Monday, April 19, 2010

Hey everyone,

Jenn and Beer has officially moved! Check out the new digs at


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Native? Really?

Here’s the thing about being native to Colorado. You have to be born here. If you were born somewhere else, you’re not a native. Exceptions can be considered for people who move to Colorado by the age of five. But we Coloradans, we’re pretty picky about the use of the word “native” and its application to our state.

So, when AC Golden Brewing released their Colorado Native lager, I was ready to judge.

Now the premise of this beer is that 99.8% of the ingredients come from Colorado: hops grown at employees’ homes, bottles from Rocky Mountain Bottling Co. in Wheat Ridge, barley from the San Luis Valley, even cardboard packaging from Temple-Island in Wheat Ridge.

I, of course, support the idea of locally grown ingredients – the premise behind it is to lower the carbon footprint of the beer. And Colorado Native is only available in, well, Colorado. So there’s a fun level of exclusivity when it comes to the beer distribution.

But here’s where I have an issue with the beer. In their promotion, the concept of the “Colorado native” is completely ignored by AC Golden. At the release party, there was a large sign describing the beer that asked “Are you a Colorado Native?” and then started its response with: “Being a Colorado Native isn’t really about where you were born; it’s more a state of mind.”

Lies, damned lies all around

Actually, being a Colorado Native is about where you were born. I’ll accept that being a Coloradan isn’t about where you were born; but as an actual, honest to God, native, I know how picky we natives are about using the term “Colorado native.” In most cases, we welcome new people to our state (unless you’re a Lakers fans. And with two days to go until the playoffs start, I’m really going to need the Lakers fans to get out. Now.), but that doesn’t make you a native.

The idea of a completely Colorado based beer appeals to me, a lot. As exciting as it is watching our breweries start distributing throughout the country, it’s nice to have something that’s meant to be exclusively for us back home.

But given how much attention AC Golden Brewing is putting towards its promotion -- much of the press its received has related to the concept and advertising of Colorado Native, rather than the beer itself, the failure in messaging really bothers me. Call it Coloradan Lager, something, anything, just not Colorado Native.

Now about the beer

The beer itself is a flavorful beer pong beer: better than Coors Light, but you wouldn’t mind throwing a dirty ping pong ball into it, then chugging it down without stopping to taste it. Quite frankly, my friends out of state aren’t missing much.

And has anyone else noticed how the packaging of the beer is remarkably similar to Breckenridge’s Avalanche?

Coors, I’m trying to get over my negative feelings towards you, but this Colorado Native thing isn’t helping your cause. Great idea, terrible execution.

If you want something more than just my "Colorado Native" rantings, here are links to a few articles that are more about the production of the beer:

Denver Business Journal


Denver Post

I hope this doesn't make it snow

Top Five Patios:

With spring peaking its head out in Colorado, and then getting smothered by another winter-that-just-won’t-quit, it’s time to think about warm weather drinking. And that means beer on patios.

One of my absolute favorite things to do is spend a warm summer evening enjoying beers on a patio with good company and, preferably, my dog. I obsess over it. When the weather starts to improve I neurotically check the forecast trying to determine when I can partake in this activity.

The criteria are as follows:

beer choice

atmosphere of patio


is Sasha welcome?



Keep in mind, the descriptions and criteria highlight where this place stands out. If the patio doesn’t receive the “service” shout out, it doesn’t mean the service is bad, just not noteworthy.

So here are, in no particular order, my favorite patios around Denver:

1) Vine Street Pub

Good food (with good vegetarian options), great beer on a crowded, but not too crowded street. What more could you want? Oh that’s right, Sasha’s welcome there too, as long as she stays on the other side of the fence.

This is the first place my mind visits when the sun starts to shine. It might be a bit strong on the Grateful Dead/Phish theme, but I’ve never heard anyone criticize it for such, and that includes the friends of mine who shudder at the word “Boulder”.

The one drawback of Vine Street is I’m not the only person who thinks it’s the bees’ knees. I don’t remember the last time I went there and didn’t have to wait at least half an hour for a table. And when the weather improves, the wait only grows. Still, when I eventually get my patio seating, I’ve never regretted losing the time it’s taken to get there.

2) My Brother’s Bar

I’ve only sat on their patio once, but every time that I visit the bar in the winter, I inevitably mumble something about how I wish I could be sitting on the patio.

There are a series of wooden benches that blend naturally into the fence and environment of the stone paved patio. Vines wind over the walls, creating a more intimate atmosphere. The surroundings are like the perfect backyard for a neighborhood party.

The beer selection’s not amazing. I can always find something worth drinking, but it’s a destination I would choose for the atmosphere rather than to educate someone about beer. As for the food, well, all I can say is, this place makes me miss eating meat.

3) Max Gill & Grill

Another backyard type patio. Only this one feels like it should be in Louisiana or Florida. The décor is what you would expect if a Coloradan moved down south and opened up a bar on the waterfront: fairy lights, a few knickknacks without becoming kitschy, beat-up wooden fence and some special element that makes you feel like you’re on the bayou.

The food here is fantastic; it’s by far my favorite non-sushi place to go for seafood. In fact, I know that if I mention their lobster stew, I’ll get an angry “why’d you have to bring that up? Do you have any idea how much I miss it?!” message from a particular friend of mine currently residing in Iowa.

