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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Time to answer some questions

My old friend anonymous sent me a number of queries last week. So to prevent him from feeling like a mangy cat, I’m going to go through the list and attempt to calm his puzzled mind. (I'm not sure why, but for some reason this photo seems appropriate.)

If you had to pick a city or town in America as the microbrew capital what would it be?

It’s hard for me to give up on Colorado so quickly, but limiting the question to a city or town rather than a state makes it hard to choose my home. Colorado breweries are scattered all over the state – Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, all worthy beer towns. If all of their breweries were in one location, then I would claim that location as the microbrew capital. But since there is, at least, two hours worth of driving between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, I can’t claim them as one town (and can you imagine the uproar if Boulder and Colorado Springs were considered to be the same place?).

So, with a limited knowledge of other towns’ microbrewing feats (I understand that Ashville, NC is making quite a name for itself), I’ll go with Portland. After all, they do have the most microbreweries per capita.

I will be visiting Seattle in a week’s time, so expect some reviews of out-of-state beer in the near future. (For some reason, Anonymous, I feel like you would appreciate me visiting there.)

I’m also going to take this opportunity to share one of my favorite moments from my drinking with strangers escapade last weekend. Rico, one of the most knowledgeable beer drinkers I have encountered, said the following:

“In Colorado, we like our beer if it’s good and it gets us drunk, which is a little harder for us since we’re used to the altitude. In Portland, they think they’ve found beer nirvana. In San Diego, it’s all surfer dudes who are like ‘we like beer!’” And then in Ashville they’re like “Rawr! Beer!”

Moving on…

How about more in your turf - which city or town in Colorado is the best for beer - Denver? Boulder? Fort Collins? Explain.

This is another question I will want to re-visit after a bit more exploration. But for now, here’s my two cents:

When I first think of Colorado beer, Fort Collins comes to mind. However, in consulting the beer map, it turns out this town has only six breweries. The reason it seems like such a beer-haven is it homes three of Colorado’s largest breweries: New Belgium, O’dells and the Colorado branch of Anheuser-Busch. In addition to this, three of the first Colorado breweries that I came to love (again New Belgium and O’dells as well as Fort Collins Brewery) are located up there.

Boulder steps it up a bit with ten breweries in the city and another few scattered in the neighboring towns, such as Broomfield and Longmont. What limits Boulder from being the microbrew capital of Colorado is the unfamiliarity of a lot of these breweries. Of those located in

Boulder city itself, I would only expect Avery Brewing and perhaps Boulder Beer or Twisted Pine to be known by the non-fanatic beer drinkers. I may be misjudging the popularity of Boulder breweries, and would not be surprised to find CU alums arguing with me about this, but when I started really drinking beer, these were the breweries I knew.

I will add that Upslope Brewing Company, which is located in Boulder, is starting to get a lot of attention. I recently tried their pale ale (leaving the review of it for a later post) and expect this to become one of Colorado’s biggest beers. But again, you’ll have to wait to find out more.

Denverites don’t really approve people from the suburbs claiming Denver as home. And I will readily admit that I am one of those Denverites. Because of this, I have to now limit Denver breweries to, well, Denver. This means I can only claim ten breweries to be Denver based, instead of including an additional ten or so by allowing a place like Littleton to be considered part of Denver. That being said, I am also the most familiar with Denver breweries and brew pubs, because they’re only a few miles away at most. And we do have a mighty good selection: Great Divide, Bull and Bush, Wynkoop, two outlets belonging to Breckenridge Brewery, the former home of Flying Dog. I could go on. Just by considering all of these, I have to claim my hometown as the Colorado beer haven.

The short of it is this: If you’re spending a short time in Colorado and looking for beer, there’s more than enough to see in Denver. If you have a week, make sure you take a day or two to visit Fort Collins, Boulder and any of the surrounding towns so you can get the full Colorado beer experience (or as much of it as you can). I will obviously be talking a lot more about Colorado microbrew standings when I tour the state visiting breweries (something in my not-too-distant plans). But for now, I’m giving Denver the gold.

