Sunday 28 October 2012

The 2012 CAMRGB London Xmas Twissup

While I was in Colorado last month I realised that I had almost reached the personal milestone of 50 blog posts and as my writing tends to be on the verbose side I viewed this as a large personal achievement. I was thinking about what I wanted to write about for this, my 50th post and what dawned on me was how blogging about beer has brought me closer to a fantastic bunch of individuals who are as loopy about beer as I am. I thought a lot about how I wanted to say this but then I thought, wouldn't it be great to try and organise some kind of meet up around the Christmas period so that I can tell them all to their various faces...

When I got back from America I contacted Simon, founder of the Campaign for Really Good Beer, of which I am a proud member, about organising a Christmas craft beer pub crawl of epic proportions. North London has been my home for seven years and it has become host to a burgeoning craft beer scene over the last couple of years, I simply couldn't think of a better place for this event to occur. Emails were exchanged, tweets were sent and with that the cogs of CRAFT began to grind steadily into motion.

So without further ado I would like to invite one and all to the 2012 CAMRGB London Xmas Twissup! You don't need to be a CAMRGB member to participate but considering that membership is free then I don't think it would hurt to join now, would it? The plan is as follows (apart from the initial meet all times are approximate): 

 *EDIT - Schedule has been updated as of 30/11/2012*

4PM: Meet at The Southampton Arms, Gospel Oak, NW5 1LE

6PM: Arrive at Brewdog Camden, Camden Town, NW1 0AG

9PM: Stumble into the Euston Tap, Euston Road, NW1 2EF

There will be cool stuff happening at each of these venues! Massive thanks to Simon as to be honest he has done ALL of the hard work here but we can (hopefully!) promise some extra cool stuff happening at each stop but hey, what's cooler than drinking excellent craft beer with friends in a great bar?

Bring a bottle and take part in a Secret Santa! If you are coming to the Euston Tap then please bring a wrapped bottle of beer for an EPIC game of pass the parcel!

We hope to see you there! If you would like any more information then please leave a comment or harass me on twitter; @totalcurtis. 

Friday 26 October 2012

Port Brewing Mongo Double IPA

Like many of you I’m a cat lover and I’m also a proud cat Dad to the six month old Cricket who is sitting on my lap purring away as I type this. It saddened me to read that this wonderful beer I’m about to review is brewed in tribute to a feline named Columbus, a brewery cat who spent his short life living in the brewhouse at Port Brewing Company and passed away aged just eight months old. Columbus was a larger than life character and during his short tenure as brew kitten earned the nickname ‘Mongo’ after which this incredible west coast double IPA takes its name.

Paws for thought
Port Brewing Company is located in San Marcos, California which lies just north of brewing Mecca, San Diego. The current brewhouse which opened in May 2006 was previously owned by the well known Stone Brewing and is also home to Port Brewing’s sister brewery, The Lost Abbey. Where The Lost Abbey concentrates on producing highly experimental Belgian influenced ales Port Brewing brews the kind of beers that put North American craft brewing on the map, highly hopped pale ales, huge imperial stouts and the beer to which I’m about to lend my two cents, Mongo Double IPA. I won’t go into the full history of Port Brewing right now, but if you’d like to find out a little more about this brewery then you can do so here.

In the UK Port Brewing is one of those producers of craft beer that is often spoken about with hushed reverence, although their beer is available over here it is rare and it is expensive, a good place to find it in the UK being any of the Brewdog bars. I picked up this particular bottle of beer from Wilburs Total Beverage during my recent visit to Fort Collins, Colorado and paid $7.99 (about a fiver) for this 22 fluid ounce bottle or bomber as most beer geeks affectionately refer to these larger bottles. Before I get into this beer and tell you about how much I enjoyed it I do have one complaint, this beer is bottle conditioned but it does not say so anywhere on the label. I don’t mind a bit of sediment in my drink but I would prefer a warning so I can avoid tipping huge lumps of yeast into my glass if I want to.

For this beer I select my favourite drinking receptacle, an Odell branded 12 ounce tulip. Mongo pours a delightful, slightly hazy pale gold with an amber hue where the light catches it, thanks to it’s bottle conditioning it’s very lively on the pour and produces a tight, voluminous five centimetre off white head which leaves some nice lacing around the glass as I sup away. On the nose there are great globs on mango, passion fruit, lychee and lemon sherbet with just a hint of digestive biscuit giving away the massive amount of malts used to support the equally massive amount of hops used in this beer.

