the annexation of Omaha!

Factotum Oatmaha

Denver has often been called the “best sports town in the United States.” It has also been called the “worst sports town in the United States.” It has also been called “Puerto Rico’s lumpier cousin.”* Regardless of opinion, one thing is for sure: Denver loves our Broncos – even when they are donkeys – and anyone who is willing to help us achieve our dreams of championship glory. Even if they were once a much-maligned enemy of our team.

In that vein, this last week, I was invited to swing by Factotum Brewhouse, and hang out with owner and brewmaster Chris Bruns, owner and educational mistress extraordinaire Laura Bruns, and assistant brewer Ray Packingham as they brewed the Colorado-side version of collaboration beer Oatmaha Pale Ale with head brewer Tony Fleming and assistant brewer Will Moorman from Tow Yard Brewing in Indianapolis. Oatmaha is a tribute to former Colts and current Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning, thus the long-distance collab between an Indianapolis and a Denver brewery.

(Side note here: in order not to get into legal issues, they cannot officially say this beer is about Peyton Manning. But I have so such restrictions, so I’m calling an audible.)

I am a huge fan of collaborations. I think that, more than almost anything else, it gives a glimpse behind the scenes into what working in this industry is truly like (most of the time). Craft beer industry people are, for the most part, friends, and love to share tips, tricks, and stories with each other. What better way to foster that culture than over a hot mash tun?

Over Factotum’s really nice Pub Ale (3.3% alcohol makes it the perfect interview beer), I asked Laura how this collaboration came about.

“We wanted to make a beer that had an ingredient from each of the four places this athlete has played: New Orleans, Knoxville, Indianapolis, and Denver. So, when we got the email from the Colorado Brewers Guild in August about Collaboration Fest, we decided to reach out to breweries in each of those places to see if they wanted to make a beer with us to honor this quarterback.”

While they didn’t get responses back from breweries in New Orleans and Knoxville, Laura says her keyboard was barely cold before they heard back from Tow Yard with an emphatic YES!

It was game time.

Tony and Will flew out to Denver to make the Colorado-version of Oatmaha after Laura and Chris’ visit to Indianapolis late last year. Taking in all of Denver that they could, they visited Strange Craft, Grandma’s house, Baere Brewing all within the first day and were looking forward to a post-brew-day dinner at Euclid Hall. Surprisingly not hung over, I cornered them during a lull in the brew to harass some answers out of them.

As the first collaboration for 3-year-old Tow Yard, the guys agreed that the process – especially the naming part – was easy and fun. Will calls himself and Tony “connoisseurs of bad puns. We are always spitting puns at each other and trying to figure out how to make a beer name from them.” It was this skill that lead them to come up with the name Oatmaha. “We had been going back and forth on names and nothing seemed to fit. Then, we were playing around with different ideas for ingredients, and Oatmaha just came naturally since [Manning] was a Colt and is now a Bronco, and horses eat oats… right?”

While many Colorado craft beer folks were dismayed to see Number 18 drinking a certain mass-market beer, instead of a home-grown Colorado brew, Laura points out that those same people thought he should be drinking an IPA or other strong beer. “We wanted to brew a beer that he might actually enjoy. We know he likes milder-tasting beers without a lot of hops, so we chose ingredients that not only represented our two states, but also that would produce a beer tailored for this particular athlete.”

For the ingredients, Tow Yard chose oats from Indiana (duh – Oatmaha) and Factotum contributed Colorado sage. “Finding a Colorado ingredient was actually a bit of a challenge, since we didn’t want to use chili peppers or pine, because those flavors would be too strong.” I asked Laura if they considered Colorado snow; she laughed, “actually, yes! But we thought sage might ship a little easier.”

The resulting beer, which I was lucky enough to snag an Indiana-brewed can of to enjoy at home, while categorized as an oat pale ale, can best be described as a cream ale with personality. It has a nice malt backbone, without being too sweet. Not overly effervescent, it has a medium-low mouthfeel that makes it refreshing and a slight hop bitterness keeps you going back for another sip. There is no overwhelming herbaciousness about it from the sage, for which I was grateful. The color might be on the darker side for our QB, but, as all of my three readers know, dark color =/= heavy flavor.

Yeehaw.

Yeehaw.

For me, I think of an athlete’s beer as something refreshing, something you can drink to replenish what you lost while doing physical activity, but something that doesn’t taste like water. Oatmaha hits it on all points. It is, simply, a good beer that stays true to its mission.