Is Left Hand a Denver brew? How about Tommyknockers?

Left Hand is brewed out of Longmont (a town outside Boulder for my non-Coloradan readers). If included in Boulder’s list of breweries, it certainly ups Boulder’s standing in my Colorado beer-town rankings. It's logo alone is found throughout Colorado, and once I even saw it it Ireland.

Tommyknocker is from a lovely mountain town, (known to Denverites as the place to stop for pizza on the way back from Winter Park) Idaho Springs. I love Tommyknocker and I love Idaho Springs. Returning to my advice for people visiting Colorado – spend an afternoon in Idaho Springs. It’s only an hour out of Denver and you can try great mountain pizza (Beau Jos flagship restaurant is there) as well as visit one of my favorite breweries with the views of a beautiful mining town in the background. Seriously, go there.

What's the deal with Fat Tire? People love this beer and I frankly don't care for it. (though I do like 2 Below) Do you like Fat Tire? I mean, every time I try it I am disappointed. Is that just personal taste, or is Fat Tire in fact a mediocre beer?

Remember Rico? (If not, you have a terrible memory; he was quoted only a couple hundred words ago.) He doesn’t like Fat Tire either. Prior to Saturday, I may have thought you were crazy, but between you and Rico’s opinions, I’m reconsidering it.

For me, Fat Tire is a constant safe bet. It’s what I drink at the Pepsi Center during Nuggets games (only non-Coors or Bud tap available). It’s something that’s easy to find and you know what you’re ordering. That being said, no, it’s not a remarkable beer. However, the lack of complexity means I can have a few of them and not feel like I’m overwhelming my tongue or cheating it out of an actual beer. So I’ll keep drinking it, when there’s not a more exciting choice. When there are more exciting choices, I’ll let you know all about it, in hopes that you'll enjoy it too.

Thanks for all your questions. As always, feel free to leave more in the comments or email them to me.

Oh, and Anonymous, can you get that dear friend of yours some River Horse to bring to Denver? It isn't distributed here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Drinking with Strangers

"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

About a week ago, one of the people who runs Denver Six Shooter – from here on out known as the Colonel – sent me an invite to a beer stunt at Ernie’s (a bar on Federal that has 30 beers on tap). The idea of this beer stunt was we’d break up into two teams of three, each team would choose a side of the line of taps and move their way to the middle. Two teams, three people, thirty taps, five ten-ounce beers a piece. (Don’t worry; it was over a couple of hours.) Keep in mind that I had never met these people before.

The night beforehand the Nuggets beat the Lakers – without Melo, in L.A. after a couple of bad games. And Kyle wanted to go to a gig at the Meadowlark that night. So I drank a bit more than I had initially intended. The next morning I wasn’t hung over, but I was tired. And I wasn’t eager to get up to go drinking with people I didn’t know, even though I was excited to meet them. Yet someone insisted I go drinking with these strangers, more or less pushing me out the door of my house. And I went.

And here’s the purpose of this post: beer brings people together. It’s not something I expected.

I love my life in Colorado, but after so many years of living in different countries and different cities, I’ve had a difficult time of putting together a social circle. I have a few key people here: my best friend, my boyfriend, some other characters who keep my life entertaining (you know who you are). But I’m a social person, I feel most comfortable with a group of close friends. And I’ve been looking for that since I came home.

I’m not saying that Saturday fixed this for me, but I find it remarkable how easy it is for people to unite over beer. This wasn’t the first time. I’ve been in an incredibly diverse group of people, who had nothing more in common than the people who brought them there, and watched as the topic of beer united all of them. It’s an amazing social lubricant, not just as an alcohol that puts away social fears, but as one that creates a conversation topic where there may have not been one before.

I’ll post more about the beer stunt later, but for now, those are my thoughts.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Some thoughts about Stouts (and brown ales and porters)

"A quart of ale is a dish for a king."
-William Shakespeare

It used to be that when I went out drinking and decided to consult my server about which beer I should drink the following exchange would happen:

Me: so I’m a big beer drinker, what would you recommend?