The taste is initially and surprisingly quite sweet, not dissimilar to candied pieces of orange or lemon but then a tsunami of piney bitterness washes over your tongue in a fashion not dissimilar to the picture of a surfing young Columbus on the front of the bottle. The 8.5% ABV is practically undetectable thanks to the massive amount of flavour crammed into this beer which is only given away by the slight warmth in the long lasting, slightly grassy bitter finish. Mongo is an excellent beer and its slight sweetness is something I find quite typical in strong west coast American IPAs, it’s that sweetness which for me means the beer falls just short of two thumbs aloft but it’s a damn excellent drop that I’d happily gobble down again in a heartbeat.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Longmont or Bust

It’s the penultimate evening of my Colorado holiday and I’m sat with my Dad in his girlfriend Terri’s back garden as Terri is shoving a can of beer up a chickens backside and attempting to stand it up on a barbecue (for my American readers, I’m referring to what you call a ‘grill.’) It’s the first time I’ve ever had beer can chicken and it most definitely will not be the last, it’s surely one of the most ingenious ways to cook a bird. Dad and I had raided the back of the FRIDGE OF DREAMS for some of the special bottles he had stashed away for a special occasion and we started off with a bottle of Hoppy Girl from Boulders Twisted Pine Brewing.

Another enjoyable hop over the pond
Hoppy Girl is part of Twisted Pines limited release ‘Artisan Ales’ series and this particular 750ml bottle was released in July and is an India Pale Ale that has been infused with hibiscus and jasmine. There is no mention of the ABV on either the label or the brewery’s website but my tongue tells me that this beer probably hovers somewhere between the 7 to 8% mark. It’s all sickly sweet malts on the palate with a little bit of bitterness at the back which brings with it flavours of mandarin and grapefruit, there is a delicate floral edge to the flavour but I would have like to have tasted more of those interesting adjuncts rather than have them delicately tiptoe down my throat. It was a decent enough beer but what followed it was simply stunning, the Odell/Thornbridge collaboration, Pond Hopper. I don’t need to tell you about Pond Hopper because I’ve already reviewed it so you can read about it in great detail at your own leisure should you wish. I will say that after a couple of months in the bottle that those volatile hop oils had calmed down a little but not enough to stop this brew from being anything short of awesome.

As the sun set we cracked open a few bottles of the excellent Mountain Standard Double Black IPA from Odell that's been one of the staple beers of this holiday and then my Dad and I headed back to his as it was getting late. We decided to have a couple more beers before bedtime and so we popped the cork on a bottle of Brewdog AB:10 which I had brought with me to share with my Dad. It’s a couple of months since I tried my first bottle and even in this short time the big boozy flavours had mellowed and mingled creating a truly stunning beer, I can’t wait to open my last bottle later on next year to see how it has developed. My last drink on this lazy Sunday evening was a failed black and tan experiment, after the success of Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast with Odell IPA I tried a mixture of the same IPA (as we were still working our way through a keg of it) with a Breckenridge Imperial Cream Stout. It was a car crash of badly matched flavours but thankfully there was plenty of IPA left to cleanse the palate afterwards.

I awoke with a face resembling a Skegness postcard, the week of heavy drinking had certainly taken its toll but today was my last full day before I was to fly home and since I had already come this far why should I stop now? Dad had taken the day off work and we were making a short road trip to Longmont about forty minutes drive south of Fort Collins to visit a couple of well known breweries, Oskar Blues and Left Hand Brewing. Before we left Fort Collins we pulled in at its largest Liquor Store, the simply epic Wilburs Total Beverage (POINTLESS BLOG FACT: This is where the idea for the name of my blog came from) to pick out some choice bottles to pack into my suitcase. I picked up some real gems including Avery Hog Heaven Barley Wine, Port Brewing Mongo IPA and some Hoppin’ Frog D.O.R.I.S the Destroyer Imperial Stout, reviews of each of these will occur at some point in the near future.

