Prelude to Burning Can: Upslope IPA and Imperial IPA

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Get excited people, because Burning Can in Lyons is almost upon us! For $30, anyone can spend three hours Saturday drinking unlimited beer from 50+ breweries from a tiny can. You can even camp on or near a baseball field! In other words it’s nothing like Burning Man, but it’s still a good time.

Anyways, in preparation for the beer fest that celebrates breweries that can their brews, I’ve taken a look at two from Boulder-based Upslope Brewing: Their IPA and Imperial IPA. I tried their IPA once last year and haven’t had it since, and I’ve never had their Imperial. So I thought I’d compare.

 

Upslope India Pale Ale

Sight and Smell: A hazy copper with a big beige head and sticky lacing. It smells like a little bit of caramel, sharp citrus and toast.

Taste: Lots of hop coming out, with less of the citrus and more of the bitter. There’s a lot of caramel there to back up a catty, minty hoppiness that lingers. Honestly, I think it’s a weird one, but it’s still balanced.

Grade: B. I could see a lot of people liking this IPA, with lots of hop and malt flavor packed into a tiny can. All the components of a good IPA are there. Problem is, the flavors came out a little weird for me. That’s neither a good or bad thing. This falls under the category of solid beers I probably wouldn’t choose as my first option.

 

Upslope Imperial India Pale Ale

Sight and Smell: A clear, dark amber with a little bit of bubble, a fine white head and more sticky lacing. It has a pleasant, but lighter smell than the IPA, with a little bit of citrus (maybe store brand orange juice?) and a light pine and honeydew.

Taste: This one coats your mouth in the best of ways. In the middle is a little bit of honey, dried pineapple, light melon and some tangelo. There’s caramel, bready sweetness up front, with some piney hops in the back. This one has 90 IBUs (very bitter), but they come across as flavor instead of tongue-lacerating bitterness. Oh, and the 10% ABV hits at the end, but blends with the flavors like buttah.

Grade: A-. It’s juicy, well balanced and big. Not much more you can ask from an imperial IPA. It’s not as bold or complex as some others, but it’s gulpable and kind of kicks your ass in a way that leaves you satisfied.

Who wins? Easily the bigger of the two. There’s more flavor, more kick, and more going for it. Both are solid beers, and a lot of people might prefer the IPA over the Imperial. But for me, the bold-but-mellow goodness of the Imperial IPA wins out this time.

Beer highlight: A different side of Stone and Sam Adams

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Boston’s Samuel Adams and Escondido’s Stone Brewing: two big name breweries about 3,000 miles away from each other. Each has their fans and strengths, and each has a respected brewing history (you might scoff at Sam Adams, but you’d be wrong).

But if either decided to venture into a type of beer that doesn’t fit its usual mold, what would it look like? Probably the Sam Adams Rebel IPA and the Stone Saison.

Sam Adams, most known for its Boston Lager, has made a stupid number of beers. But it took them nearly 30 years to tackle a West Coast-style IPA, known for its in-your-face, tongue-assaulting hop flavors. Stone, on the other hand, specializes in that style (though they have more beers out there than Sam Adams). But in April, they released their Saison: a style that’s all over the place, but is mostly know for a complex spicy, fruity, earthy flavor. If the two styles were mobsters trying to get you to cooperate, the West Coast IPA would use a two-by-four while the saison would use a dental kit.

Seeing if these juggernaut breweries could tackle these styles, I decided to try them myself.

Sam Adams Rebel IPA

Notes: This 6.5% brew has five kinds of hops in it, but only has 45 IBUs (international bittering units). The typical IPA is 60+, with some West Coast IPAs in the 80+ range.

Sight and smell: A clear copper gold with some bubbles and a light white head. True to form, it smells like fresh grapefruit and pine.

Taste: The bitter hop oil’s there, but it’s balanced by a whole lot of malt. Mixed into the middle is more grapefruit and some caramel, with pine at the back. The flavor isn’t overwhelming, but it’s clean, crisp and refreshing.

Grade: B+. Typical West Coast IPA it’s not. But it’s still a refreshing IPA with all the flavors that I like without the palate-wrecking bitter that goes with it. One of the first Sam Adams beers I’d reach for.

