Beercation: Denver

beercation_denver.jpgAnyone who is even mildly into the craft beer scene probably knows that Denver is the City of Gold when it comes to beer. I took the Hajj and went to the Beer Mecca itself. I had been before, but never with beer on the brain. I did my research and braced myself for the beer storm I was about to weather. I tried to document each beer I had, so hang on, because it’s about to get yeasty.

First up was somewhat of a tradition. My girlfriend and I hopped on down to SliceWorks Pizza and I got a specialty slice (Pizza alla Vodka) and a Titan IPA from Great Divide. You can’t swing a cat without hitting this IPA, and it’s definitely worth the hype. Click the photos for descriptions!

Next we headed downtown to Jagged Mountain Brewing Co. and had our pick of their incredible selection of specialty one-off brews, as well as seasonal and permanent installments. Click the photos below for some half-assed captions.

Next up was the Ale House at Amato’s in the beautiful Highlands District of Denver. Since it wasn’t even noon, I opted for a 10 oz. pour. Oh, Beer gods above please forgive my transgressions. I opted for a crisp delicious Mountain Mama Helles (a type of German lager) by Lone Tree Brewing. Again, click the photos for some descriptions and full sized photos.

I’m gonna be totally honest here. I forgot to take a picture of a beer I had. So, feel free to leave this website now and never come back. You’re not missing much though, I mean it was just a Dale’s Pale Ale, at a concert… at FREAKING RED ROCKS AMPITHEATRE… Actually, when I say it out loud it sounds like I really missed an opportunity there. Well, onwards and upwards I guess.

Next up on our beercation we took a trip northwest and decided to visit beautiful Boulder, CO. FATE Brewing was in my sights because I had heard so much about the food there and my stomach was in command. After a stroll through Pearl Street Mall, we headed to FATE. I got the Director’s Cut, a Belgian style Ale brewing with John Carlson, director of the Colorado Brewers Guild. You know the drill, click the pics, see some words.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. But Andres! You aren’t even drinking that much beer! You’re in Beer Heaven and are only sipping a brew here and there. Right you are my friend. Don’t worry though, I have a trick up my sleeve: The Summer Brew Fest. Over 50 Breweries, Cider Houses and Distilleries all coming together in one place. And here’s the thing – unlimited sampling. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures because the logistics of carrying around a DSLR Camera, drinking beer, writing down what they were and eating pretzels all at once seemed like a nightmare. But here’s a run down of the different breweries I tried and the beers I tried there!

  1. Great Divide – Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout
  2. Jagged Mountain – Greywolf Belgian IPA
  3. Ratio Beerworks – Repeater Extra Pale Ale
  4. Strange Craft Beer Co. – Le Bruit du Diable Farmhouse Ale
  5. Firestone Walker Brewing Co. – Luponic Distortion No. 001 (Pale Ale? IPA?)
  6. Lone Tree Brewing Co. – Acres O’Green Irish Red Ale
  7. Grist Brewing Co. – Abbey Normal Belgian Dubbel
  8. Verboten Brewing – Get in My Belly! Scotch Ale
  9. Nighthawk Brewery – AnchorSmith Amber Ale
  10. Weldworks Brewing – Puesta Del Sol Vienna Lager
  11. Open Door Brewing Co. – Chai’l & Error Chai Spiced Milk Stout
  12. Open Door Brewing Co. – Libertas Cream Ale
  13. Lagunitas Brewing Co. – Wilco Tango Foxtrot American Brown Ale
  14. Aspen Brewing Co. – Silver City Sour Ale

Whew. Ok, take a deep breath, have a pint, you made it. The end of the list. While 14 breweries may not seem like a lot to some, the “sample sizes” they were pouring were absolutely massive, so we decided to do the smart thing and end it there. Needless to say we Über-ed home. We had a good sleep and were reinvigorated for another day of beer drinking the next day!

On our last night in Denver we made our way to EPIC Brewing Co. in the RiNo district of Denver. The service was terrible and the taproom was sweltering, but the beer was nonetheless very good. Here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.