The drawback of Max as a summer beer-drinking patio is that it’s a restaurant. You can’t just sit and drink -- meals need to be ordered, tables need to be overturned. I’ve never been rushed out of the place, but it’s not like Great Divide where you can sit back, relax and drink for a few hours.

Which brings me to…

4) Great Divide

It goes without saying that great beer is drunk on this patio.

Now the environment isn’t the best – Great Divide isn’t in the best part of Denver, which means homeless people wandering past isn’t unheard of, but it’s not enough of an issue that it should deter anyone from going. And I’m fairly certain, though not positive, that Sasha would be allowed to visit Great Divide’s patio with me.

Its location is central enough that it’s a great place to grab a drink after work, but not in the heart of the city so you won’t find every other 9-5er there. Plus, the service is great – Jenny and Collin will get a little overwhelmed when there’s a rush and they don’t have additional help, but spend an hour or so there when the place is empty and they’ll make a point of saying hello the next time you come back.

5) The Meadowlark

I’m kind of cheating here. Their patio isn’t just a patio, it’s a venue. In fact, it was the 2009 Westword's Best Outdoor Stage. But considering the amount of time that I have spent at the Meadowlark this winter, I know this will be my most frequently visited patio this summer.

The patio is essentially the back yard (spend enough time there and you’ll run into at least one of the people who lives there), with a large wooden stage, sandstone tiles covering the ground (a common fixture in Colorado home patios).

In addition to that, the Meadowlark crowd is fantastic. The people are friendly and willing to chat – within a few visits, you start to feel a part of the scene.

The beer is better than I expect at venues, and there are rumors of beer being brewed on site in the future. But, obviously, the selection is nothing special. And considering the crowd of starving musicians that frequent the joint, I’d guess that more PBR is ordered in a night than any other beer is ordered in a week.

Honorable mention:


-good beer selection, great people watching, good food

The Thin Man

-good beer selection, similar atmosphere to Vine Street, but without the food, Sasha’s allowed

-only drawback is the proximity to East and running into everyone I knew growing up when I go there.

The Freeman porch

-great environment, good company, usually good beer selection (menu changes), service could use improvement

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random thought about Fat Tire

At the game last night I came up with what, in my opinion, is the perfect analogy for Fat Tire:

Fat Tire is to Nuggets games what hot dogs are to baseball games. Yes, there are better options out there; yes, it’s not the most tasty thing ever; but, in those particular circumstances, it’s the only thing that’s right.

In other news

Apologies, once again, for the lack of posts. Life has been getting in the way of me writing. But don’t fret; there will be so much beer blogging in the weeks to come you will miss the days of no-posts.

In fact, next Monday, I, with the help of Greggers, will be launching the Jenn and Beer website. The site will have all you could ever want to know about beer and if it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll find a way to change that.

So spread the word and help support your favorite beer blogger, as she starts this new phase of beer blogging.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A bar with no name

Sam: What'll you have Normie?
Norm: Well, I'm in a gambling mood, Sammy. I'll take a glass of whatever comes out of that tap.
Sam: Looks like beer, Norm.
Norm: Call me Mister Lucky.

My friend told me that the bar was referred to a “Narnia.”

Kyle and I spent the drive questioning this. How on earth could a bar in Boulder be like Narnia?

When we arrived, the answer became obvious; we didn’t even need to discuss it. Walk in a random door between two restaurants on the Hill and you’ve completely escaped Boulder.

Even knowing about the bar and being relatively certain of its location, I wasn’t positive I was there. I called my friend to verify that I was in the right location. The sign on the door just says “Open Daily 4 p.m. – 1 a.m.” and has a small window with iron bars, as some sort of tribute to the days of speakeasies.

The place is beautiful – light wood paneling throughout the place, lovely sand-blasted glass lamps with dark steel fixtures – classy but homey in a style I have never before encountered in Boulder. The clientele was what I expected from Boulder when I was young and before I understood the term “college town” – old hippie types who seem more Coloradan than crazy acid heads. The younger crowd seemed like the kind of people I would have befriended, had I attended CU. They were certainly Colorado college students, but without the trustafarian or frat boy element.

The service was great, our waitress checked on our table at all the right times and even explained the neon sign in the window after overhearing us trying to guess what it was (I won’t tell, that’ll ruin the fun, but I will say Kyle was wrong).

The beer selection is a step above average: you have your regular taps – Guinness, Sierra Nevada, Harp, Bass, and two O’dells; then a few more interesting ones – seasonal Breckenridge IPA and Ska’s Modus Hoperandi. The bottled beer selection was more diverse with some typical brews and weaker beers, then Monty Python’s Holy Grale, Breckenridge’s 471, bombers of Avery’s Reverend and more. The rest of the menu was liquors and spirits, suggesting that their cocktails were good. After all, aren’t the best cocktails served at bars where there’s no menu listing what they can make?

I almost feel guilty talking about the bar – part of me fears that any publicity will lead to Narnia becoming just another quirky Boulder bar. But we drove 32 miles for the specific intention of visiting this place, so I’m writing about it, dammit. Expect to hear more about this bar, word will spread quickly – one of my friends decided it’s going to be his local from here on out. But for now, I’m leaving you pictures.

Arthur's craft

"What'll you have?

I'll have a pint!

I'll have a pint with you, sir!"

-The Pogues

Before I knew anything about beer, I knew about Guinness.

