Tag Archives: Boulder

Striking Craft Beer Gold in Boulder (The Front Range Series)

Park lands and cycling trails, winter sports, an interesting mix of people, a college town vibe, the Flatirons, three hundred days of sunshine a year, and, of course, world-class craft beer. What’s not to like about Boulder, Colorado? Last time, I checked out a few breweries and brewpubs (such as Twisted Pine and the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery) within walking distance of one another. This set of impressionistic musings picks up where the last one left off, and explores some of Boulder’s breweries reachable by bicycle or car.

Avery Brewing Co.

Innovation is alive, well, and thriving in the shadow of the Rockies. Not far from the place where rivers of generic beer brewed with pure Rocky Mountain water and High Country Barley rise, veteran Front Range craft breweries like Avery continue to challenge our conception of beer.Avery - NewFacility (averybrewing-com) Avery first opened its doors way back in 1993, and demand for its stable of year-round offerings like Ellie’s Brown Ale, White Rascal Wit, and Out of Bounds Stout continues to grow –– so much so that Avery just celebrated its Grand Opening at its new 96,000 square-foot facility in the Gunbarrel district of northeastern Boulder.

But those solid year-rounds and more limited hefty offerings like The Reverend, Rumpkin, and The Beast aren’t the main reason to head straight to the source. No, a journey to Boulder gives you the chance to try beers that don’t make it beyond the taproom walls, beers like IPAs dry-hopped in accordance with the season, caffeinated variations on the stout theme, and one-and-done beers from the Avery Ermita barrel-aged sour series. As with any brewery that is constantly experimenting, what I tasted when I visited might not be what you get to taste.

The rich and full-bodied Fall Day IPA came infused with Colorado spruce tips, adding a beguiling fir needle aroma to the tangerine-grapefruit hop signature. A supple wall of clean but caramel-toasty malt supported a subtle coniferous character well integrated with citrus zest and mango.Avery - Samplers (averybrewing-com) A compelling IPA, to be sure. Out of Mind Stout blends in Ozo’s Organic Coffee Toddy for a café au lait-style stout that showcases roasted malts and various shades of chocolate and dried fruit (prune-fig). Baking spice (clove-cinnamon) mingles with a warming, Kahlua-like alcohol presence, and the beer finishes dry and bitter –– a tad to bitter, perhaps. I really enjoyed this stout, but found myself wanting just a bit more roundness and smoothness on the palate.

If you like American brown ales, chai, and autumnal spice mixes, the rich and russet-coloured Bhakti Chai Brown will be right up your alley. The initial aromas and flavours of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in this unique and satisfyingly off-dry beer yield gently to toasted malts and just a hint of citrus. For something heading in a completely different direction from Avery’s chai brown, try a glass from the Ermita series, which has now stretched over eight editions. When I visited, the Ermita I tasted was a blond Brettanomyces-fermented ale aged in neutral wine barrels and infused with key limes. Hazy orange-gold like liquid caramel, this whimsical yet complex sour layered a restrained tropical fruit Brett character and citric-sour aromas over a bed of fresh grain and light brown sugar scented with clove. Key lime bursts forth on the palate, a touch of oak fills out the waifish body, and a coconut-mango sweetness tames the citrus-sour character before the key lime reasserts itself in the pleasant bitter-lime finish. A playful drink with plenty of surprises.

Servers at Avery are extremely knowledgeable. Samplers served in elegant flutes go for between $1.50 and $6. And the new location offers a food menu –– a nice improvement over the previous location on Arapahoe. Cider-brined rabbit and waffles, anyone?

Asher Brewing Company

In a town with as progressive a flair as Boulder, you’d almost expect to find a handful all-organic breweries. Not so. In fact, Asher Brewing Company was the only one-hundred percent organic brewery in the entire state of Colorado when it opened in late 2009.Asher - FrontRangeCan II (Organic-Soul-Imaging) If environmental awareness forms the bedrock of Chris Asher’s brewery, Asher is just as concerned that you walk out of his taproom satisfied with the beers you’ve just drunk. Asher’s Kölsch-style beer, the Green Lantern, is clean and crisp, hitting the sweet spot of hoppiness for the style. Hopheads will enjoy the floral-citrus explosion of the weightier Greenade Double IPA. Asher also sees to it that a steady stream of seasonals run through the taps. Asher Brewing Company is tucked into a cul-de-sac in the Twin Lakes Tech Park located in the Gunbarrel area of northeast Boulder. Even if the area is off the beaten path, the views of the mountains at sunset more than compensate for the trip out. (See my “Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company” for a longer article on this environmentally-conscious brewery.)

