Friday, October 21, 2016

GABF 2016: Dropping in on Downtown Denver breweries

A few days before leaving for this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF), I saw a post on social media suggesting that attending the event is something that should be on everyone's beer bucket list. I certainly agree, though for me it's about more than just the festival itself. That and the competition may be what draws brewers and their fans to Denver each year, but the array of festivities that go on in and around the city all week long is what makes the entire experience a must-do in my eyes.

In additional to smaller events and the slew of rare tappings that happen day and night throughout Denver and beyond, there are larger events like the Denver Rare Beer Tasting, Epic Brewing's Firkin Fiasco, The Oskar Blues Brewery Ordeal and a little thing that has origins in Texas, the Beerliner & Chill.

On top of that, there are always a few breweries that choose GABF week as a platform for debuting new products. While the curtain is usually pulled back during a media-only event to start, you can almost always find these beers being poured on the opening night of the festival. Examples this year included the unveiling of Pils World from Ska Brewing, The Smoothness from Great Divide and a Grilled Pineapple Golden Ale from New Belgium (the result of a burger-inspired collaboration with Red Robin restaurants).

For me, though, while the Beerliner is always on my evening itinerary, if you've read my GABF recaps in the past, you know that brewery hopping is how I like to spend my spare time during the day. In the spirit of that, thoughts on those visited while on my 2016 GABF adventure are provided below. As an added bonus, this year I was accompanied on many a stop by Matt Dixon, co-founder of Dallas Brew Scene (DBS) and Executive Director of North Texas Beer Week. So, in the diary of drinking that follows, you'll find commentary based on our shared experience. You can also read Dixon's own personal rundown on the DBS website by clicking here.


Stops on the Beer in Big D/Dallas Brew Scene brewery tour...

  • Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

If memory serves, it was 2003 when I last went by Wynkoop Brewing Co., a.k.a. Colorado's original brewpub. But, dropping in this year was a given, considering low long-time North Texas brewer John Sims (formerly of Copper Tank, Four Corners, Oak Highlands, Texas Ale Project and others) recently re-located there to take the reins as head brewer. These days, the Koop keeps upwards of 30 beers on tap, including more than 20 of its own. And on this visit, the lineup included the brewpub's infamous bull testicle beer, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.

As for how Dixon and I ended up there...

"Sims invited us to hop in a pedicab and head with him over to the brewery for lunch and a few beers," recalls Dixon. "I can only imagine what a sight three gentlemen of our size packed into a tiny pedicab seat, barreling through the streets of Downtown Denver, was to pedestrians. Not the mention the strain on our poor driver."

It turns out that two of the pedestrians who witnessed our jaunt were none other than Michael and Melissa Peticolas (and other members of the Peticolas Brewing Co. crew)...but that might only be because we screamed out a toast to them (with GABF session glasses in hand) as we rolled on down the road.

  • Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Dixon and I had both checked out Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project before at its location at The Source, and considering the brewery made the move there in 2013, it probably makes sense that we saw many of the same differences when comparing the past and present feel of the place. Brewing equipment that once filled space off to one side was no more, allowing for expanded seating which Dixon felt gave the taproom a "much more relaxed feel."

Something else we noticed was how Crooked Stave makes a series of "Petite" sour beers with fruited variants that brought to mind the Petite Golden Sour line made by The Collective Brewing Project of Ft. Worth.

  • Great Divide Barrel Bar
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Due to a certain affinity I have for the brewery's Yeti Imperial Stout and all its variations, a visit to Great Divide Brewing Co.'s taproom is always in the cards when I'm visiting Downtown Denver. In the past, that meant hitting up the brewery on Arapahoe St., but now there are two places to get your drink on after the company opened Great Divide Barrel Bar in the River North neighborhood in 2015. Last year, crowds kept me away, but this time around Dixon and I made it stop three on our impromptu brewery tour.

On the atmosphere side, it's not a huge space, seating only about 40, but Dixon probably summed it up best by saying, "From the wooden staves hanging from the ceiling above the bar to the wooden furniture, the Barrel Bar lived up to its name and is worth checking out."

Beer-wise, options on the night in question included The Smoothness (a beer created in association with Jameson's Drinking Buddies initiative), the nitro-infused Velvet Yeti and barrel-aged versions of Hibernation and Old Ruffian.

