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Brewtally Insane Best of 2012: Beers, Breweries and Beer Bars

2012.  What a year!  Certainly a HUGE year for beer!  With more than two dozen breweries opening in Colorado this year, there were plenty of new and interesting brews that were introduced into our market.  It’s not easy for a beer geek to keep up with everything…

We did our best to try them all and my liver hates me for it.  But have no fear, all this “research” has good purpose.  There was no way we could have tried everything out there, but here’s some of our personal favorites from 2012.  While I didn’t take availability into account, we did have a few rules that each beer had to meet: 1. available in either bottles or cans.  2. a new release in 2012.  3. made right here in Colorado.

Without further ado, here’s our list of favorite beers, breweries and beer bars from the past year.

10. Odell Brewing – The Meddler

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Big woody notes combine with tart cherries and plums to round out this complex Flanders Oud Bruin.  Such a tasty style that seems to be making a bit of a comeback.  Odell has been rolling out great sours since the emergence of Friek last year and this is a great addition to their already impressive lineup.

9. Oskar Blues Brewery – Deviant Dale’s IPA

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Not only did Oskar Blues give us an IPA this year, but they put it in those big ass 16 oz. cans!  Who do I need to thank for this great gift?  Plenty of grapefruit, caramel, pine and citrus hops galore.  Best addition to the OB family since TEN Fidy.

8. Prost Brewing – Hefeweizen

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We all knew Bill Eye was an amazing brewer, but I don’t think any of us knew German lagers could be sooo damn tasty.  I love the entire Prost lineup, but the Hefeweizen is pretty special.  Fruity, flavorful, refreshing and light enough to make it a sessionable beer.  In addition to being on tap at a variety of restaurants and bars, look for growlers of this tasty brew at liquor stores throughout the Denver area.  Delish!

7. New Belgium – Lips of Faith Tart Lychee

A three-year old wild ale was mixed with lychee fruit and cinnamon to create a unique combination for New Belgium’s summertime Lips of Faith release.  It turned out to be the perfect “lighter” sour brew for the warm summer months.  I liked it so much, I greedily snagged a keg for myself.  I hope they keep this tasty offering in regular rotation.

6. Trinity Brewing – Oh Face Saison Provisional

I credit my wife, Mrs. Insane, with finding this one.  While I was filling my cup with Trinity’s phenomenal sours during GABF, she was discovering Oh Face.  This is another beer in their “Office Space” series, which also includes TPS Report and the upcoming Red Swingline Stapler.  Oh Face is a sensory adventure with plenty of Bretty funk, fruit, cardamom, pepper, coriander, yeast and more.  Another complex masterpiece from our favorite brewery down in the Springs.

5. Funkwerks – Deceit

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The 2012 Small Brewery of the Year just seems to get better and better.  Deceit is a classic Belgian-style Tripel with flavors of tropical fruit, spices and hops.  Look for more interesting one-off’s and seasonals to come out of this Fort Collins brewery in 2013.

4. AC Golden Brewing – Hidden Barrel Apricot

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Low production numbers, a high price tag and no distribution for AC Golden’s first bottled release. Yet, it still managed to tie up phone lines with orders and sold out on the same day it hit store shelves.  And for good reason.  It’s full of sour apricot, barnyard funk and oak.  Hopefully we’ll continue to see more interesting bottles and expanded distribution from AC Golden in 2013.

3. Elevation Beer Co. – Apis IV

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Elevation’s first bottled release was a delicious, complex Belgian-style Quadrupel, that was much more authentic Belgian than American knockoff.  Although Elevation may or may not brew this beer again, they’re clearly on the right track and I’m looking forward to more greatness from them in the years to come.  Awesome beer.

2. Avery Brewing – Uncle Jacob’s Stout

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This 17% ABV Imperial Stout, debuted in April as the 2nd release in Avery’s Annual Barrel Series. Bourbon, chocolate, vanilla, oak and booze make up this sticky, sweet stout.  Look for another batch to be released sometime in 2013.  Be sure you don’t miss out!