We pulled up outside the ‘World Headquarters’ of Left Hand Brewing shortly after lunch time which lies in an industrial estate on the borders of Longmont. After the relatively large tap rooms at Odell and New Belgium the modest sized bar at Left Hand seems almost quaint in comparison. After obvious beers such as Sam Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Left Hand Milk Stout is one of the first imported US craft beers I spotted behind a bar in London. I remember trying it for the very first time around 3 years ago at the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes and back then I would have never imagined I would be visiting the brewery itself in a few years time. I’m not a big milk stout fan, as a rule it’s a bit too sweet for my tastes but Left Hand milk stout is a great beer and it’s understandable why Left Hand choose to market it as ‘Americas Stout.’ We tried it served under both carbon dioxide and nitrogen and I found myself preferring the smooth creamy nitro version as it seemed to better suit this particular beer.

Right outside Left Hand Brewing
We had plenty more than just this famous milk stout to work our way through though as we had ordered a tasting tray of four beers each. After the rich stout the refreshing citrus qualities of Stranger Pale Ale were very welcome, it was a super drop that I would have happily quaffed all day long. The Warrior IPA was interesting because for an American IPA it had a very British quality with a sharp bitterness and an almost earthy aftertaste. The next beer on my tray was one I’ve tried from a bottle before and really enjoyed and so was excited to taste it on draft, Black Jack Porter. Left Hand have a real mastery of dark beer styles and this lovely, rich and bitter porter is an absolute treat with lovely notes of black treacle, licorice and freshly ground coffee all whizzing around together, highly recommended.

The final beer on my tray was the enormous Left for Dead imperial stout which made no bones about it’s high alcohol content. This imperial stout had a huge toasted, peaty quality with an aftertaste that made me recall some of the smoked meats I’d eaten on this trip and had a huge, warm and boozy finish. One thing that really caught my eye in the Left Hand tap room was the quality and effort that had gone into the design of their labels, with eye catching designs like these it’s no wonder their beer flies off the shelf. A real surprise highlight from my Dad’s tray was a 2.8% English Dark Mild, I don’t think I’ve ever found a beer with a strength this low in the States before and it was a remarkably accurate reproduction of the style, complete with those earthy, blackberry and biscuit flavours I’d associate with a traditional British Mild.

After we had finished our trays we headed towards the Tasty Weasel, the affectionate moniker given to the tasting room at Oskar Blues. On a previous trip to Colorado I did visit the Oskar Blues restaurant down the road from the tap room ‘Home Made Liquids & Solids’ but didn’t get a chance to visit the brewery itself and as OB make one of my all time favourite beers in the form of Dales Pale Ale I was beside myself with excitement as we arrived at the Weasel but it wasn’t quite what I expected… The brewery is a huge tin warehouse with an array of huge trucks parked outside ready to ship freshly canned produce across the United States. The bar is situated right next to the canning line with an open view of the entire brewery as it goes about its business, the great thing about a brewery tap room is that you get to enjoy a beer inside the brewery it comes from but at the Weasel you are actually sitting IN the brewery with the huge fermentation vats sat right behind the bar and you have to literally shout your order over the rattle and hum of the canning machine.

The great thing about the Tasty Weasel is that it’s in your face and hides nothing, much like the Oskar Blues Beers, I would recommend it as one of the must visit places for a beer in Colorado, it’s a real eye opener and very different to every other tap room I’ve visited. Despite having tried most of their core beers before I opted for the standard tasting flight just so I could say I’ve had these beers brewery fresh. Starting with the excellent Mama’s Little Yella Pils we worked our way through the increasingly hoppy and resinous brews, Dales Pale Ale was tasting excellent as always, Deviant Dales IPA and G’Knight Imperial Red were a real delight and the Ten Fidy Imperial Stout was beautiful. Where the Wake up Dead was zingy and boozy the Ten Fidy was mellow, smooth and packed full of delicious rich roasted malts, it glided down my gullet with ease despite it’s high strength. I still can’t get on with Old Chub Scotch Ale, I had tried this recently at the Great British Beer Festival and although my friends liked it I found it to be too sugary, another beer that fell short for me was the Gubna Imperial IPA. I think it’s possible to take it too far when hopping a beer and for me this Double IPA was an example of this, on the nose was a strong waft of body odour and drinking it was literally like chewing on raw hops. Speaking from experience I can honestly say that chewing on raw hops is not a pleasant experience and Gubna was cloying, bitter and not at all pleasant, thankfully I saved some of the awesome Ten Fidy to wash away the dank resins that had imprinted themselves on my palate.

