and you will find the production brewery and tap room. Walking up the steps you will find a large tap room with tables and long bar. We had a sampler paddle that included; Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub (Scottish Ale), G’Knight Imperial Red, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Ten Fidy (Imperial Stout), Gubna (Imperial Red), Deviant Dales’ (IPA). The stand outs were the Dale’s Pale ale, Deviant Dales’, and the Ten Fidy. There were other additional seasonals and one offs but we had pints of the Deviant and the Dales’. I must say that the cans do not do this beer justice, as the freshness and drinkability of the beer was amazing. The vibe is laid back with dogs on the patio, cyclists hanging out, beer travelers, and locals. Thankfully I don’t live close to OB because it is an excellent place to hang out over a couple of pints and I might never leave.

    Stop #4
     Upslope Brewing
    The final stop on the Boulder/Longmont brewery tour was Upslope brewing which is located just outside downtown Boulder. Walking into the tap room the first thing you notice is that this is a small place. We ordered a sampler and grabbed a stool. The sampler included; Pale Ale, IPA, Craft Lager, Brown Ale, Maibock, Dopplebock, Belgian style Pale Ale, and one I can’t remember. The real treats here were the IPA, Craft Lager, and the Dopplebock. The tap room is very basic; a few tables, stools, and some games. There was nothing like having a beer and playing Connect Four. This is a good place to have a few brews, all of which were solid, and highly drinkable. This was a pleasant beer farewell to Boulder. Newsflash from the Fermentedly Challenged blog:
    "Upslope will be building new brew house in Boulder to expand production. The new location will also have a tap room while the old location will be for experimental brews and they will keep the tasting room."

    Driving from Boulder to the Salida area my wife suggested a more scenic route than our GPS planned out. Thankfully, I also had my copy of Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado's Breweries by Ed Sealover and a map. We decided to hit up Tommyknocker in Idaho Springs. This brewpub is located in the old mining town of Idaho Springs. This is a quaint small mining town that is located off of Interstate 70. Tommyknocker is a term used by Cornish miners for small troll like beings that live in mines. The bar is a magnificent wooden work of art and the draft handles are mounted in an old mining car. On tap were 12 different brews and we had a sampler of all of them, but didn’t finish them as is our practice when confronted with a massive selection and a long drive ahead. The standouts were the Maple Nut Porter, Imperial Nut Brown Ale, and Black IPA. These were three excellent brews that we really enjoyed. We purchased 6 packs of the Maple Nut and the Black IPA to share with our friends. Interesting note for you brewers out there, when you visit the restrooms you will notice that the brewery is completely open-no glass, walls, nothing between the brewery and the rest of the pub/restaurant.
    As you head west on Interstate 70 you will eventually run into the ski areas such as Dillon, Frisco, etc. Located in Dillon not far off of I-70 is Dillon Dam Brewing. You can’t miss the extra large green grain silo that marks the brewpub. Let’s face it this is a ski town, though it doesn’t do much for me, the aesthetic is nice. We opted to sit on the patio. We didn’t try a sampler but did have a pint of the ESB and the Pils (German). We enjoyed both beers as we thought they were on style. If you do visit this brewery take the very short self-guided tour of the brewery. Walk up the stairs near the entrance and follow the signage. It is a nice change of pace to get an eagle eye view of a brewery.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    California Beer Fest 2012

    Have I suddenly become old? Hardened by years of beer related activities? Am I now a jaded homebrew geek too caught up in his own pretension to have fun anymore? These are the questions that flooded my mind as I attended a recent beer festival.

    This year I again played a minor role in supporting the California Beer Festival held at Aptos park on Saturday. In the midst of the spectacle (height of pandemonium?) I had a life altering revelation. Out of the blue it became crystal clear to me that I don't care too much for beer festivals anymore. God help me, I think I may have outgrown them.

    When I first fell in love with beer festivals I was just beginning my homebrewing journey and like a heat seeking missile, I sought out anything beer. I remember fondly my first festival. It was at Booneville and as I think back about my experience, I recall that the beers were all exceptional, the crowds were small, enthusiastic and excited to try the new beers available for tasting. Occasionally, a groundswell of a cheers would rise up each time someone accidentally dropped and shattered their tasting glass. The contagious waves of shouts and groans quickly spread from the epicenter before reaching a crescendo and then just as fast die out. Everyone had a smile on their face, the weather was mild and beautiful and the day ended before you could say "a wee deek on boont harpin's" and we headed off to our campsites to continue the drinking, raising a toast with our newly befriended comrades.

    That was a lot of festivals and many years ago now and it's sad to say that I've come to a point where I frankly just don't care anymore. Now the crowds seem huge and aggressive pushing forward in unending lines to sample the most generic of beers. My enthusiasm has been drained and it makes me see people as less friendly. Sad reproach passes over my face as I receive my taster glass that's now made of plastic. In the old days, before I lost my enthusiasm, the people that dressed in costumes to celebrate the day, amused and delighted me, now I look at the spectacle through critical eyes and try to staunch the flow of cynicism as I watch grown men dressed as giant hop flowers sweat through green face paint while caricatures of 'Duff' beer cans stagger sideways leering through their beer mug shaped sun glasses.

    The festivals haven't changed but I have and as much as I want to believe my loss of interest is due to a sophistication that comes from exposure, the truth is that my tolerance for much of the experience has grown thin. It reminds me of the late 70's when I reveled in the solid walls of sound during the arena rock concerts I attended. Mile High stadium, surrounded by thirty thousand people, clambering toward the front of the stage for a view of Peter Frampton singing "Do you feel like we do?" (chances are I'm one of those screamers in the audience on the 'Comes Alive' album) or Steve Miller or Fleetwood Mac. I lost myself in the glory that was not only musical bliss but a group experience that included mind altering drugs. Then, as time went by and I grew older I found that the crowds became a detractor and that I could enjoy the music more through a good home music system. It wasn't about the group experience anymore but about the quality of the product. Does this make me old? Simply put, yes.

    My discovery, my revelation was that now at this point in my life and with the experiences that I've had I prefer focusing on the end product, the beer. I'm discovering that a smaller venue where I can experience rare or unusual and unique or just plain well crafted beers shared with close personal friends is my preference.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to disrespect. Naturally, the beer festival still serves it's purpose and I'm all for continuing the practice.  It's a great place to gather as a community and be exposed to a wide variety of beers and enjoy some that may not be available locally. If it wasn't for the many festivals that I've attended in the past I would not have had the opportunity to meet some great people and to have access to dozens of beers in one convenient location. Another inherent value that kept me returning year after year is the chance to discover new breweries. During this last festival I came across a small start-up called Riley's Brewing located in Madera, California. The owner Dan Riley was on hand to talk about his line up of beers and it was great to be able to talk one on one with a brewery owner. Another benefit to attending beer festivals is the occasional special beer that shows up. Karl Strauss Brewing Company had some bottles of their Russian Imperial Stout that I've never seen in the stores here and it is an excellent beer. Finally, another rare opportunity was Lagunitas's 'Little Sumpin Wild' that was being served by Santa Cruz's own Red Restaurant and Bar. Very good beer. At the end of the day, these are excellent benefits for beer enthusiast like myself and they often only happen at beer festivals.

    But for me, I'm moving on to the next venue. I'm not sure what that will look like but it probably has a pretty short line to the taps.

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