1. 2012 Beer of the Year: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – Persica055

I could have easily picked 5 beers from Crooked Stave to make this list.  They’re just that good. But for me, Persica was the standout and my pick for best Colorado Beer of 2012.  Unfortunately, the only way to try this one was by being a member of Crooked Stave’s 2012 Cellar Reserve, having a generous friend who’s in the Cellar Reserve or were lucky enough to snag a sample at Avery’s Sour Fest.  Ripe peaches and oak mix for this fruity, sour gem.  It’s a shame only a few hundred bottles were made, but the good news is that it’ll be making a return in 2013 to members of the Cellar Reserve.  It’s not too late to sign up, so don’t miss out.

Best Colorado Breweries of 2012

1.  Avery Brewing – Not only do they offer a solid lineup of year round beers, but their seasonals and occasional Barrel-Aged releases are second to none.  The Barrel-Aged series has become so popular, that the releases have turned into mini-festivals at the brewery, where Avery taps unique and hard-to-find beers just for the occasion.  Combine their great beers with their annual Anniversary Party, Sour Fest, IPA Fest and Strong Ale Fest and the new brewery which is expected to open in 2014, and it’s easy to see why Avery Brewing is our favorite brewery of 2012.

2.  Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – Wild Wild Brett Indigo, L’Brett D’Or, Nightmare on Brett, Persica and they even managed to bring Cantillon’s Zwanze Day to Colorado.  Phenomenal job all around!

3.  Odell Brewing – They make some of our favorite CO beers including Friek, Myrcenary and Bourbon Barrel Stout.  I could sit in their tasting room all day, play a little cornhole or just watch the world go by on the patio.  Thank you Odell for another great year of events, tappings and bottled releases.

Best Denver Area Beer Bars of 2012

1.  Parry’s Pizza – Epic tap takeovers, pint nights, great food and a friendly and knowledgable staff made Parry’s our favorite place to sip a pint outside of a brewery in 2012.  Three locations around the Denver area, with more on the way!

2.  The Rackhouse Pub – Aside from great beer, great food and multiple beer events throughout the year, The Rackhouse shares the roof with Stranahan’s Whiskey.  Stop by for a tasting and tour of the distillery, stick around for a bite to eat and a locally brewed craft beer.

3.  Falling Rock Tap House – The classic Denver tap house.  They get the good stuff the for the geeks and always seem to have something special on draft.

Three Colorado Breweries to Watch in 2013

1.  Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – More barrels, more bottles, a coolship and a brewery at The Source.  Look out!

2.  Dry Dock Brewing – A new production facility, new brewhouse, a 63-BBL foeder, canning line and expanded distribution.  I’m in!

3.  Black Shirt Brewing – I’ve admittedly only tried 3 of BSB’s brews, but if that’s any indication of what’s to come, Denver’s in for a treat in 2013.

With so many great beers, breweries and beer bars around town, this wasn’t an easy list to compile and sadly, many deserving beers didn’t make it.  What were your favorites from 2012?  Leave a comment on our Facebook Page and share with us.

As 2012 draws to a close, I cant wait to see what lies ahead for the Colorado Beer Scene in 2013. It’s an exciting time to be a craft beer lover.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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Crooked Stave Cellar Reserve Signups Open on Monday

Listen up all my little Sour, Wild and Funky Beer Fans!  This Monday, at 10 AM MST, Crooked Stave will be offering new memberships into next year’s Cellar Reserve program.  I made the horrible mistake of not joining the club last year, and since then, I’ve been blown away by brewer / owner Chad Yakobson’s amazing beers.

