Upslope Brewing Company from Boulder, Colorado was a new name to me as I perusing the refrigerated cases at the liquor store in Steamboat Springs. My knowledge of Front Range breweries runs toward the Denver metro and ends about there and as a non-resident I am not too unhappy with that performance.
Started in 2008, Upslope Brewing has a year-round lineup consisting of five beers and a rotating lineup of special releases. One of the year-round beers is Craft Lager:
It’s a light lager with middling alcohol (4.8% ABV) and almost no bittering (15 IBU). When it’s cold it goes down easy and that is about all that you remember.
Utilizing a mild hops like Saaz for such a small amount of bittering leaves little aroma or non-bitter flavors to be exhibited. A light lager seems like a perfect blank canvas to experiment with some subtle flavors that might get lost in a beer with a more malt heavy body. I have seen this style used to showcase rose hips, ginger, peppercorns…the list goes on for a while. Some of these experiments were successful and others were less so. Some were even non-qualified disasters.
This beer was inoffensive to the point of being boring. It’s really no different than a hundred other lagers out there. If what you want was the bare minimum in beer flavor just pick the cheapest option out of the cooler and call it a day. This lack of any character is actually something that experts think is afflicting the German beer market. Sales of beer and consumption have fallen a lot recently. Experts peg the reason being the wide proliferation of a few similar styles of beer. Basically, beer is boring in Germany and consumers want something with a little excitement.
I was hoping that after a good experience with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils that I would feel warm and fuzzy about lagers. It was just not to be:
As a note, Upslope Brewing Company has committed to donating 1% of the revenue from Craft Lager to Colorado Trout Unlimited through the 1% for Rivers Campaign. If you are into that sort of thing.
Posted in Beer
Tagged 1% for Rivers, 1% for Rivers Campaign, ABV, ale, Boulder, Colorado, Colorado Trout Unlimited, craft, Craft Lager, Denver, Front Range, hops, IBU, lager, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, micro, Oskar Blues, Saaz, Upslope Brewing Company
Dark beer can be a conundrum. To a lot of people dark beer means a heavy load of hops, alcohol, and malt body. In reality, a lot of dark beers actually tend to be light on the alcohol and hops—I am looking at the world of stouts that drink as easy as insipid American light lager. Truly, spend a day drinking Guinness or a craft doppelganger and you will understand quickly that dark does not necessarily mean big.
Oskar Blues Old Chub is not trying to hew to that convention:
It’s a big beer, but in all the wrong ways for this particular beer drinker. Old Chub was a serious let down after the awesomeness of Dale’s Pale Ale and the lager perception bending powers of Mama’s Little Yella Pils.
What happened? First, the beer is strong (8% ABV) and that alcohol does not seem to be balanced out or integrated with the rest of the beer. It tastes like the beer was fortified. This is not Night Train or Thunderbird, so don’t worry about ending up wrapped around a bottle of bum wine. Still, you can taste the booze with every drink.
Second, the cocoa and coffee flavors override any other flavors to the point that the beer tastes kind of like a poorly drawn mocha with an extra shot of espresso from the dregs of the Starbucks grind bin. Coffee is a hard mistress to tame when it comes to beer and few do it well—yes, Coffee Bender pulls the trick off amazingly.
Last, the beer’s aroma and flavor stick around the back of your mouth like a night in a dive bar. You wake up the next morning, cough out few wads of whatever that stuff is in the back of your throat, and taste the unfiltered cigarette that some hipster was smoking beside you. Yep, that’s what it was like with Old Chub. You can chase it with a pint of Dale’s Pale Ale and still find remnants in your throat.