 

Stone Saison

Notes: Although a completely different style, this beer also has 6% ABV and 45 IBUs, which is relatively high for the style.

Sight and smell: A light, clear gold with a fine white head and sticky lacing. It smells like some kind of soap, with fresh lemon juice and lemon thyme (I didn’t make that up). There’s a little lavender, but it’s mostly fresh citrus.

Taste: There’s some spice up front – maybe pepper – with more of that thyme and lemon. Also mixed in is a little bit of wheatiness and littler bit of bubble gum, with crackery malt. Herbal hops blend with Belgian funk at the end.

Grade: A-. I had better saisons at Trinity, but this one was pretty summerific as well. It’s bright, complex and absolutely drinkable. If you’re reading this on a beach, throw out your Corona, drive to a liquor store and grab a six-pack of these instead. Grab some sun screen too, you’re looking a little red.

 

Overall: They’re both good beers that represent their breweries and do their brewers proud. Rebel gets points for balance and Saison gets points for drinkability, but both are delicious. Really, that’s the important thing.

 

 

New trees and Trinity Brewing

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Fun fact: The mountain on your can of Coors Light was modeled after a real mountain.Wilson Peak: A 14er (barely, at 14,017 feet) that stands out from Umcompaghre National Forest in southwest Colorado.

That’s one of the many things I learned Thursday while replanting in the burn area of Waldo Canyon northwest of Colorado Springs. It’s also the only beer-related fact I learned while I was there.

Let me explain. As many times as I can manage during the year, I sign up for day or weekend treks with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, or VOC. They provide opportunities for people – generally a mix of 20-something nature lovers and overly fit retirees – to build trails or restore habitat around the state. They’re great for me because they get me working in the outdoors in places I wouldn’t think to go on my own. Plus, as a rule, the overnight trips always supply free beer.

So Thursday morning I drove two hours on a mix of highways and dirt roads to a remote spot, where I spent about five hours clipping willow bush branches (not trees, like the headline suggests) on the low end of a creek, trekking them to a bare patch higher up on the creek and sticking them in the ground.

From what we were told the sticks will take root, which will prevent the runoff caused by rain hitting the fire-scorched earth, which will prevent it from contaminating water supplies downstream.

As I headed home, I stopped by a brewery that was just five minutes or so out of the way: Trinity Brewing. I’d heard of them a few weeks ago after trying their Seven Day Sour, which had suddenly popped up at every bar from Denver to Fort Collins.

 

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It’s not that impressive on the outside, other than having Pikes Peak as a backdrop. But you’re greeted inside by a wall of oak barrels, a sea of friendly (albeit, mostly male) faces and a thick cloud of wet malt.

Also, this:

 

photo 3-1It’s beautiful!

When you order a flight, you get this: A whole wheel of malty, hoppy flavor with a doorknob in the center. I had it all to myself… for better or worse. The best thing was it became the talking point of the bar at 3:30 in the afternoon. All these couples and groups, and the only one with this eight-sample masterpiece is the muddy, disheveled mess sitting by himself. Great way to make friends. By the last beer I’d become best friends with a high school chorus teacher and a part-time brewer who collects all the movies as a hobby.

I won’t go through all of the beers I tried; that would take forever. But I’ll say all of them were exceptional, and there wasn’t one I wouldn’t get again. All had incredible mouthfeels and were made of like a dozen different hops and malts. I’ll highlight three: two summer brews and one beast.

Sunna Wit Bier

Sight and smell: Fluorescent yellow and opaque, like the inside of a lemon head, with a nice white head. The most distinctive looking of the bunch. It smells like coriander-laced orange juice.

Taste: Creamy mouthfeel from the flaked oats and wheat, with a citrus bit that sticks to the tongue. In the midde was a mix of orange creamsicle, some earthiness and a little cinnamon.

Grade: A-. This 4.8% beer is perfect for the summer and would make a great choice for anyone who says they don’t like beer.

 

Three Flowers, Saison Vielle

Sight and smell: A pale 7% brew with a little white head. It has a very potpourri-like smell, with coriander, lilacs (?) and other spices.