Server: Um, what kind of beers do you like?

Me: Anything as long as it’s filtered and good.

Server: *looks confused, eventually finds something on the menu to suggest. Eight times out of ten, I had drunk the beer before.*

Recently though, I’ve realized I prefer darker beers. Unless one of my favorite lighter beers is offered, I find myself almost always choosing a brown, porter or stout. I’d be tempted to give my brother credit for my attachment to such beers – he’s one of the biggest Guinness drinkers I know (Timothy, I mean you love your Guinness, not that you are a huge human being); however, he doesn’t like dark beers all that much. I heard him say, and I quote, “I’m just not much of a porter or stout drinker.” I suppose when I felt myself physically react to those words, I should have known I was developing rather strong feelings for the malty variety.

(Side note: I’m curious to see how much of this relates to the weather. Last spring, there was an actual moment in time where I stopped ordering Tommy Knocker’s Maple Ale at my best friend’s bar because it was too heavy for the sunny weather. Paired with this is some vague recollection of missing the darker brews during this time. Someone remind me of this when spring hits.)

On that note, here are a few brief reviews of some dark beers I’ve been drinking:

The Wynkoop’s McKenzie’s Milk Stout. The other milk stout I am certain I have tried is LeftHand’s Milk Stout, and I remember liking that as well. Unfortunately, it’s been some time since I tried it, so I can’t quite compare the two. McKenzie’s was incredibly smooth and easy to drink. Quite possibly the smoothest drink I’ve found -- the beer pours down your throat like milk. It has a subtle smoky taste, but tastes sweet if you leave it on your tongue. It’s by far one of the more memorable beers I’ve had in the past few months.

Another Wynkoop brew I’ve tried recently was the B3K Schwartzbier. I know I’ve had it before, but I haven’t paid much attention to it until now. Even this time I didn’t take notes (yes, yes, I know, I should take notes, but there was a Nuggets game on and I was deep in conversation with a friend of mine). Mostly, I remember it as smoky: another beer trait I’m starting to realize I strongly favor. It’s the kind of beer I would drink when I’m craving Ellie’s, but want something a little different. Worth noting, it received the 2008 Gold medal from Great American Beer Fest for the German Schwartzbier category. (In some later post, I’m going to delve into the world of GABF awards. I think it’s something to explore.)

Finally, tonight I returned to the world of Lost Abbey. Mountain Sun/Vine Street, a Boulder based brewpub, is doing a stout month. I am obviously excited. As my luck would have it, the beers on their long list of stouts they have available this month, aren’t actually available, at least yet. They have a few at this point, but not whatever it was I wanted, so I let the bartender decide. He chose the Lost Abbey Serpent Stout. I ignored the feelings I developed towards Lost Abbey from my previous encounter with it and agreed to the selection. It was much better than the last one (still don’t know what that was). It was definitely fruitier than most stouts, and we all know how I feel about fruity beers, but I was willing to drink all of it – and not just because David/the Italian wasn’t with me. The 10% ABV gives it a bite and the smoky flavor comes out as more of an aftertaste, which again, I found somewhat unusual for a stout. But again, I didn’t mind the beer. I will say it doesn’t pair well with the avocado and cheese sandwich, and if I’m going to choose one or the other, I’m going with the sandwich.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Random Top Five

Yes, I love John Cusack. High Fidelity was [most likely] his last good movie (there's a number of them I haven't seen, but I'm willing to wager I'm not missing out on anything.). And while Top Five lists are nothing new, it's impossible to make one post-2000 without thinking of John Cusack and High Fidelity.

So, with respect to my favorite '80's actor, here are my top five beer-related possessions that aren't beer (in no particular order):

1) My beer-cap earrings. I found my first pair of these at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival last
summer -- two Lefthand Brewery bottle caps welded into a ball. Obviously, I had no choice but to buy them. Then I lost one at Great American Beer Fest. My best friend made me three new pairs for Christmas and all I need to do for her to make me more is, well, drink beer and give her bottle caps. I think I can handle that. (I swear I uploaded the photo so you can see the earrings, not just to boast about having a photo with J.R. Smith. If I were boasting, I would have uploaded the one with Chauncey or Melo.)