Ever since the concept of Oatmaha was announced on Facebook, there has been backlash from individuals claiming that the participant breweries are simply “jumping on the [Manning] bandwagon” and “taking advantage” of his prowess and our team’s (hopefully continuing) success. Fuck yeah, they are! It seems that every time a brewery is cognoscente of the world around it and decides to capitalize on current events and trends, they are “accused” of the horrible crime of “bandwagoning.” My assertion is that all good marketing is (at least tangentially) bandwagon marketing: finding out what people are interested in, talking about, doing, and directing your brand in that direction. So why is it that craft breweries get so much guff for following this strong advertising model? Likely it has something to do with craft breweries’ appeal as being “outside of the system.” There seems to be some bizarre belief that having poorly-tended social marketing and showing up at only the “hippest” beer fests is enough to keep a brewery afloat. Tough love: it isn’t. Craft breweries, like all businesses, need to sell their wares in order to continue to exist, so marketing, whether it be traditional or a more innovative form, must occur. One of the best ways to get buzz around your product (well… besides just drinking it, of course) is to take something people are already interested in and create something around it.

While pondering what instrument, exactly, Mr. Manning would play on his bandwagon (saxaphone? Bass? Tambourine?), I asked Laura about the comments they had received.

“Our interest goes beyond just living and owning a business in Colorado: my brother and I are from Indiana, so even before we opened Factotum, we talked about wanting to make a beer to honor this certain famous quarterback and how cool it would be to brew with ingredients from all of the places he’s played.”

I also asked Tony and Will about the bandwagon comments and whether they felt weird brewing a beer to honor their former quarterback. Will: “I don’t really follow sports, but I’m just happy he’s still playing and alive.” Tony: “Alive?” Will: “Well, yeah. I mean, he gets tackled by grown men for a living…”

But about the people criticizing the project, their response was simple: “it’s just beer.”

In order to really find out the heart and soul of these breweries, I had one final question: what is their favorite football play?

Factotum: “The successful fake onside kick.”

Tow Yard: “The annexation of Puerto Rico.”

Cheers.

Mr. Manning, forget destiny: your beer is waiting.

Mr. Manning, forget destiny: your beer is waiting.

 

*Footnote: Denver has never been called Puerto Rico’s lumpier cousin. But it should be, dammit.

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gabf: so i guess we are here again.

It is that time of year again. That time that is loved by beer geeks the United States over and stressed over by brewers in the same geographic area. The week where US brewers and beer geeks gather to drink, drink, and be merry in the Mile High City: the Great American Beer Festival or GABF (pronounced Gee-Ay-Bee-Eff). Yep. For the next week Denver will be overrun with brewers, beer geeks, frat boys, woo girls, and reluctant designated drivers looking for a good time.

As a resident beer drinker, I suppose it’s my responsibility to report on said festivities. I do so somewhat reluctantly as I feel the event, and all of the events surrounding it, are covered more than sufficiently (even beaten to death, perhaps) by writers much more prolific and talented than I. Some of that (excellent) coverage can be found on:

Inky Beer

Fermentedly Challenged

Denver Off the Wagon

First Drafts

And so on and so forth.

However, while reading the 1,000,000th article telling folks who are coming out here to visit Great Divide, New Belgium, and Falling Rock Taphouse, I figured I would join the conversation. While I think those establishments are fantastic, I’m a little tired of the same places getting all the press over and over when there are so many other great breweries, taphouses, and eateries out there that deserve some love as well. I thought I might as well throw a spotlight (regardless of the weird wolf-shaped gobo and strange, orangish tint) on some places I feel the dedicated beer geek would be loathed to miss on their travels to our lovely state.

Some of these breweries will be pouring at GABF*, but there’s nothing quite like visiting in-person.

Great Taphouses

Hops & Pie, Denver. But, but, they only have 24 taps! you will likely whine to me. Yeah, but as the saying goes: it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean. Since their opening 4 years ago, Hops & Pie has proven to be one of the go-to spots in Denver for rare, exclusive, and delicious beers. Their tap list changes (multiple times) daily, their staff is knowledgeable, and their food is great. While their offerings can tend towards one style or another depending on the day, I have yet to visit where they haven’t had something on offer that got my yayas up. Tomorrow (October 1st) they are doing a tap takeover with a bunch of beers that were formerly unavailable in Colorado. You know I’ll be there.

– *Barrels & Bottles, Golden. Barrels & Bottles has one of those enviable locations both in that it’s easy to park and walk to, but it also gives a lovely view of the largest brewery in Golden (and down the street from the ridiculously good Bob’s Atomic Burgers). Besides their awesome location, they are quickly becoming a destination for beer lovers from the city who are looking for an escape, but not too much of an escape. In addition to 20 beer taps (including at least four dedicated to their own beers) and an infusion tower, they have 24 wine taps, wine slushies, and a nice small plates menu. They avoid a lot of the pitfalls of other “beer bars” in town by working with multiple distributors and not playing favorites with any one brewery, region, or style. You are as likely to find a rare sour on tap as a double Cascadian. They also have a short, but growing, bottle list (which, yes, includes Banquet, because you have to show some respect for your neighbors). Additionally, their staff is ridiculously learned and can recommend a beer (or wine, for that matter) that you are surely going to love. If you’re smart, you’ll make the 20 minute drive out of Denver.