The summer I turned 16, I went to Ireland with my parents and brother. About two weeks before we left, my brother called me and left a long babbling message about how excited he was for the trip. I remember nothing from the message itself, except one thing: he was DAMN excited to show me Guinness.

Ten years later and Guinness has kept a special place in my heart. I, by no means, love it the same way my brother does, or even as much as my mam, but I do have a strong appreciation for it. So when I received an email offering the chance to interview Fergal Murray, the master brewer of Guinness, I couldn’t believe it. I honestly did not believe the email. Thank God I have people like Greggers and Kyle to keep me in line and look into these sorts of things; otherwise it would have been one hell of a missed opportunity.

Fergal spends about two weeks of March traveling around the States each year – acting as the face of Guinness, while the eyes of the world turn to Ireland for Paddy’s day.

Actually, regardless of the season, much of his life is spent being the face of everyone’s favorite Irish stout. Fergal spends his time traveling the world – from Cork to Dallas to Sydney and everywhere in between – talking about what makes his beer so iconic.

Guinness is special, he says, because it gives people the ability to “cling on something from home; coming home to the emerald island. When they can get a pint of Guinness it connects one to Ireland; it gives them the community spirit. It’s a symbol of people who want to become Irish. But it’s also the quality of the product: the taste – that bold and distinctive taste. That’s why it sticks out to much.”

Much of the importance of Guinness, he says, relies on the visual impact of the craft. “You have to see it poured correctly. I don’t ever want to be disappointed by a bartender. It should be a work of art coming across the bar – the final top off the dome. The flavor’s the bonus. That’s what Guinness is about.”

With 250 years of brewing history, Arthur Guinness signed the lease for St. James Gate 17 years before America declared its independence, Guinness must be doing something right. Fergal tells me about how the stout has developed in the past two and a half centuries. “It got better. It has consistently improved. It’s a journey. If Arthur were around today he’d agree. The computer technology has improved, which affects the craft – it makes it easier to brew. The flavor recipe is exactly the same, but the consumers experience is so much more.”

So how does one obtain the “most envied job on earth?” “It’s about mastering a craft, understanding it and having that passion. Whether you’re making chocolate or fixing clocks, it’s about the passion, it’s about the beliefs and knowing why it’s such a great product.”

While the passion for Guinness shows in everything he says, Fergal’s love for his job is most apparent when he describes his travels, “The engagement is so cool: the passion of the people, the opportunities of pouring a perfect pint. Watching people obtain the bragging rights of pouring the perfect pint...”

Everywhere he goes, he says, he finds fantastic bars and delights in the experience of watching the training of the bartenders. “Getting it into the glass is the art, the same perfect way that they get it in the glass. I’m very content that you’ll get a great tasting pint no matter where you go.”

Fergal speaks highly of the stouts from the craft beer market, saying, “other breweries do a good job…it’s cool to see the distinctive flavors between them.” However, he insists that on Paddy’s day no beer other than Guinness should be drunk. “If anyone does something silly like drink a domestic American product on March 17th, I’m certain St Patrick will come down and haunt you.”

While my experience with Catholicism has suggested no such thing, I trust Fergal on this one. Tonight, I’ll be drinking Guinness.

Happy Paddy's Day, everyone. And remember, clovers aren't Irish.

[Timothy, you can stop holding your breath now.]

Photo courtesy of Taylor Montgomery.


"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
-Dave Barry

I love cheese. To me, beer and cheese belong together. Great Divide apparently understands this. Once a month they, with the help of St. Kilian’s cheese shop, host a beer and cheese pairing. Five beers, five cheeses, one very happy Jenn.

We arrived late, probably around 6.30. The benefit of our tardiness was being seated in the brewery between the kegs and the Stranahan’s barrels used for oak aging the Yeti. Sure, I would see all this if I ever made it to Great Divide in time for the tour. But relaxing in the brewery, enjoying a drink and delicious cheese? Pretty close to perfect for me.

On to the pairings.

Starting in the middle and working around the photo clockwise, here’s a list of the cheeses and beers:

1) Tommy Crayeuse – Denver Pale Ale

2) Bucheron – Colette

3) Beemster – Titan IPA

4) Morbier – Hercules Double IPA

5) Valdeon – Oak Aged Yeti

With the exception of the Colette, I was quite familiar with all the beers. However, trying them with cheese was a different experience. I’ve always been prone to ignore the drink this beer/wine while eating this food guidelines. I want this beer and this food. Rarely do my choices pair well, but it’s what I want, so I’ll order it anyway.

I was surprised to discover how much one affected the other. The DPA was the same average DPA that I’ll occasionally drink. After a bite or two of the Crayeuse, it was much more exciting. I didn’t like the Beemster cheese much, but paired with the Titan, the flavor was greatly improved. And in the case of the Morbier and Hercules? They go together like Simon Pegg and zombie movies.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Seattle, Last Call

She likes to think/she likes to drink

We managed to fit in one last brewery visit before I had to go to the airport on Sunday: Big Time Brewing Company. Judging from the website, I expected this place to be like the Wynkoop. Instead it had the feel of a worn in country bar, complete with old advertising signs and aged wood paneling. I couldn’t quite figure out why the bar's logo is an elephant, nothing about this place seems remotely Asian/African or safari like. However, there was a giant dinosaur head mounted on the wall, so it’s pointless to try to make assumptions about this place. (Take a moment to pause and consider the idea of a dinosaur head mounted on the wall in a country-style bar. How great is that?)

