Colorado. Was. Epic. First of all, it was beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful. Ben had been there once before and had told me that once I visited, I would fall in love with it. I’ve always been a warm weather, beach-loving, sun-loving vacation-taker. The only “cold” place I ever care to vacation to is Alaska. Living in PA, winters are a bitch. And this winter, we spent weeks in sub-zero temperatures. And winter always overstays its welcome. I was sure Ben was wrong about me loving Colorado.
But I was wrong. The weather was gorgeous! It was a sunny 60-some degrees for the first few days we spent there, even though it cooled off a bit by the end of our trip. I could almost feel the snow-capped mountains laughing at the silly Pennsylvanian for expecting cold misery.
Pennsylvania mountains are beautiful, but Colorado mountains… Wow. Just wow. They make Pennsylvania mountains look like teeny little green rolling hills. The few photos I took do Colorado mountains no justice. It’s won’t be my last trip there.
But let’s talk Colorado breweries.
Eighteen breweries in four days. Take that, liver.
Ben and I both did separate research on where we wanted to stop, and we had several lists and a rough plan about what our days would look like.
We arrived in Denver around 5:30pm and hit the ground running, despite the 3 hour time difference and the huge increase in elevation. Because I have so much to say about each brewery, (shocker) I’m breaking down blog posts by day.
Here’s part one of four! (Hopefully I can keep it to just four!)
#13. Great Divide, Denver, CO – Mar. 12
I’m a huge fan of Great Divide. Their Yeti series were probably their first beers I was exposed to, and they were all winners. They’re far less accessible on the east coast. The taproom has 16 beers on tap, and I would have had each and every one if I could have. They have a nice space, although it gets crowded quickly. There was a brick oven pizza food truck outside that looked badass, so we ordered a small pizza to snack on in the taproom. (How can a legitimate brick oven in a FOOD TRUCK not be badass?) Verdict? Amazing! It was the Basic Kneads Pizza food truck. Good stuff.
I got a small sampling of 3 beers. I was impressed with the glassware they had for flights, and would find this to be the case at a good many of the Colorado breweries. They were smaller snifters that maybe held 5-6 ounces each. I tried a few beers I had never had on the east coast. They were Orabelle, which is a Belgian Tripel, the Denver Pale Ale, and the Colette Farmhouse Ale. All 4-4.5 stars. This wasn’t a shocker. I expected great things and I got great things.
#14. Jagged Mountain, Denver, CO – Mar. 12
Our next stop was Jagged Mountain, which I had never heard of before. It houses a considerably bigger taproom with an “L”-shaped bar and lots of seating at tables. They also had a local food truck outside. There was a folk band playing when we got there and it was a really fun atmosphere. I sampled 2 beers – The Spearhead Saison, which was decent, and the Vallecito Rum Barrel Aged Belgian Strong Ale. I was curious about the rum barrel aged beer, but I wasn’t in love with the pairing of Belgian and rum. It still got 3 stars from me.
#15. Crooked Stave, Denver, CO – Mar. 12
We hopped in a cab to go to this next stop. When the cab pulled up to the address we had given him, we definitely thought we were in the wrong spot. There was just this huge building with zero signs that said anything about Crooked Stave. Our cab driver assured us this was the correct address and dropped us off. We walked into this huge building to discover it was almost like a little indoor warehouse market. It housed a restaurant, a bakery, flower shop… and straight through, the brewery. I could have spent hours exploring the rest of the market (which is called The Source), but beer called. And I always answer.
I had never heard of Crooked Stave until about a month before our trip. I was talking with one of our coffee vendor contacts for work who happens to be a big beer geek, too. He’s from the west coast and told me if I checked out one place, it had to be Crooked Stave. He’s friends with some of the guys over there. If we had pre-planned a little better, we would have gotten a tour from them, but we really weren’t sure where and when we would be at each place, so it didn’t work out, unfortunately.
Crooked Stave is a great producer of funky sours and Brett beers. Most beer geeks know that sours are the new big thing, some calling “sour” the “new bitter” in reference to the popularity of the acquired taste. But some probably don’t know that sours have actually been around for thousands and thousands of years. (I’m sure I’ll do an entire post soon all about sour beers at some point.)
Again, this brewery had awesome tasting glasses – little snifters for 3 ounce pours. They had some branded available for purchase, so we got 2 to take home.
I managed to get my hands on 2 Crooked Stave beers in New York while on a business trip a week before Colorado, and both were excellent beers. (Oddly, we found out that Crooked Stave doesn’t distribute/sell to the state of New York. So how the beers got there I haven’t a clue!)
I had the Ferus Fluxus American Wild Ale collaboration with Upslope Brewing, the Colorado Wild Sage Saison/Farmhouse, the Vieille Happy Leaf with Lemon, Hibiscus and Ginger, and the Vieille Artisanal Saison with Cranberry and Spice. If those all sounded unique and awesome, it’s because they were.
What I liked most about the brewery was that they had a coolship sitting high on a platform above and aside from the bar! Ben looked up and noticed it after we had a few beers. I’ve never seen a coolship in a brewery, and in the remaining breweries of the 52, I highly doubt I’ll see another!
A coolship is a large shallow vessel that is used to cool wort. Wort is what we call the beer pre-fermentation. The wort needs to be brought from temperature in the high 100’s down to around 75 degrees before the yeast can be pitched (or added to the wort). There are a few ways to cool the wort rapidly. Most breweries employ heat exchangers or copper coils where cold water runs through the hot wort to cool it down. Ice baths are sometimes used in very small scale homebrewing. And sometimes a portion of water is left out of the recipe to then be added cold to aid in the cooling of the wort.
Coolships employ the oldest method of rapid cooling and they work by utilizing a large surface area where the wort is poured in and can remain at shallow levels, allowing for the surrounding air to quickly cool the wort.
They used to be made of wood, but Crooked Stave’s modern coolship is made of stainless steel, like some other modern ones that exist today.
Coolships can also be used to allow for spontaneous fermentation, but I read that Crooked Stave planned to just use it for rapid cooling initially.
(#15.5 Breckenridge, Denver, CO – Mar. 12)
Another “honorary half”. This one was just a brewery’s taproom where the brewery was not on-site, so it doesn’t count. We’re reviewing anyway!
For a brewery to get a thumbs up from me, they have to either have several very well done beers or at least one beer that is outstanding and memorable. Breckenridge just doesn’t do that for me. I know some others may feel differently, but for me, everything I’ve tried from them is just ok. The Agave Wheat is the best I’ve had from them. Nothing stands out to me or makes me even say, “Wow. This is well done.” They seem to play it safe, and don’t have much outside the box. The incorporation of agave nectar into their wheat beer is probably the “edgiest” stuff I’ve seen from them. They do have some small batch beers and a barrel-aged program, but these were M.I.A. from the tasting room, which tells me about all I need to know. Thankfully, there were many other breweries left to impress me!
And that ends it for day one!
Blog Fuel: Railroad City Hefeweizen. Very sessionable beer. Great for a long holiday weekend of drinking!