Bark Bar, Denver. If you’ve traveled with your pup for GABF, be sure to give her a break at the Bark Bar. It’s a bar and a dog park all in one. If you’re an animal lover, there are few pup-friendly spots in an overwhelmingly pup-friendly city as fun as this one.

– Other notable tap houses: Freshcraft, Euclid Hall, Falling Rock (because to leave them off would be a crime), Mayor of Old Town, Brewer’s Republic.

Great Breweries

Again, I’m going to skip the obvious. Yes, you should probably go to New Belgium (their tour is one of the best in the country, and I have been on A LOT of beer tours) and Great Divide and Odell. But there are so many great breweries out here, try not to limit yourself to those places you’ve heard of in Beer Advocate or from your buddy who had the BEST WEEKEND EVERRRRRRR last year. There are so, so many hidden gems. Here are just a few:

– *4 Noses, Broomfield. Yep, I’m bringing you into the suburbs. A newish brewery serving up some old standards and some experimental styles. Worth a visit if only for their Anarchy.

– *Big Choice, Broomfield. Wait, what!? Another Broomfield brewery!? What better way to chase down some excellent beers than with MORE excellent beers? Big Choice has some of the friendliest staff in the biz, and they have some good (leaning towards hoppy) beers to serve up. I particularly like their red (especially on nitro) and Colorado common.

– *Brewery Rickoli, Wheat Ridge. Still the smallest brewery in Colorado after almost two years, Brewery Rickoli offers a line-up of 16 beers, all of which are gluten removed. Some of the best IPAs I’ve ever tasted and their Elke Brown Ale is hard to match. Ignore the crappy stripmall appearances: these beers are class in a glass. Rickoli’s also won the Sam Adams Brewer’s Experienceship last year, so expect them to be busy at their booth.

– *Broken Compass, Breckenridge. If you are here long enough to make it to the mountains (which, let’s admit it, you should), you need to make your way to Broken Compass just north of downtown Breck. It’s nestled away by the Breckenridge Distillery and is serving up the best beer in Summit County, no contest. From their Pepper Pale Ale to their Chocolate Coffee Stout, their beers are delightful, interesting, and drinkable. The fact that their (very small) space is ridiculously charming and their staff defies the usual “locals only” attitude of most Colorado ski towns really seals the deal.

Casey Brewing & Blending, Glenwood Springs. What Troy Casey, formerly of AC Golden, is doing up in Glenwood can be described as nothing less than magic, and it’s entirely unfair to other breweries. His Batch #1 Saison was absolute perfection in a bottle: funky, tart, crisp, playful. They are only open for their releases at this point, but they are available at a couple of locations in Denver and Glenwood and you would be well advised to pick some up. And by some, I mean every bottle you find. Then share with me. Because damn…

Manitou Brewing, Manitou Springs. Another trip from Denver that is more than worth it. Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs, is a stupidly cute mountain town with multiple public natural mineral springs smattered around town. It is also the home of Manitou Brewing, which is nestled back in an old burro barn with a great courtyard and warm interior. Their beers have yet to disappoint (although I am sad that I was only able to try their raspberry sour once) and their food is right on the money (helps to have a professional chef). I love this place so much that on our way from Salida to Evergreen yesterday, we diverted to go to Manitou. A worthy day trip, if you can make it.

– *Paradox, Woodland Park. While you’re down in the area, why not pop by Paradox Brewing? They are an exclusively barrel-aged facility fermenting wort brewed for them by Pikes Peak Brewing in Monument. The are doing some crazy experimental beers, with their Skully series being the crown jewel. If you can get your hands on some Skully #9 made with Nelson Sauvin hops, consider yourself very, very lucky.

Golden City Brewery, Golden. Dubbed the second largest brewery in Golden for the last 21 years. I have to admit some bias here, however, if you are already up at Barrels & Bottles, it is a short four blocks up to GCB, which is located in and around a historical Victorian building. It also has one of the wackiest brewhouses in Colorado with a brick-clad kettle and old dairy tanks stacked 12 feet overhead. It also happens to employ two of the nicest guys in brewing, and two guys who you can spot as brewers from a mile away (beards, think big, luxurious beards). Oh, and one of them happens to be my partner-in-hops (thus the bias), so please go harass him.

– *Shine, Boulder. Shine is the quintessential Boulder hippie joint. It has a gluten-free menu with plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and raw options. But that’s part of what makes this place great. The food is spot-on (their grilled cheese made on gluten-free bread with cashew cream soup is out of this world, regardless of whether you’ve bought into the gluten-free fad or not). For a place that definitely flies under the radar when it comes to being a brewery, they have some mighty fine brews. A solid choice in Boulder that shows you what the Republic really is about.