I ordered the Atlas Amber Ale. (For some reason, I think my brother would like this beer. Someone must have said something about it sometime.) I wish I could remember the Atlas better, but all I have is what’s in my notes: “Amber’s good, fruiter than most. Weak fruit smell, relatively weak taste – but not necessarily a bad thing.”

It did make me realize that there was some underlying similarity among all the Seattle beers. No matter what I drank – stout or hefeweisen, there was some characteristic that unified all the beers. Justy suggested it was the water and he could very well be right. All I know is, there was something that connected all these beers together, some sort of underlying taste, and thinking about it further, I would say the same is true of Colorado craft beer.

As we discussed this, our conversation turned to beer culture. Justy (cautiously) asserted that Seattle has a stronger beer culture than Colorado. To his surprise (and relief), I agreed with him, but considered Seattle to be more of a beer community. Seattle, as a city, has the feeling of community running through it. Coloradans, while certainly friendly, are too independent to have a cohesive community. Even Denver is too sprawling too diverse to feel completely unified. And that applies to the beer culture as well. Picking up one of the beer newspapers available around Seattle left me feeling like I had tapped into (no pun intended) the Seattle beer community. There’s no equivalent to that back home – The Westword and 5280 are great publications and offer endless amounts of Colorado based information, but they don’t leave you feeling like you are necessarily a part of Colorado culture. Leaving Seattle I felt like I had experienced their beer community. And while there was still plenty of this beer culture for me to explore, I felt connected to it.

Someday I’ll be back for more.

Crawling through the Emerald City. A Seattle Six Shooter

(Jenn's note: Apologies for my lack of posts. New job apparently means less time for blogging. I'm working on developing this balance, don't worry.)

I don’t think Justy knew what I had in mind when we started drinking Friday afternoon. Shortly after booking my flight to Seattle the week before, I started considering a Six Shooter for my last night there. When Justy and I started counting the bars and breweries we intended to visit that day, I realized we could actually accomplish it. Keeping it simple, the theme was Seattle beers. Not hard to accomplish when you’re visiting Seattle breweries.

1.18 p.m.

The Pike

1415 1st Ave. Seattle, WA

Pike XXXXX Extra Stout, $5

Something about this bar feels so very, very Seattle. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but to drive the point home, Nirvana starts playing as I try to describe the bar in my notes.

The walls are decorated like a Hard Rock type bar, with nick-knacks and paraphernalia all over the place. Only, instead of music or Americana themed decorations, it’s all Pike’s beer related. The bar is downstairs in a shopping center. There isn’t even a ceiling, just beams that create a sort of overhang. Looking through the ceiling of the bar, you can even see a clothing shop on the second level of the mall. It’s like the perfect escape for the guy who got dragged along shopping. I wish we had a bar like this back home; I might be more willing to shop if good beer was included.

Justy orders the IPA and I decide to try the XXXXX Extra Stout. Anything with that many xes in the title will either be awesome or terrible.

Justy told me that he likes the Extra Stout because of its strong chocolaty flavors. I refrain from looking at him like he’s crazy – all I’m getting from this beer is smoke. I mean charcoal-like smoke. Really nothing but smoke. About a third of the way through my pint, my palate adjusts to the smoke and the chocolate starts to make itself known; I guess there was more to the beer than just smoke. But I still think Justy’s crazy.

Halfway through my pint, I start counting the breweries we were planning to visit that afternoon: Pike, Pyramid, Elysian and Fremont. That’s four. And we had plans of going for drinks that night. Five pubs. Obviously I needed one more. I explain the situation to Justy, and he agrees. We left the decision for our last two destinations to a later time. But it was official: We were going Six Shooting.

3.15 p.m.

Pyramid Brewery

Alehouse Amber Ale, $5, and free tasters(!)

Pyramid is not a brewery that I would rank highly on my Breweries I Respect list. It produces a lot of mediocre beers. They have good starter-beers – something you’d suggest to someone who insists that they don’t like beer, if you’re determined to prove them wrong. Visiting the brewery changed my opinion of Pyramid quite a bit.

The atmosphere of the place strongly resembles New Belgium, if New Belgium were more restaurant than tap house. Light wood, slight industrial feel, copper pipes and decorations, high ceilings with huge windows peering into the brewery.

My rule about beer is always order what you haven’t had before. If there’s a beer that is only available on site, I must drink that. Alehouse Amber was an Alehouse exclusive. So I was obligated to order it. While I perused the menu for food, Justy started chatting with the bartender. Apparently it was a worthwhile conversation – when I looked up there were three eight-ounce tasters sitting in front of us.

I failed to write down anything about the Alehouse Amber and only noted two of the three tasters, but Justy and I agreed that the beers available at the brewery were by far the best Pyramid brews we’d found. That being said, two of the samples were from MacTarnahan’s brewery in Portland (I *will* visit that brewery someday).

The waitress tells us that Spine Tingler, a MacTarnahan’s brew with a dragon’s head tap (yes, that *is* why we ordered it), is 9% ABV. As a result, there’s a two pint limit. I appreciate the let’s-keep-people-from-getting-too-drunk efforts, but I can’t imagine this happening at a place like Great Divide. An image of a particular friend of mine being limited to two Hercules pops in my head: “what do you mean ‘only two pints’?!” It wouldn’t go over well. Ah well, Coloradans are a different breed of people.