Upslope Brewing Company

Like many breweries in the Front Range area, Upslope is located in an industrial park a short remove from the center of town. And like all these breweries located in seemingly out-of-the-way warehouse units, Upslope draws in the crowds. Upslope shares other elective affinities with its Front Range neighbours as well: a healthy concern for the environment.IMG_9307 Matt Cutter, Upslope’s co-founder, uses a compressed-natural-gas van for deliveries, and recaptures as much of the water he uses from the Arapahoe Glacier as he can. (Indeed, “snowmelt” is listed as the first ingredient on all of Upslope’s packaged products.) Upslope is also near a busy bike path, so you can park your car and get some exercise before you tuck into their beer.

After an afternoon wandering around in the mountains west of Boulder, Upslope’s crisp and deftly crafted beers made for a refreshing early evening taproom session. The full-bodied and floral-spicy Czech-style Craft Lager set the tone, and the pepper- and coriander-spiced Wit with citrusy wheat and crisp slate notes added a bit more zing to the lively conversation that was unfolding at the bar. The Original Pale Ale features the Patagonian hop, an Argentinian-grown Cascade that Upslope began using to weather the hop shortage of 2008. Toasty honeyed malt, marmalade, and tropical fruit (papaya) predominate in this effervescent beer, opening out onto traces of marzipan, fresh oats, and a mild citrus-grapefruit spiciness not unlike some white wines.Upslope Brown (upslopebrewing-com) Upslope also brews a slightly smoky and delightfully pecan- and hazelnut-accented Brown Ale that, as I noted in between snippets of conversation at the taproom, was “one of the nicer browns I’ve had.” A half year later, I picked Upslope’s Brown Ale second (behind none other than Sam Smith’s Nut Brown) in a blind tasting of brown ales for my “Brown Beers Get No Luvin’” six-pack.

Since I last visited Upslope, the brewery has opened a second taproom location in Flatiron Park to keep up with demand, and has begun packaging some of its limited edition beers (such as their Thai-Style White IPA, Christmas Ale, and Foreign-Style Stout).

Crystal Springs Brewing Company

Tom Horst and family had been brewing popular beers out of their garage for several years in Sunshine Canyon, a scenic drive into the mountains west of Boulder.Crystal Springs - Logo (large) It wasn’t until October of 2013, though, that this Boulder High School music teacher with a Ph.D. in percussion moved their nano-sized Crystal Springs operation into a new and larger-capacity facility on the other side of Boulder.

The name of Horst’s brewery pays tribute to an earlier, pre-Prohibition incarnation of Crystal Springs that was first opened by two German brothers on a site overlooking Boulder Creek. Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company did not survive Prohibition, but Horst is bent on assuring that the legacy lives on in his latter-day reiteration of the brewery, even if that legacy no longer involves cutting blocks of ice to keep the Bock cold.

Speaking of Bockbier, alas, Crystal Springs’ Wuerzburger wasn’t yet on tap when I stopped by just before their Grand Opening, but I did get a chance to sample a few of their other flagship beers.Crystal Springs - Bottle (historical) Solidly in the American brewing tradition, South Ridge Amber amber derives its fullness from crystal and Munich malts, and features a liberal sprinkling of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Zythos hops. The Summertime Ale started life as a seasonal offering, but quickly became popular enough to merit year-round production. It has all the delicate fruitiness of a German-style Kölsch, with pear and citrus notes combining with a peppery spiciness reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. (“Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer” incorporates some of Boulder’s brewing history and lore.)

Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery

Just seventeen miles into the hills out of Boulder along the winding Highway 119, roughly-hewn Nederland provides one of the more stunning backdrops in the region for a pint of beer. Nestled among a row of frontier-era facades, Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery greets you with the soothing wood smoke scent of barbeque and winter fires long before you’ve found the sign above the door. Purple and green walls and a cathedral ceiling suspended over a fireplace create a laid-back ski lodge vibe. The space is bathed in natural light during the day, with a garage door-style opening bidding you to spend some time on the terrace in warmer months contemplating the dense pine forests rising up the mountain on the other side of town.

When it comes time to sample the wares, the “brew-ski” is your best bet. The brew-ski is just as you’re probably imagining it –– a ski with beers on it–– and comes with four of whichever house brews are on tap at the time of your visit, along with a guest beer.IMG_9306 For tasting notes, check out my “Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque,” which includes a brief history of Nederland and its off-beat annual Frozen Dead Guy Days. Wild Mountain’s house brews are hit-and-miss, but the smoked and grilled wings are sublime. And you won’t be disappointed at all by the scenery.