Mountain Sun/Southern Sun/Vine Street, Boulder/Boulder/Denver. The three breweries in this little group have so many of their own beers on tap, it puts the “big boys” to shame. And it’s not just quantity, it’s quality. Their beers run the gamut of styles with each one being thoughtful and well executed. This is a great side trip for anyone who is looking to have more than one beer at a location and some pretty good noms to boot. If you can find their Colorado Kind on nitro, it’s worth it. And grab some of their hummus of the day, you won’t be disappointed. But be warned: their prices are good because they are cash only, so bring the green stuff.

– *Comrade, Denver. Owner David and brewer Marks have such a good thing going on here that you almost don’t want to share it. One of a plethora of breweries in old garages around town, this one happens to have a great theme and serves up beer that we drive from Evergreen – over an hour each way – to get. Their Koffee Kream is brewed with coffee roasted especially for them by Denver institution Kaladi Brothers Coffee. If you are near downtown and happen to have brought a bike (or want to rent on from our excellent bikeshare program), it’s a fun ride along the Cherry Creek path out to their location.

Baere, Denver. Baere has been open a very short amount of time, and has some really wacky hours, but our first visit there provided us with some very good beers (their IPA, in particular, was perplexing and delicious). The service is solid, and they donate their tips to a different charity every month.

– *Lowdown, Denver. After you have a drink at Baere, go over to Lowdown. Once again proving that Rock Bottom is a great training ground for brewers, the owners/brewers at Lowdown know their stuff. Again, a wide variety of beers that compliment their excellent food perfectly. And they have a parking lot! Talk about package deal…

– *Equinox, Fort Collins. There are so many great breweries in Fort Collins, but I’m going to focus on Equinox because (A) of the likelihood you haven’t heard of it and (B) of the “sleeper” breweries, this is the only one I have been to (I know… bad me…) What I love about Equinox is not only that their beers a very, very good, but that they sell their recipes and kits next door at the homebrew store. Few things show the collaborative, familial spirit of the craft beer industry quite like that.

Happy Leaf Kombucha, Denver. Not technically a brewery, but if you’re over visiting Crooked Stave (which I’m sure you will), you would be amiss to skip Happy Leaf. The first kombucha brewery in Denver, they offer 2-6 varieties of their buch, which is tart, funky, and perfect if you love sour beers. I was even able to get the Bearded Brewer on board. If you’ve never tried kombucha, Happy Leaf is the perfect testing ground as they do samples and the staff is happy to talk about process and ingredients. Since buch in a grocery store can exceed $4 a bottle, this is both a tasty, and a frugal stopover.

I have left off breweries that are farther afield such as *Butcherknife, *Steamworks, Copper ClubThree Barrel, *Roaring Fork, etc. Not because I don’t love them, but I was trying to think of reasonable distances from Denver.

Great Noms

This list could go on forever, if I let it. I love beer, but I also love food (duh). We have some amazing places to each along the Front Range, and eating fast food would be a crime with the glut of awesomeness we have on offer. Some of the Colorado specialties you can’t find elsewhere are: chile rellenos deep fried in egg roll wrappers, Mexican hamburger, “green” chile (that’s actually orange and made with tomatoes and pork, unlike New Mexico style green chili), the goober burger (burger with peanut butter and bacon, it’s as sinfully amazing as it sounds), Rocky Mountain Oysters (yes, they are a real thing), and every permutation of game meat you can imagine. Many of the breweries I’ve mentioned either have a kitchen or have food trucks, so that should always be your first choice, but if you’re looking for some solid food outside of a beer house, these could give you a start. Again, this list of eateries is far from exhaustive, but it should give a good base for some beer drinking fun.

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, Denver. Get any of the wild game dogs with caramelized onions and cream cheese on them. It’s one of those things that just works. If you can hit up his cart, do. The restaurant is nice, but nothing beats grabbing a dog from the cart and talking to the man himself.

Bob’s Atomic Burgers, Golden. Build your own burgers done right. Be forewarned that they are huge and messy.

Park Burger, Denver. More for the Works, a pile of fries with cheese sauce, ranch, and bacon, than anything else.

Mexico City Restaurant, Denver. Only order the tacos. Do not deviate from that advice. They make their own shells and are greasy perfection.

Big Mama’s Burritos, Wheat Ridge. Excellent green chile served in and on massive burritos. Grab some and head over to Rickoli’s.

The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver. The place for wild game (not in dog form) in the city. Even if you don’t stay for a whole meal (it can be spendy), be sure to grab some Rocky Mountain oysters and hang out that the bar for some sense of the long gone cowtown Denver used to be.

