Big beer with a big name: Collaboration Not Litigation Ale

ImageThere’s a time frame for the bombers (big bottles) that I keep in my fridge. Either I get rid of them within a week of getting them, or they stay there forever. I’d like to say it’s because I’m aging them, or I’m saving them for a special occasion (that’s the case for a couple), but mostly I grow attached to them. After a couple weeks I get used to seeing them there, taking up more and more of the top right corner of my fridge. They’re like the crew of Davy Jones’ ship in the second “Pirates of the Caribbean“: If they aren’t freed, they become a part of the hull*.

But this week I made it a mission to try one of the worst offenders of this: the Avery/Russian River Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. I was immediately excited when I first saw this beer. I’m a big fan of Avery out of Boulder and, like any beer geek, I get all excited when I see Russian River Brewing on anything; the brewers in Santa Rosa, California put out some of the most delicious and sought-after beers in the country. This was back in February.

Since then I’ve passed it up for more time-sensitive beers – hop-fading IPAs, seasonal lagers, etc – since its 8.9% ABV could help it age. But since it was a Wednesday afternoon and productivity wasn’t in the cards, I went for it. I wasn’t disappointed. It was smooth and refreshing, and it kept me buzzed for about two hours afterward.

Avery (and Russian River) Collaboration not Litigation Ale

Notes: Some back story here. It turns out the two breweries realized they had beers called “Salvation” in their lineups, but instead of suing decided to blend their beers together into a totally different beast back in November 2006. The result is a mighty fine Belgian strong dark ale – a catch-all for fruity, boozy Belgian-inspired beers.

Sight and smell: A dark amber/chestnut color with a huge head, good stay and lumpy lacing. The bottom has some haze and sediment. It smells like a crazy, complex mix of red wine, dates, brown sugar and either butterscotch or toffee.

Taste: A lot like a smooth quadrupel. There’s some raisin and molasses with a little bit of pine and oak. At the end is a gingery/cinammony spice factor (though it’s neither of those things), some booze and a little bit of carbonation. It’s smooth, with a shovelful of flavor.

Grade: A. This is one of those beers that has a million things going on without seeming like it. It’s just as easy to pick out flavors as it is to sit back, gulp down and register as “damn good” without going into detail. It’s not really a summer beer, but I didn’t buy it as one. Overall, it’s mighty fine. And now I have one bottle down, five more to go in my fridge.

 

 

* Loose translation. I haven’t seen that movie in a long, long time. I also didn’t like it very much, and I’m not sure why it came to mind for this blog post.

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Snobby, but refreshing: Crooked Stave’s St. Bretta

Crooked Stave's St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier

Crooked Stave’s St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier

Last week I talked all about how fundamentally un-snubby beer can be, especially when it’s delivered from tents in a giant field. This week I’ll take a brief look at the other side – the side of ales brewed in old chardonnay barrels with wilde yeast strains, by brewers in flannel shirts and beanies with mustaches waxed into symmetric shapes. I’m taking a look at Denver’s Crooked Stave and its St. Bretta witbier.

Okay, so I don’t know what the brewers at Crooked Stave wear. I’m sure they’re nice people, and their beer has won several awards. But when I visited their brewery in north Denver a few months ago, it was hard not to judge based solely on appearances. Take the location: The tap room is situated in the back of an open, exposed brick, airplane hangar-sized building called “The Source,” placed on the edge between industrial north Denver and trendy, new-development Denver. To get to the tap room itself, you must first walk past an expensive Mexican street food-style restaurant (with a 45-minute wait), a “community-focused grocer” and an artisan bakery. Maybe I’m confusing smugness with hipster-ness, but to me there’s a very fuzzy line between the two.

The tap room might have been the most “normal” part of the place; I was surrounded by early 30- and 40-somethings who probably make more in a month than I do all year, but the staff was friendly and the ambiance was much like a crowded bar. Their beer selection was a mix of the two worlds. Most of it was complex but made for anyone to enjoy, while some of it was experimental and seemingly overcomplicated. None of the beers I tried was a straight “pilsner” or “amber ale,” and I think they wanted it that way.

I’ve been searching for some of their beer outside of the tap room with little success. But I finally found one: their St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier, or a witbier brewed with souring, brettanomyces yeast. I didn’t try it while I was there, but I wanted to see how it measured up.

St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier

Notes: “Wildbier” isn’t an official style but this one falls under the witbier-type, which is usually spiced, wheaty and unfiltered. This 5.5% version is their spring style, though they have a summer one I haven’t tried. The bottle says it’s brewed in oak barrels with tangelo.