It’s like a Sputnik…nope, it’s more like bong water:
Posted in Beer
Tagged ABV, ale, beechwood, bong water, cocoa, coffee, Colorado, craft, Dale’s Pale Ale, hops, IBU, lager, Longmont, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, micro, Old Chub, Oskar Blues, roasted malt, Scottish strong ale, smoke
In my zeal to drink the bounty of brews that I smuggled home from Colorado—many more opinions on beers from the Centennial State are forthcoming—I forgot the handful of bombers from Steel Toe Brewing that I picked up on my trip to Minnesota over the Fourth of July. Beer…hidden in the back of the refrigerator…have I committed a crime?
Steel Toe Brewing was founded in 2011 in St. Lois Park, Minnesota which is a “suburb” of Minneapolis. I do not know what qualifies as a suburb anymore since people in Prior Lake seem to believe that they are part of the Twin Cities metro area. I digress.
The brewery has a lineup that consists of four year round beers: Provider Ale, Rainmaker Double Red Ale, Dissent Dark Ale, and Size 7 IPA. There is a selection of seasonal beers, but I am too lazy to list them out on a Monday morning.
This weekend I grabbed a Size 7 IPA bomber and got to drinking:
Despite the diminutive nature of the name—heck, even I wear a shoe bigger than size 7—this is a big, brassy beer.
Do not pick up a bottle of Size 7 and think you are going to sip it while enjoying some light snacks. This is a beer that requires boldness in all that endeavor to complete a pint. Drink it with a side of bacon or a bowl of habaneros. Do not be subtle because Size 7 does not do subtle.
The brewers at Steel Toe do not want me to say that the beer is balanced. They even go so far as to say: If you ever call Size 7 balanced we’ll kick you where it hurts (in the hop sack). Fair enough, but with the golden correlation of ABV (7.0%) and IBU (77) coming in close to balance there is something to be said for that adjective. I just won’t come out and say it because I like my hop sack the way it is…unkicked.
If this beer has a downfall it is that it is too much. By the bottom of the second glass you are starting to look elsewhere for your liquid refreshment because you need a break:
Posted in Beer
Tagged ABV, ale, beer, craft, hops, IBU, IPA, lager, micro, Minnesota, pale ale, Size 7 IPA, St. Louis Park, Steel Toe Brewing
What is craft beer? This is a question that is vexing the industry as formerly small batch brewers grow and expand or big brewers make moves into the craft market via mergers, acquisitions, and brand extensions.
Take Blue Moon for example. To most people who occasionally drink beer it is a craft beer. It is not carrying the label of any of the big three—Miller, Coors, or Budweiser—and it is a style of beer that differs dramatically from your typical light American lager. However, for its entire life Blue Moon has been brewed under the aegis of Coors.
Colorado Native Lager is another product, like Blue Moon, that is brewed by a subsidiary under the aegis of Coors. This time it is brewed by the AC Golden Brewing Company—AC for Adolph Coors perhaps—which operates a brewhouse within the larger Coors complex in Golden—hence the Golden in the name.
The marketing gimmick is excellent. It is brewed only with ingredients from Colorado and it is available only in Colorado. Sort of creates the same mystique that Coors had in the 1970s when people would make road trips to the Centennial State in order to bring back a trunk load of the banquet beer. Can you imagine someone doing that now? We would think they were insane.
So, how does the beer stack up:
First off, I am less and less of a lager fan every day. Some people will claim that the lager style is simpler and that the lack of any overtones from the yeast allows the hops to shine through. I get none of that with lagers. The aroma that gets me is burnt or off in some similar way that I cannot place.
Second, this beer is sweet. Not cider sweet or Smirnoff Ice sweet, but sweet like a shandy without the lemon hit to balance the sweetness somewhat. There is no sugar in the ingredient list, but I would not be surprised if some honey from the San Luis Valley made its way into the fermentation vessel.
Third, for a beer that claims in its hop bill to have Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade there is very little discernible hop flavor or aroma. It is very muddled. Generally, Chinook is a very distinctive hop—especially when used for dry hopping—and the other two hops are distinctive craft brewing staples.