Postscript: If you’re a homebrewer who has just moved to the area, or if you’re into all things fermentable (kvass, yogurt, kombucha, and the like), check out Boulder Fermentation Supply opened up recently by Adam Kandle. I first met Adam at Upslope when he stopped in on his way back from the hills with a backpack full of prickly pears for mead.

Related Tempest Articles

Boulder: Craft Beer at the Foot of the Mountain (Northern Front Range Series)

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Images

Avery new facility and sampler: Avery Brewing Company

Asher can with mountain: Courtesy of Asher Brewing Co. and Organic Soul Imaging

Upslope interior: F.D. Hofer

Upslope Brown: Upslope Brewing

Crystal Springs logo and bottle: Courtesy of Crystal Springs Brewing Company

Wild Mountain sign: F.D. Hofer

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

At the Foot of the Mountain: Boulder’s Brewpubs and Breweries

Boulder - FlatironsAutumn (WikiCommons)Long famous for mining and ranching, Boulder and its neighbouring Front Range towns have successfully tapped a more fluid natural resource in recent decades. Few could have predicted the seismic impact that Colorado craft beer would have on our contemporary drinking habits when Boulder Brewing Company threw open its doors in 1979. But even if Colorado has slipped out of the top three in the U.S. in terms of breweries per capita and absolute number of craft breweries, you could still make a convincing case that the Front Range region of Colorado remains the epicenter of North American craft beer. Nearly 50,000 craft beer enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver each October. And two of the most influential organizations that advocate on behalf of craft beer and craft breweries, the Brewers’ Association and the American Homebrewers’ Association, are headquartered in Boulder.

* * *

Morning had come and gone when I began to weave my way along the interstates and highways leading from Denver to Boulder. Eternal sunshine and strip malls for miles. And then, in an instant, all that is suburban melts into air. To one side, the plains open up to embrace the northeast and southeast as far as the eye can see. Before me, in the shadow of the sheltering Flatirons watching over Boulder like so many dragons’ teeth, the town spills languidly out into the flatlands. BoulderColorado (Photochrome Print ca 1900 - Public Domain)This vibrant college town renowned for its casual mix of yoga practitioners, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and outdoors enthusiasts is so close to Denver it could easily have been swallowed up like so many Austin exurbs. Why all this open space protecting Boulder from the encroachment of Denver? The story dates back to 1898 when a visionary city council took the lead in purchasing land that was slated for gold exploration. Shortly thereafter, and with the help of a public bond, the civic authorities purchased Flagstaff Mountain. These actions set in motion a series of land acquisitions that set the stage for a 1967 voter-approved sales tax geared specifically toward the purchase and maintenance of open space. Not only did the 1967 measure pass with 57% of the popular vote; in 1989, 76% of voters elected to increase the Open Space Tax nearly one-hundredfold.

* * *

I tie up my grey mule at the foot of the mountain and head back in the direction of town along the creek. A block or so beyond the bridge I come across the lively, pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, packed with funky cafés without a buck or a star in them, plenty of eateries and brewpubs, and a handful of used bookstores. Used bookstores, a dying breed!IMG_9288 I wiled away a few hours plucking this book and that off the stacks before I remembered why I came to Boulder.

And now for some beer …

Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery

When I stepped into the subdued psychedelia of the Mountain Sun, I felt, for a moment, as if I had stepped back in time into a café or eatery on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. This animated Boulder institution opened in 1993 and attracts a twenty-something standard-issue college crowd with a few hale mountaineering types and understated hipsters thrown in for good measure. 1960s Berkeley and a Westerner’s interpretation of Kathmandu collide in this cheerful space where New Age suns smile benevolently on South Asian wall hangings.Mtn Sun - Interior 1 (www-mountainsunpub-com) The food is cooked slow, and you can pay with cash, cheque, or karma envelope. And not a TV in sight.

I tucked into a healthy meal of vegetarian black bean chili and a spinach salad dressed with a garlic herb dressing and blue cheese while I sipped my way through samples of Mountain Sun’s beer. The FYIPA is a local favourite, and with good reason. Four kettle additions of four hop varieties plus one large dose of dry hops yields a refreshing, citrus-and-pine-inflected beer anchored by richly textured malt.

But it was the Colorado Kind Ale and the Annapurna Amber Ale that really won me over. The Colorado Kind is an amber-copper ESB that combines a floral-citrus Cascade hop presence and caramelized brown sugar malts into a toasty potpourri of ginger and autumn baking spices. Firm bitterness up front shades into an earthy spiciness and toffee-caramel richness cut through by bitter grapefruit near the finish. Slightly darker and reminiscent of chai tea in colour, the Annapurna Amber Ale shines the spotlight on malt aromatics of toasted caramel, milk chocolate, and plum.Mtn Sun - Exterior 1 (www-mountainsunpub-com) Creamy and velvety on the palate, maraschino cherry and amaretto mingle with bright cocoa in this rounded, full-flavoured beer that put me in the mind of a mild Scotch ale.