The Oskar Blues Tap room is a must visit when in Colorado
We then headed back to Fort Collins for my final evening of this trip which you may already know was spent enjoying Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA at the Mayor of Old Town. After the Dogfish was done I brought myself back to reality with a pint of Bear Republic Racer 5 which has become another of my favourite beers, I followed this up with a pint of Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale which to my surprise made me recall drinking Fullers ESB although a more Americanised version of it. I think it was at this point that my body decided that it had imbibed enough beer for a while and I was feeling decidedly pale, however we had somehow ended up talking about Belgian Quadruple ales and noticed that the Mayor had a good selection of American and European Quads available. Naturally the thing to do when your body is asking you politely to stop drinking is to push it to the ground, stamp on it’s face and tell it to man up and get on with it, so I did.

Soon we had four glasses of beer lined up; In the Belgian corner we had St. Bernardus Abt 12, from the USA we had The Reverend from Avery Brewing, the Dutch were out in full force in the form of La Trappe Quadrupel and the Canadians brought with them their offering of Maudite from Unibroue. To be honest, I was already done in and these four delicious heavyweights completely finished me off but what a way to finish the week off. It was the local boy that finished in fourth place with the Avery offering feeling a lot thinner in the mouth than the others and just didn’t quite stand up to the competition, the offerings from Unibroue and La Trappe we excellent, rich and fruity and although they were very different tasting beers I found it tough to choose between the two. My Dad and I were both unanimous in choosing the Abt 12 as our favourite as it was quite simply stunning although I still don’t think it has the stones to match Rochefort 10 which is still my favourite beer in this style.

So that was it, Fort Collins had been conquered for the fifth time and I was left in tatters. I spent the time before I headed to the airport moving very slowly, sometimes trying not to move at all and despite there still being a stunning amount of beer in the FRIDGE OF DREAMS I sensibly stuck to a steady drip of coffee. Despite this I still managed to secret some of the beer out of the fridge and into my suitcase, a pro packing tip is that shoes are excellent for the transport of 12 ounce cans. As I approached the now familiar structure of Denver International Airport, I thought about all of the amazing beer I had consumed in just seven days, then I felt a little bit sick. Until the next time, Colorado.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

I’ve gushed before about how much I love the Mayor of Old Town and when I tweeted that I had arrived in Fort Collins it was very nice to receive a tweet back from the owner Kevin inviting me in for a beer, an offer I couldn’t refuse. To those who aren’t terribly into their beer I can imagine that the Mayor could potentially be a somewhat daunting place with one hundred immaculately lined up beers on tap how would you know where to start? Well there's no pretentiousness or snobbery to be found here with micro brews sitting comfortably alongside the likes the Budweiser and Coors Light and if you’re feeling more adventurous then the bartenders are well educated, will make informed recommendations and offer you a free taster before you place your order.

The illusive 120 Minute IPA
Two days before I was due to fly to Colorado the Mayor tweeted that they would be tapping a single keg of the
über rare and highly regarded Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA, a 15% ABV hop and malt monster. This elusive beer is only brewed a few times a year, and the ABV can often rise up to almost 20% depending on the batch, as the name suggests the wort is continuously hopped whilst being boiled for two hours before being dry hopped in the fermenter every day for a month and then aged for a further month on whole leaf hops, epic. I texted my Dad about this tapping immediately, he’s a huge fan of the 90 minute IPA and I know he’d been seeking a taste of the 120 pretty much since he moved to Colorado over two years ago. At 6am whilst sat in the Heathrow airport departure lounge I received a drunken phone call from my Dad, it sounded like he might have emptied the entire keg by himself and predictably the keg did not last the night so I assumed that I would not be trying this beer on this particular trip, oh well, there's plenty of great beer in Fort Collins I thought.

I was more than halfway through my whistle stop week in Fort Collins and Dad and I still hadn’t hit the Mayor for a few beers, we finally made it in on Sunday lunchtime and found ourselves a seat at the bar as we usually do. To my delight I immediately spotted Russian River Blind Pig IPA, a beer I’d been dying to taste for a while, suddenly not getting hold of any Dogfish 120 didn’t seem so bad. I enjoyed the Russian River IPA, it was tart and bitter with a dry citrus finish but it was a little underwhelming, I guess this is the danger of hype but it was at least very drinkable. My Dad, who had stated that he fancied a light lunchtime beer plumped for a Mad River Steelhead Double IPA which was the antithesis of a light lunchtime beer. It was rich, bitter, loaded with citrus and tropical fruits and had that signature chewy malt character that typifies the style, I enjoyed having a few sips of this beer before my Dad opted to add a little water. Amazingly adding the water brought all of the fruit and bitterness from the hops to the forefront of the palate, just like adding a few drops of water to a great scotch the beer came to life, this is definitely something I plan to experiment with again in the future.