The Cherry Cricket, Denver. The inventor of the Goober Burger. Done and done.

Wild Ginger, Littleton. A bit down south, but the best Thai food in the area. Their crab rangoon is actually made in house (unlike the frozen crap you get at most Asian places) and is like little bursts of glorious perfection in your mouth.

New Saigon, Denver. The destination for authentic Vietnamese eats. We have a large Asian population who have set up shop along Federal Blvd, but this is my favorite. I particularly love noodle bowl 10N: noodles, sauce, pork, beef, and egg roll. Enough to feed four normal people or one me. Enter through the west doors, not the fancy south ones (that is bakery and takeout).

Big City Burrito, Fort Collins. This has become a rather large chain, but I’m talking about the original one in Fort Collins, on College. Like Chipotle, if Chipotle had actual choices and a wide variety of sauces. Don’t miss out on their Soul Sauce, a mix of strawberry and habenero that gets the sweet and spicy mix just right. I order a 1/2 veggie, 1/2 carnitas burrito on jalapeno cheddar with potatoes instead of rice and beans with sour cream and soul sauce. Don’t judge.

Pete’s Kitchen, Denver. Pete has a lot of different joints around Denver, but Pete’s Kitchen provides the 24/7 service necessary for hardcore beer drinkers. It’s a diner in every sense of the word and we wouldn’t want it any other way. I always order their big greek salad with gyro meat and two eggs over medium after a hard night. It’s like the night before never happened.

SOBO 151, Denver. This was our regular haunt when we were living in the West Wash Park neighborhood. It’s strange enough to find any eastern European food in Denver, so SOBO not only serving authentic Czech food, but doing is well, is a triumph. I particularly love their sauerkraut soup, Smazak (fried cheese), and their garlic dip. They also have Krusavice Cerne on tap, which is a good beer for anyone studying for their BJCP or Cicerone to check out.

Other Stuff

Again, if you live here, you know how great this state is. But, if you don’t, why not take a little time to allow your liver to recover and visit some of the amazing places close to Front Range that we have to offer? Of course, there’s the always popular Red Rocks, but here are some potentially lesser-known spots to take a break.

Buffalo Bill’s Grave, Goldenish. Head up I-70 to Lookout Mountain, get off the highway and follow the signs for Buffalo Bill’s Grave. After taking it the amazing vista of the Continental Divide on one side and the Front Range on the other, drive down the twisty, turny Lariat Loop. This road will drop you off in Golden, where you can whet your whistle at the aforementioned Barrels & Bottles and GCB (or, make a whole day of it and hit up Mountain Toad and Cannonball Creek as well).

– Squaw Pass, Evergreen. Go up I-70 (stop at the Buffalo herd on your way up – it’s owned by Denver and is 100% genetically bison as of two years ago) to the Evergreen exit and drive up 74 until you see the sign for Mount Evans (it will say closed, but that’s just the highway to the top of the mountain). Turn down that road and you will be treated to some of the finest colors in Colorado, as well as stunning views of Mount Evans and the Divide. Dropping down the other side will leave you in Idaho Springs, and it’s a quick 40 minutes from there down I-70 to Denver.

Chautauqua Park. Okay, maybe this one isn’t so under the radar, but it’s a shame to miss it if you’re up in Boulder. Standing at the base of the Flatirons, you really come to appreciate the diversity of Colorado geology. Oh, and there may be a brewery or two you can visit while up that way.

– Dinosaur Ridge, Boulder. I can’t seem to get out of the mountains with these. Oh well, folks here for GABF spend enough time in the city that they should know about outside of it anyway. Dinosaur Ridge is located between Morrison and Golden and is a nice walk where you can see dinosaur footprints in situ with lots of educational information. There is also a museum that is worth a peek, while you’re out there.

Plains Conservation Center, Aurora. Look! I brought you to the plains! Yes, this a ways out (but you can have a beer or two at Comrade and Dry Dock on your way there), but it’s worth it. Oftentimes Coloradans forget that we have as rich a history on our flatlands as we do on the spiky ones, and this place reminds us of it. We spent a great day out there for the Hops for Habitat beer fest and recommend you do the same.

Staunton State Park, Conifer. Colorado’s newest state park is full of amazing rock outcroppings, waterfalls, and hiking trails. If you need a day to really, seriously get away, than the secluded Stauton should be your destination. You are unlikely to find such peace anywhere else within 45 minutes of Denver.

Evergreen elk rut. I live in this great little mountain town called Evergreen, and around this time of year the elk begin to rut – or go at it so that they can get the ladies. Watching the bulls bugle and spar really is a magnificent sight, and one that I have to admit to taking for granted. Honestly, if you see one thing outside of Denver, make it this.