Taste: More spice in a thicker beer than you’d think. At some point I got tastes of wheat, cinnamon, ginger and summer. Lots of flavors, and all of it balanced. It finished light with all the right aftertastes.

Grade: A-. The flavors are there. The feel is there. The smell is there. Even the look of it. Everything reeks of summertime with this one.

 

Slap Yer Mammy Double IPA

Sight and smell: A hazy gold with a solid head. It smells like wet grass, toasted crackers, earth and a little bit of pine. It has nine hop styles in it, so there’s a lot there.

Taste: There’s a huge malt backbone to this one that totally cuts its 125 (!) IBUs. On the forefront is toasted rye bread with a creamy feel, along with piney, earthy hops. The 10.5% ABV hits a bit at the end, but the bitter sits there without completely overwhelming your taste buds.

Grade: A+. One of the best double IPA’s I’ve had. It has a unique flavor and an incredible balance. If you find it, drink it.

 

The golden flight at The Mayor

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There are some excellent places to grab a beer in Fort Collins, but The Mayor of Old Town is the standard. I had a chance to snag a flight when I was in town for CSU’s graduation, and coincidentally came up with the Golden Flight: four different beer styles with four different shades of gold. I’ll go through them in the order I drank them, left to right.

Beer 1: Grimm Bros Snow Drop Honey Wheat Ale

Notes: This 7.1% ABV wheat is actually a “kottbüsser,” which I had to look up. Apparently Grimm Bros out of Loveland wanted to bring back a style that was banned in Germany; it didn’t meet German purity laws (beers with only water, barley, hops and yeast) because it used oats, honey and molasses.

The beer: The haziest of the gold batch, it had a very light, lemony, honey smell. There was a little crisp, hoppy bite with a smooth, wheaty center. It’s light despite its high ABV, with the best mouth feel of the bunch.

Grade: B+. I obviously don’t know the style, but as far as wheat beers go this one’s as refreshing as the best of them.

Beer 2: Firestone Walker Pivo Pils

Notes: Pivo (beer in Czech) is a 2013 Great American Beer Festival winner, so I was kind of giddy when I saw it on tap. Plus, California’s Firestone Walker is one of the best big-name breweries out there.

The Beer: A fine white head stayed for at least half an hour, but it was hard to smell from the sampler glass. I was surprised how malty this Czech pilsner was, with an herbal, clean bitter hop finish. I also got a little bit of bitter lemon skin, which actually made it more refreshing.

Grade: A. It had a lot in common with the Snow Drop, actually, but all the flavors were punched up a couple notches. Good balance, clean taste. I’m a fan.

Beer 3: Victory DirtWolf Double IPA

Notes: I got this beer because of the name. Who names a beer dirt wolf? Apparently it’s a nod to hops, which have vines that rise out of the ground like a “wolf among sheep.” This is a Beer Advocate reviewers favorite, too.

The beer: Biggest head of the bunch, and the darkest shade of gold. The Citra and Chinook hops make it smell like eating tangerines, walking through a grapefruit grove. Piney hops come through more in the flavor though, with a little bit more grapefruit and a generous malty backbone. A vicious bitter takes over the more you drink.

Grade: A-. Clearly Dirtwolf has a lot of things going for it, with a crazy mix of flavors and a good balance. It’s well crafted and stands out from other double IPAs. It might have had too much going on, though.

Beer 4: Fort Collins Any Colour You Like

Notes: I couldn’t find any info on this beer on the Fort Collins Brewery website, but much of what you need to know comes from the beer’s style. It’s a Berliner Weisse, which is known as the “Champagne of the North.” It’s a low-alcohol, light, tart, sour beer made with half barley and half wheat.

The beer: It starts fruity, with raspberries and maybe some pineapple on the nose. The fruit continues in the flavor, which punches your tastebuds with hyper-tart raspberries and lemons. There’s a bready backbone in there somewhere, but it’s mostly just sour fruitiness.

Grade: B. It’s refreshing, in an assaulting kind of way. Lots of sour there. But it also has a lot of good fruit flavor.