As we finished our pizzas and decided on our next beer Kevin very kindly invited us on a tour of the cellar, Dad opted for a sublime Hop 15 from Port Brewing which was one of the best beers I tasted on the entire trip, in fact I’m kicking myself for not bringing a bottle of it back with me. I opted for a Great Divide Belgian Style Yeti, a version of one of my all time favourite imperial stouts fermented with Belgian yeast. It was certainly the most funky of all the Yetis I’ve tried but I actually found that the flavours from the yeast subdued the delicious chocolate and coffee rich malts and the bitter finishing hops and despite it being a great beer was probably my least favourite of all the Yetis so far. We followed Kevin down a set of stairs at the back of the bar as he told us a little about it’s history and gestured towards a long purpose built cold room where all of the kegs were safely stored. Before we ventured inside I was expecting a tangled, chaotic mass of pipework carrying the multitude of beers to their respective taps but what I saw before me was one of the most high tech, intricate beer serving and storage systems I had ever seen.

The kegs were lined up as neatly as soldiers with light beers at the furthest end of the room gradually getting darker in colour as it reached the porters and stouts at the end which we were standing. Each keg line was electronically tagged so they can see how many pints are being served from each keg and when it will need replacing. The Mayor has an impressive policy on it’s beer, when a keg is thirty days old it is taken off regardless of how much is left and the lines are cleaned every time a fresh keg is tapped, regardless of whether or not the same beer is going straight back on afterwards. When a new keg is tapped the giant projectors behind the bar automatically update with the beer that’s just become available and a tweet is sent updating followers in real time. It’s an incredibly efficient and clever system that was developed by Kevin himself, if this is the future of specialist beer bars then the futures a very bright one indeed!

The Mayors immaculately arranged guts
Near the end of the tour I mention to Kevin about how I was pretty gutted to have missed the tapping of the Dogfish Head 120 by a mere forty eight hours. As Dad and I sit back at the bar to finish our drinks Kevin disappears into the back and returns to present me with a bottle of beer with the only condition being that I have to drink it on the premises. It was of course a bottle of that elusive elixir, 120 minute IPA, predictably I struggled to contain my excitement and wanted to open it there and then but Dad and I sensibly decided to come back the following evening, which would be my last of this trip and toast the end of my holiday with this rare bottle.

So the very next evening we returned to the Mayor of Old Town and wasting no time opened the bottle straight away. We shared half of the bottle each and poured it into large brandy snifter style glassware. The hazy, auburn liquid lolled lazily around the glass, the consistency was viscous and the boozy aromas could be easily inhaled from more than a foot away. Despite the high alcohol content the beer still managed to produce a halo of foam which lingered for the entire length of time it took me to enjoy this beer. After giving it a good swill I stuck my nose in long enough for those high alcohol aromas to separate and evolve, sherry was my immediate thought but after another sniff I decided that it was more like a rich white wine mixed with stewed prunes and dates. The vinous aroma translated beautifully onto the palate but upon tasting my first thought was that I found it very difficult to describe this liquid as a beer.

It was more wine than beer with those sherry and white wine notes dominating but at the finish the hops kick in providing a huge tangerine tartness rather than a bitterness. The tart fruit flavours from the hops seemed to linger for an age after swallowing and a nice warm trail of alcohol lined my throat making it incredibly satisfying to drink. As a beer drinker, I immediately decided that the 90 minute IPA was more to my preference as in the 120 minute the huge malts and alcohol levels almost over saturate the natural bitterness of the hops but there was no doubting that this was a stunningly crafted beverage, however you choose to define it.

It was an honour and a privilege to try this beer especially as it was done in great company and in one of my favourite bars. Kevin, I’d like to thank you once again for the incredible hospitality shown by yourself and your team, the tour and most importantly the chance for this beer geek to try an incredible beer and boast about it on his blog, I’ll be back in the Mayor real soon!

Monday 8 October 2012

Further Beer & Loathing in Fort Collins

My head is splitting and my tongue has swollen up in such a fashion that I sound a little like a more northern Jamie Oliver when I try to speak, it’s ultimately a futile activity so I just try to remain still until the worst of the nausea passes. Yesterday I went quite hard at it and today a quiet one is not an option as yesterday we bought a keg of Odell IPA for the party my Dad’s girlfriend Terri would be hosting this evening, oh dear.