Sight and smell: The beer’s a hazy gold with good bubble, decent foamy lacing and a light dusting of a head. It smells like the ingredients listed on the bottle: Oak and orange peel, with a little bit of lemon.

Taste: This one’s sour all the way, with some sweet orange up front. There’s oak in the aftertaste and a little bit of creaminess in the middle, mixed with lemon juice, bread and maybe some lemon juice.  It’s an interesting mix.

Grade: B+: There’s a lot of flavor packed into this one. It’s very pleasant. But it also seems more like a “beer punch” than an actual, comprehensive beer.

Overall the beer kind of lived up to the experience I had at the brewery. The beer’s name and bottle suggest something you’d fine at a fancy wine store, but the taste is sweet, light and approachable. It’s almost like the beer itself is rebelling against its marketing. Maybe one day they’ll realize that if beer is art, it should be less “Monet” and more “Norman Rockwell.” Still, I’m not holding my breath for anything canned from Crooked Stave any time soon.

I CAN’t contain myself at Burning Can

BurningCan_2014_std

What’s the difference between beer snobbery, beer geekery and just enjoying beer? I’ve been thinking about this question, no joke, for the past two weeks. Is a geek someone who loves good beer and a snob someone who hates bad beer, as this forum points out? Is it a moot question, because you can’t be snobby about something so affordable, as this columnist argues? Is snobbery taking actual time out of your life to research the difference between a beer snob and a beer geek? Probably.

But if there’s any argument to be made that – in a growing world of mustachioed, Coors-hating, bourbon barrel-aged beer drinkers – the beer fans and geeks are winning, Oskar Blues’ Burning Can Beer Fest is it.

Sprawled out on a huge grass field enveloped in Rocky Mountains in Lyons, a mix of mountain bikers, kayakers, stoners, parents, college students and brewers come together for endless canned beer. Some band jams through Saturday evening. A smell of grilled meat from the Oskar Blues truck mixes with beer-drenched wet grass. There’s enough people to form a crowd, but it’s open enough to talk to the brewers without protests from the line behind you. The snobbiest thing there was the tent handing out “I (heart) NPR” bumper stickers, but the friendly man handing them out looked too much like a Doonesbury character for anyone to take to seriously. It was a good time.

Too good, in fact. I enjoyed myself so much that I didn’t take notes of all the other beer-related trends going on.

 

The least stupid picture of me at Burning Can.

My girlfriend Danielle and I got to Lyons a couple hours before the festivities to scope out a campsite and grab some lunch. Because the floods last summer ravaged the usual camping grounds across town, we got to set up in a football field-sized patch right next to all the brewer’s tents – a refugee camp for drunks. The good news was we were in the middle of everything; we could hear and nearly see the band from our tent. The bad news was the half-mile hike from car to campsite.

We grabbed some burgers at Oskar Blues downtown (good food, good people, slow service) before heading back for the non-VIP 3 p.m. start. Anxiety hit when my online tickets wouldn’t load, but the good staff of Burning Can just had my name on a list. Why I even needed a ticket in the first place, I don’t know.

That led to a slow, steady stream of new beers from all over: Seattle, Utah, Denver, Indiana. We made the rookie mistake of eating a full meal beforehand, so we took a break an hour in. But otherwise it was a free-for-all until the beer ran out. Not even a late afternoon rainstorm could keep me from practically (sometimes literally) skipping around.

It’s hard to pinpoint what the best breweries were, or the best offerings. But the one that stood out most for me came from Bohemian Brewery out of Midvale, Utah, which apparently transports its hops and malts from the Czech Republic. Their Czech pilsner was the only beer poured for me up to the top of my can, and it’s the only one I came back for. Love that beer.

The biggest surprise was the non-beer options. I only found one brewery offering something other than beer – root beer, which kind of counts – but there was also a a cidery (Wild Cider out of Firestone, CO) and a meadery (Redstone Meadery out of Boulder). I can’t say if they were good or bad, since I don’t drink cider much and I hadn’t tried mead at all, but there’s nothing more refreshing after 15 IPAs than a crisp apple or honey beer. Wasn’t a fan of the blueberry cider, though.

As night crept in the crowd that stayed became kind of a family, whether it was from good vibes, good people or a universal drunkenness. I became best friends in turn with Mr. Doonesbury (Robert) at the NPR station, the head brewers at Surly Brewing out of Minneapolis, some parents leaving to pick up their kids from a party and some guy waiting in line at the bathroom. People from all ages, professions, “walks of life.” I don’t know about snobbery, but I’d like to see the same vibe at a wine tasting.