4.23 p.m.

Elysian Brewery

Bye-bye Frost (failed to notice the price, it was Justy’s round)

When I was on the Obama campaign my producer would frequently quote “Ghostbusters” saying, “Jenn has gone bye-bye, Egon.” The description for Elysian’s Bye-Bye Frost was “Too much Bye-Bye will make you gone gone.” Thinking of Greggers, I couldn’t pass up ordering this beer.

The beer is 10.6% ABV and other than that I have nothing to say about it. It’s a standard pale ale. That’s all I’ve got. For comparison, Great Divide’s Hercules is 10% ABV and Espresso Yeti is 9.5%. Strong beers, yes, but I don’t immediately worry about them making me “gone gone.” (For reference, see above.) And they’re more exciting than Bye-Bye. The Coloradans win on this one.

Lacking anything more to say about my beer, I’ll talk about the brewery and the other beers. The place reeks of malt. The thing about that smell is, as an avid beer drinker, you come to love it. It’s like dating a smoker – no matter how much you want to dislike the smell, you’re attracted to it because of what it represents.

There are gigantic windows peering into the vats of brewing beer. As I sipped my Bye-Bye Frost, I watched one of the brewers climb a ladder up the vat and proceed to tend to his craft. From a beer drinker’s perspective, nothing beats watching beer get brewed while drinking it from a few yards away. Actually brewing the beer yourself probably tops this, but it’ll still be a little while until I can vouch for that.

We met up with two of Justy’s friends, who did a better job of choosing beers than I did. Justy, showing a bit of his Colorado roots, ordered the Trip V – a New Belgium and Elysian collaboration. The waitress and my friend explain how New Belgium and Elysian have been working together for the past year and a half to help promote their beers in a more environmentally friendly way. I’d heard a bit about New Belgium’s work with other breweries on their tour, but hadn’t seen it in practice. I was delighted to see how well it worked – Trip V was a gorgeous chocolate cherry brown ale, like a liquid Godiva truffle.

While we all agreed on the Trip V, I was the only one who enjoyed the XOXO Chocolate Chili Stout that one of the friends ordered. This was my first chili stout and I found it incredibly interesting. The flavor had a chocolate front with a sharp chili back. I don’t know if I could drink an entire pint of it and certainly didn’t love it as much as Golden City’s Javapeno, but it was exciting to try.

6.38 p.m.

Fremont Brewery

Little Woody $5

Justy and I stopped by Fremont the day I arrived in Seattle to find out what time their tasting sessions took place. Between our brief visit and Friday night, I had thought of little else but going back to Fremont. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I was excited about this brewery.

It’s a warehouse, just like Great Divide’s (random note: how many times can I bring up Great Divide in a post, sheesh!), but without a tap room. Walk in the door and you are surrounded by kegs, barrels and vats. During our visit on Wednesday a man, who we guessed was the master brewer, explained that the hours of drinking at the brewery were limited because of the liability it created: they were concerned that people visiting might get injured by forklifts when the brewery was in operation. That’s how small a place this is.

Considering the size of the crowd, Fremont won’t last much longer at such a small location. The picnic tables (held up by kegs) were full and the line for beer wound through the brewery. It was easy to imagine that during the summertime people would spill out onto the sidewalk through the garage door of the warehouse. Even on a February night, a cluster of people gathered on the sidewalk outside. Between that and the dogs and children wandering around the place, the brewery felt like a block party.

Little Woody was as unique a beer as the “bar” that served it. It’s based off Fremont’s flagship beer, Universale Pale Ale, but aged with medium-toast American White Oak, dryhop with Chinook Hops. I still don’t know enough about hops and the beer brewing process to comment on the production of Little Woody, but however they make it, they need to keep doing it. If Jameson made a beer, this is what it would taste like. It’s light, smells of wood with flavors of whiskey and honey. It’s amazing.

If I forget everything else that happened in Seattle, this is the one experience I want to remember.

10.15 p.m.

Naked City

Naked City Desantis $4.50

We took a break for dinner and Olympics after Fremont. Probably a good thing too, anything after the last bar was bound to disappoint.

Naked City took me back to the days of Justy living in Denver. It felt like the Thin Man, only bigger and without the Jesus paraphernalia.

Justy tried to tell me about how Naked City isn’t a brewery, but they have beers brewed for the bar offsite. About halfway through the explanation a bright shiny object distracted me or maybe I started reading at the chalkboard listing their beer selection, but something happened that made me tune out.

We played cards and talked beer. We ordered a Jubel 2010 so I could finally try it. Again, fruity beers and I don’t get along. But it made me like the Desantis a lot more. Overall, a relatively unremarkable experience. Guess that’s what happens when you break up the Six Shooter over 10 hours.

Aside from the selection of beers, I wasn’t too impressed with the bar. I wrote in my notes “I wonder how I’d feel about it in Denver.” Too much time has passed between writing that and now, as a result I can’t remember what I meant by that. The rest of my notes were random comments and questions: “have I had many Belgian style reds?”, “second time we’ve heard the modest mouse ‘all all something all right’ song tonight,” “total beginners luck at ‘Oh Hell’” things of that ilk. It was time to move on and finish up the night.

11.10 p.m.

Pillager's Pub

Black Boney Porter $4.50

This place was ridiculous. It was situated in a building that looked like one of the new brick structures on Broadway in Denver. The inside was like Black Bart from Casa Bonita had opened a bar: horrible wood paneling, silly pirate flags, netting, murals and fairy lights, complete with a little toy cannon. Again, this place was ridiculous.