  • Mockery Brewing
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Mere steps away from Great Divide's Barrel Bar is another relatively new Downtown Denver brewery in the form of Mockery Brewing. It's a cool little spot that Dixon described as has having a "distinctly industrial vibe...with a unique fixture of pipes and lights surrounding the brewery's logo on the wall."

Having been here before, my impressions mainly centered around the fact that only one or two of the beers on tap were repeats from when I bellied up to the bar just last year. According to the bartender, that's the norm at the brewery, where constant rotation is just the way they do business.

We both thought Generation Boom, a big wine barrel-aged quadrupel, was probably the best beer on the board the night of our visit. Dixon also singled out Turn That Down Upside Down, a sour brown ale with cocoa nibs and cherries, and Shout at the Pineapple, a peachy and peppercorn-infused IPA.

  • Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

They may be wearing black at Black Shirt Brewing Co., but all you'll see is red. That's because all of Black Shirt's beers are red...the gose, the saison, the porter and any other style you can think of...all of The black thing has to do with representing the counter culture, while the red thing is about picking something and trying to do it better than anyone else. In this case, that means focusing exclusively on red ales.

And, while I spent my time at Black Shirt replaying a soundtrack in my head that consisted of the songs "I See Red" by the Split Enz, and "Red Skies at Night" by The Fixx...Dixon managed to maintain focus enough to recall details regarding both the atmosphere and the beer.

"The brewery is very music forward, so the place appealed directly to my two biggest inner geeks (that would be music and beer)," said Dixon. "They even had a farmhouse triple IPA on tap called Box of Boom in honor of My Morning Jacket's album 'Z.' As for some others, Ocean of Noise, a gose brewed with yuzu, lemongrass, Hawaiian red gold sea salt and dry-hopped with Equinox and Hallertau Blanc, and At Dawn, a Milk Chocolate Oatmeal Red Porter, were two of the more memorable Black Shirt beers."

Solo stops...

Bierstadt Lagerhaus

Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

This place had me at copper kettles. Well that and I have been known to enjoy a traditional German lager or two. Brought to you by a group that includes the former brewmaster of Downtown Denver's other German brewery, Prost Brewing, Bierstadt Lagerhaus is part of a hulking complex that also houses a cidery and on-site restaurant. As you've probably gathered, German standards are order of the day here, with a Helles, Dunkel and Slow Pour Pils being among the everyday offerings.

Tivoli Beer Co.

Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Tivoli Brewing Co. was my last stop before heading to the airport on this trip, and it was also the brewery I enjoyed visiting the most. And, the reason was entirely to do with the history behind the place. You see, at Tivoli it's a "what's old is new again" kind of thing. The original brewery has origins that date back to 1859 and the business continued to operate, with the exception of Prohibition, up until 1969. A revival of the brand occurred in 2012, with the brewpub of today being located on the lower level of the old brewery building. The structure, which also serves as the student union for three local colleges, also features signs and exhibits that tell story of Tivoli beer.

As for the brewpub, three of Tivoli's six year-round beers are inspired by products of yesteryear; Tivoli Helles, Tivoli Neef Bros. Bohemian Girl Pilsner and Tivoli Jet Malt Liquor. Those combine with outside offerings to make up a tap list consisting of 40 beers, the majority of which are supplied by small, local breweries from Colorado and surrounding states.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Zwölfjahre translates to 12 years at Rahr & Sons

Image courtesy of Rahr & Sons Brewing Co.

Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. of Ft. Worth has released details on its upcoming 12th anniversary celebration, as well as the beer it has crafted to commemorate the occasion.

Regarding the beer, Zwölfjahre is an American-style wheat wine that was fermented with a blend of American and German yeast strains. The beer, whose name means 12 years in German, was then aged for 12 weeks in cabernet wine barrels with cherries. It's described by the brewery as having a flavor profile featuring "a significant amount of wheat with hints of citrus hops."

Zwölfjahre will debut during a special 12th anniversary event happening at the brewery on Saturday, November 5 from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. A selection of over 60 beers will be on tap over the course of the day, with the lineup including other rarities like Bourbon Barrel Aged Regulator and a 2014 vintage of Midnight Cab.

Tickets for the anniversary party are on sale now at, with prices set at $20 for regular admission and $55 for VIP. Those choosing the VIP option will gain early entry to the festivities, a food voucher, t-shirt and access to additional specialty beers.

