Sunday, February 17, 2013

I Need About Ten Fidy! (and other Colorado brews)

If I were asked to compile a shortlist of the five best States in terms of microbreweries, it would certainly be a challenging task.  What criteria could one use to come to that decision?   I suppose off the top of my head I could think of a few ideas, namely:

1) Number of craft breweries per capita
2) Number of high quality craft breweries
3) Top quality beers - really, this should be most important!
4) Diversity; unique styles; sense of pride in their offerings
5) Supportive population of craft beer drinkers, as well as encouragement from the state government.
6) Brewing festivals and celebrations

Actually, that's not a bad little list there for a late evening's musing.
But again, whittling it down is no easy task, though a few jump to mind - California, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Michigan, and if I could group most of New England together, that would be a good start.   When generating this short list, however, I would have to consider adding the great Rocky Mountain state of Colorado to their great company.   How does Colorado stack up?  Lets go down the list:

1) Craft breweries per capita?  Check - according to the Brewers Association, Colorado (along with most o the Northwest) has one of the highest number of craft brewers per capita - sitting in at number four overall, and with Beer Advocate listing a whopping 156 in the State.

2) Number of high quality craft breweries?  Check again, with such giants in the industry as Odell, Great Divide, Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Breckenridge, and Avery, and more on the way.

3) Top quality beers - lots of classics here, a few of which we'll see today.

4) Diversity; unique styles; sense of pride in their offerings - a great mix of Belgian, American, German and fusion styles are common.

5) Supportive population of craft beer drinkers, as well as encouragement from the state government? - Again, consumption is quite high, among the highest in the country (Oregon is tops in this regard) both by volume and percentage of craft.

6) Brewing festivals and celebrations?  Absolutely, with the biggest being the Great American Beer Festival held annually in Denver.  

Clearly, Colorado is one of the giants of the craft beer world, and its products have received some excellent distribution recently.  Indeed, despite being a true Western state, Colorado is well-represented in the liquor shelves of the East, especially in the Buffalo area, so I am fortunate to have the opportunity to snap up a few Colorado brews with each beer haul, including this most recent adventure.  Let's have a look at a small sampling of brews from the Centennial State!

Beer: Titan IPA
Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 7.1%

Another IPA? Yes, yes, I realize that IPAs are pretty common around the Den. The ubiquitous nature of the IPA has become a common criticism of the American - and in some degree, Canadian - craft beer industry.  It just is expected now that if you have a new craft brewery, the way you show yourself as being "new craft" is that you have a well-hopped American IPA as one of your major year-round brews.  Indeed, you'd be hard-pressed to find an American craft brewery without at least one IPA, and most have at least several different styles, though many of them taste quite similar to one another.  Why all the IPAs?

First of all, if you like hops as I and so many other craft brew enthusiasts do, you're always looking out for that next fix, and breweries are all too happy to oblige if the market wants it.  To paraphrase the great Mugatu, IPAs are so hot right now.  IPAs have become my standard style for everyday drinking, and so I never mind so much.  Second, and this is just my opinion, is that IPAs have become a symbol of modern craft brewing, and the hoppier the better.  IPAs have become the antithesis of the over-marketed, tasteless macro lager, and so people now seem to associate the IPA style with craft brewing - it is bold, flavorful and not for the faint-hearted; to go without a hoppy monster in your lineup seems to be quite against the norm.  But if you don't like hops, or if you're sick of the everyday IPAs that line the shelves, it can seem like overkill, which is probably a fair point.  But to offer a counter-point: craft brewing is, among other things, a local industry. Breweries are becoming representatives of their regions and usually attempt to show some connection to their community, its geography and its history.  So if I want an IPA, why not have a local one? (though I seem to be bucking the local idea with this post about Colorado brews, I do regularly drink local IPAs, such as Smashbomb and Mad Tom, when I can).  If IPAs aren't your thing, show support for your craft brewery's other efforts as well - vote with your dollar!

Back to the Titan!  Great Divide is a brewery that has yet to do me wrong, and more often than not is leaps and bounds above my expectations.  Some of you might remember a few months ago my rave review of their Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti, a variation of their standard Yeti Stout.  They have an entire flight of Yeti variations, and the three I've sampled so far have been tremendous.  So naturally I've been eager to give their other offerings a go.

Poured into a nonic glass.  Light honey-caramel in colour, with a terrific head of sturdy foam that leaves some fantastic snowy lace down the sides of the glass.  Spectacular.

Nose is very nice, though not at all what I expected - resin, citrus and floral hops, a musky grain and mild caramel.  The musk gives this brew a raw, natural smell that reminds me of fresh bread.

Tastes at first of resin, pine hops, before that musky grain creeps in, which is accompanied with honey, caramel, cracker, bread and citrus.  Finish is short and not overly bitter - at 7.1%, this brew is remarkably smooth and damn-near chuggable with a mild body and easy carbonation. Fantastic stuff.

Here I am going on about American IPAs and their similarity to one another, and I have here an example of the style that displays its one unique character, which sets it apart from its brothers.  Very nice, easy drinking IPA that still packs a punch.  (Grade: A)

Beer: Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout
Brewery: Breckenridge (Denver)
Type: Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 5%

Staying within the Denver area, we move now to Breckenridge Brewery, which is one of Colorado's first craft breweries, opening its doors in 1990.   While it doesn't possess in its lineup one of those "it beers" that cause beer geeks to froth at the mouth and trade handsomely to get (such as Pliny the Elder, Abyss, Ruination or Bourbon County Stout), it does have a handsome list of brews from a variety of styles, and is a brewery I've been meaning to try for some time.