I didn’t bother to find out about the beer. It obviously had some specific relationship to the bar, but couldn’t have been brewed onsite. Frankly, I don’t care enough to find out. Fruit forward, smoke back. Not what I want in a porter. I wrote in my notes “some fruity theme based on Caribbean/pirate beer?” Judging from my comment, I must have found the others’ beers to be just as excessively fruity as my own. The flavors fit the porter about as well as the music fit the bar (back to back Johnny Cash songs, on a Friday night, in a pirate themed bar. Really?). I wasn’t having it. Drank up, headed home.

At least Casa Bonita has cliff divers.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Swapping up the order of things

-Anonymous toast

I have two posts left about Seattle and another one about Denver, but I just returned from Vine Street where they’re holding Stout Month for all of February. (It’s also being held at Mountain Sun and Southern Sun for those of you northwest of Denver.) I’ve been meaning to return there since the beginning of the month, but time’s been escaping me. So tonight I met an old friend to catch up over some tasty dark beer. As a result, I'm neglecting the other posts and focusing on my new favorite thing about February.

Vine Street has a full sheet (front and back) listing and describing the beers offered during the month. My issue with this, and I admit it’s a purely selfish one, is that each night only ten of these beers are available – five Mountain Sun brews and five guest beers. Fortunately, there were more than enough beers on tap tonight that I wanted to try. Sara and I ordered four eight-ounce beers a piece, sticking to the stouts the other wasn’t drinking. She sampled the Mountain Sun drinks and I took the guest route.

So here are my thoughts on the four:

1) Deschutes The Abyss 2009 Reserve

I expect a beer with “Reserve” in its title to be something special. I also usually enjoy and respect Deschutes’ beers. The Abyss was good, but to my palate it was little more than a traditional stout – strong smoky flavor, fruity smell which develops into a taste as you drink more of the beer. It was good, but certainly not memorable.

The website describes the beer as one with “immeasurable depth… [with flavors that] draw you in further and further with every sip.” It also has an impressive ABV at 11%, making it strongest beer I’ve encountered in awhile. I wouldn’t have expected the alcohol content to be that high, which speaks positively of the flavor.

The Abyss was released for the fourth time on November 3rd of last year and is a limited release, coming out about once a year. Knowing this, I’m glad I tried it. But, again, of the four I tried this evening, it will be the first I forget.

2) Left Hand’s Fade to Black Stout

From the first sip I felt like I was stepping up the stouts. This may not be a better stout by professional standards, but it was certainly more interesting than the Abyss. And when you drink as many stouts as I do, “more interesting” often means better.

Fade to Black had a creaminess that is comparable to a milk stout, without the thick whole-milk like quality that makes a milk stout so dense. The smell was sweet, with a hint of fruit similar to the flavor of dried strawberries. The smoky flavor is more subtle than most stouts and is more of an aftertaste than anything else. But it stays with you after each sip. Of the four, this was definitely the beer I most wanted to savor.

3) Golden City Javapeno

Recently, my boyfriend has been obsessed with Golden City. For the past couple weeks, I’m fairly certain he’s brought it up every time I’ve seen him. I’ll refrain from discussing the actual brewery until he actually takes me there, but as a result, the name sticks out. Even then, I would probably order a stout called “Javapeno” regardless of where it was brewed. I mean it’s coffee and spicy things in a beer. Pair it with cheese and all of my favorite things are covered. (I wonder if Golden City does beer and cheese nights…)

Considering the name, the flavor of the beer was calmer than I would expect. It had a smoky front, with hints of java and chili. It certainly lacks the grab-hold-of-your-tongue-and-make-you-curse intensity that I have encountered in every other chili beer I have had. But the flavor grows. It stays on your tongue, subtly. It never becomes overwhelming, but the chili characteristics certainly are there. The java even compliments the chili creating a very comfortable complexity. With its creamy texture, it was the first chili beer I could drink a full pint of, and even consider ordering a second.

4) Nitro Young's Double Chocolate Stout

After the Javapeno I didn’t expect to find anything better. The list said this was one of their biggest selling beers during stout month, but I know I don’t think like other people, so my expectations were not that high. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Foamy alcoholic chocolate milk. That’s what this beer is. In the best of ways. The beer is soft, not smooth, but soft on the tongue. It smells of chocolate, with a slight hint of fruit. The taste has a slight smoky touch to it, supporting the chocolate, and develops into a beautifully complex alcoholic chocolate milk. Damn it’s good. Drink this beer.

I will finish the posts on my Seattle trip soon and catch up on the other Colorado drinking events that have happened since I returned. But, for the time being, if you like dark beers and are within driving distance of Denver or Boulder go to Stout Month. Seriously, go. Now. And when you get back, let me know what you thought. I certainly enjoyed it.

(A note about the photo: Sara would like me to let everyone know she had gone through a long day of class and work before meeting me.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Seattle -- Second Round

"What does it take / To get a drink in this place" -Postal Service

Libby’s primary concern was finding a bar where we could watch the Nuggets game. She admitted that she wasn’t certain of the beer selection while driving me to Jillian’s. Given I am in Seattle, and they seem to be rather proud of their beer here, I assumed there would be *something* on tap I hadn’t had before. I just hoped it was something good.