It's important to start the day right
I’m only in the wonderful Fort Collins, Colorado for a week and I want to try and fit as much beer related activity in as possible whilst here. I’ve decided that my body can deal with the consequences once I’ve touched down in Heathrow and that the best plan of action is to just go with it. Good job too as my Dad has some friends from out of town visiting who want to meet for a beer in the Odell tap room at Lunchtime. Before we head to Odell’s we first call in at one of Fort Collins’ ‘hidden gems’ as I like to call them, small breweries that make great beer and only supply the local area. Pateros Creek Brewing go against the grain of North American brewing in that they specialise in ‘session beers’ however the American definition of ‘session strength’ differs slightly to our own. You won’t find any 3.0% dark milds here but you will find an incredibly drinkable array of beverages that hover around the 4.5-5.5% ABV mark.

I was hankering for some of the signature Pateros Creek brew, Cache la Porter which takes it’s name from the local Cache la Poudre river which was formerly known as Pateros Creek until back in frontier times some French dudes forgot where they buried their gunpowder, hence ‘Hide the Powder.’ Sadly the Cache la Porter was out so I opted for a pint of their Stimulator Rye Pale Ale. At this point it could’ve gone either way but it must’ve been the healing powers of the Rocky Mountain spring water used in the brew because that slightly sweet caramel malt and some lemony, peachy hops revived me and I once again felt ready for action and so we headed off to Odell’s.

Luckily, Odell make a couple of session beers of their own and considering I had a keg of IPA to work my way through later I opted for Levity, a light pale ale that is one of the few Odell beers that doesn’t filter through to the UK market. It’s a pleasant enough beer but it tastes pretty tame to my palate, I was more concerned with pacing myself than pleasing my taste buds at this moment. After we had finished our pints we headed to one of my favourite places to eat in Old Town, Choice City Butcher and Deli. As well as making some of the best burgers and sandwiches I have ever tasted Choice City offers a stunning array of hard to find beers as well as pilot brews from the local breweries that no one else stocks.

I admit I had planned to take it easy but I fancied something dark and rich so when I spied that they had a keg of aged Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper which had been stashed in the cellar for over a year the beer geek both inside and outside of me could not resist. Weighing in at 10.5% ABV Santa’s Little Helper, which as the name suggests is a limited batch beer released only in winter was perhaps not the wisest of choices for a lunchtime beverage but I thought what the hell, I’m on holiday. Served in a 12oz wine glass I could already smell the chocolate, coffee and heavy licorice aromas leaping out the glass like so many presents spilt from Santa’s laden sack. Those aromas, laced heavily with booze translated beautifully on to the palate with notes of stewed fruits and brandy coming into the fold, the beer laced my mouth and slipped down like a rich port that would normally follow a hearty Christmas dinner but on this occasion it mingled with the rich flavours of my Buffalo meat Rueben.

In the early afternoon I did manage to have a little lie down and the party in the evening was thankfully a relatively civilised affair and despite the large amount of Odell IPA imbibed there was still plenty left the morning after. My Dad, who holds Odell IPA above all other beers, developed a strong relationship with the keg, treating it with the care and affection you would treat a small child. The next morning I awoke to find him attempting to fit it into his fridge which after some struggling he proved successful.

Today there was a music and beer festival in Fort Collins simply called Fortoberfest so Dad and I planned to have a bit of a Father and Son session on the ale. After a regular breakfast we decided to tuck into a breakfast beer, before I arrived in Colorado I had tasked my Dad with sourcing some Founders Breakfast Stout which had been highly recommended to me. Sadly he was unable to locate any but the assistant in the store had sold him a suitable alternative, Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast.

Tasters at Equinox Brewing, Fort Collins, CO
I feel a little strange drinking beers from Europe when I’m in the United States, I feel that I should be using my time there to sample as much American craft beer as possible and despite the local bars often having some super rare European brews on tap I try to stick to the brews from the left hand side of the Atlantic. I’ve drank this beer and a few of its variants before as I’m sure many of you reading this have, it’s a benchmark beverage loaded with enough coffee to give even those with the strongest resolve the jitters. Even my Dad who is not a big stout drinker appreciated Beer Geek Breakfast but about halfway through the bottle he decided to pour some of it into his glass of Odell IPA to create a breakfast black and tan. The zingy mango and grapefruit character of the IPA mingled perfectly with the rich coffee and chocolate notes of the stout, it was a beautiful combination so I used the remaining half of the bottle to make a black and tan of my own, what a way to start the day.