From there, we decided to take a jaunt across the Platte River and check out Denver Beer Co., which turned out to be one of my favorites. The beer here was unique, tasty and the atmosphere was awesome. I’m kind of a fanboy of this place though because I’d heard so many great things about them, so that may have influenced my opinion. Either way, I definitely enjoyed my time here. Click the pictures below for more, #3 will shock you! (just kidding it won’t).

Lastly on our Beercation was another brewery I had heard some great things about, which was Black Shirt Brewing Co. They’ve made their mark as a music-centric brewery, and just about every night there’s a musical even there in some way shape or form. The back patio is a devoted space for the music, and when music and beer meet smiles abound. We opted for the front tap room, however, because the patio was absolutely PACKED, as an angel had descended from heaven and decided to stop by and sing and strum her heavenly lute (it was actually a guitar) that night. If you don’t know to click the pictures for captions by now, I can’t help you.

I caught a glimpse of Heaven in the beers I tried in that gorgeous city. One day I’ll be there for good and my beercation will just be my life! Until then, enjoy the photos and cheesy captions that accompany them. I hope this has inspired you to visit Denver and try some beer, or if you’ve already been, go again! Below are some random photos from the trip that have nothing to do with beer but I thought were cool enough to share anyway.

Cheers!

Taste Buds: Battle of the Bombers

TB_battle of the bomber

I was in the mood for some big local bombers for some reason, so I scouted the breweries and picked up two, the Marble Brewery White Out Spice Wheat Ale (left), and La Cumbre Brewing Co.’s Fievre d’Abricot Saison (middle). Of course a bomber is no good without friends so I invited a few of the now infamous Taste Buds to help me on this perilous journey. One of the fellow taste bud decided you know, two bombers just isn’t enough, and he hit us with a third! The Lagunitas Brewing Company Equinox Pale Oat Ale. Below are some tasting notes that we settled on for the three beers. Enjoy!

Marble Brewing Co.
White Out – Spiced Wheat Ale
ABV: 9.0%
IBUs: 40
Hops: Citra, Mosaic, Crystal
Adjuncts: Coriander, Curacao Orange Peel
Malts: 2-Row, Flaked Oats, Unmalted Wheat

marble white out

  • Aroma: Right out of the fridge there wasn’t aroma to speak of, but as the beer warmed, there was a mineral quality in the aroma. There was pretty present spicy, phenolic character, low to no hop aroma, and a faint green apple smell. The malt aroma presented itself slightly towards the end, but not in great amounts.
  • Flavor: Right away you can taste the orange peel, as well as a faint boozy taste, definitely presenting itself as a 9%-er. Crit says, “It’s like an IPA was poured into a Double White”, and she’s completely spot on. There’s a slight green grassy taste, medium body, with incredible lacing. Very little malt sweetness, and the flavor is really brought to life by the spices.
  • Score: 8.5/10

La Cumbre Brewing Co.
Fievre d’Abricot – Fruited Saison
ABV: 8% (bottle says 8, website says 7.5%)
IBUs: 25
Hops: N/A
Adjuncts: Apricots
Malt: N/A

la cumbre fievre d'abricot

  • Aroma: The apricot was only faintly present right out of the fridge, but as the beer warmed it was ALL you could smell, so if you like apricots, you’ll love the smell and taste of this beer. Little bit of a banana wheat smell at first, but that faded quickly as it warmed. Bread-y sweetness present in the last few sips.
  • Flavor: Huge apricot notes, though it’s not overpowering. This is a very dry and not terribly sweet saison that is surprisingly drinkable. The sour, brett notes accentuate the sweetness though. As it warms the apricot is even more present. light-medium body despite the appearance. No lacing to speak of.
  • Score: 9.2/10

Lagunitas Brewing Company
Equinox – Pale Oat Ale
ABV: 8.4%
IBUs: 50
Hops: Equinox, Simcoe
Adjuncts: Oats
Malts: N/A

lagunitas equinox

  • Aroma: Sweet malty presence, balanced by a piney, woody hop aroma. It smells like an actual brew day, right as you throw some aroma hops in. Megan said, “great to drink while listening to Tool.” (and yes we were listening to Tool at the time)
  • Flavor: the flavor matched the aroma really well, and it has a malty sweetness balanced really well by the hop bitterness. Taking a big whiff as you sip seems to accentuate the piney, resin-y characteristics of the Equinox hops, I could just be making that up though. It tastes like a brew day smells.
  • Score: 9/10

The winner of the battle of the bombers was: The Taste Buds! Because all of these beers were seriously good, and I would drink all three of them again. My favorite, as well as Pat’s was the Saison, Meg’s was the Equinox, and Crit rounded it out by liking the White Out the best. Stay tuned for more Taste Buds!