Last, it comes in those silly cans like Coors Light that have a slightly different geometry than any other twelve ounce can in the world. Why is this a pain? Try combining a twelve pack of disparate cans and discovering that some of the cans are just a little taller. God damn it.
Overall, the gimmick of being made in Colorado from Colorado ingredients and available only in Colorado can take the beer just a little bit beyond failure:
In the past I have been harsh to other “faux craft” beers because I think there is something much more to being craft than purely size. It’s an ethos that is separate from the mega breweries that gave us pale liquid sold more by girls in bikinis than the quality of the drinking experience.
Posted in Beer
Tagged AC Golden Brewing Company, ale, barley, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Colorado, Colorado Native Lager, Coors, craft, hops, lager, micro, Rocky Mountains
This is not some screed where I quote from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. For those of you who have not tortured yourself by actually attempting to read that magnum opus of conservative crap hole rhetoric, Colorado plays a major thematic role. Instead this is my thoughts about how Colorado seems to be moving toward a vision of what I think the United States will increasingly look like in the coming decades.
As I spent more than a week in the Centennial State I began to formulate some thoughts. Here goes:
In terms of politics, the state is polarized. Outside of Denver metroplex that stretches to the north to include the liberal paradise of Boulder, the state is relatively conservative. However, population trends and other demographic forces do not favor the continued strong influence of constituencies outside of the more progressive Denver metroplex. Sure, conservatives and libertarians will make a lot of noise—witness the recent tomfoolery about secession in the northern part of the state—but those voices will increasingly lack electoral heft save for the most gerrymandered of districts. Don’t believe me? Look at Representative Steve King of Iowa. He’s the Republican douche who prattled on about immigrants being drug mules and what not. Real class act. Earlier this month he held a “rally” in his district and this was the turnout:
Oh yeah. So, while hateful views and rhetoric like the sewage being spilled from Rep. King’s mouth may play well of Fox News—which has a demographic problem itself as it’s average viewer is easily old enough to receive full Social Security benefits—it is increasingly not something most people want to hear. Remember, Steve King is from a district in a state that gave then-candidate Barack Obama his push to the national stage with a stunning caucus win and twice voted for the man to become President. This is also a state that has allowed gay marriage since 2009 and has not imploded in some biblical event. This is what the future looks like for the right if increasingly exclusionary voices are the only ones to get heard.
The state’s left leaning politics, combined with a libertarian bent towards personal liberty, have already pushed forward one of the most progressive agenda items in the United States…the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults. Imagine that the U.S. police and prison industrial complex were no longer calling the shots in support of a broken system that enriches those exact entities at the expense of the greater nation. Imagine a cessation to the incessant drug war that has consumed U.S. society for the better part of forty years. I saw this future in Colorado where an adult can walk into a shop and buy weed as if it were no more prohibited than alcohol. Amazing.
Colorado’s prominence in the pantheon of craft beer is unquestionable and I am an unabashed fan of many of the breweries that call the state home. More so these breweries represent a more local and human scale future to the production of the foodstuffs that we consume. For anyone who does not believe that smaller scale producers can survive in a broader industrial context I would point you to the thriving craft beer industry in general and those breweries in Colorado in particular. Why do I believe that these examples of small scale success bode well for other endeavors into more localized and human scale production that is better for our bodies, souls, and planet? It is harder to think of an industry with more entrenched giants than beer—the formerly big three of Budweiser, Miller, and Coors—who over time erected a gauntlet of barriers to entry in an effort to create a moat around the market for beer in the United States. Guess what? The only segment of the beer industry that is growing is craft beer and it has a long way to go.
