Firkin fun at Crabtree Brewery

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Getting a good first impression at a brewery involves a number of things: Coming when it isn’t packed with people, trying the right beers, meeting the right people. If you’re lucky, you get all three at once.

I felt very lucky during my trip to Crabtree Brewery, representing the city of Greeley, Colorado.

Danielle and I bettered our odds of finding a seat at the bar in their taproom by going on a Tuesday afternoon, right when the only people there were the brew staff and a handful of faithful locals. I won’t lie, it was actually a little weird since we were the only ones who clearly weren’t part of the afternoon crew – not helped by the fact that we were the only ones who got a flight, and I was the only one taking notes.

But I felt like we were initiated into their clan when we witnessed the first batch of the brew staff’s firkin project. Don’t worry if you have no idea what that means; I didn’t either. Firkin, one of their brewer’s explained, is a mini-keg a quarter of the size of a typical beer barrel (almost 11 gallons). In order to experiment with some new flavors and styles, a handful of brewers and Crabtree staffers got to brew a firkin of whatever they wanted. Some of the styles included milk stout and vanilla almond porter (!).

We had come to the tap room about 15 minutes before they unveiled the first batch of their first firkin project: Brewer David’s take on a citra-hopped IPA. Hot damn. Citra is a variety of hop that’s only been around since 2007 that’s a little hard to get a hold of. It’s known for its citrus and tropical fruit tastes and aromas. It’s my favorite.

The brewers warned us ahead of time that since they had gone down from large- to small-scale production the beer might not taste like one of their ordinary offerings, since it was their first time experimenting with it. In this case, they’d doubled the amount of carbonating sugars they’d use in a normal batch, which apparently caused beer to hit their taproom’s 20-foot ceilings when they tapped the firkin the night before.

What we got was a little more subdued. The beer (as seen in the picture above) poured more like a hazy, tang-colored cider, with only a trace of carbonation. But it wouldn’t be fair to rate it or compare it to beers I’ve had before. This was a whole different beast. Imagine what your favorite beer would taste like with the bubbles removed so it’s essentially “beer juice,” and that’s close to what we had. It smelled like pungent tropical punch, complete with pineapple and tangerines (Danielle said it smelled like her favorite flavor of V8 Splash), and it tasted like that, plus booze. The lack of carbonation did something strange to the hops, too; their fresh, resiny flavor was there – literally too, since some of the actual hops might not have filtered out – but their bitter kick was gone. Overall I think everyone liked how novel, complex and refreshing it was. I think I like the regular stuff better but again, it doesn’t feel right to judge.

Still, getting to taste the batch at once gave me a new respect for the range of flavors that can come from just hops alone, as well as how important carbonation is to the creation and signature taste of a beer. Plus, what better way to get to know a group of beer fans than to give them all a taste of something none of them is familiar with and judging their reactions? It’s like the first day of college, except the students were our taste buds. Or something like that.

No regular beer reviews this week; nothing was as interesting as the firkin batch. But if you’re going to visit Crabtree sometime in the next month, they’re showcasing their other styles on Tuesdays after 4 p.m. If you go any other day, try their Rebel Rye IPA for the taste and their Trichome Wheat Ale for the color and aroma. It’s neon banana yellow and smells like mangoes.

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