Cheers,

Andres G.

Andres and the Philosopher’s Beer

While lost deep in thought one day, I lamented the fact that I didn’t have a dark and somber beer to match the pensive look on my face. As I furrowed my brow and stroked my long, ZZ Top-esque beard, I cried out, “Oh, why can’t a beer exist as complex and deep as my thoughts!” And suddenly, the heavens split open, and out from the blinding oblivion the Ommegang Brewery Three Philosophers Belgian Quadruple Ale settled gentle as a feather into my eager, outstretched hands. “Alas!” I exclaimed, “my multitude of wondrously deep pondering can now be matched by an ale!”

ommegang three philosophers quad

Wow, it’s hard to even joke about that level of pretension… Ok let’s start over. The Ommegang Brewery Three Philosophers Belgian Quadruple Ale was a hell of a beer. Being a quad, I had high hopes for this guy and it delivered. Described by the brewery itself as a beer “made for contemplation”, it certainly evoked contemplation just by drinking it. It’s dangerous to go alone, so I took my Taste Bud Xavi on this ponderous journey with me. Here’s what we thought:

At 45 degrees F (5 degrees below the suggested serving temp of 50 F)

  • Hint of caramel sweetness in the aroma, strong boozy alcohol aroma that kind of dominated at this temperature. Hints of vanilla and tart cherries seemed to be underneath the alcohol. The aroma was very subdued and a little disappointing for such a big beer.
  • For whatever reason, the first word that came to both our minds when we tried this was “burgundy”. It tasted like an after dinner liqueur, like cognac or brandy, or even a sweet red wine. It had a medium-large body, with vanilla notes and hints of tart cherries that matched the aroma. I kept tasting a rootbeer float, which was weird. Xavi was not because he had never had one before (?!) We both agreed this would be a great dessert beer.

At 55° F (5° above the suggested serving temp)

  • The aroma was in the same ratios just more present. This meant the alcohol smell was stronger, but so was the vanilla, tart cherry, and caramel sweetness that was present initially. Everything just got bigger!
  • More cherry flavor from the 2% cherry Kriek they mixed in with the quad. The flavor got more boozy as well. Finally, at about 60° F the boozy quality went away for the most part and the vanilla and cherry notes really shined through. A lot of people report a sour note with this beer, but neither Xavi nor I were able to detect it, perhaps because I didn’t let the beer age.

Overall, this beer did what it said it was going to do, which was to make you think! Xavi and I thought up a storm while drinking this one and it was a solid Belgian quad. I’d give it a 9 out of 10 for flavor and a 7 out of 10 for aroma. So, as you sip this beer, ponder the words of the great French philosopher René Descartes; “I drink, therefore I am”, or something along those lines.

Taste Buds

So I decided to channel my inner Jigsaw and play a game with my friends. I developed a little “guess the beer game” to play with friends, neighbors, coworker, cats, dogs, xenomorphs etc. This is a fun tasting game to try with your buds (see what I did there?!) I’ll skip my usual long winded intros and just drop this one right in your lap.

Buy 6 individual 12 or 16 oz. bottles at your local liquor store, I like Total Wine because of their insane variety of individual beers. If you do the buying though, you can’t do any tasting because you’ll know the beers and that would defeat the whole purpose of the game! Pour four 3 oz beers (or three 4 oz. pours) for each of your tasters without letting them see it. Now comes the fun part, drinking the beer!