The state is also dealing with the nasty effects of climate change in real time. While the impacts of climate change might be theoretical for other states it is already rearing its ugly head in Colorado. Drive through any national forest in the state and you will see acre upon acre of dead timber that was killed by a beetle normally held in check by cold winters and healthy trees. The increasingly warmer winters and unreliable snow are forcing the vibrant ski tourism industry to evaluate a future where there might not be so many days where people are willing to shell out big bucks for lift tickets. If you think that this is just about the high Rockies you would be mistaken. In Colorado Springs the community has dealt with massive wildfires, exacerbated by unreliable rainfall, and the subsequent problems of flooding when rains finally soak denuded hillsides. Many communities along the Front Range were devastated last year when 1,000 year floods—whatever that means in a climate change reality—inundated communities at the base of the mountains.
There are other things that I saw when I was driving that made me think maybe, just maybe there is hope in our future if Colorado is the guide. It’s not a comprehensive network and it bypasses some communities, but the efforts to bring light rail across the Denver area are laudable. Soon, a light rail extension will finally link the airport—which is in bumblefuck relative to downtown—and the city of Denver. It’s still a place ruled by the car, but stand still long enough and you will likely be mowed down by someone riding a bike.
Get a chance to drive around and you will start to notice solar panels everywhere. If you start at the airport there are fields of them near the road leading to the parking structures. From there you will see solar panels on top of houses and on commercial buildings. Heck, right off I-25 in the heart of deep red El Paso County—where they renamed the freeway the Ronald Reagan Highway or some such shit—there is a big array. Solar gardens sell out in no time flat and you see installer trucks driving all over the place.
I am rambling a bit, but I wanted to get these thoughts out there soon after my return from Colorado. What do you think?
Posted in Politics
Tagged Ayn Rand, beer, bikes, climate change, Colorado, craft, Denver, drought, food, forests, future, gay marriage, industry, Iowa, legal, local, marijuana, micro, progressive, PV, ski, solar, Steve King, tourism
Recently, it was announced that Left Hand Brewing Company will be returning to Iowa after having left the state in 2011:
Check out the announcement here.
It is most excellent to see a great craft brewer expanding to the state and I am hopeful that Left Hand’s partner–Johnson Brothers Liquor Company–complete a successful roll out.
Now, if someone would just get the cajones to bring some more brewers into the state. You know…like maybe Oskar Blues or Great Divide or Bent Paddle or Surly or…
For every person a vacation is a time to do something deeply personal. For me it means that I can drink beers that are unavailable to me at home and bring back serious quantities of beer to share with my equally thirsty friends in eastern Iowa. Since I was not flying out to Colorado for this vacation it meant that the back end of the Subaru would be free to haul back many cans of the state’s finest craft brews.
If one beer defined my most recent trip it would be Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale:
Oskar Blues is a brewery known for making hoppy beers. Dale’s Pale Ale would probably be considered in the middle of the range and is the one variety from the brewery that you see on tap all over Steamboat Springs. Trust me; I drank my fair share of pints at various dinner spots.
Clocking in at 6.5% ABV and 65 IBU Dale’s Pale Ale is a very balanced beer. Notice the synergy between ABV and IBU? Yeah, I am beginning to think that is a thing. Even at those numbers a Dale’s was an easy beer to down and crack another while looking at the glory of summer mountains.
In my humble opinion, Dale’s Pale Ale represents the hallmarks of a Colorado craft beer. You can try beers from a dozen other craft breweries in the state and keep coming back to style notes that were hit with near perfection in a can of Dale’s. Even better is that the difference between the beer you get in a can and what comes out of a tap is not that different, which is saying something in a craft beer world where packaged products for off-site consumption often suffer compared to kegged beer.
It comes in cans which means that you can enjoy a Dale’s in many places a bottle, bomber, or growler just can’t go. Like to the hot tub after a day of hiking when your feet are barking because you only brought a pair of Chacos. Whoops.
Some beers just seem to taste like the place that you find yourself drinking them:
Posted in Beer
Tagged ABV, beer, Colorado, craft, Dale’s Pale Ale, hops, IBU, IPA, Longmont, micro, Oskar Blues, pale ale, Steamboat Springs