Archive for the 'Colorado' category
Whew! The final brewery of the weekend! It’s been a lot of beer and a lot of fun – the kind of thing you’d like to spread out over a few weeks – but, hey, time constraints being what they are, I’m happy to pack it all in to a 2-day period. There were a couple of occasions when I considered not even attending this brewery tour. It’s a Sunday at 2 after I’ve already had a heavy drinking Saturday, which just isn’t a big motivator. But, at the end of the day, it may be my only opportunity, so I put on my big-boy pants and drove over.
Of all the breweries of the weekend, Avery is the least-assuming and most difficult to find. In fact, I drove right past it once before finally seeing the sign alongside some office-looking buildings and, I think, a car-wash. It’s nestled back in a little office-park type place where it occupies several building spaces within the facility. There isn’t too much to it from the outside – just a brick facade with a few tables outside. Inside is a cozy though plain tasting room with several tables, a few bits of press tacked up on the wall, some board games on a shelf, and a small bar with a few taps. Upon approaching the bar, staffed by a couple of 20/30-something males, one of the dudes suggests I grab a quick pint of White Rascal before the tour began, and I happily oblige.
The tour, I am initially afraid, might be lackluster. This is not a typical brewery, as it shares space in an office park alongside various other business, including a drapery shop. It begins outside by a dumpster and some piles of wooden pallets – also not a good sign. However, the tour guide is easy-going and accessible, it’s a warm Sunday afternoon, and I have a White Rascal in my hand so, really, what have I to complain about? As we move through the tour, the guide makes a few jokes about just these circumstances I have mentioned, but he does so in a way that makes it seem almost endearing, pointing out that Avery only employs 17 people and has a meager facility, which makes it all the more surprising just what wide distribution this brewery sees. As we progress through the tour, I am certainly more impressed – the tour guide is, again, very accessible, and leads us through every small corner of the brewing facility. We begin in the brew-room which is, honestly, about the footprint of a two-car garage. This tiny room, surprisingly, sees the brew phase of EVERY SINGLE AVERY BREW that hits store shelves – this still amazes me. While there are fermentation tanks spread throughout a few of the small buildings, it’s amazing that such a small room can produce so much and such variety of beer, even running at the near 24/7 schedule that Avery seems to keep to meet demand. On through the tour, we have the benefit to peek in a fermenter or two whilst also entering the fridge to take handfuls of hop and grains out of the actual bags and buckets used by the brewery – none of that dedicated touristy stuff used by most tours. Next, we cruise on over to the bottling line, which is quite a marvel in itself. I certainly wish I had a picture of it, as it is a $1mil+ bottling line that is somehow shoe-horned into another 2-car-garage-sized space, which necessitated some serious innovation including a number of cut I-beam building supports. Finally, after we’ve seen the meager facilities, we’re taken to another section filled with wooden barrels of various origins and ages in which a number of experimental and aged Avery brews are stored. This is an especially interesting portion, as it seems that Avery dedicates quite a lot of time, space, and money to experimenting with one-off beers that will likely never leave the brewery unless to attend a festival. While this isn’t financially appealing, it’s always nice to see breweries taking the time and effort to try out something new.
And, that’s pretty much it. It was, truly, the best tour of the weekend, simply due to it’s laid-back feeling and behind-the-scenes focus. The Avery guys, if possible, allow you to really get your nose into the brewing process, going so far as to handle the actual materials and machinery they use. Furthermore, the folks giving the tour are the same folks that will be involved shoveling malt, spraying out fermenters, and manning the bottling line. It’s a tiny operation, so everyone does everything. On top of that, these guys are all beer geeks, and the bubbling carboys setting all over the place in the brewery are proof, as Avery encourages employees to experiment with homebrewing on the company’s dime.
After the tour, I sat around and tried a couple of brewery-only beers over a game of Uno. Here’s what was available:
Nightwalker Imperial Amber: This is phenomenal. It’s a rich and sweet amber with big hints of candi sugar. The strength of this evident, at times showing characteristics of a Belgian Quadrupel.
Cask-conditioned Stout: This is the normal Out of Bounds Stout that Avery produces, but after being stuck in an oak cask for a couple of years. Pretty good – big, rich, smoky, and sweet.
So, sadly, Avery didn’t have anything TOO crazy on tap at this time, though the Nightwalker was certainly a treat. Apparently, depending on when you stop in, they may have any number of experimental brews on tap.