2) My New Belgium beer taps. Remember how New Belgium taps used to be wooden and last year they swapped them out for the metal ones that better suited New Belgium's bike theme? Well, the folks at my favorite brewery understand their beer drinkers and sold the old taps at their store. I was fortunate enough to be standing behind a man who knew this when I visited the brewery last January and, as a result, I now own a Sunshine Wheat and a Fat Tire tap. (My boyfriend suggested that my ridiculous New Belgium obsession may have put me in favor with someone at the brewery that would have then made them inclined to give me such an awesome gift -- I'm paraphrasing here. But no, I bought them. With money.)

3) My Great Divide hoodie. It's brown, comfy and has a picture of a yeti on the back with the words "I believe." on it. I bought this last November and have more or less lived in it since then.

4) My beer map. I've talked about this. It's obviously a big deal.

5) My Birdman drinking glass. Did you really expect me to get through a whole blog post without mentioning the Nuggets? You under estimate my obsession. Another Christmas present from Rach. I understand that this isn't exactly a beer-related object, but I use it for beer. And water. And really anything. It's far and away the best thing Arby's has ever produced. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a vegetarian. (In response to the photo, yes, I am a huge dork.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In search of David Bowie, or My First Six Shooter

(Note: Last Friday I went out with a bunch of friends for a Denver Six Shooter. In the most basic of terms, a Six Shooter involves going to six bars, having one drink per bar and there's some sort of theme that brings it all together. Each Tuesday one Six Shooter is featured on the website. This was my week. Check out the website though, it has some of the most entertaining drink writing I've found. And by "I've found" I mean that Kyle has shown me.)

I’m a beer girl. A very passionate one. But when it comes to going out, I almost always avoid downtown and rarely venture past my local bars. For the sake of my first Six Shooter, I decided to make an exception and wander the streets of downtown, at least the ones where you can find good beer.

So I called up a few friends and started planning a route around Blake Street. My goal was to have beers I had never had before. Knowing this is a difficult feat, I had a backup theme of craft beers, just in case I had to settle on New Belgium at some point.

When Porphyry Kyle realized our night of drinking fell on the same night that a David Bowie cover band was at the Meadowlark, our final destination was determined.

Thus began our David Bowie Craft Beer Night.

8:07 p.m.
Great Divide Tap Room
2201 Arapahoe St
Claymore Scotch Ale, $5

Great Divide was crowded. I think of the Tap Room as more of a stop-by-and-find-out-about-Great-Divide-type place, rather than a place to go out drinking on a Friday, but the place was packed. I guess more people think like me than I expect.

Fortunately, we started with just four people and halfway through our time there, the place cleared out. Either there was a bigger pub crawl than ours going on, or we missed something. Regardless, I got to sit down, so I was happy.

The Tap Room is exactly what you expect from a tasting room. It's small, it feels industrial, with metal signs and huge windows looking into the brewhouse, reminding you that the beer was made only feet from where you're standing.

Sticking to my attempted theme of beers I haven’t had before, I flipped through their seasonal beer menu and decided on Claymore Scotch Ale. Porphyry Kyle went for the Old Ruffian and I instructed the Semi-Native to order an Oak Aged Yeti (he’s new to Denver and I know his taste in beer. For the record, he really liked it.). Wyatt ordered the same.

The Claymore was wonderful; Great Divide really knows its darker beers. It tasted like a lighter Yeti, their signature stout, with a bite; a dark beer that I could drink in the summer time. (Random fact: A Claymore is a medieval Scottish sword. Great Divide says “...unlike its namesake, this beer only requires one hand, but it’ll still make you feel like nobility.”) Definitely the right way to start the night.

Around the time that Wyatt and I lost the Semi-Native and Kyle to an intense conversation about sports, the twins showed up. Our group split in two, like seventh graders at a middle school dance, until Porphyry Kyle finished his beer. We herded ourselves out the door to our mantra: “David Bowie cover band.”