3 points are awarded for guessing the style of the beer

2 points are awarded for getting within 0.5% of the ABV of the beer, or within 10 points of IBU if that information is available

1 point is awarded for getting within 1% of the ABV of the beer, or within 15 points of IBU if that information is available. You can only guess on either IBUs or ABV, so no double dipping here.

5 whopping points are awarded for guessing the brewery correctly. This is the true test of if you really know your stuff so it’s heavily awarded.

Each round is out of 10 points, and there are 6 rounds so the total point value is 60. The person who gets the most points wins.

Here’s a rundown of the inaugural Taste Buds:


Round 1!

Goose Island 4 Star Pilsner

goose 5 star pils

Style: German Pilsner
ABV: 5.1%
Brewer: Goose Island

Crit’s Guesses
Style: Pale Ale – 0 points
ABV: 5.4% – 2 points
Brewer: Ballast Point – 0 points
Total points: 2

Xavi’s Guesses
Style: Lager – 1 point (pilsners are technically lagers so I figured I should give him something)
ABV: 5.5% – 2 points
Brewer: La Cumbre – 0 points
Total Points: 3

Pat’s Guesses
Style: Pilsner – 3 points
ABV: 4.2% – 1 point
Brewer: Sierra Nevada – 0 points
Total Points: 4


Round 2!

(I completely forgot to take a picture of this one, but I can guarantee it was very pretty. You’ll just have to get it for yourself to see.)

New Belgium Watermelon Lime Ale

Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5%
Brewer: New Belgium

Crit’s Guesses
Style: Pale Ale – 3 points
ABV: 5.2% – 2 points
Brewer: New Belgium – 5 points
Total Points: 12

Xavi’s Guesses
Style: Pale Ale – 3 points
ABV: 5.0% – 2 points
Sierra Nevada: – 0 points
Total Points: 8

Pat’s Guesses
Style: Wheat Beer – 0 points
ABV: 4.7% – 2 points
Brewer: Fuckboi Brewing – 0 points
Total points: 6


Round 3! A new contestant has entered the playing field!

Franziskaner Weissbier

franzlkaner hefe

Style: German Hefe-Weisse
ABV:5.0%
Brewer: Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (for this round I had everyone guess what country it was brewed in because I wasn’t sure if they would have even heard of this one)

Crit’s Guesses
Style: Hefeweissen – 3 points
ABV: 4.8% – 2 points
Country of Origin: Germany – 5 points
Total Points: 22

Xavi’s Guesses
Style: Hefeweissen – 3 points
ABV: 5.5% – 2 points
Country of Origin: Germany – 5 points
Total Points: 18

Pat’s Guesses
Style: Hefeweissen – 3 points
ABV: 5.0% – 2 points
Country of Origin: Germany – 5 points
Total Points: 16

Meg’s Guesses
Style: Hefeweissen – 3 points
ABV: 5.5% – 2 points
Country of Origin: Germany
Total Points: 10


Round 4!

Deschutes Brewery Inversion IPA

deschutes inversion ipa

Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 6.8%
Brewer: Deschutes Brewing

Crit’s Guesses
Style: IPA – 3 points
ABV: 6.3% – 2 points
Brewer: Ballast Point – 0 points
Total Points: 27

Xavi’s Guesses
Style: IPA – 3 points
ABV: 6.0% – 1 point
Brewer: Alaskan Brewing – 0 points
Total Points: 22

Pat’s Guesses
Style: Belgian Dubbel – 0 points
ABV: 6.0% – 1 point
Brewer: New Belgium – 0 points
Total Points: 17

Meg’s Guesses
Style: Pale Ale – 0 points
ABV: 5.5% – 0 point
Brewer: Ballast Point – 0 points
Total Points: 10 points


Round 5!

Ballast Point California Amber Ale

I forgot to take a picture for this beer and the last one as well, which sucks because they were both a lovely color… Oh well, there will be many Taste Buds to come for me to right this egregious wrong!