We cycled into town and chained our bikes near to the main stage, the two roads just behind old town square had been closed off and a stage set up at the end of each one. The event was being sponsored by Budweiser, Samuel Adams and the only local brewery sponsoring the event was Odell. The bars were selling Bud Light, Shock Top (Budweiser’s version of Blue Moon only available in the States) Samuel Adams Octoberfest and Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale. For the most part of the day we stuck to 5 Barrel, a very pleasant and reliable beer indeed but I started out by trying a pint of the Sam Adams seasonal brew. For me, Märzen is not a style of beer I’m that keen on and I don’t drink it very often and this brew from Americas largest craft brewery reminded me why, it was a malt bomb, far too sweet with near zero bitterness to tame the chewy biscuit and caramel flavours.

Away from the two stages and street food stands was another beer tent that wasn’t selling the same four brews as the others. Instead it was selling beer brewed by eight of the towns prestigious craft breweries each in collaboration with a different local home brewer and they were all to be entered into the forthcoming Great American Beer Festival. The eight beers ranged from being superb to almost downright undrinkable but it’s impossible and arguably unnecessary to name and shame as I took no notes but thought it to be a really cool concept. If my memory serves me correctly a strong Belgian style golden ale not dissimilar to Duvel which was brewed in collaboration with New Belgium was our unanimous favourite.

After watching some bands and chomping down on some steak tacos we decided to wander away from the festival and into town, I had a pint of Fat Tire to remind me what it tasted like (not much sadly) in Lucky Joes Sidewalk Saloon. We then headed to the tap room at Equinox Brewing, another local hidden gem that brews some stunning examples of European style beers. We worked our way through the tray which held samples of Hefeweizens, pale ales and the like but it was when we got to the last two beers on the tray that our socks were well and truly blown off. Pangaea was an immensely resinous double IPA that was loaded with stacks of pine, grapefruit and lychee backed up with a chewy, toffee like malt profile. This was then bettered by a deep, rich Belgian style quad which was loaded with boozy fig and date flavours, my Dad liked it so much that after his first sip he was almost reluctant to share. Sadly the name of this beer eludes me because my Dad and I were both pretty loaded by this point but still we decided to lurch on to another bar.

The Town Pump is Fort Collins’ oldest and smallest bar, they have a sign outside that proudly states they poured the first ever pint of New Belgium Fat Tire and they are famous for their toxic cherries and oranges which they soak in Everclear, a 90% ABV grain spirit. The pump comfortably fits about twenty people but on a busy evening it often uncomfortably fits 30 (people who’ve been to the Euston Tap on a Friday night will know how this feels) but today it’s relatively empty so my Dad and I take a seat at the bar. He orders himself another five barrel but I spot one of New Belgium’s limited release ‘lips of faith’ beers on tap so opt for that instead. I later find out that Peach Porch Lounger, a sour beer which has peaches, lemon peel and molasses added to the brew, has an ABV of 9.4% so any glimmer there was of me remaining sensible and grounded just floated off up over the front range. It was a delicious beer, all those fruity, sweet flavours being rounded off by an immensely tart, dry finish. New Belgium are masters of the sour beer which is probably why they’ve recently expanded their barrel ageing facilities so that they can produce even more of this wonderful stuff.

We must stop here, this is beer country!
After a slow, relaxing drink in the Town Pump we headed out to the Rio Grande, a fantastic Mexican restaurant that serves margaritas so potent they will only serve three per person. After some fantastic tequila shrimp tacos and one of the best damn margs I’ve ever consumed we headed back towards the festival to catch some of the headlining acts and got back on the Odell five barrel although at this point we probably didn’t need to.