In the end, these guys certainly put on the most informative tour of the bunch. Furthermore, it makes me more inclined to support this brewery seeing how much effort and love is put into the operation by the small number of employees. It is truly a surprising feat that Avery can see the distribution and variety of beers presented given such a meager facility and staff. They’d better be paying those guys well, or at least giving them lots of free beer!
I can’t lie to you, folks. This stop marked the third brewery in a single afternoon, so things perhaps were a bit hazier. However, I was fortunate that Oskar Blues is both an excellent brewery and a decent little restaurant. So, to cap off the big day of the Colorado Beer Tour, I settled down to a nice meal in the shadow of the Flatiron mountains here at the Oskar Blues brewpub.
As you may know, Oskar Blues is a bit famous for being one of the first breweries to can some excellent brews. I won’t go into the benefits of canning – that’s for someone else – but suffice it to say that it’s a great way to store and ship beers, PLUS you can take them on most beaches. So I, for one, am super happy that Oskar Blues is helping to bring this trend into vogue.
I began my descent into Oskar Blues by jumping on a one-way road going the wrong direction (I swear it was the GPS and not the beer). At any rate, the parking lot was fortunately an immediate right turn off this road, so after a couple of oncoming honks, I turned into the lot and set my parking break.
The feel of Oskar Blues is decidedly ‘bluesy’, with a sort of bayou blues feel that wouldn’t be out of place in Louisiana. The atmosphere is colorful, full of weird trinkets and blues paraphernalia, and is generally staffed by young girls that are too young to drink their beer. That being said, my waitress knew a decent amount about the brews for a 19-year old. Whatever this circumstance reflects is up for debate.
Since there isn’t a concrete ‘tasting’ possibility here at Oskar Blues, the waitress was kind enough to bring me a small taster of each beer that I had never tasted, while I enjoyed a couple of pints of my faves. Here’s what I had:
Yella Pils: This is a traditional Pilsner, put on the menu to please those patrons less-inclined to the typical big OB beers. It’s really pretty decent. Light, with that pilsner hop taste. Light and refreshing, but with some buttery hints.
Leroy Brown Ale: A fairly big brown ale – like a Newcastle in some respects, but a bit less malty with just a tad more hop profile. Not really a standout, but pretty tasty.
Smoke on the Water Winter Ale: Another winter ale – seems like everyone is doing these right now. Wonder why? Anyway, a bit spicy with rich dark malt and some smoky campfire undertones. Again, pretty good, but not blowing me away.
Wet-hopped Dale’s Pale Ale: This is the last and most expensive beer I tried here. It’s just the typical Dale’s Pale Ale, but given a wet-hopping treatment. This was a big one – the normal Dale’s is pretty big, and this one was just a bit bigger, with a delicious sticky floral nose. $7/pint is a lot at the brewery, but certainly worth it for the taste.
So, the beers were pretty good, but I definitely feel that they’re currently canning the best of their offerings. It seems like they are catering down to more typical restaurant clientele with their pilsner and brown ale options, which is no big surprise. On top of the decent beer offerings, the food here is also quite good, with an impressive menu of typical mountain fare and cajun inspired food.
This one was, honestly, a BIT of a letdown when it comes to beer. I love the canned stuff from these guys, due to it’s sheer flavor and size. At the actual brewery, flavors are generally on a smaller scale. However, if you happen to be around Lyons, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better restaurant that also serves decent beer brewed in-house. And, to add to the experience, Lyons is a lovely little town surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the mountains at sunset, and that’s hard to put a price on.
If you folks have been keeping up with SevenPack the last week or so, then you know I’ve recently found myself a little obsessed with this brewery. They don’t distribute to NC, so I had never heard of them before seeing them on shelves in Colorado. Since then, we’ve had a fiery tryst, and I’ve been on a tear to try as many of their beers as humanly possible. And thus I bring an unexpected stop into the Colorado Beer Tour fold…
After a stop at New Belgium, Odell is a short 2 minute drive (or stumble) to another nondescript road, ending at a nondescript building. Just a small warehouse of a building with a cozy tasting room built into the side and a sign proclaiming “Odell Brewery” at the road. Once inside, you can tell you’re dealing with one of the currently-smaller breweries in town (Fort Collins Brewery is also down the road). The tasting room is small but cozy, with lots of wood grain, a short bar, and a blackboard behind listing the regular and special-edition brews currently on tap. Whilst waiting for the tour to begin, I availed myself of a flight of their current special beers. Here’s what I tried:
Isolation Ale: A dark winter ale. Not too different from most of the winter warmers out there. Dark malt with some spice, a decent hop profile, and some herbal, almost medicinal flavors peaking out. Pretty good
Extra Special Red: This was tasty. More or less an amber with some imperial aspirations. A very grainy amber ale with some maple flavors providing added richness and a slightly syrupy mouthfeel.