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.5%
Brewer: Ballast Point

Crit’s Guesses
Style: Amber Ale – 3 points
ABV: 5.6% – 2 points
Brewer: Ballast Point – 5 points
Total Points: 37

Xavi’s Guesses
Style: IPA – 0 points
ABV: 6.5% – 1 points
Brewer: New Belgium – 0 points
Total Points: 23

Pat’s Guesses
Style: IPA – 0 points
ABV: 6.3% – 1 point
Brewer: New Belgium – 0 points
Total Points: 18

Meg’s Guesses
Style: Pale Ale – 0 points
ABV: 6.2% – 1 point
Brewer: Ballast Point – 5 points
Total Points: 16


Final Round!

Anchor Porter

Style: Porter
ABV: 5.6%
Brewer: Anchor Brewing

Crit’s Guesses
Style: Espresso Stout – 0 points
ABV: 4.7% – 1 point
Brewer: Alaskan – 0 points
Total points: 38

Xavi’s Guesses
Style: Stout – 0 points
ABV: 6.5% – 1 points
Brewer: Ballast Point – 0 points
Total Points: 24

Pat’s Guesses
Style: Stout – 0 points
ABV: 6.0 – 2 points
Brewer: No guess (c’mon Pat…) – 0 points
Total Points: 20

Meg’s Guesses
Style: Stout – 0 points
ABV: 6.0% – 2 points
Brewer: Deschutes – 0 points
Total Points: 18


Here is the lineup of all the beer bottles in order.

taste buds 1 all beers

The inaugural Taste Buds was a smashing success and I can’t wait to do more.

Cheers!

Essential Oils and… Skunks?

All Hail Humulene

Alright folks, time for a little chemistry lesson of sorts. If you don’t like chemistry and are more of a “left brain” person that’s ok you can tune out like you did for all your other science and math classes and go read some of my super high quality reviews! However, if you’ve ever marveled at the aroma and flavor of beer and wondered where that comes from, I have an answer for you! Well… kind of. The short answer, and the one that most people know, is the hops. But there’s a long answer to that question as well.

A long time ago, someone decided they were gonna boil some green cone looking plant they found on a vine in the woods into hot water that had barley soaking in it. Some yeast fell in and a month later beer was born! Just kidding. I have no clue what possessed early brewers to use hop plants, otherwise known as Humulus lupulus, which is the scientific name for it. But regardless of what made them do it, we are forever in their debt. Now, more about that Humulus lupus plant…

The hop plant has one thing that humans have found very useful in nature for a very long time: essential oils. This is kind of a buzz word these days, along with “chemicals, GMO’s, Paleo diet, handlebar mustaches, etc.”, but an essential oil is basically just a smelly oil derived from a plant. The smell comes from a property known as volatility, which describes a compound’s (compound basically meaning molecule) ability to aerosolize. The more volatile a compound, the easier it becomes a gas.

Basically, anything you can smell has some degree of volatility. A good household example of a very volatile compound is acetone. In fact, if you left a cup of acetone uncovered for long enough it would eventually all just evaporate. An example of a compound with zero volatility is table salt! Have you ever smelled table salt? No, because it cannot aerosolize and thus is not volatile.

Ok, so by now you’re probably saying, “shut up and tell me more about beer!” Right you are. Hops, just like many other plants have extractable oils, and brewers use these oils to flavor beer, as well as to get its characteristic aroma. There are 4 main essential oils that brewers take advantage of; caryophyllene, humulene, myrcene, and farnecene, but beyond these there are hundreds of other compounds that are present in beer in small amounts that contribute to both flavor and aroma. The resin within the hops themselves that contains all these oils is known as lupulin, hence the name Humulus lupulus.

In their plant form essential oils are insoluble, meaning they can’t dissolve in water. As most people know, oil and water don’t mix, and if you didn’t, well now you do! Heat is applied to the hops in the form of boiling, and the hop oils, humulene being one of them, change structure. This changing of structure is called “isomerizing” and is just chemistry speak for maintaining the same number and type of atoms in the molecule, but changing its shape slightly. Once the oils isomerize, they are soluble in water, and are free to float around among the water molecules.

Humulene

Humulene (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Humulene can be responsible for up to 40% of the essential oils by weight (Source: Wikipedia), so naturally the hop plant was named after it, or vice versa, I don’t really know. So there you have it, fellow beer enthusiasts. This compound and a few (150 or so) other compounds are responsible for the hoppy goodness of beer. Different hops have different ratios of these oils, which can be used to get the myriad different flavor and aroma profiles that exist in beer today. But what happens when good beer goes bad?


