GABF Beercation 2016 – Day 1 – Fort Collins

Well, friends, it’s FINALLY happened. After two years of purchasing tickets and not being able to attend the one and only Great American Beer Festival, the year has finally come that I’m able to go!

Ben and our friend, Steve, from the amazing Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and myself flew from NC into Denver yesterday and drove out to Fort Collins to kick off our beercation! And our day was AWESOME. 

Here’s how it went down!

I was getting a little hangry on the hour drive from Denver to Fort Collins, so we hit up my friend, Sam, who we planned to meet later and who’s lived here for a few years now, for some lunch suggestions. 

We landed on grabbing some sandwiches because he said there was a really good beer selection at this particular spot – Choice City Butcher and Deli. I thought to myself, “I’ll just have a nice little sandwich so I have plenty of room for beer after.”

Ha.

No.

These sandwiches were giant and amazing. Here’s what was left of my Italian sandwich that I quite literally destroyed. 

I guess the little side of mashed potatoes that the woman at the deli recommended didn’t help me to not feel full either, but they were totally worth the added 10 minutes extra it took for my food coma to wear off.

And the New Belgium Blackberry Love:Oscar was perfection as my first beer of the day.

With full bellies, we trekked on to Funkwerks (my second time there!) to crush some amazing beers. We sat outside on that gorgeous day. It was probably around 60-65 degrees out, which was super refreshing compared to the 80 degree weather we left in NC. 

Sam and his awesome new wife, Julie, came to meet us. (Our last beercation was to fo to their wedding in Maine in May.) Beer is ALWAYS better with friends and old stories.

It had been two and a half years since I had been to Funkwerks. Their house yeast has evolved incredibly since then with a discernable farmey funk to it. We shared a few flights and a bottle of their 2015 Oud Bruin. Paisley was probably my favorite beer there, and I’m regretting having not grabbed a bottle.

From there, we went to Horse and Dragon Brewing, which was all of a 30 second car ride away. We got a few flights there, and I was pleasantly surprised with everything. They had a great range of styles.

Sam and Julie left after that, and we headed to make what we thought would be a brief pit stop at New Belgium Brewing before we went to check in to our Airbnb. 

We had been talking earlier about how Lauren Salazar of New Belgium, without question the most badass woman in the industry, and one of the most respected people in the industry, apparently was a fan of a Haw River beer.

We sit down at the bar and order a few beers, and just a minute or two later, in walks none other than Lauren fucking Salazar. Steve grabbed some Haw River bottles from the car to give to her, and we all began chatting. 

As if that wasn’t enough to be the highlight of the trip, she asked us if we wanted to come back to the foeders and have a beer with her. 

We and a few cool guys from Austin Beerworks joined her and tasted some Whiskey Fat Back and laughed about the names she’s given to some of the numbered foeders. They’re completely out of chronological order in the first half of the room, and Lauren joked that there’s one number they can never find, so she calls it “Stepchild”. She then apologized to my red-headed husband (red headed stepchild), and we all shared a good laugh about that. 

Other fun foeder names included Old Dirty Bastard and Darth Vader.
I’m still in awe that we got to drink beer and chat with her. She was so gracious. 

After we left New Belgium, we pinched ourselves, realized this was real life, and threw our stuff in our stunning Airbnb before grabbing dinner at The Colorado Room. 

You can almost never go wrong with poutine with a fried egg on top. 

At this point, I was starting to hit the wall, but out old asses decided to move on to one more spot before calling it a night.

We went to The Mayor of Old Town as our last stop for the night. They have 100 beers on tap and were rated one of the top 15 beer bars in America by craftbeer.com. 

Pliny was on tap and that was the perfect beer to finish my night off with!
Here’s to hoping day 2 is even better than day 1!

COLORADO BEERCATION – Part 2

Colorado – Day 2
We woke up in Denver and headed toward Colorado Springs for some morning beers. I don’t often find myself in awe of my surroundings, but the drive to our first brewery was unlike any other drive. The sun was shining bright as those mammoth mountains stood with snow-capped peaks, far better than any postcard could do justice. You couldn’t help but be in awe and be thankful for beauty like that.

me at the Garden of the Gods
It’s really no wonder that a place like that inspires such great beers.
#16. Pikes Peak, Monument, CO – Mar. 13
What a great place for our first beer of the day. Again, the scenery is ever-present surrounding this brewery, and it’s pretty perfect for a brewery named after a mountain. It was a great little place with a bar and some tables. It was 4 days before Saint Patty’s Day, so the bar was decked out in typical holiday décor.
The bartender told us about their annual Saint Patty’s Day leprechaun contest. Apparently, lots of people get dressed up as leprechauns, and they pick the bestPikes Peak beer one to be their leprechaun for the ENTIRE YEAR. The bartender told us that this person ends up being an honorary employee for the year. The catch is, every time this person has an event or has to work at the brewery, they have to wear their leprechaun gear! (Or so the bartender told us… But I’m pretty sure this is the full truth!)
Oh, and last year’s leprechaun has to get the new leprechaun a gift. One of the years, the old leprechaun got the winner a 50 pound bag of potatoes. The bartender told us that the potatoes were being passed out to people as they left. Fifty pounds is a LOT of potatoes!
Anyway, onto the beers! I tried 4. One, I didn’t rate. Oops! And the others were a 3.5, 4, and 4.5. Winners! My favorite was a seasonal they brewed just for Saint Patty’s Day – Pike O’ The Peak 2014. It was an Irish Red. And I’m pretty sure that’s the highest I’ve ever rated an Irish Red. Well done!