Cutthroat Porter: This one was on Nitro when I was there, which was its saving grace. I’m not a huge porter fan, and this one is pretty typical – smoky and rich, with some pork tints to it. However, the creaminess lent by the Nitrogen set it apart.
Buffalo Bourbon Stout: Now THIS is what they came to see. This is an imperial stout aged in Buffalo Trace Distillery bourbon barrels. A huge beer with lots of caramel and chocolate hints. Thick, syrupy feel with tons of bourbon flavor and richness. The hands-down winner of the brewery visit.
After the flight, I grabbed a pint of Easy Street Wheat to join the tour. This tour was, unfortunately, super crowded with a bunch of goons that had obviously been drinking quite a lot already. The crowd was loud and rather rude, but the tour guide was excellent, showing patience throughout the tour, and sassing the loud folks when they got out of line. This was, again, a quaint tour and not too lengthy or impressive. However, these facilities feel a lot more ‘used’ than New Belgium, giving us a better look at the actual brewing process. In addition, the tour guide was very knowledgeable and seemed un-stumpable when it came to questions. Overall, fairly informative, if short. Nothing standout-ish about the brew facilities, but a worthwhile destination for the beer and information, if you’re not familiar with the brewing process…
Next up on the Colorado beer sojourn is an old fave that I’ve written about often here on SevenPack – New Belgium. Honestly, this was the stop around which the rest of this trip revolved. I respect a lot of things about this brewery, from their tasteful marketing, to their environmental activism, to the quality of their brews.
New Belgium is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, which kinda feels like a town without much else going on. You drive along a fairly nondescript couple of roads, by some fairly bland businesses, before pulling into the New Belgium parking lot. However, immediately upon pulling into New Belgium you realize that, A) It’s pretty big for a craft brewery and B) The attention to detail is great. It IS a large building with a few big grain silos hanging around the exterior. In addition, it’s a beautiful building, with lots of wood grain and a generally earthy feel. The attention to detail is appreciated, from the cleanliness of the facade to the trademark Fat Tire bikes parked around the exterior (apparently every employee receives one at their one year anniversary, and most of them seem to actually use them!).
Once inside, there is an excellently designed tasting room (see picture) with lots and lots of taps to feed the impressive crowds that show up. I was apparently there on a rather uncrowded day, but the bar and tables were still considerably full. Nevertheless, the flow of the layout is great and it felt quite homey and comfortable. I happened to arrive just in time for a tour which was, amazingly, almost empty. Apparently the throngs in the tasting room were content to drink, so the tour just consisted of 3 total people. The tour here is short and sweet and, frankly, not that impressive. The knowledgeable employee walks you through some of the sterile-feeling brewhouse where you can see a few of their boil kettles and fermenters – this only lasts for about 10 minutes of discussion before you end up in the private tasting room, which seems to be the focus of the tour.
Once at the private tasting room, you are greeted with rather large tasters of lots of great brews, and you can have about as much as you want of each (especially when in a small tour like my own). At this tasting, I was able to try a few limited edition brews whilst chatting with the tour guide and other tour-goers. Here’s what we tried:
Eric’s Ale: This one was delicious, and probably the big winner for the brewery tour. This ale is a sour peach ale that they currently have no plans to bottle, although it is apparently an occasional occurrence at the brewery. This is certainly no sweet brew, but is more more akin to a peche lambic, although I’ve been assured that it undergoes no lambic brewing process. Nevertheless, it is sharp, flavorful, and refreshing. We all agreed they should put this on shelves ASAP.
Mighty Arrow Ale: Honestly, this one was a little “eh”. Just a pale ale, not much more. Not sure if this one will be bottle or not – it would probably do well, being a fairly standard issue brew. However, it didn’t strike me as much – a little malty, a little hoppy, and fairly plain.
Lips of Faith: Another blockbuster. This is a beer that New Belgium should have in their lineup. It’s a strong dunkelweizen brew, weighing in at around 8-9% abv. Rich and sweet with dark malt, while maintaining that light mouthfeel provided by the wheat, with some yeasty flavors and just a light banana hint – this is a great take on the variety, strongly leaning to the Bavarian style.
