Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mile High Brews: Great Divide

LoDo in downtown Denver used to be one of the least desirable places to go in Colorado. Then with the opening of Coors Field in 1995 the area was cleaned up and became a trendy area for bars and shopping areas. But it was a year before that, when the microbrewery scene in Denver was still scarce, that an experimental brewery opened up just a couple of blocks away from where Coors Field would be. A brewery that has both traditional ales and beers that are very experimental in flavor combinations. A brewery inspired by the owner’s worldly travels, and of course a commitment to quality. A brewery that has won 17 medals at the annual Great American Beer Festival, 5 World Beer Cup awards, and has twice been ranked in the top 10 of microbreweries in the world. So when in downtown Denver a brewery that is a must visit and a must try is Great Divide on Arapahoe Street, where great minds drink alike.
Upon walking up to this brewery you would never imagine that a place so small could produce so many flavorful beers. There is a nice patio outside with scenery of the old buildings and warehouses, and the inside is a small, but recently expanded bar with views into the production area. There is no glitz or glamour to the environment of this bar; it is a very basic setup that allows the beers to speak for themselves. Great Divide offers nine beers year round ranging from ales to IPAs, and they also offer thirteen seasonal ales some of which are unique brews and others are year round beers with special flavors ranging from espresso to chocolate. At the tap room there is an opportunity to try any of the year round offerings plus up to seven different seasonal beers at anytime. They have sixteen taps altogether and keep them all going. The question that now has to be answered is with so much variety offered how do you know which one to try?
One of the first beers that anybody should try here is the DPA (Denver Pale Ale). If you are a fan of English style ales or of traditional IPA beers then this is the perfect fit, as it is essentially a hybrid of both of those styles into one bottle. This beer is a classic pale ale which comes with both a hoppy aroma and taste which usually leads to a very bitter ale. English style ales are known to very malty, so when the two styles are combined the end product is a beer that is both bitter, malty, but has a smooth finish. A beer totally unique to the city of Denver is a definite must try for fans of any style of ale.
Now whether people will admit it or not fruity beers can be not only enjoyable and refreshing, but flat out delicious. The Wild Raspberry Ale is all three of those and one of the best beers at this brewery. So the question is with all the fruit beers on the market what separates this one from the rest? For starters the fruit used is real so there is no worry about an artificial taste or sweetness, it is all natural. The second is the use of both red and black raspberries which adds to the depth of flavor and an extra dimension to this beer. A great ale to drink year round whenever a truly refreshing beer is what you are craving.
 Whenever the term Belgian Style Ale is thrown around the same thought comes to mind time after time. An unfiltered wheat beer loaded with citrus flavor and served with an orange wedge on the side of the pint glass. All those thoughts went out the door the first time I tried Hades. No citrus flavor, just a different type of yeast used to brew this ale which gives it a great spice note. It is a very simple beer that still has a very complex and deep flavor. The crispness of the ale followed by the subtle spices makes this a very surprising but very high quality beer that will not disappoint.
While Great Divide may only offer nine beers on a year round basis they do make thirteen different seasonal beers. None of these are better than the Hibernation winter ale, an old style English ale packed full of malty flavor. If you prefer stouts than not only is the Yeti widely available but throughout the year they add espresso and chocolate to this beer to give it a different spin and it never lets down. Not to mention using the same Belgian yeast in an IPA to give a dimension of spice to all the hops.
It’s hard to imagine that such a small brewery can produce not only so many beers but maintain such a high quality. Whether your taste is for a fruity beer, malty beer, rice ale, or an IPA Great Divide offers it all. While six packs are available throughout the state there is nothing better than going to see this brewery and having a fresh pint. Next time you are in downtown Denver this place should be a top priority to visit. While they do not serve food there is always a food truck outside to serve you as well, an added bonus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mile High Brews: Tommyknocker

When the Rocky Mountains and beer are mentioned in the same sentence one place comes straight to mind the Miller-Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado. But if you keep driving west on I-70 about 24 miles there is the historic mining town of Idaho Springs, and it is right on the corner of Miner St. that is one of the great breweries of Colorado: Tommyknocker. A brewery around since 1994, and winners of several medals at the Great American Beer Fest it is no wonder that today this once small, local brewery is no able to distribute to 22 states. What makes that more impressive is that they have been able to expand to a national level all while staying at their original mountain location.