After the event, look for Zwölfjahre to be available on tap and in 22-ounce bottles throughout the Metroplex.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

North Texas continues winning ways at 2016 Great American Beer Festival

Photo © Brewers Association.

The 30th annual edition of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is now in the books, and if you've been on social media at all of late you've probably already seen the list of winners. If by some chance you haven't, though, they are summarized below.

Prior to that, though, it's worth noting a few statistics related to the competition. This year, 7227 beers were judged, resulting in 286 medals awarded to winners in 96 categories covering 161 different beer styles. Over 260 judges participated in the evaluation of competition entries, which included an additional 88 in the growing Pro-Am division.

Style-wise, the American-Style IPA was once again the most-entered category, despite a small drop in entries compared to 2015. Other popular categories included Imperial IPA, American-Style Strong Pale Ale, Coffee Beer and Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer. The latter two were new to the top five this year, with American-Style Pale Ale, American Style-Sour Ale and German-Style Sour Ale categories landing in slots just outside the top five in terms of the rankings.

As for North Texas, local breweries had another good showing in 2016, winning five medals overall. In fact, this marks the third straight year that breweries from the Metroplex have won at least five medals at the competition. Among this year's honorees, Nine Band Brewing Co. and Revolver Brewing brought home GABF medals for the first time, while Community Beer Co., Grapevine Craft Brewery and Panther Island Brewing Co. were repeat winners. Pictures of medal-winning breweries, where available, are posted here for your perusal (ceremony photos © 2016 Jason E. Kaplan).

Panther Island Brewing Co./Clifton Ellis: Gold for Just Rye'te (Pro-Am). 

Revolver Brewing: Gold for Anodyne Wheat Wine (Other Strong Beer).

Community Beer Co.: Bronze for Witbier (Belgian-Style Witbier).

Not pictured:

Grapevine Craft Brewery: Silver for Sir William's (English-Style Brown Ale).

Nine Band Brewing Co.: Bronze for Toad Choker Barley Wine (Barley Wine-Style Ale).

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Shiner adds Homespun Cream Ale to year-round lineup

Image credit: The Gambrinus Co.

After a few years of covering new releases from Shiner, I think I've finally settled on a phrase that describes my top-down view of the little brewery:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

How did I come to this conclusion? Well, the change part has to do with recent efforts by Shiner to offer different styles of beer in its portfolio. Once upon a time, the only thing that ever came out of the Spoetzl brewery was a traditional German lager. In fact, that type of beer was standard issue at Shiner for over 100 years.

Since 2012, though, the brewery has branched out with products like Wild Hare Pale Ale, Wicked Ram IPA, Birthday Beer Chocolate Stout and FM 966 Farmhouse Ale. Taken in the same order, these represent Shiner's first ale, first IPA, first stout and first Belgian-style beer respectively.

That's all well and good, you may be saying, but how have things stayed the same? Clearly, those beers aren't all meant to taste the same. Instead, the similarity lies in that they are all good, albeit basic beers that appeal to a wide audience (that generally doesn't include hardcore beer geeks). Each is brewed to style, if a standard style description exists, and each is light-bodied and balanced with a mild overall flavor presentation.

In other words, the styles may change, but the approach has always stayed the same.

Of course, I bring all of this up because it also applies to the latest new beer to come out of Shiner, that being Homespun Cream Ale (5% ABV, 16 IBU).

Homespun is billed as the brewery's first American-style ale, which for some might bring about the question "What about Wild Hare?" Well, if you want to get technical, Wild Hare incorporated Munich malt, a German variety (surprise, surprise), making that beer more of an brew.

Anyway, back to the beer at hand, Homespun is a cream ale that goes by the book in being a brew with minimal malt notes, faint fruity esters and a lightly sweet corn character. Its recipe includes wheat malt, which is supposed to give the beer "a velvety mouthfeel and creamy head," but if you ask me neither of those things figures in all that prominently. The head dissipates quickly, which isn't out of the ordinary for a cream ale, and you really only get a feel for that velvety thing at the tail end of the finish.

What Homespun does feature, however, is a light and crisp character, thanks to the rather brisk effervescence. Couple that with an easy going grain bill and it's hard not to see this beer in the same light as what the BJCP describes as typical for the cream ale style.

Homespun Cream Ale will be available year-round on draft, as well as in 6, 12 and 24-packs of 12-ounce bottles. Look for it wherever Shiner is sold.