Abbey Grand Cru: Holy mackerel – I know I just said the Eric’s Ale was the best, but this one might have to tie for that. A standard of the Grand Cru style, this was a super dark golden in color with hints of candi sugar, some licorice, and the strength driven by a high alcohol content. Fabulous beer. They may put this in bombers, but it currently isn’t bottled.
And, that was about it. After the tasting and lots of chatting (where I uncovered the impending New Belgium distribution to NC), we walked around a bit more of the facilities, noting the indoor metal slide and, more importantly, the cache of oak barrels where the La Folie is aged for three(3!) years (see picture) – expect a review of that soon!
Overall, this is a great facility that puts out great beer. You can tell they’ve been doing this dog and pony show for a while and for lots of people, because the general feel is well-honed and pretty sterile. Nevertheless, it’s a must-stop in the area just to check out the facilities and taste some of these great beers…
First stop on my Colorado beer tour happens to be the Boulder Beer Company, which is conveniently located within walking distance of my hotel. This place has limited distribution back in North Carolina, which has allowed me to have a couple of their brews, namely the Hazed and Confused and Sweaty Betty. Honestly, I haven’t been super excited about their stuff – it’s all been good, just not standout-ish. So, frankly, I only happened on to this place due to the convenience. Considering my low expectations, I’m actually rather impressed.
Basically, this place is in a charming building located smack in the middle of a circle near downtown Boulder. In this building, all brewing equipment for the brewery, as well as a decent-sized brewpub, is located. While I didn’t have an opportunity to tour the actual brewery, I found the brewpub to be rather cozy. It’s nothing fancy, but contains lots of natural wood grain, a low ceiling, and a big l-shaped bar. What I was more impressed with, though, was the fact that they had at least 3 specialty beers on tap that you won’t typically find bottled (at least not where I’m from).
While I was there, I was able to enjoy the following:
Never Summer Winter Ale: This winter ale isn’t too far off the typical path of winter ales. Dark, with some anise flavors and some winter spiciness. The barkeep’s fave seasonal and a tasty winter session beer.
Sugar Ree Imperial Amber: An excellent brew, weighing in at almost 10% abv. It is deep and full with a rich mouthfeel and great hints of maple. I was able to chat with the brewer briefly, and he was rather proud of the brew, although he claims it will never see bottle distribution.
Obovoid Stout: Boulder keeps a rotating Nitro tap on which they’ll toss any of their beers so that you can see how the creamier Nitrogen carbonation plays with it. In this case, they had their Obovoid stout both on Nitro and typical carbonation. I was able to try them side-by-side – while there are no big surprises, as the Nitrogen simply donates a creamier mouthfeel and denser carbonation, it’s always nice to be able to see side-by-side how these characteristics affect a beer. This stout is pretty deep and rich, and I feel like there is an oatmeal contribution as well. Probably one of the better stouts I’ve had in recent months.
The food at Boulder was decent, but nothing crazy. The menu isn’t adventurous, containing mostly typical pub fair. However, it appears they make some efforts to maintain higher quality than you’ll find at many pubs. At any rate, it’s nice to see a brewery that serves food, as having a little food on the belly makes those beer tastings both more enjoyable and more prolongued, both of which are good things.
Overall, this isn’t a bad place – if staying close to Boulder, you’d be remiss to not stop in for a meal and, at least, to check out what one-offs they have on tap. Though busy, the staff were all kind, attentive, and knowledgeable, and I noticed that they each take efforts to test anything new on tap while receiving some instruction from the brewer on exactly what makes the beer special or different, thus enabling them to better communicate with the clientele. So, hey, maybe not worth a plane ride to try this one out, but I’ll surely stop in again when I’m in Boulder…
As some of you may know, I just recently took a couple of days to scream around to a few breweries in the Colorado greater Boulder/Lyons/Ft. Collins area. Over the course of 2 days, I managed to hit 5 particular brewers whose wares I’ve consistently enjoyed over the course of my beer obsession. In no case was I disappointed – in fact, I’ve been extremely impressed by the quality and general personality of each of the breweries and the employees with whom I came in contact. Over the course of the next 5 days, I’m going to post a li’l somethin’ somethin’ about each of these. I was able to see some very cool places, and I got my mouth around some excellent beers that you can’t otherwise get your paws on without visiting the brewery. So, enjoy, and pipe up with any tales of your own!