 

Look, I know that this list is far from exhaustive, and I’ve likely pissed some people off with inclusions and/or omissions, but this is what I could think of to give guests to the Mile High City a good place to start. What would you add to this list? Any taplists that are ridiculously good that I’ve overlooked? Any breweries that deserve some sweet, sweet lovin’? And places that you always bring guests when they come out (yes, I purposely left Casa Bonita off the list)?

I already have another idea for an article, so it seems you may be more of me this week than you’re used to. Maybe I’ll even post drunk from the fest itself! We shall see…

Let’s do this thing.

Cheers.

Updated to include the elk rut in Evergreen.

weekend wanderlust june 27 & last weekend wrap-up

Last week I started a tradition of posting our exploits for that weekend in case there is anyone out there (like me) who can be rather indecisive about what to do with those coveted days off and/or anyone who would like to join us in our shenanigans. I also realized that maaayyybbbeee I should do a post-weekend follow-up of everything we did to give some idea of the awesomeness/lamesauce of the weekend. I will try to get this post out by Tuesday each week (yeah, right, like you believe that), but this week it’s all wrapped up into one. Partially because this week has made a valiant attempt at stealing my soul, and partially because the majority of what we did last weekend can be repeated this weekend!

The awesomeness of last weekend

Shakesbeer in Glub!

Friday night the Bearded Brewer, myself, and two of our more beer-loving and adventurous friends attended a performance of Dead Drunk by Shakesbeer at Diebolt Brewing Company. It billed itself as a mash-up of Shakespeare plays and a drinking game. What’s not to love!?

The announcement encouraged us to make reservations, which I most certainly did. To my absolute delight, this is what we found when we arrived:

Reserved D.Adams

Holy fuck, I’m a celebrity!

It was a wonderful table right up front that we bellied up to around 7pm in time to get the drinking game instructions. The instructions ranged from the simple: “when the barmaid cheerseseseses (that’s right, right?) you, you drink, dammit!” to the more geeky: “when you hear a quote from Shakespeare, you drink, dammit!” Now, my compatriots were not necessarily up on their Bard, so they were relying on me to indicate when to drink on those ones. I may or may not have faked them out one (dozen) times.

The play itself was tremendously well written, the prose weaving seamlessly with some of Shakespeare’s more well- and lesser-known quotes. The story was entertaining and just the right amount of time. Even the costumes were entertaining, with one actor (Kevin Fulton) playing multiple characters against the lead’s John Falstaff (Tessa Nelson). Fulton’s Shakespeare was particularly amusing, and Nelson’s Falstaff was in turns hilarious and tragic. They made very good usage of the brewing deck as a stage, and some basic (and old school) “tricks” to change location and character. It was very interactive, as well, almost to the point of melodrama. There was even a point where we all got to peg a character with tennis balls!

My one critique was that when my beer was stolen (yes, my beer was stolen), it was replaced by a (rather warm) wheat. Now, there are very few beers that I am simply not a fan of, and American wheat and hefeweizens fall into that category. Especially when they are warm. However, the wonderful barkeep (whose name escapes me. Please put it in the comments if you know and I will add it!) came up to me after the show and asked how I liked the beer. I told her that maybe she should trade it out for a Mariposa or a bit more robust beer who will stand up to being on the warmer side for 30-some minutes. I have to admit, I liked that. (Oh – and one of my buddies – the Jockey – stole my beer back after a few minutes, so I didn’t have to suffer for long).

I rank it as one of my top five favorite Friday nights of all time (although I do suggest not getting a double IPA for the drinking game, that is just dumb). The show goes on again tonight and Saturday with pregaming at 7pm and the show at 7:30pm. The suggested donation is $5 and it is well worth it!

Dillon Lake Beer Fest and Breckenridge

On Saturday we dragged our butts out of bed to go up to Dillon for the Lake Dillon Beer Fest. It was $30 entrance fee and included unlimited tasters from over 20 different breweries. Our friends had obtained a hotel room about a mile from the absolutely stunning in Marina Park, so we decided to ride our bikes. When I say that I am out of shape, what I mean is that if you roll me down a hill, down a hill is where I stay. In the mile between the hotel and the park, I got off my mountain bike at least five times to walk it up very gentle slopes. Granted, we were a good 2000 feet above our house, and 3500 feet above where we usually roam, but that’s really no excuse. By the time we got to the fest my lungs were ready to quit me for good and go live a life of laughter and joy with my liver. Luckily, I was able to retain all three vital organs and even felt better after the first round of beers. At first we were worried that the wind was going to whip all of the brewery tents into the lake, but the weather passed quickly, and it was soon perfect festival weather: warm, overcast, and slightly breezy. With the beer and the view and the weather, it was just about perfect.