I visited Mountain Sun in autumn, but if you’re in town round about now and are a fan of stouts like I am, you’ll be happy to know that February is Stout Month. Twenty-three different house-brewed stouts and an additional twenty-three guest stouts make me want to brave the winter weather some day for a February journey back to Boulder.

West Flanders Brewing Company

Not far down the Pearl Street Mall is a much newer brewpub that serves up a completely different vibe: West Flanders Brewing Company. Iron beams support a corrugated metal awning that shelters outdoor imbibers and welcomes everyone else into a tastefully lit brasserie with cream-coloured walls and polished wooden floors.WestFlanders - Logo As the name would suggest, Belgian beer is given pride of place in the tap lineup, but aside from the well-executed Basil-Garlic Moules Frites with Malt Aïoli, I was left wishing for more dining options beyond the standard, if upscale, brewpub menu fare. As I was on my way to meet an acquaintance somewhere else and had just stopped in for a quick bite, I didn’t have time to sample more than a few beers. Of the ones I tasted, the Angry Monk, a Belgian-style Dubbel, had all of the caramel, brown sugar, plum-cherry, rum-raisin, spicy pepper, and honeyed fig aromatic notes you’d expect from a Dubbel, but with a slightly distracting banana twist. I preferred the Woodshed Porter, which bore the pleasant wood-smoked hallmark of Bamberg malts, freshly ground dark-roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and a mixture of dried fruit, leather, and licorice root across the palate and into the aftertaste.

Walnut Brewery

Every road trip coughs up a dud or two, and Walnut Brewery was the clear standout in this category. Not only does the space look like just about any other generic sports bar with a bit of wood slapped onto to the walls to warm up the flat-screen ambience; the frat kid bartender rendered detached service that bordered on surliness. Now, I’ve lived in countries where brusque service is more the norm than the exception, but Walnut’s ho-hum beers don’t compensate for the deficiencies in service and setting. Apparently this old stalwart has a few GABF medals under its belt, but it doesn’t seem to have kept up over the years. You can find much better beer and ambience a stone’s throw or short bike ride away.

Twisted Pine Brewing Co.

With an unwavering focus on experimentation and new beers tapped roughly once per week, Twisted Pine is the kind of place where you’re likely to encounter a beer that has, itself, met with some unlikely ingredient like wasabi.Twisted Pine - Taps (twistedpinebrewing-com) On the Sunday afternoon that I stopped by to catch up with an old friend now teaching at UC Boulder, we took advantage of the 5 X 5-oz pours for $10. Crisply acidic and light in body, the Razzy Raspberry Espresso Stout combined raspberry jam with dark coffee and a roasted accent reminiscent of jalapeno. Heftier was the Rhesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, with its harmonious blend of smoky dark chocolate and restrained nuttiness. You may or may not see all of these beers when you pay a visit to this wood-accented industrial-chic taproom tucked away in an industrial park east of downtown. But if you’re a fan of beers that amp up the heat, Billy’s Chilies beer is, by all accounts, a constant fixture in the ever-rotating lineup. Let’s just say that I didn’t actively dislike this beer. Of the set, the Kölsch-style beer was the only one that pushed the envelope of normality.

Endnote

Tempest’s series on Colorado’s Northern Front Range rumbles on. Next up: “Boulder Further Afield,” featuring, among others, Avery and Upslope. The compendium of articles I have been and will be rolling out is eons from exhaustive––who among us can conceivably take in the bounty of craft beer in the Denver, Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins areas over the course of a few trips? This is a happy conundrum indeed. Feel free to chime in with a comment about your own favourite brewery and taproom gems in the Front Range region.

Related Tempest Articles

Striking Gold: Boulder Breweries Further Afield (Northern Front Range Series)

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Further Reading

For more on how Boulder elected to tax itself, see the sections on Boulder in Nate Cavalieri, Adam Skolnick, and Rowan McKinnon, Lonely Planet: Colorado (Lonely Planet Publications, 2011).

Ed Sealover, Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado’s Breweries (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011), provides a comprehensive snapshot of the Colorado craft beer scene. New breweries have opened in the years since, but the book is still an invaluable resource for your explorations of all things Colorado beer.

The City of Boulder’s website includes information on history, cultural events, cycling and hiking trails, industries, and festivals. I hadn’t heard the term used before, but the City of Boulder refers to the area as the Napa Valley of craft brewing. That works.

Images

A crisp fall morning in Boulder, Colorado. 01 November 2010. Eddyl (Wiki Commons).