Upon walking into this brewery you first walk through a small gift shop, turn right and you are in the bar/restaurant area. There is no wall dividing the fermentation tanks from the tables, just a small flight of stairs. Everything is in the open and the production going on only helps to not only heat the bar, but also assure that the beverage you are enjoying is as fresh as it can get. The environment of the bar matches the historic mining feeling of the entire town, capped off by a mural of a gold mine surrounding the taps. The staff was very friendly and more importantly full of knowledge about their beers. They had no issue talking about the flavor profile of their beers as well as offering recommendations of their favorites. All the beers they distribute are available at the brewery plus a couple other limited ones. At the time of my visit they had a Belgian style, and a couple pale ales that were brewery exclusives. Plus with a full menu offered it makes it that much easier to enjoy this brewery.
When it comes to the beers offered they take standard beers and put their own unique spin on them to create something very original. This is no more evident than with their version of a standard nut brown ale. Nut brown ales are typically brewed with some type of nut that usually has a medium body and a smooth after taste. They can also be very delicious or very imbalanced depending on the technique and skill of the brewer. Tommyknocker adds another level of flavor and another great sensation on the pallet by adding maple to their nut brown ale, and there is a reason this is probably their signature ale. The end result is a great beer with a medium body, and earthy flavor from the nuts, and a deep sweetness from the maple. When they first sip of beer is as good as the last it is a beer worth trying and will be enjoyed one bottle at a time.
The Jack Whacker Wheat ale is also an example of a unique take on what can be a very ordinary beer. It is an unfiltered beer that leaves a cloudy appearance but also adds a depth of yeast flavor. Their addition of lemongrass adds a nice but unexpected citrus flavor that people are used to when it comes to a wheat ale. The last of the year round ales that are a must try is the black IPA. When you think IPA the common perception is a one note beer that is bitter and hoppy. The case of that is true in that this beer is quite bold in hops, but Tommyknocker cut the bitterness of this beer with some sweetness by using chocolate malts in the brewing process. The end result is a bitter, hoppy beer with a subtle sweetness that was something I had never tasted in an IPA before and probably never will again.
But what makes this brewery really stand apart is their seasonal offerings in the summer, fall, and winter. It starts in the summertime when a very refreshing beer is in order and the Tundrabeary does not fall short on not only being refreshing but delicious. Most people have had a fruit beer but usually only one fruit is used whether it is citrus, raspberry, or blueberry. But this pale ale has both blueberry and raspberry in it that creates and naturally sweet but refreshing beer that is perfect on those hot summer days. During the fall season is when the Small Batch Pumpkin Ale can be found through some searching. It was not an easy beer to find but it is worth the hunt. This is not an ordinary pumpkin beer, in the fact that it is overpowered with pumpkin, cinnamon, or nutmeg. While this beer has all those flavors they are all brought together with molasses that creates a rich ale with a slightly smoky flavor to go along with the flavors of fall we have all come to expect. Last is the winter ale which is the cocoa porter. Porters are very dark ales that welcome accompanying flavors like chocolate or vanilla. So not only or chocolate malts used in the brewing process but also chocolate powder, and with the added flavor of honey this beer is sweet, but not overpowering. With the heavy body that a porter has this is the perfect beer to have on a cold evening.
After being around for close to 18 years Tommyknocker is still a premium beer producing not only flavorful and amazing beers, but are still maintain the highest level of quality. Beers we are all accustomed to drinking on a daily basis but with some of the most unique twists you could possibly imagine drinking. Mix that with the environment surrounding this small town brewery and it makes for a true destination. Next time you are driving on I-70 I encourage you do not speed past Idaho Springs but to stop and enjoy this place in person. If not a six pack or mixed twelve pack is at local liquor stores around the state.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mile High Brews: Tis the Season

December and the holiday season are officially upon us and this is when breweries all over the country will give us their gift of winter ales. Beers that are so complex in flavor that they are highly anticipated each season and rarely disappoint. In Colorado the winter beers are plentiful and all very different, and with so many to choose from it can be overwhelming. So this week I felt it was better not to talk about one brewery, but to sample and offer my recommendations on the best six winter beers from the mile high state.
Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter: When we were young hot chocolate with marshmallows was a favorite drink, and now this Idaho Spring brewery has made a beer that brings back the memories of drinking that. A porter is a dark beer that is commonly confused with a stout but it typically lighter in body and slightly sweeter. They are also known for taking on interesting flavors such as vanilla or in this case both chocolate and honey. This is one beer that was made for the winter. The heaviness of the beer warms you from the inside on the coldest nights, and the subtle flavors and sweetness from the chocolate and honey cuts the bitterness from the beer.  A must try for anybody who is a fan of porters or winter seasonal beers in general, this beer is one you will not want to have to wait another year for.
Great Divide Hibernation Ale: The holidays are all about tradition and starting in 1995 this LoDo brewery started the annual tradition of offering up Hibernation Ale every winter, and every winter I look forward to it. A very warming English style ale this beer provides a much needed warming factor on the coldest of winter nights, and a flavor profile of rich malts that coats your pallet. This beer can be slightly bitter, and the malts can leave a strong aftertaste, but as far as English style ales are concerned there is not a better one out there. This 3-time medal winning beer is worth every sip, and I bet you cannot drink just one.
Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale: Who would of thought that a beer/brewery as mainstream as Blue Moon could still produce such high quality and flavorful ales? Well their winter abbey does not fall short with its light body, rich, complex flavor, and slightly sweet but clean finish. Traditionally Belgian style beers are unfiltered, light, and have a subtly spice and citrus note. With the Winter Abbey you get the light body of a Belgian but nothing else. The rich flavor has a slight toffee flavor, and the hint of sugar provides more balance than sweetness. While some of the flavors are reminiscent of the winter season, the rest of this ale is the furthest thing I would have expected. A light body and a beer more refreshing than hearty in cold weather? Because of how unexpected this ale was it is definitely one worth sampling this holiday season.
Breckenridge Christmas Ale: Breckenridge Brewery has been producing their Christmas Ale since 1993 and it is living proof that when you make something right, then why change it. This beer is very dark in color but the taste is where all the surprises are. At first sip there was a slight bitterness due to the hops it was brewed with, but then there were undertones of caramel and chocolate due to the malts that were used. Lastly the heavy body this beer had with it only added to the warming effect this beer had (the seven percent alcohol might have something to do with that to). When a beer is made for the months of November and December, and it is brewed at over 9,000 feet there has to be a warming feeling, and comforting feeling that the beer can provide. A strong American style ale is the perfect fit, and Breckenridge Christmas Ale is a must try right now, otherwise it will be a long 11 months before it can be enjoyed again.
Avery Old Jubilation Ale: Complexity is the best word used to describe this annual, limited edition ale. But how is it complex? It probably has to do with the five malts that are used in the brewing process. It could also be the slight taste of hops, nuts, chocolate, and coffee finish. It is actually all of the above due to the depth of flavor in this ale. Upon first sip the beer has a very light body and a strong malt flavor, and as it moves to the back of the tongue the hops kick in. A very clean aftertaste with a subtle coffee flavor creates one great sip of beer, let alone a very enjoyable pint. It’s no wonder this beer has been extremely popular since 1993, because it is just that delicious. Avery Brewery is known as a small brewery that makes big beers, and the Old Jubilation is living proof of that motto. This is one limited edition beer that is a must try, it is not worth missing out on this one.
Ska Euphoria Pale Ale:  A lot of people know about the breweries in the Rocky Mountains, but what about in the  San Juan Mountains? In one of the most southern parts of Colorado is the town of Durango where Ska Brewery is located, and they are number six on our holiday beer list with their Euphoria Pale Ale. Most winter ales are heavy with more interesting flavor combinations, but the Euphoria ale is very simple. It is a pale ale that is made with golding hops which adds a small hint of spice in the aftertaste. All you get in this beer is the taste of hops followed by spice; it is that simple of a brew. With that being said it will either be loved or hated by drinkers who either love or hate hops, but to try something so simple during the holiday season this is one brew worth trying.
So there you have it, the best six winter seasonal beers to try during the holiday season. All of these beers are distributed to liquor stores throughout the state so try a six pack, or certain liquor stores sell bottles individually to make your own custom six pack. Cheers to you during the holiday season, and I hope you enjoy, and find time to relax.
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