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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