9:20 p.m.
Celtic Tavern
1801 Blake St.
Pint of Bridgeport IPA, $5.25

I hate Irish pubs. I went to college in Ireland and spent two years drinking at Irish bars before I could legally drink in the States, so the novelty is lost on me. Plus, American Irish pubs represent the American idea of what is Irish: signs that say “Erin go bragh” (none of my Irish friends even know what that means), tons of four-leaf clovers (another inaccurate representation of Ireland) and the like. Irish cheese. These bars are about as authentically Irish as Tom Cruise's accent in Far and Away. But we needed another bar on our list, and since the Celtic is only a block away from Falling Rock, and it was only for one drink, I figured "Why not?"

I hadn’t been to the Celtic Tavern since before I was 21, and I was pleased to see it was less obnoxious than I expected. The Celtic is huge, with the requisite amount of tacky Irish paraphernalia: Irish road signs, among other things. I have a terrible sense of direction, but I can almost guarantee that Donegal is not in the direction that the sign in the Celtic Tavern suggests.

But on to beer. The Bridgeport was remarkably wheaty for an IPA. The strong citrus flavors lead Porphyry Kyle and I to debate whether it tasted more like a wheaty IPA or a hoppy wheat (it was definitely a wheaty IPA). Regardless, I liked it and was pleased with myself for finding a memorable microbrew that wasn’t Coloradan.

I was instructed to mention that the Celtic Tavern has a smoking room. This affects me in no way, shape or form; but while I was taking my notes, one of my companions instructed that I write that down, insisting “It’s very important.” This also meant that three of my five friends spent most of their time at the Celtic taking advantage of smoking indoors. Smokers are a funny people.

While the others were enjoying the Havana Lounge, the twins and I were joined by the Italian and his friend. The five of us entertained ourselves by watching the band set up. Based solely on their appearance and the few chords they played as they warmed up, I determined that they were the kind of people that listened to Zeppelin and Cream when they were my age and never realized that music developed after that point. When they launched in to some pretty fun blues, I was pleasantly surprised. I guess they did realize that music moved on, they just followed the same musicians on to the next style of music.

In one of those “that’s the way it goes” moments, the second we put on our coats to leave, the band started into some song that had us all singing along. One of the twins protested, insisting that we should stay just for that song. But Porphyry Kyle pushed on, assuring us that the David Bowie cover band would make up for it. (For the record, Porphyry Kyle later attested that he finds those kind of cover bands depressing, which was part of his pushing us out the door.)

10:18 p.m.
Falling Rock
1919 Blake St.
Some brew by Lost Abbey, either $5 or $6.

As a beer lover, especially one that is always interested in trying new beers, I love Falling Rock. The problem is too many other people do, as well. The bar was the busiest we had seen since starting at Great Divide. And when the bar is that busy, it’s hard to make a good selection.

I couldn’t find a beer list of the 80 taps they have, so I went for something I could identify from across the bar. A Celtic cross with the words “Lost Abbey” was visible from where I stood. I ordered that and a Ranger IPA for Kyle (I’ve been very excited about this beer since New Belgium announced it and this was the first time I had seen it. Porphyry Kyle definitely ordered it just to humor me).

As for the Abbey, I didn’t like it.

I’m not a big fan of fruity beers to begin with, but I had a hard time determining what it was I didn’t like about this beer. Something about it just tasted awkward. Fortunately for me, the Italian wasn’t enjoying his beer either (He doesn’t like hops. Who doesn’t like hops?), so we swapped. My awkward fruity beer was exchanged for a lovely winter seasonal called Santa’s Little Helper. It was a smoky, dark beer with a slight fruity taste that reminded me of both a porter and a barley wine. Also it had an ABV 10.5%. (I say this mostly because after the next beer, I was officially drunk.)

While there, another two people joined us, bringing our group count up to 11. The fact that we managed to keep this group intact almost to the end of the night astonishes me. But more people means more time at each bar. We had a less than an hour until the David Bowie cover band started and two bars to hit before then.