 
Not a Brewery, But Absolutely Noteworthy!:
After we left the brewery, we needed some caffeine. We had a long day ahead of us and we needed our morning jolt. We walked into Wesley Owens Coffee Shop, and I walked out a changed person. Changed. Person. I just wanted a great cup of coffee. I told the woman working that I had never been there and asked for the best thing on the menu. She told me to go for the Red Tea Latte. Tea? red tea latte“Wah,” I thought. I needed more of a buzz to wake me up from my other buzz! I like tea. But I wanted coffee. But the barista confidently insisted that I NEEDED to try it if I tried one thing. So I ordered it, ignoring the literally freshly roasted beans that were calling my name.
So I see her making this drink, and I’m confused… (Let’s be honest… It doesn’t always take much to confuse me.) She was using an espresso machine. And there was no tamping. “Whaaaaat?!” Of course, being a coffee geek (who is still ALWAYS learning), I’m asking questions. It turns out, this drink is actually made using rooibos tea leaves that are finely ground to an “espresso” grind. (Roobios tea that is finely ground is sometimes called “red espresso”.) The finer grind allows for more surface area for the water to become more saturated with the flavors, just like it would with espresso ground coffee. There is no need to tamp, as tea leaves are intended to be steeped. Channeling or under-extraction aren’t factors here, as they would be in not tamping espresso.
After the barista pulled the shot of tea, she put it into a cup where she added some honey and some cinnamon, and then added steamed milk topped with foam and a final dash of cinnamon.
This was probably one of the best handcrafted beverages I have ever experienced! And part of my job is creating handcrafted beverages for a living! Mind. Blown. (Check out their Red Tea Latte!)
Because rooibos tea is herbal, there was actually no caffeine in my drink. But the honey helped give me the little boost I needed. True tea that comes from tea leaves is naturally caffeinated. Herbal teas are the only true non-caffeinated teas, as these “teas” don’t actually come from tea leaves, but rather from the flowers of other plants. (Decaffeinated teas are natural teas where most, but not all, of the caffeine has been removed.)
From here, we left to hit our 17th brewery of the year.
#17. Bristol Brewing Co., Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13
spent grain chipThe beer here was nothing spectacular – all 3’s and 3.5’s on my list. I tried six different beers, and the Laughing Lab Scottish Ale and the Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout Ivywildwere my two favorites. One impressive and unique feature was the homemade spent grain chips they served, free of charge. I honestly didn’t expect them to be good, but after the first one, I couldn’t stop eating them! They were served in a silver dog food bowl with a sticker of the “Laughing Lab” dog on it.
The location of the brewery is what really stood out to me. This brewery resides inside an old elementary schoolhouse. It was a really neat place to check out.
The schoolhouse is called Ivywild School, and it houses a community marketplace. We ordered sandwiches from The Meat Locker Deli inside the school, which were Bristol Brewingdelivered to us at the brewery’s bar. (It was excellent food, by the way.) The bread used on our sandwiches came from The Old School Bakery, also residing in the schoolhouse. (Again – excellent.) There was an espresso bar/whiskey bar called The Principal’s Office where I got my post-beer caffeine fix via an outstanding $4 2 ounce iced Sumatra espresso shot. Well worth it! And there was a tiny market area called Hunt or Gather, where I bought some local honey.

 

 

#18. Red Leg, Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13
Red LegRed Leg Brewing is a veteran owned and operated brewery that opened a little less than a year ago on the 4th of July. My husband is a Marine and was excited to check it out. I think I tried everything they had to offer, because my Untappd account tells me I had eight beers there! 3.5-4.5 stars on Untappd. The favorite at 4.5 was the Devil Dog Stout – pretty fitting for having a Marine for a husband!
They had a decent variety – a pils, wit, IPA, two brown ales, two stouts, and an amber. The décor was pretty fitting also. There was a wall on the side that had different colored wood blocks to form a digital camouflage effect and there were framed photos of their beers in tasting glasses in front of an American flag and with little green Army men.
We left the brewery to go meet up with Ben’s friend at his home in Colorado Springs. Seth had the pleasure of being Ben’s roomie in California and Afghanistan. (Sorry, Seth!) We spent a good chunk of the evening at Seth’s house and met his wife and adorable kids! Then, we ventured out with them to our last brewery of the night.
#19. Phantom Canyon, Colorado Springs, CO – Mar. 13
This was a pretty decent sized brewpub with some really tasty food. I only had two beers here – the Baron Saturday (Belgian Brown), which I didn’t rate, and the Fat And Lazy, a sour that I rated an uncommon 4.5. Although I enjoy all types of beer, you’ll sometimes find that I stray away from rating some Belgians.
Belgian yeasts can often produce banana esters. And I shit you not, I have this banana-sensitivity super-sense. (This is a legitimate thing. But I do get the occasional weird look when I tell people about it.) I’ll occasionally drink beers where no one else can detect banana, and I’ll find banana in it. Some BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges actually bow out of judging certain beer categories because of this hyper-sensitivity. This is why I prefer not to rate anything I sense with this flavor.
(Also noteworthy is that banana flavors or esters can sometimes be unwanted off-flavors produced by ale yeast. These unintended flavors can come about when beer has been fermented at too high of a temperature.)
Additional fun “Janee and banana” facts: Number one – I don’t even like banana flavor. Number two – I still eat several bananas a week because of the health and nutritional benefits. And number three – The most popular beverage I created for work is banana puree based. Go figure.
Blog Fuel: Amstel Light (for off-flavor taste testing!) and Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout.

COLORADO BEERCATION – Part 1

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 Coloradoweather, 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.Colorado

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. 12Great Divide

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.

Jagged Mountain#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.

Photo Credit: Crooked Stave Facebook page

Crooked Stave’s coolship being installed

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!