Due to the low volume being produced, the only way to get many of his beers is by becoming a Cellar Reserve Member.  So for $300, you’ll be guaranteed a variety of 750mL bottles of Crooked Stave’s best offerings.  Here’s the tentative lineup for 2013:

(1 bottle) *Blackberry L’Brett d’Or (First Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *Persica – Golden Sour w/Peaches (First Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *Raspberry Dark Origins (Second Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *Surette Reserva Cognac Barrel (Second Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *Surette Reserva Bourbon Barrel (Second Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *Nightmare on Brett (Grand Cru barrel) (Third Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *Cherry Origins (Third Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *TBD Dark Sour blend (Fourth Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *TBD Cellar Reserve Blend (Fourth Quarter of 2013)
(1 bottle) *TBD Cellar Reserve Blend (Fourth Quarter of 2013)

*Denotes beer is a Cellar Reserve exclusive.

In addition to the beers listed above, there will be several additional beers available for sale, along with a membership card, exclusive stemmed glassware, Members-only gear, 15% discount at the tap room and the opportunity to attend Members-only events.

I’ll definitely be jumping on board this year.  For the out-of-towners, you can have a “trustee” pick up your beers and send them to you.  I might be willing to sponsor a beer freak or two, so e-mail me at brewtallyinsane@yahoo.com, if you need help from a Colorado beer mule such as myself.

If you’re interested in joining the club, click HERE for all the details.  There’s even a FAQ page which attempts to answer any questions you might have about holding beer at the Barrel Room, setting up a trustee and more.

It’s no accident that Crooked Stave just landed a medal at this year’s GABF in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer Category.  They’re making some great beers and have many more planned for you.  I may have missed the boat last year, but lesson learned and I’ll be logging on my computer Monday to get my spot for 2013.  Hope you can join me for the ride.

Cheers!


Ten Breweries You Can’t Afford to Miss at GABF

Here we are, just a few short days away from the Great American Beer Festival and I’m as giddy as a little schoolgirl.  But whether you’re a seasoned veteran or this is your first time attending, the GABF can be a little overwhelming.  580 breweries pouring 2000+ beers will do that to you.  You’ve got to have some sort of plan of attack.

For me, I print out the GABF Map and mark the breweries that I’d kick myself if I were to miss.  The floor is divided up by regions of the U.S.  I can generally breeze through the Colorado breweries since I’ve either had or can easily get most of the beers pouring in that area.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t stop by and say hi to your favorite brewers.  It’s also worth nothing that some are planning on bringing some pretty special beers.  Avery Brewing will be pouring both Oud Floris and Odio Equum from their hard-to-find Barrel-Aged Series, while Crooked Stave is rumored to be bringing the super delicious and rare Persica.  I’d certainly recommend spending some time in the Mountain Region at the GABF, but for me, I’ll probably limit my time there and focus on breweries I don’t normally have easy access to.

So where do we begin?  Russian River, Lost Abbey / Port, Cigar City, Dogfish Head all seem like obvious choices, but there are some really interesting, smaller breweries that don’t distribute out this direction at all.  Jonathan Shikes wrote a great article in the Westword last week with his picks, many of which would have made my list as well.  Three Floyds, Bell’s and Cambridge are all top-notch breweries.  Check out the entire article HERE.  I’d like to add a couple more of my favorites for you to check out this weekend.

1. The Bruery, Placentia, CA.  Patrick Rue is brewing up an empire and a loyal following through his Reserve Society and awesome lineup of beers.  Whether it’s mouth-puckering sours or thick, inky stouts, you can’t go wrong.  While they do distribute a handful of beer to Colorado, quite a few never leave California.  Recommendations: Oude Tart, Black Tuesday.

2. Upland Brewing, Bloomington, IN.  Upland makes quite a few quality beers, but their Lambics are not to be missed.  The bottles, which are sold online a few times a year, always sell out within minutes.  Recommendations: Any of their fruit Lambics, which range from Strawberry to Kiwi to Persimmon to Peach.

3. Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Center, MN.  Beer for a glass, from a can.  For the hop heads, they make two great ones, called Furious (IPA) and Abrasive (Double IPA).  They’ve also got a Coffee Brown called Coffee Bender that goes great with a brownie or doughnut.  Keep an eye out for any of their big, seasonals like Darkness (Russian Imperial Stout) or this year’s anniversary ale, SYX (Strong Ale). Recommendations: Anything.