Photochrome Print of Boulder circa 1900 (Public Domain, Wiki Commons).

The Foot of the Mountain, F.D. Hofer.

Mountain Sun Pub, interior and exterior: www.moutainsunpub.com

West Flanders logo: http://wfbrews.com

Twisted Pine taps: http://twistedpinebrewing.com

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Asher - PintsEvery night is Green Drinks Night at Asher’s all-organic brewery and taproom in Boulder, Colorado.

Surprised? Probably not, though you should be. In a town with as progressive a reputation as Boulder has, you’d be forgiven for expecting to find a handful of all-organic breweries. After all, you can’t throw a hop cone without hitting an organic food store. Not so on the brewery front. In fact, Asher Brewing Company was the only one-hundred percent organic brewery in the entire state of Colorado when it opened in late 2009, and still is today. And not only that: Chris Asher’s penchant for organic ingredients extends to a healthy respect for the environment as well. The brewery and tasting room are one-hundred percent wind-powered. And those chairs you’re sitting on and the table on which you just set your Green Bullet Organic IPA? Repurposed.

The sun is starting to set behind the angular Flatirons as I step into the by-now bustling taproom to meet with Asher, head brewer and co-owner of the eponymously-named brewery. Like many in Boulder, Asher is a transplant, having studied in the Northeast before heading west to hone his brewing skills with Golden City BrewingAsher - FrontRangeCan II (Organic-Soul-Imaging) and the now-defunct Redfish in downtown Boulder. Asher is a soft-spoken and unassuming person, not the type to seek out the spotlight to promote his organic lineup of beers. But when the discussion turns to organic food, environmentally friendly brewing practices, and the organic beers he produces, Asher’s eyes light up. He argues that organic beer makes sense on three counts. First off, sustainable farming practices take less of a toll on the environment. Second, naturally occurring antioxidants that consume oxygen are inhibited by pesticides, Asher claims, and removing the pesticides means a longer shelf life for the beer. Finally and most importantly for Asher, drinkers of organic craft beer aren’t ingesting pesticides.

Even though Asher holds an M.B.A., organic beers are not just about market niches for him. Sure, Asher is more than content that some people make the journey to the taproom strictly because his beer is organic, and he’s rather bemused that some restaurants in town carry his beer for its organic cachet alone. But right from the top,Asher - Chris-FreshHopsTrio it was not some bottom-line notion of cashing in on organic food and beverages that motivated Asher and his business partner, but rather principle. If anything, the decision to go all-organic engenders a series of challenges due to the relatively restricted availability of organic malts and hops. Unlike many other brewers who envision a final product and then go shopping for ingredients, Asher has to build his recipes around what kinds of organic malts and hops he can source. As Asher notes, many breweries express interest in using organic ingredients, but usually balk at the prospect upon learning of the difficulties involved in acquiring organic certification.

If environmental awareness forms the bedrock of Asher’s brewery, Asher, like most any craft brewer, is just as concerned at the end of the day that you walk out of his taproom satisfied with the beers you’ve just drunk. Asher’s Kölsch-style beer, the Green Lantern, is clean and crisp, hitting the sweet spot of hoppiness for the style. Hopheads will will want to pull the pin on the weightier Greenade Double IPA and wait for the floral-citrus explosion. (Couldn’t resist that one … ). Asher sees to it that a steady stream of seasonals run through the taps. When I visited, he had an intriguing Brett- and lacto-spiked wheat beer aged over tart red cherries in red wine barrels. Despite this latter detail, the beer revealed an intriguing white wine character, pleasant acidity, and bright but subtle tart cherries. Right now the seasonal on tap is a ginger beer based on the Tree Hugger Amber, with a winter oatmeal stout planned for later in the year. Asher just brewed up a fresh-hopped pale ale with organic Cascade, Columbus, and Chinook hops from nearby Niwot Hops, so keep your eyes open for the tapping of those kegs in the very near future.Asher - 4PackBarrel

Asher Brewing Company is in the rather anodyne Gunbarrel area of northeast Boulder, tucked into a cul-de-sac in the Twin Lakes Tech Park. Prius driver or not, though, you won’t regret the drive (or bike-ride) out to Gunbarrel in search of something a little different.

*Hot off the press: Asher Brewing Company just started canning its Treehugger Amber. To celebrate, they are having a party this Saturday, October 11, starting at 2pm. Free food!

  • Address: 4699 Nautilus Court (Suite 104), Boulder, CO 80301
  • Taproom Hours: 2pm-12am, seven days a week
  • Tours are free. Call (303) 530-1381 to schedule a tour.