Pepe le Beer

It’s happened to all of us at least once in our beer drinking careers. You crack open a beer, usually in a green or clear bottle, and it tastes and smells like a skunk. That’s weird, you probably thought at first, took a second sip and yup… definitely skunk. Now, if you’re secure in your man or womanhood, you do the logical thing and throw the beer out, but if you’re bro-ing out hard, throwing the skunked beer out isn’t an option and you just gotta power through lest you look like a wimp in front of all your bros!

For your sake I hope the second scenario has never happened to you because drinking a skunked beer is terribly unpleasant, depending on how far gone it is. But you’re not wrong about the skunky-ness that you smelled and tasted. The compound responsible for that terrible flavor and aroma is actually one of the compounds that skunks spray when they feel threatened! So just how exactly does that end up in your beer you might ask? Well, let me tell you.

There is a compound mostly responsible for bitterness in beer known as isohumulone. This is different than humulene, though, so don’t mix those up. When this compound gets hit by light, a radical reaction occurs. And no, a radical reaction is not a reaction wearing his hat backwards and kick-flipping over little kids at the skate park. It is actually a reaction that produces what’s known as a “free radical”, which is a molecule that is extremely reactive due it’s instability.

When isohumulone get hit with light, especially blue wavelength lights, it undergoes a radical reaction and produces a nasty sounding molecule; 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol, but for my sake and yours, I’ll just call it 3-MBT. Below is a picture of the innocuous looking little guy that has caused many a beer to go skunky.

3-MBTImage courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Once this guy is in beer, it’s over. With a taste threshold of 4 ppt (parts per trillion), just a tiny amount of this will completely skunk a beer. To put that into perspective, if you had an olympic sized pool of beer (660,000 gallons), it would take just one milliliter (about 0.034 fluid ounces) of this compound to skunk the entire pool. Check out Beer Sensory Science for more info on this little terror and really any other beer aroma or flavor questions (warning: it is a fairly science-y blog).

Luckily for us, isohumulone isn’t terribly common in beer, though it does contribute significantly to its bitterness. Even more lucky is that not every isohumulone molecule will undergo this kind of radical reaction when struck with light. And even better news is that there are specialized hop extracts that brewers that refuse to use cans or brown glass for whatever reason can use that have minuscule amounts of isohumulone. This limits the skunkiness potential of the beer but it still may be possible.

Whew, you made it. The science is over. Hopefully you found it interesting and informative. If not, that’s ok too! I’ll get you on the next one. But now you can drop the words humulene and isohumulone when drinking with you bros and explain why it would be better for your manhood to just pour that skunky Heineken out.

 

First Runnings

Ah, the first runnings. High gravity and high hopes. The wort is hot, cloudy, and sweet as a klondike bar. Ok, maybe not that sweet, but sweet enough. It’s primed and ready to become one of the myriad of beer styles that exist throughout the world. Only 4 ingredients are necessary to make beer; barley (or some other starch), water, hops, and yeast. But these 4 simple ingredients have changed the world. To some beer is an avenue to get smashed on a Friday night, but to others beer is a passion that shapes their lives.

At the ripe old age of 21, beer began to be more than just a pale, foul-tasting liquid in beer pong cups at house parties. As soon as I could peruse the aisles of the liquor store in depth, it became clear to me that there was so much more than Coors Light, Natty Light, Bud Light, you get the picture. It dawned on me that beer could actually taste good, like REALLY good. I had doomed myself to a life of loving beer. Ales, Lagers, Porters, more Ales, Stouts, Lambics, Bocks, Pilsners, and even more Ales (they’re my favorite if you can’t tell). The world of beer is practically infinite.

This website (or blog or whatever the hell it is) serves many purposes, but its main purpose is to help me deepen my appreciation for the craft, art, and science of beer; be it homebrewing, beer tasting, talking with brewmasters (hopefully), or just sitting back and enjoying a cold, crisp IPA (again with the ales).

Cheers,

Andres