4. Allagash Brewing, Portland, ME.  The little brewery from Maine makes some might fine Belgian-style beers.  As a sour fan, I’ll be looking for anything from their Coolship series.  If you lean towards the sweeter side, look for their Dubbel, Grand Cru or Quad.  Recommendations: From sweet to sour, you can’t go wrong.

5. Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, NC.  As the South catches up to the craft beer movement, Foothills has taken the lead with their big stouts and barrel-aged experimentation.  They produce solid beers across the board.  Recommendations: Seeing Double IPA, Sexual Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout.

6. Iron Hill Brewery, PA, NJ and DE.  This east coast brewpub, which has 10 locations in 3 states, always brings a huge beer selection to the GABF Floor.  From sweet to sour, light to dark, hoppy to malty, they’ve got something for everyone.  There’s a reason why they’ve won a GABF medal, every year, for the past 15 years.  Stop by they’re multiple tables and get ready to be impressed. Recommendations: With an ever-rotating beer menu, there’s no telling what they’ll be pouring this year.  But, they always have detailed descriptions of every beer and plenty of brewers around to answer your questions.

7. Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI.  Where to begin?  I don’t remember ever seeing Founders at a previous GABF, so when I saw them on this year’s list, I got pretty excited.  These guys are famous for their KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout), which is brewed with vanilla and coffee and aged in bourbon barrels.  In addition to their seasonal and specialty brews, they make an exceptional lineup of year-round beers.  Recommendations: Centennial IPA, Devil Dancer (Triple IPA), Cerise (Cherry Beer), Backwoods Bastard (Scotch Ale) or any of their Stouts (KBS, CBS, Breakfast Stout or Imperial Stout).

8. Shorts Brewing, Bellaire, MI.  I think I did enough preaching for Short’s earlier this week with my post about their limited release of 6-packs to Denver for the GABF.  Still, I want to make sure you’ve got them on your list.  They love to experiment and take chances, which makes for some very fun and unique brews.  Recommendation: Peaches & Creme and any of the other experimental brews they decide to bring with them.

9. Weyerbacher, Easton, PA.  Another east coast gem serving up a wide variety of beers, ranging from Belgian-Style Ales to American IPA’s.  Although their distribution range has steadily grown over the past few years, they still haven’t made it to our market.  Recommendations: Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Riserva Sour, Heresy Imperial Stout and Double Simcoe IPA.

10. Société Brewing, San Diego, CA.  Founded in 2012 by Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner, who met while working together at The Bruery.  They decided to join forces and open their own brewery this past June.  Since then, they’ve been releasing west-coast IPA’s, Belgian-Style Ales and a Russian Imperial Stout.  They’ve also got a spacious barrel room, with a variety of sour beers aging away. Recommendations: This brewery’s only been open for a few months and I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but I’ve heard good things and would highly recommend stopping by their booth for a sample or two.

I hope this list helps introduce you to at least a couple new breweries this year at GABF.  Get out there, have fun and discover some new beers.  Feel free to e-mail me at brewtallyinsane@yahoo.com with any other suggestions you might have.  Hope to see you this weekend!

Cheers!


Behind The Scenes At Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project.  Wow!  You haven’t even been open a week and I’m already wondering how I’ve survived so long without you.

In honor of Sour Beer Day, I’m bringing you a full report on the newly opened Crooked Stave Tap Room and Barrel Cellar.  You ready?!?!

I made the trip over on Wednesday to partake in the highly anticipated Grand Opening of the Taproom and Barrel Cellar.  More HERE.  They opened the doors at 2 PM and within ten minutes, the room was already full.  I’m not complaining and I’m glad they’re off to a great start, but they definitely had their hands full.  I decided to take the fam back on Thursday because there were just too many tasty beers left to try and I wanted to see if things had quieted down a bit.