____________________

Other Tempest Articles on Colorado Breweries:

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

____________________

All images courtesy of Asher Brewing Company and Organic Soul Imaging.

© 2014 Franz D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Seven Steps to Surviving the Great American Beer Festival

It’s that time of the year again when the leaves start to turn and the National Hockey League season begins. It’s also the time of year when thousands of thirsty craft beer enthusiasts converge upon Denver for that annual pilgrimage known as the Great American Beer Festival.

GABF 2014 1

Equal parts serious beer connoisseurship, Bacchanalian revelry, and street carnival, the GABF may not be as large as Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it boasts a truly impressive cross-section of American breweries and an array of beers to match.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who scored a ticket to this year’s GABF. Or maybe you’re putting your trust in all that “beer karma” you’ve built up on Beer Advocate and are heading to Denver in the hopes that you don’t get hosed too badly on a last-minute Craigslist deal. (It has worked for me in the past.) Whatever the case may be, and whether you’re new to the beer fest circuit or a seasoned veteran, I’ve compiled a few tips to ensure that you don’t expel all your hard-earned Untappd badges into your tankard at the end of the night.GABF 2014 (Alaska-GABF FB)But first, some fun facts from 2013:

The annual GABF offers the avant-gardists of the craft beer world plenty of compelling styles and ingredients du jour. 2013 was all about key lime (usually in saisons and lagers) and cocoa nibs (often in conjunction with coffee). Speaking of coffee, the seemingly perennial chili teamed up with shots of java and sometimes chocolate in many a stout and porter, often to convincing effect. Central American hot chocolate, anyone? Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, Galaxy, and Mosaic hops featured prominently, especially in American-style pale ales and IPAs. Cucumber also made the occasional cameo (Cigar City, Trinity, Wicked Weed), lending those beers an intensely refreshing quality reminiscent of running through the sprinkler on a sun-baked day.

  • Attendance: approximately 49,000
  • Competing breweries: 747
  • Judges: 208
  • Beers judged: 4,863
  • Number of categories judged: 84
  • Number of IPAs entered: 252
  • Fewest beers in a category: Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest (29)

Now, that’s a lot of beer and plenty of stylistic variation to take in. How are you going to come out on the other end with any lasting impressions of your GABF experience?

Eat.

Eat a huge breakfast and then follow it up with an ample lunch. Avoid intensely-flavoured foods that will linger on the palate, but don’t be shy about indulging any latent desires for waffles, pancakes, or French toast. Food is available for sale inside the convention center, but perhaps you’re broke because you’ve just dropped upwards of $85 on a ticket, gave blood so you could pay for your over-priced accommodation, and spent your last pennies on those rare beers being tapped around town. What’s a hungry but penurious beer drinker to do? Once you get yourself past the deluge of people lining up to get their beer on, head straight for the cheese tables and stash away as much of it as you can for later. The pretzel necklaces work in a pinch, too.

Drink. (But of course!)

Every seasoned imbiber knows this––and then promptly forgets. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And then repeat. And then repeat again after every booth you visit. Wear a CamelBak if you have one. You’ll fit right in with all the other mad hatters wearing scuba gear, Viking helmets, Lederhosen, pretzel necklaces, and sundry beer paraphernalia. The downside of all this hydration? You’ll probably spend more time in those interminably long bathroom lineups than you’d like.GABF 2014 (Floorplan-GABF website) But hey, it’ll give you a chance to meet new people, or to mentally sort through the last fifty-odd beers you’ve sampled.

Cartography 101.

Dust off your map-reading skills, folks! Google Maps won’t help you pinpoint where your favourite brewery will be pouring its libations. You’ll receive a map of the (cavernous) venue along with your tasting glass and program when you get in the door. Before you start running around like a kid in a candy shop (it happens to the best of us), take a look around and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. The convention center is laid out regionally: Great Lakes; Mid-Atlantic; Midwest; Mountain; New England; Pacific; Pacific Northwest; Southeast; and Southwest. Circle your top picks, but give yourself some leeway to explore. You might find that you’d rather not stand in line for fifteen minutes for a sip of one of those “must-taste” brews.

The Serendipitous Find.

Alternately, put that map in your back pocket and just wander around. You’ll find an inordinately high number of quality brewers whose booths have no lineup whatsoever, especially from regions of the country less renowned for their craft beer scene. Advice: Head to the tiny Midwest section (Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma). After that, go south. And then head east. You’ll find some real gems.

The Notebook.

Did you really think you were going to remember all those beers? Bring a small notebook or, at the very least, a pen so that you can jot down notes in the program you received.Muji Notebooks 2 If you really must, enter all your beers into everybody’s favourite “record and forget” trophy app, Untappd. Regardless of your chosen method, keeping track of all those beers is going to be one of the toughest things you’ll do at GABF––especially if you’re with a group of friends. But stick with it. You’ll thank me for the tip when you get home and can remember what characterized even a few of the beers you liked.