Jillian’s is a chain of Dave and Busters-like pool halls. I had been to one before, just can’t remember where. That’s the thing about Jillian’s – it doesn’t matter what city you’re in, they’re all the same. But tonight was about two things: Libby and the Nuggets beating the Cavs (she says confidently after watching Melo sink a winning shot over Lebron in overtime). And yes, there was good beer there that I hadn’t had before.

Mac & Jack’s African Amber

Libby was surprised that this beer was new to me. I guess it’s a pretty big deal out here. Let’s see, locally brewed amber ale that’s frequently on tap… I won’t say it, but you know what I’m thinking. This beer actually reminded me more of Avalanche than Fat Tire. There was a slight citrus front to it, which, as far as I can recall, I’ve never come across in an amber before. But it works.

The commercial description says that “no visit to the great beer city of Seattle is complete without a couple of pints of this magnificent amber ale.” Yes, I very much liked it. Yes, I am glad I tried it, especially considering its apparent fame in Seattle. But I’m here for three days; I’m moving on to my next drink. (Once again, lacking photos of Seattle, here’s me with a lion cub in Africa.)

Red Hook Mudslinger/Nut Brown Ale

There should be an experiment where someone tests how much I like my beer based on whether or not the Nuggets are winning. Actually, I can think of someone who I imagine would do a very good job of determining this. African Amber? We were up somewhere between five and ten points. I ordered the Mudslinger right about the time that the Cavs had their first lead that I had seen in the game.

Maybe it’s the fact that I see the words “nut” and “ale” and expect Tommyknocker’s Maple Nut Ale or maybe it’s the fact that I have no tolerance for us losing our lead in the second half. But I was not impressed by this beer. The website lists it as “medium body,” I found it lighter than that. A little watered down almost. The flavor was sweet and nutty, but it got too sweet at times. A pruney taste surfaced from time to time, not something I want in a nut ale. So I decided to chance the hefeweizen.

Pyramid’s Haywire Hefeweizen

Back home, at least among my friends, Pyramid brewery is known for its Apricot Ale. We’re a unique bunch though, so this might just be us. I can’t say that I have had any of Pyramid’s other beers. (I do hear that they have an amazing brewery tour, but something tells me that I won’t be making it there today.) I also don’t like hefeweizens, at least usually. The one thing I tend to not tolerate in beers, on a personal level, is that weird taste in heavily unfiltered beers. Hefeweizens more or less guarantee that flavor, so I tend to avoid them. I know, it’s a problem I have, I’m trying to get over it. This beer, however, didn’t have that taste. As a result I liked it, I felt like I was cheating, but I liked it (and no, the Nuggets weren’t necessarily winning. Damn, Lebron is a hell of a player).

Haywire, it turns out, won the gold for 2009 American-Style Wheat Beer with Yeast at GABF. This makes me feel justified in liking the beer, but also given the title of the prize, it’s obviously not a real hefeweizen. The beer reminded me of Breckenridge’s Agave Wheat, only lighter – one of those rare times when lighter is actually better. It was less filling than Agave while maintaining the citrus-sweetness, but not in an overwhelming way like Michelob’s Shock Top or Lienenkugel’s Sunset Wheat.

I finished it shortly after Melo sunk his winning two-pointer with only seconds to go.

I like Seattle.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Seattle -- First drinking session

"Watch the nightly news and drink a beer...
Like I could even change the world, yeah right..."
-Pearl Jam

We got suckered into the Olympics. And by “we” I mean “Justy and his friends”. Sure it’s interesting to watch in passing, but I’m not a big Olympics person. As a result, the first beer I drank in Seattle was pulled out of Justy’s fridge, while the guys discussed how amazing and attractive Lindsay Vonn is.

Snoqualmie Steam Train Porter

Of the beers I tried last night, this was my favorite. It’s a flavorful porter – strong tastes of chocolate and coffee, with fruity prune taste that develops as you drink it. The aftertaste was one of the best I have encountered, like sipping a well roasted coffee (I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Seattle beer reminds me of good coffee). I am surprised it isn’t actually an espresso porter, but the flavor is derived from chocolate, brown and crystal malts, or at least that’s what the website tells me. That being said, it was lighter than a lot of the porters I’ve been drinking, something I could consistently drink through a night. Part of this may relate to the ABV, which is only 5%. For comparison, my favorite espresso beer, Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Stout, is 9.5%. I’m not sure how much that affects the flavor, it’s a question I’ll leave for another post; I am on holiday after all. (Rico, if you’re reading this, you have any answers?)

Brouwer’s Cafe

Eventually the boys managed to pull themselves away from Lindsay Vonn’s post-winning-the-gold freak out and we headed out to my first Seattle bar. Brouwer’s Café is, from what I can tell, like Falling Rock, only not in Lodo and with a strong Belgian theme. Once I recovered from the fact that there were no Colorado beers on tap (Justy assures me this is not usually the case), I stopped to take it all in. The website says they have 64 beers on tap and over 300 bottles. From what I could see, this was indeed the case. (Again though, 64 beers on tap and not one of them is from Colorado? All right, I’ll settle down.)