The beers are amazing.  They’ve currently got 5 barrel-aged beers on tap that include a variety of unique ingredients, from Colorado Blue Spruce Tips to Vignole Grapes to Blueberries.  There’s also a non-alcoholic, barrel-aged Kombucha drink, made with jasmine, green and sumac teas, mangosteen and blueberries that tastes like a cross between fruit juice and iced tea.  It’s tasty and refreshing.

Things were definitely a bit more relaxed on Thursday and owner / brewer Chad Yakobson was kind enough to spend over an hour giving me what was probably the most thorough and interesting brewery tour I’ve ever had in my life.  He shared the entire process and discussed his plans for the newly opened Barrel Cellar and Taproom, as well as The Source, which is set to open in 2013.

Come on in!

At the taproom, three additional foeders are getting delivered this week, 375mL bottles will soon be hitting the market, bright tanks and more barrels are on the way and a lab for culturing yeast is in the works.  For now, brewing will continue at Prost and River North.

A tour of the Barrel Cellar included a bit of barrel history.  Each barrel really has its own unique story, characteristics and personality.  Some were from New Belgium, others from various wineries and distilleries.  One famous barrel is even from Vinnie’s herd at Russian River.  Beer geek’s take note and meet pH2.  Beatification anyone?

Chad even pulled the nail out from a few barrels to check the progress on some of his beers.  He’s got a Sour Quad in the works which is tasting awesome.  I believe his exact words were “bourbon marshmallows”.

He’s also got several different Saisons, a Sour Porter, a Dark Sour and fingers crossed, another batch similar to Persica.  Persica’s a Sour Peach beer that was only available to members of his Cellar Reserve club.  I tried it at the Avery Sour Fest earlier this year and is by far, my favorite beer of 2012. Amazing beer!

As for the upcoming brewery over at The Source, a 20 BBL brew system will be installed and a coolship is in the works.  Yep, a freakin’ coolship!  It just keeps getting better and better!  Just in case you don’t know what a coolship is, it’s a flat, shallow, open vessel, designed to allow the wort to cool, while permitting exposure to wild, airborne yeasts.  All those wild critters in the air create sour, funky traits that are highly desirable in this style of brewing.  Many lambic brewers in Belgium use coolships, but only a handful have them in the U.S.  Glorious!

Here’s a view of the coolship at Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium.  Note the windows to allow the wild yeasts to enter and infect the beer.

Chad’s a master at his craft and Denver is lucky to have him.  If you haven’t been to his place yet, you owe it to yourself to pay him a visit.  I can’t say enough good things about his beers and his hospitality is second to none.  My mind is blown from everything I learned this week.  Thanks Chad and once again, Welcome to the neighborhood!

Cheers!


Avery SourFest 2012 Recap

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending Avery’s 3rd Annual SourFest.  This is by far, my favorite event that they host throughout the year.  Strong Ale Fest is solid and I’m looking forward to the upcoming IPA Fest, but SourFest holds a special place in my heart.  I’m a sucker for sours and am constantly on the hunt for anything funky, wild and interesting.  SourFest puts together a collection of 50+ beers under one roof for beer lovers to taste and talk about.

We arrived about 20 minutes before the doors opened at noon and the line was already more than 75 people deep.  Turk and The Gubna were setting up for a live broadcast of their Colorado Craft Beer Show at noon.  Gary was supposed to be there to broadcast live with his American Craft Beer Radio show, but had to remain in the studio due to some technical difficulties.

Lined up out front

 We were able to track down a beer menu while we waited in line and started planning our course of attack.

Beer Menu Page 1

Beer Menu Page 2

My eyes lit up at the sight of Crooked Stave’s Blackberry Petite Sour.  This beer was made exclusively for their Cellar Reserve members and I have been trying to set up a trade for a bottle, without much luck.  I was excited to see it on the menu and couldn’t wait to try it.

When the doors opened at noon, we got our ID’s checked, swapped our tickets for glasses and headed inside.  We decided to slide through the Avery Tap Room and head to the Barrel Room to start our day.  The beers are organized in alphabetical order.  In the Tap Room, they were pouring AC Golden, Avery, Cambridge and COOP.  I like ’em all, but Avery always seems to have plenty of beer to go around, while some of the other breweries from out-of-state, might run out a bit quicker.