The Time Out.

Sure, we came here to sample the beer, but it doesn’t hurt to check out what’s happening away from the main stage. Our arms may not get very tired from repetitively hoisting a four-ounce sample glass,GABF 2014 (TastingGlass-GABF FB) 2 but our palates will most certainly suffer a minor beating after drinking all those sours, Brett beers, IPAs, and Imperial Stouts in quick succession. Give yourself a break from all that hard work!

Want a quick primer in judging beer? The Cicerone program offers half-hour workshops that’ll help you put a finer point on what you’re tasting at the festival, or identify common flaws in beer. How about a quiet respite from the colourful mayhem surrounding you? Step into the comparative sanctuary of the “bookstore” and strike up a conversation with beer writers like Garret Oliver, Stan Hieronymus, or Jamil Zainasheff.

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One last tip thrown in for good measure: Stay in Boulder and take advantage of the reasonably-priced and very convenient public transit that runs between the two cities.

Most importantly, enjoy!––or, as the organizers of the GABF put it, “Savor the flavor responsibly.”

Related Tempest Articles

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Crystal Springs is in the Boulder area; Grimm Bros. is near Fort Collins. Stop in for a visit if you’re touring Colorado’s Front Range beer scene.

Sources

2013 Great American Beer Festival. Official Program.

2013 Great American Beer Festival. Winners List.

GABF Festival History/Facts and Figures

Images

GABF Site Plan 2014: www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com

Notebooks: www.muji.us

All other images from the GABF Facebook page.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Crystal Springs Brewing Company is a veteran newcomer on Colorado’s Front Range brewing scene. Veteran because Tom Horst and family have been brewing popular beers out of their garage for the past four years in Sunshine Canyon, a scenic drive into the mountains west of Boulder. Newcomer because the Horst family moved their operation into a new and larger-capacity facility on the other side of Boulder in the autumn of 2013.

Though both the garage brewery and the Louisville taproom are of recent vintage, the name of the brewery harks back to local nineteenth-century brewing lore.

Image Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Image Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

In 1875, two German brothers-in-law, Frank Weisenhorn and Charles Voegtle, purchased a site overlooking Boulder Creek near where the Boulder Public Library stands today. With fresh mountain spring water flowing past in abundance, the Boulder City Brewery (precursor to the historical Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company) began servicing the drinking needs of local residents. Reports from the time confirm that their lagers and bocks commanded respect. Upon sampling beer from the kegs the in-laws brought on promotional tours to the town newspapers, writers there averred that they could “speak from actual knowledge when we assert that it is the best ever presented to this market.”

When Samuel Pell bought the brewery around 1900, he changed the name to Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company. In case you’re wondering about the reference to ice, Weisenhorn and Voegtle were, of course, brewing in the days before the advent of electrical refrigeration. Crystal Springs - Bottle (historical)Massive blocks of ice were needed to keep the beer cold during fermentation and lagering in the concrete cellars built into their new brewery. By the time Pell purchased the brewery, the pair had constructed an onsite ice pond and ice house.

Alas, Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company did not survive Prohibition, but Tom Horst is bent on assuring that the legacy lives on in his reiteration of Crystal Springs, even if he doesn’t brew lagers and bocks or cut blocks of ice from a pond. In what was a nano brewery before the term took hold, Horst began brewing up beers in his “two-thirds-barrel brewery,” many of which live on as staples at the new brewery and taproom in Louisville, CO. The smaller scale suited him well initially, for it meant that he didn’t have to quit his day job as band director and music teacher at Boulder High School. But demand for his Doc’s Porter, Summertime Ale, Tic Wit, and Black Saddle Imperial Stout convinced Horst that it was time to share his brewing music with a larger audience.

When I arrived for my visit on an early October morning with the autumn foliage of the Front Range in full splendour against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain foothills, Horst was getting accustomed to the larger brewing system and putting the finishing touches on the tasting room. I sat down for a few samples after touring the newly-operational facilities and noticed the logo gracing the mats under the sampling glasses: a flying eagle grasping a numbered cask. The eagle is a direct historical reference to the former incarnation of Crystal Springs, but what of the ostensibly unlucky numeral emblazoned on the barrelhead of that cask clasped firmly in the eagle’s talons, I wondered? Crystal Springs - Logo (large)As it turns out, the number thirteen is a number that recurs with such reassuring regularity in the lives of the Horst family as to suggest its auspiciousness. Horst was born on the thirteenth, and so too was his son, granddaughter, and even a niece who shares his birthday. And there are subsequent details surrounding the number thirteen sure to inhabit the realm of apocrypha when next century’s craft beer enthusiasts and historians speak of Crystal Springs. During the design and layout stage of the taproom, Horst and company found that exactly thirteen of their chosen bar stools would fit around the bar. Even before that, Horst’s wife, Kristy, was curious about the commute between their Sunshine Canyon home and the new brewery and taproom in Louisville. Exactly thirteen miles.