The best part of the fest were the breweries that normally don’t make it down to Front Range festivals that were represented. Kannah Creek out of Grand Junction was there, as were the new breweries Broken Compass from Breckenridge (more on them later) and Butcherknife from Steamboat. One disappointment was the Gravity Brewing didn’t make it up. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of their ESB and was looking forward to having some of their brews. This is the second beer fest where I have seen them listed, but they haven’t shown. It was a disappointment, to be sure.

Luckily, there were plenty of other breweries at which I could drink my sorrows (technically, alcohol is a solution). Broken Compass’ Pepper Pale Ale was very good, as were both the Blonde and the IPA from Butcherknife (I was particularly surprised that I enjoyed this IPA as it is made with a hop I generally don’t enjoy. However, it made me think that I just don’t enjoy the particular combinations I have had in the past. Learn something new everyday!) As always we enjoyed River Runners Pale Ale from Eddyline, the selection from Station 26 (who continue to come into their own, which is delightful), and tried the very strange Orange Cream Stout from Ska, which was the favorite of one of our friends. The beers were poured in proper tulip glasses, which was a departure from the normal plastic tasters we get at fests (and made it somewhat more interesting to get home).

 

After the fest we rode over to Pug Ryan’s for some grub and more grog. Pug Ryan’s Dead Eye Dunkel is one of my favorites of the style, so I don’t often deviate from that choice when we are there. My ribs were good (although I should have, in all honesty, gotten the steak salad which looked way better), but our friend’s prime rib seriously took the table. He ordered the 16-ounce King’s Cut, but there was no way that steak was only 16 ounces. It had to have been closer to 20. It was massive and very, very tasty. Yes, I stole most of his fat off of it. Flavor!

The ride back to the hotel was MUCH more enjoyable because (A) it was mostly downhill and (B) I was feeling very little pain by that point. The Bearded Brewer was not feeling tops when we got back to the hotel, so our two friends and I wandered down to the Dillon Dam Brewery for some drinks, as it was only 9pm. I have been to Dillon Dam many times before and I have just never been overly impressed by their beers. Their Sweet George’s Brown is decent, but beyond that, they just don’t have anything overly enticing. However, I went out on a limb and ordered their chili beer. It came with a pepperoncini in it (cute), but had absolutely no chili flavor. They also offered an “extra spicy” chili beer for $6 a 1/2 pint. There was absolutely no way I was spending six bucks for a half pint of beer that was likely not even as spicy as Billy’s Chilis from Twisted Pine (and I have been known to spend a LOT on beer). The friend who had consumed the prime rib only a couple of hours earlier proceeded to purchase short ribs with French onion ale soup, because he’s insane. The soup was tremendously good, but the ribs were tough, also, he was full.

On our wander back to the hotel room, we decided to roll down a grassy knoll hill a few times and generally make a bunch of noise and fools of ourselves. It felt great! The Bearded Brewer was still feeling crummy, but slightly sassier, when we returned, so we got to be bitched at for making so much noise until we fell asleep.

When I was growing up, we owned a share in a mountain house in Silverthorne, at the foot of Buffalo Mountain. Some of the absolutely best times of my life were spent up in Summit County. Waking up that morning, with the smell of the mountains and the crisp, clean air (that sometimes alludes us even in Evergreen), brought me right back to that happy place. We loaded up the bikes and headed over to Breckenridge for some breakfast (a very good place called the Columbine Cafe), our friend bought an obnoxious pair of green sunglasses, then we headed over to Broken Compass.

Broken Compass Brewing (#244) is located on the north end of town, a stone’s throw from the Breckenridge Distillery (which we have not yet visited).  It is a really cozy tasting room with a couple of log tables with ski lift seats, four seats at the bar, and a couple of old cafeteria tables that can be pulled out when needed (they were needed). Jason Ford, the owner and brewer, as well as his staff, were all very welcoming, which is not a given in tourist-driven Summit County. We did their whole flight, all of which were solid beers. I ended up drinking a mix of their chocolate porter and toasted coconut stout (choco nuts?) that was excellent. They have a great little brewhouse with one of the best brewery views I’ve ever seen. There’s a part of me that really likes that they saved the view for the brewers, since they are there most of the time, and certainly do the most work. There is one disconcerting thing about this brewery, however, and it’s that they have “clown storage” above the brewhouse, and that said clowns are only corralled by a little half door. Since we did not see any of these clowns (the Bearded Brewer doesn’t count) on our visit, I can only assume that they are tiny little porcelain clowns come to life, which somehow makes them way more terrifying.

Our bellies full of breakfast and beer, we headed over Hoosier Pass to avoid the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is I-70 on a Sunday. The drive up 285 is one that is just terribly pretty, so if you have the time, I highly recommend it.

The top of Hoosier Pass.

The top of Hoosier Pass.