We'll start things off with their Oatmeal Stout, which has a label that reminds me at once of an Art Deco movie poster from the 1920s or something from Maurice Sendak.  Appealing and creepy at the same time.  As we've seen before, oatmeal stouts are stouts that have oatmeal added (go figure) in order to give the brew an extra sweetness and added smoothness to the mouthfeel.

Poured into that same glass as before - I'm a lazy, lazy man, and the glass does well for most styles.  Chestnut-black in colour, pours a bit thin.  The head on this was quite impressive - thick and bubbly, with lots of sticky lace.  Survives as a thick ring throughout the drink.

Nose is coffee, a bit of cola, nuts, sweet malt - maybe a bit of lactose - and a mild roasted character.

Tastes just fine: not quite at the calibre of, say, Sam Smiths or St. Ambroise's take on the style, but still quite tasty.  Incredibly easy to drink, very smooth.  Initially quite sweet and malty, before a smoky, bitter finish takes over.

About the only downside to this brew is the mouthfeel, which is water-thin.  It feels much more like a porter with extremely mild carbonation than that creamy, rich feel of St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout.  Still, an enjoyable brew.  I can certainly see me knocking back a whole mess of these before the evening is done, but alas, I only have one.  (Grade: B, B+)

Sticking with the Breckenridge, let's try another!

Beer: Vanilla Porter
Type: Porter
ABV: 4.7%

Vanilla is a flavor that is such a tricky one to work with, because there's always that risk of overdoing it, which might yield something more like Vanilla Coke than a beer.  But it's a flavor I tend to like a great deal, so I was happy to give this one a go.  I'm on a good streak so far, let's keep going with that nonic glass!

Dark chestnut in colour, though not as dark as the Oatmeal Stout.  About a half inch of cream-coloured head that recedes into a thick ring.  Again, some pretty nice lacing here.

Nose is certainly vanilla, but it smells just slightly more pronounced than usual.  It's unmistakably vanilla, but it wasn't overdone, which is a huge plus.  Sweet malt, caramel, a touch of dry roasted grain.

I think this one was a fine effort, and the vanilla tastes just fine - it's not as if a shot of vanilla extract was dumped in my glass of dark ale.  However, that is about all I can say about the Vanilla Porter.  Is it tasty? Absolutely, and I'm sure it would be quite a popular brew, especially around dessert time.  But other than vanilla, there isn't much here.  Quite one-dimensional.

Carbonation is a bit high, but the brew is smooth and slightly creamy.

I give the edge to the Oatmeal Stout between the two Breckenridges, though I wouldn't be disappointed with this one in the fridge.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Ten FIDY
Brewery: Oskar Blues (Longmont, north of Denver)
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.5% (get it?)

Ten FIDY is one of those beers that has generated a lot of excitement, not just because it is a damned tasty stout (as we'll see in a minute), but that it is found exclusively in cans!  Oskar Blues out of Longmont is a brewery whose meteoric rise in popularity has been attributed both to the quality of their brews and the fact that for financial and environmental reasons, their brews are found only in cans (or at least, if there are bottles of Oskar Blues out there, I have no idea where to find them!).

There has been a mini-revolution in can usage by microbreweries recently, with usage by breweries increasing dramatically - I say dramatically because it seems to go against everything we thought we knew about craft beer.  For the longest time, canned beer was synonymous with macro lagers, like Bud or Blue.  People always claimed that "you can taste the metal" and thus any brew of quality would be signing its own death warrant by being contained in such a vessel.  But breweries like Oskar Blues and Alchemist (whose canned double IPA "Heady Topper" is currently in the top five at Beer Advocate as being one of the best beers in the world) have seen the cost and environmental benefit in making the switch, with other breweries like Surly, Cigar City and our own Wellington, Mill Street and Central City offering some, if not all of their regular brews in cans.

This ended up being my 700th review on Beer Advocate, which couldn't have been a better choice because this brew was bloody phenomenal.  So good, in fact, that the brew was able to convince me that it deserved to be served in a classy tulip glass.  I, under its trance, was only too happy to oblige.

Pours a viscous, inky black into my trusty Duvel tulip, and produces a dark tan head of about an inch that settles into a fine ring.

Amazing nose for a canned stout.  Hell, this is an amazing nose for any stout, period.  Sweet and mildly boozy, with caramel, toasted malt, coffee, chocolate syrup, and a hint of smoke.  Just smelling this brew is a treat.

Ten FIDY is an intense, delicious stout that displays remarkable balance between its sweet and bitter elements, yielding an immensely satisfying flavor.  It begins sweet, with caramel, chocolate liqueur and coffee, before transitioning to a drier, roastier finish with smoke, mild citrus hops, toasted bread and sugar.  First rate stuff.  Smooth and silky, light but sufficient carbonation.

If I could have this brew available in my fridge at all time, I would be a very happy man indeed.  Balanced, flavorful, and incredibly flavorful.   I seriously regret only buying one of these...(Grade: A)

A small sampling of Colorado brews for your consideration, and given the number of breweries from the state, there's loads more to try, including my wife's favorite brew (or at least, one of her favorites), Oskar Blues' Dale's Pale Ale, or perhaps something more demonic from Avery - Mephistopheles Imperial Stout.  There's many a Yeti variety out there, as well as some more Belgian fare from the aptly named New Belgium.  Lots of good brews from out west to be had!

Now, if at any point the good brewers of Colorado feel that my treatment of Colorado brews has warranted some free beer my way, please do not hesitate to do so!  There's always room in my cellar!

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