The atmosphere of the bar certainly appeals to me: big stone wall, industrial styled coolers – an overall cave-like feel. But it was too big. I can understand that, as a restaurant, it needs to accommodate a lot of people, which could explain the size. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time at the Meadowlark, or expect a bar with that sort of beer selection to be more intimate like the Brickskeller in D.C., but something about this bar just felt so manufactured. The Macaroni Grille as a lovely décor, until you realize that every other Macaroni Grille in the country looks the exact same. Something about Brouwer’s felt like there were more Brouwer’s out there that looked the exact same. It didn’t feel unique.

A side note that may have affected my opinion of this place and then I’ll get back to beer. The bartender took awhile to decide if my ID was actually me. Yes, I understand he’s doing his job. But just because my ID is from Colorado and my hair is no longer black (he should be happy it’s not purple), does not mean that I’m not me. ::sigh::

I did like this bar though. Any place that has as nearly many beers available as days in a year is good in my book. And a place that frequently rotates their taps makes me want to return. Plus they had a GABF sticker (Great American Beer Fest, for those of you who haven’t heard me refer to this festival a million times over already) above the bar. That helped to compensate for the lack of Colorado beers on tap.

Moving on…

I let the boys decide on my beer. As long as it was from Seattle, I was happy. Well, from Seattle and good, but Justy knows better than to order me bad beer.

After much discussion, primarily of beers the boys wished were on tap, I ended up with Schooner 3 Grid IPA. Turns out, this is the flagship brew of West Seattle’s Schooner Exact Brewery. The website describes it as “fine tuned…to have the hop aroma and flavor to please true hopheads, but balanced enough to enjoy all night long.” My take on it was that it was too bitter without any additional flavors to balance it out. Near the end of the glass I started picking up on more of the floral citrus taste, but a beer shouldn’t take that long to taste good.

Justy ordered an IPA from Oregon that was significantly better. And, let me just say, he’s lucky he’s not David, otherwise I certainly would have swapped the beers – without his permission.

Tonight it’s Libby’s turn to show me the wonders of the beer in this city (as well as some other non-beer related things). Tomorrow is brewery tours and more beer with Justy. If you have suggestions of particular beers I should try, leave them in the comments or email me. Remember, though, I leave on Saturday.

By the way, has anyone noticed that I haven’t mentioned the Nuggets in two posts? Crap, screwed that up. And yes, I will be the awkward girl in the bar tonight asking that one of the TVs be changed from the Olympics to the Nuggets/Cavs game. But Coach Karl did once coach the Sonics; so really, the people of Seattle should be on my side on this one.

(Note about the photos: I forgot to bring the cord that connects my camera to my computer and didn’t think to take photos with my blackberry last night. So, until I get home, the photo for this post is not of Seattle or bars here, it’s of Justy playing with an oven mitt. Those of you who know him will at least be entertained. The second one is a photo of IPAs from the Six Shooter last month)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the steps of my favorite Denverite

"Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!' - Jack Kerouac, "On the Road"

I have this obsession with Neal Cassady. A rather large one. To the extent that John Leland once told me to be careful about it. The obsession has settled down quite a bit since my early 20s but I still have this unnatural affection for Neal and the places in Denver where he used to hang out. My favorite of all these places, surpassing Charlie Browns or even my own high school (I think he attended it for two years; he obviously didn’t graduate), is My Brother’s Bar.

It’s been nearly a year since my last visit. It’s a difficult for me to go there after giving up meat; kind of like spending time on an awesome smoking patio after recently giving up smoking – too much temptation. I miss the Ralphie Johnny burger, I’ll admit it. If I ever start eating meat again, that will probably be where it starts. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been there in so long.

This particular night I had already eaten a ridiculous amount of Vietnamese appetizers, so when my friend suggested burgers and beer, I decided it was time to return to My Brother’s Bar.

The bar can be described in four words: old, dark, wooden and classical music. Okay, five words. The classical music is an important feature though. For one, the music softly escaping the speakers outside the entrance is one of the only ways to verify that the bar is open without actually checking the door. From the outside, it never looks open. But the music also defines the bar. What other burger joints do you know play Beethoven?

By the time I arrived, Liz had already made friends with the bartenders. So I plopped down in the barstool next to her and handed her new friend my ID.

Of all my visits to this place, this one made me feel closest to my favorite Beat. Before this, I had never sat at the bar before. It’s a whole different experience. I can’t imagine the bar itself has changed much since Neal’s day. The cash register is one of those old school machines with the nickel-sized buttons that resembles Denver’s most famous sky scraper. The kind that take as much time to process one entry that a modern day machine takes to total an entire order.

It’s easy to imagine the laid-back bar staff allowing a remarkably charming, broke man to run up quite a tab here back in the day. They chatted with us quite a bit and even made jokes when I started taking photos of the bar. I’ve never had problems with the service here, but sitting at the bar there’s a new level of friendliness – like what you’ll find at a touristy bar, without the we’re-trying-to-prove-how-awesome-our-city-is element.

When one of the bartenders started putting a cocktail together for someone else Liz asked what he was making. I’m certain that our expressions showed familiarity with the drink when he responded “lemondrop martini.” Even then, he poured us small servings of the drink, claiming he made too much. Maybe I’ve been visiting the wrong bars, but this has only happened to me in Denver when I’ve already made friends with the bartenders.

My intention was to talk extensively about IPAs, focusing on O’dell’s, the beer I was drinking that night, but I got caught up talking about the bar. But this visit changed my perspective of the restaurant – now I can see it as just a bar, and a bar worth visiting.

And if I get hungry, the jalapeno poppers are still damn good.