Chain Reaction

A quick pitstop at home was all we needed before heading down to Denver to Chain Reaction Brewing Company‘s (#245) second day open. Their location is along Lipan just north of Mississippi in an area that I believe will see some significant gentrification (for better or for worse) in the next few years, and these guys have gotten in on the ground floor. What’s great is that you can hit up several breweries in a single afternoon in this area, but they aren’t as congested as, say, the RiNo district.

Chain Reaction’s large tasting room is well designed and comfortable. Inside the front doors are two leather sofas that will definitely get a dose of Dev-butt come this winter. The owners Chad and Zack are beer geeks with a dream, and are doing an excellent job of getting there. We were especially impressed with the fact they opened with 16 beers on tap (off of a 1 BBL system!) and that the majority of their beers were solid, if not downright good. I had my second IPA shocker of the weekend with their Lemon IPA hopped with Sorachi Ace hops. This is a hop that I have mostly avoided because of it’s overt astringency. However, in this single-hop iteration, it was fruity and herbal and downright bizarre. Needless to say, I got a pint. I also really liked their barley wine (another shocker). Their creme brulee stout had a good base, but was not quite as round as I would have hoped. If they brew it again, I hope they consider putting a few kegs back for a few months to allow the flavors to really come into their own. We were also delighted to run into a couple of friends we never see and be able to share some beers with them. Chain Reaction, though only a week old, is proving already a neighborhood watering hole. If they continue with the quality of beer and service they are providing, I know we’ll be back.

One last stop on Sunday was Former Future, just five minutes away from Chain Reaction, as our friends had never been there, and we had only been on opening weekend when they had only had two beers left. Former Future has some of the coolest decor of any brewery tasting room, as their bar is made of an old airplane wing and their bar chairs are reminiscent of a 60s lounge. Their beers have greatly improved since they opened, with several that were both delicious and challenging. However, the beer was on the spendy side, and the woman working behind the bar was downright unpleasant to us when we first came in, going so far as to roll her eyes at me when I didn’t immediately know I could raise or lower my chair at will. Of course, once we realized that, we made sure to raise them all the way up so our knees were knocking on the lip of the bar. Take that! She did come back down after we had completed our tasters and ask what we liked, but it didn’t really make up for her initial rudeness. We will probably return to Former Future just to try some more of their interesting beers, but they won’t make the top of our list.

Holy crap, that was a lot of stuff jammed into just one weekend! And that wasn’t even all of it… We also had a lot of fun this week, the highlight being Beer College with Steamworks Brewing at Historians Ale House. We love the guys at Steamworks and it was great to see them on the Front Range and hear some of the history and tech behind some of our favorite beers. But more on that some other time.

Now, what we are doing this weekend! I’ll (probably unsuccessfully try to) keep this short.

Trouble I am getting into this weekend

Friday, June 27th

Nothing. It is lovely and rainy and I took the day off and I’m going to sit in my PJs all day and write and do dishes and laundry and drink beer. Because I want to.

Saturday, June 28th

Beryl’s Beer is opening in RiNo, so we may go down there, which would also give us an excuse to visit some other breweries we haven’t been to in a while. Or we may make the long-delayed jaunt down to the Springs to visit the half dozen breweries we have never been to in that town. However, the Colorado Brewer’s Festival is going on in Fort Collins, so many brewers may be up there. And is a reason we won’t be going to Fort Collins this weekend.

Sunday, June 29th

Hops & Harley! I cannot express how much I am looking forward to this event. This annual event is put on by City Star Brewing in Berthoud and is a benefit for National Mill Dog Rescue. Harley is a little dog with a big dream: to end puppy mills. He was a stud dog in a puppy mill until being rescued by NMDR three years ago. Read his entire story on his Facebook page, it’s worth it. I’m excited about this event because it raises money for an organization that I wholeheartedly believe is important, it involves a brewery I adore, and I get to meet Harley!!! Also, dogs! If you are free on Sunday from 11am-5pm, please PLEASE consider joining us in supporting the important work NMDR does, and have some beers while you do it!

Other things going on that sound fun as crap

I mentioned the Colorado Brewer’s Festival above. This is not one of my favorite fests since it’s usually way too hot, it’s pay-by-the-taster (which is a pain), and they allow munchkins to be darting all over the place and generally being a nuisance. However, a lot of people seem to like it, so if it sounds like your kind of fun, then get your rear up there! It’s nice that they list the actual beers that will be poured, as well, so you’re not entirely flying blind.

4 Noses in Broomfield reportedly has a nitro porter on right now that kicks some serious ass. Considering how good their other beers are, I would say that this is a safe bet for a quick roll outside of the city.

Red White and Brews is going on up in Avon this weekend for those of you in the Central Mountains and Western Slope. Looks like a nice line-up of beer and wine they’ll be serving alongside live music.

For other awesome stuff going on, get ye to Fermentedly Challenged.