11:12 p.m.
Breckenridge Brewery
2220 Blake St.
Mighty Brown, $4.75

The place was empty. Empty. But by that point there were enough of us that it didn’t matter. We had managed to keep track of all eleven people and picked up another two at the bar. Plus, most of us were teetering on drunk, which made the group seem even bigger.

I order from the first tap I've never seen before: a Mighty Brown. The flavor was much too intense for a brown, with a weird prune juice after taste. I took a sip of the Italian’s drink and swapped mine for his. There’s a fairly good chance I didn’t ask his permission to do so. (I may be developing a “when you’ve known someone 11 years, you don’t always need to ask their permission to swap beers with them” policy. Though this may only apply to the Italian.)

I’m sure he told me what he ordered, but I can’t for the life of me remember. All I know is it was much better than the Mighty Brown. (He later informed me it was the Oatmeal Stout.) The swap lead to conversations about different kinds of beer: the difference between porters and stouts, educating the Canadian about what good Belgium Whites she could find in Colorado and me rambling off about how much I dislike Coors.

By the time we had finished our drinks, the we guessed that the Bowie cover band should have already started.

11:58 p.m.
Blake Street Tavern
2401 Blake St.
Flying Dog Winter Ale, $3 dollars (Three dollars!)

I’m ashamed to say I had never been to Blake Street before. I don’t usually like sports bars, which is probably why I had never been there before, and again, I don’t go out downtown much. But this place is exactly what I would want from a sports bar.

After Flying Dog Brewery moved to Maryland, Blake Street Tavern remained their Denver hub. The connection is obvious when you walk into the bar – the walls are decorated with Ralph Steadman’s Flying Dog art. There are pool tables, darts, shuffle board and enough TVs to guarantee that I’d never have to miss a Nuggets game. The place is big enough that it can handle a weekend crowd, but maintains a cozy feel that prevents it from seeming awkward there when it’s empty. Oh and did I mention my beer cost three dollars? I’m still excited about that. Expect me to return here. Frequently.

At this point I was feeling the effects of the previous four beers. I was drunk. But the winter ale was good, and after having been disappointed by my last two selections, I was happy to have chosen wisely. I honestly couldn’t describe more about the beer, other than it was dark, I liked it and it cost three dollars.

My notes at this point are limited to basic information about drinks, a quick thought about the bar, a comment about the Nuggets losing and a drawing done by Nathan. That, in itself, was a sign that we needed to move on and finish up our night.

(Side note: Had I been more sober, I’m sure I would have taken a more artistic photo of the Flying Dog art on the walls. But I was drunk, angry that my team had lost and excited to see a bar that supported both the Nuggets and the Red Sox, which explains the photo of the ATM.)

12:30 a.m. (One hour after the David Bowie cover band was supposed to start)
Meadowlark Bar
2701 Larimer St.

Fat Tire, I don’t know the price, Porphyry Kyle bought it for me and I doubt he remembers, either.
They didn’t charge a cover when we walked in, a sure sign that our Bowie cover band had finished their set. At that point none of us cared, except maybe the Semi-Native, since he was sober. I don’t imagine him getting too excited about a Bowie cover band, anyway.

Porphyry Kyle bought me a Fat Tire. I had reached the point where I didn’t care enough to examine their beer selection. And judging from my notes, it wouldn’t have made a difference if I had found a new beer to try – I wouldn’t have remembered anything about it.

I love the Meadowlark. I think it is all you could ever want from a small local venue (except maybe a better draft beer selection). This was my first visit in the wintertime and I was happy to see how well it adapted to the cold weather. While the bar lacks the craft beer theme, it was a great place to end the night.

Of our time there, our exit was the most memorable. I’m not sure how long the giant animal head has resided by the bathrooms, but none of us had noticed it before — and Kyle visits the Meadowlark probably twice a week. But given our drunken state, this animal (we called it a water buffalo, it wasn’t a water buffalo) received a lot of our attention: photos, Iphone researching, Wyatt repeatedly trying to pet it. I think it made up for missing the David Bowie cover band.