Crystal Springs’ beers have names as colourful as the brewery’s ancient and recent history. Stage House 1899, a beer brewed exclusively for Boulder’s Kitchen Restaurant, pays tribute to the history of the building – an erstwhile tavern – in which the restaurant is housed. Marilyn is named after Horst’s mother. marilyn lablelRelates Horst: “It’s a golden strong, and so is she. The caricature of a girl in a bathing suit on the label is taken from a picture taken of her in 1942 when she was eighteen years old.” Solano is a beer reminiscent of summer. A solana is a terrace or garden oriented to take advantage of the sun, and the name evokes both the original brewery in Sunshine Canyon and the locally-sourced chilies from Weber, CO, that radiate heat in the beer. (Horst admits that the transliteration crept in at the time of their TTB label application. So now Solano it is.) Uncle Fat recalls Horst’s grandma’s portly brothers, at whose knees Horst had his first samples of homemade beer and dandelion wine. And Horst’s flagship, Doc’s Porter? The high school music teacher happens to hold a Ph.D. in Musical Arts from the University of Iowa, and his students have been calling him Doc for over thirty years.

Horst is also a self-styled maestro of beer and food pairings. As he puts it, Crystal Springs’ Kölsch-style Summertime Ale “gets along well with so many types of foods,” including mild cheeses, lasagna, light fish dishes, salads with citrus-based dressings, and sausages straight from the grill. Horst is also a fan of chocolate and beer pairings, and suggests trying the Southridge Amber with chocolate or as a counterpoint to salted caramel. Crystal Springs’ Black Saddle Imperial Stout also complements a panoply of rich chocolate desserts, but you could easily turn it into an adult float by adding ice cream. Speaking of icy after-dinner treats, Horst counsels whipping up a batch of Doc’s Porter Ice Cream. You can find the recipe here, along with other beer and food pairings.

The taproom at Crystal Springs has been open since mid-October 2013, and has been attracting craft beer drinkers with a creative mix of weekly sports screenings (this is Broncos territory, after all) and events that reflect Horst’s background in pedagogy. Crystal Springs periodically offers discounts to Horst’s former students, and Faculty Friday has drawn an ever-larger number of area teachers and University of Colorado faculty. If you’re a teacher or university faculty member travelling through the Rockies or in the area for a conference, be sure to stop by. Located at 675 S. Taylor Ave, Unit E, Louisville CO, 80027, the taproom serves up beers between Tuesday and Saturday, 4pm-9pm (closing at 8pm on Saturdays). Happy Hour happens from 4pm-6pm, Tuesday through Friday. AHA (American Homebrewers’ Association) members receive a ten-percent discount at all times, and educators with valid IDs receive Happy Hour prices all night on Faculty Fridays.

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Tasting Notes:

SR3Horst and company were in the midst of transitioning their production from the garage brewery to the new facility on the day of my visit, so I wasn’t able to try their full range of beers. Here’s a quick sampling of some the beers I did taste.

  • South Ridge Amber is one of Crystal Springs’ flagships and is available regionally in cans. Solidly in the American brewing tradition, this refreshing amber derives its fullness from crystal and Munich malts, and features a liberal sprinkling of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Zythos hops.
  • The Summertime Ale started life as a seasonal offering, but quickly became popular enough to merit year-round production. It has all the delicate fruitiness of a German-style Kölsch, with pear and citrus notes combining with a peppery spiciness reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.
  • Using Doc’s Porter as its base, the aromatic Rum Barrel-Aged Porter (limited edition seasonal) is one to drink on the warm side of cellar temperature. The profile is bold: roasted malt, espresso, and earthy dark chocolate balanced by a touch of acidity and infused with warming rum.

Attributions:

Creative History: A Guide for Researching Local History is more localized than the name of the website would indicate, focusing primarily on Boulder and its environs. As part of their “Closer Look” spotlight on local industries such as mining, railroads, agriculture, and flour milling, the site features an article on brewing that informed much of my section on the history of Crystal Springs.

Historical Crystal Springs Image Information: The Illustration drawn by Joseph Sturtevant dates from around 1905, and shows the approximate layout of the brewery and ice house. Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection, 207-1-25