So, we headed around the corner and into the Barrel Room, where I snagged my taste of Crooked Stave’s Blackberry Petite Sour.  This funky, Brettanomyces fermented, oak aged brew, poured a light purple color.  It had a slight, funky cheese aroma, but tasted sweet, fruity and oh, so drinkable.  Delish.

Inside the Barrel Room

We quickly got word from some friends that the bottle tables around back were already creating quite the buzz.  We made our way out of the Barrel Room and into The Back Yard and discovered a line of people that must have been more than 100 deep.  People were going bonkers for Cascade’s bottled offerings and rightfully so.  Their stuff is amazing and I try to write about them whenever they have a new bottle getting ready to hit the market.  Unfortunately, none of their brews make it to Colorado and they didn’t come out for GABF last year either.  So this was one of those rare opportunities that CO beer lovers had to give them a try.

At SourFest, they were pouring Sang Royal (aged with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes), Sang Noir (aged with bing and sour cherries), The Vine (aged with white grapes) and Blueberry Sour, the latest addition to their stellar lineup.  If you ever find yourself out in Portland, OR, the Cascade Barrel House is a MUST!  I was out that way for their anniversary party last fall and they were pouring nearly two dozen sours at the time.  I could have easily spent all day sipping sours on their patio.

Cascade - Sang Royal

Cascade - The Vine

Cascade - Blueberry

Upland, from Indiana, also brought some delicious beers to share.  They’re another brewery that doesn’t distribute out here, but makes some amazing beers and always has a line during GABF.  Their sours really spotlight what their brew team is capable of.  They make 8 different fruit lambics that are released periodically throughout the year.  They use fruits like kiwi and persimmon to make some unique lambics.  The cork and caged 750mL bottles are sold via an online system and most of them don’t last more than an hour before they are sold out.  In fact, the demand has gotten so high and the servers have crashed numerous times, that they have decided to go with a lottery system for their next round of releases.

This year, Upland brought their Sour Reserve Blend (a blend of three lambics – think Gueuze) and Raspberry Lambic.  The Sour Reserve Blend was acidic and tart, with some earthy undertones.  We made our way through the bottle line multiple times until we had gone through and gotten our fill of Upland and Cascade.

On my last trip through the line, I went for Crooked Stave’s Persica.  Persica spent 9 months in barrels and was aged with Colorado peaches.  This cloudy, yellow beer was my personal choice for “Best of Show”.  Nice sweet and fruity nose, with an amazing sweet, peach taste.  It was so smooth and unlike anything I’ve had in a long time.  Not super funky or sour, but very tasty and drinkable.  As I drank it, my mind was racing to remember whether or not this bottle was going to be released into the CO market or not.  Sadly, it’s not.  Another selection for Cellar Reserve members only….

After trying Crooked Stave’s Persica and Blackberry Petite Sour, I’m pretty sure I’ll be signing up for the Cellar Reserve club next year.  Chad’s beers are ridiculously good and with his plans to move from Fort Collins to Denver in the near future, I can’t pass up the easier access to these small batch beers.  I’m sold!

Eventually, we made our way back through the Barrel Room, sampling along the way and finished our afternoon with the hordes of people in the Tap Room.  The Tap Room was hoppin’ with 4 unique and yummy AC Golden Beers, including two dark sours.  One made with Colorado sour cherries and another with Syrah grapes.

The Avery folks had tapped 10 beers for the event, including all three Eremita’s, past offerings from the Barrel Aged bottle series and a yummy little sour aged with Granny Smith apples, called Bad Apple.

A quick glance around the crowd at SourFest and you realize what a special event it really is.  Brewers, beer buyers, bar owners, reps, bloggers and beer lovers come from all over to enjoy this special day.  It’s a unique event loaded with some pretty special beers.  Hope you were able to get a ticket and enjoy this great event.  Feel free to comment with your favorites from the afternoon.

Cheers!