 

Visiting a freshman brewery: 38 State

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The Beer Gods have been good to Denver this spring, blessing downtown and the surrounding area with new breweries to compete with an already ample market. What a great problem to have.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to all of them, but I had to make it to one. 38 State, located in the middle of suburban Littleton on the south side of Denver, was a great choice: It celebrated its grand opening on Saturday. Even cooler, I thought, was the fact that 38 State is the only brewery in Littleton. That’s a city of roughly 42,000 people. They’re overdue.

Their website shows they popped up in a familiar way; four friends started brewing beer for fun, which snowballed into them building their own brewery once their friends started asking to buy their stuff. That sounded good enough to me, so I trekked the half hour it takes from my apartment to see if they were any good.

The first thing I noticed is the building is camouflaged. Their Facebook page shows a clear-cut sign on a clean beige background, hoisted above and next to two glass garage doors. What the picture fails to convey is that the rest of the brewery is located in an area the city probably zoned for “big industrial glass garages.”

Once I circled the building three and went inside, though, I realized I couldn’t blame my lack of direction on the brewery. They presented themselves well. An exposed brick wall highlighted the solid wood tables and bar, which had a TV playing the Tour de California on mute above it. A glass door led to a patio, which would have been full on the weekend, but was open the Thursday afternoon I went.

It was easier to tell the bar was new than I would’ve thought. Only about a dozen patrons were peppered around the brewery, many first-timers. A handful of auto workers behind me told one woman (one of the brewers, I later learned) that they’ve been waiting for the place to open for months and decided to finally check it out.

The general manager, Lael, came from behind the bar to ask if I’d like to try the double IPA or the chocolate stout: their only options after opening weekend drained their supply.photo 3

Just a note: They weren’t unprepared. Lael told me 38 State is working with a one-barrel system, which means smaller batches, but greater freedom to change or improve their recipes. To compare, Oskar Blues works with a 50-barrel system in their Asheville location.

That small-batch, work-in-progress feel transferred to their two brews, giving both of them a juicy, unfiltered, unrefined feel. That’s a good thing! Like comparing “most pulp” orange juice to freshly squeezed: The freshly squeezed might have some seeds in it, but it’s still juicier.

The better of the two was their Two Buttes Double IPA, which stood out from the crowd of double and single IPAs around Denver. It was a hazy chestnut that looked more like an IPA/brown ale mix, with a sweet, tannic, piney smell. But unlike the straight-up pine needle taste associated with some in the style, this represented the whole tree (again, in a good way). A sweet pine and slightly fruity front is mixed with a woody bitter bite that sticks around. I can’t even describe it in a way that would do it justice – like oak barrels and toasted crackers mixed with what Pine Sol smells like. It paired perfectly with the pretzels they handed me.

I wish I’d gotten a chance to try some of their other styles. Apparently their Honey Hefeweizen and Kolsch sold out fast, and I was told to try their pale ale, amber and dunkel. I could tell by the number of taps they had ready to go (more than a dozen) that they had no intention of being a one-note brewery. The staff told me to come back in two weeks, once they had more selectio ns available and had more time to gather themselves.

That’s something that was bittersweet about the whole experience. It didn’t seem all that gathered. The beers weren’t refined, but the brewery was small enough to be able to improve them. The brewers were catching up with demand, but still had time to sit and chat with strangers. In fact, 38 State is so new that it has no regulars yet. It’s all a work in progress. If I come back in two weeks, I don’t know if I’d come back to the same brewery or something brand new. It’s all kind of exciting.

 

Beer Highlight: Anderson Valley Spring Hornin’ IPA

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Notes: 6.8% ABV, purchased May 4, pairs well with Gouda, apparently.

Sight: Hazy light amber with a huge head that sticks.

Smell: Like the bottle says: Fresh pears, herbal hops and wildflowers. It’s sweet and sticks to your face, but in a pleasant way.

Taste: There’s a spicy hop kick up front that stays, with a little honey biscuit malt to “balance” out a bit of astringency in the finish. Other flavors that stand out include pine resin, a little pepper and a lot of berry.

The Grade: B. It looks like an IPA and smells like a candle. It tastes juicy, but a little unbalanced. I’m torn because it’s such a mixed bag and it comes from one of my favorite breweries, but it doesn’t stand up to other California IPAs or other beers from Anderson Valley. So I’ll put it this way: Buy it because it’s a nice spring beer.