Around the time we decided to leave we were laughing at these two drunk British guys that had lost their bikes and decided to report them stolen to the organisers of the festival. It was hilarious watching them complain for almost half an hour only for them to walk down the street and find their bikes chained up exactly where they had left them. Oh, those poor guys… which were of course my Dad and I. After finding our ‘stolen’ bicycles we sensibly decided to get a cab home, after all when you’ve got a keg of IPA in the fridge there was little point spending too much time drunkenly roaming around, spilling pints of five barrel and telling people how awesome Britain is, right? To be honest when we got home, we were predictably done for but what a day it had been, once again I had been outdone by my Dads immense drinking muscle but I felt as if I held my own pretty well but there was still more beer and loathing (not actually that much loathing) to come…

Wednesday 3 October 2012

More Beer & Loathing in Fort Collins

I awoke on the morning of my second full day in Fort Collins (you can read about the first day here) with all of the symptoms that remind you that you’ve been drinking heavily at an elevation of 5000 feet; mountainous headache, dry mouth and swollen sinuses. I’m pretty used to it by now but one word of warning is that when in Colorado drink lots of water as that high altitude hangover can really knock you for six. I’m not normally one for spoilers but my hangover the day after this one is going to be MUCH WORSE.

My Stuft creation
It was 5am and I was up at the crack of dawn to go hot air ballooning which I can tell you was a pretty incredible experience even for a coward such as myself who prefers to be on solid ground. There was no beer involved though so I won’t go into too much detail but in summary I initially feared for my life but in the end enjoyed the whole thing immensely. I was with my Dads friends Laura, Helen and Alex who were staying with my Dad and were at the end of a fantastic three week long trip, the balloon ride being a surprise birthday present for Laura.

After ballooning we headed into Old Town for some lunch and settled in at the excellent Stuft Burger bar which encourages you to build your own burger by providing a checklist instead of a menu and you literally tick what you want in between your buns. I took this opportunity to order myself a pint of Red Hoptober, the new autumn seasonal from Colorado’s largest craft brewer New Belgium. Long time readers will remember that the last time I visited Fort Collins I really loved the Dig Spring Seasonal and Shift lager but sadly my love affair didn’t continue with Red Hoptober. This beer has replaced the previous autumn seasonal simply known as Hoptober which was a superb extra pale ale bursting with bitter, resinous hops however in Red Hoptober the hops have been dialed down and the malts have been maxed out making it entirely too sweet for my palate. New Belgium make some pretty stunning beers (and later in the week they knock my socks off with a limited release sour ale, more spoilers) but sadly this isn’t one of them despite it being pleasant enough. Dear New Belgium, if you do happen upon this blog please bring back regular Hoptober, it rocks, don’t let me down.

It was then while wandering around Old Town that I quite randomly bumped into my Dad who was out doing some shopping of his own. Fate had conspired us to meet so we did the only sensible thing and went for a pint at the Odell Tap Room, well you would wouldn’t you. I had more IPA and took home a snarler (that’s half a growler) of Wild Raven which is a barrel aged double black IPA fermented with wild yeast, yowser. We cracked open the snarler when we got back home and a dark tan liquid slid into our glasses and formed a loosely packed mocha hued head of foam. This beer was almost impossible to define as although the Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus had certainly given this brew a sour rum and raisin profile there were still notes of coffee and liquorice coming from the malt and the pithy grapefruit hops of mountain standard, the beer this was originally before its wild fermentation, still came through the mix. It was a massive combination of flavours and arguably at 10% not the best thing to drink two pints of after lunch when you’ve had two pints already but don’t judge me, I WAS ON HOLIDAY.

I was flagging and this was a bad thing, I didn’t want Jetlag to ruin my evening of ROCK MUSIC at Red Rocks Amphitheatre so I threw myself in the shower and then went to brew myself some strong coffee. Halfway through prepping Mr. Coffee I had a revelation, my Dad possessed in his fridge a can of Four Loko, a vile 12% ABV malt beverage that could strip the metallic paint right off your Ford Focus but a vile beverage that contains Caffeine, Taurine, Ginseng, Guarana and possibly Wormwood… What could possibly go wrong!

Can't think why they called it 'Red Rocks'
We headed to Red Rocks in a Limo, as you do, my Dad having decided to hire some luxurious transport for the Birthday Girls as there were now two in our party of nine. As it happens it’s not much more expensive to hire a limo than it is to hire a minibus these days and a minibus doesn’t have a mirrored ceiling so is clearly an inferior mode of transportation. We loaded the Limo with booze and after the obligatory Champagne I got started on more beers my first choice being a can of the excellent Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing. Don’t ask me to describe how anything tastes at this point, I’m half cut and in a limo so taking tasting notes had gone out the window all you need to know is that it was very good, arguably drinking craft beer in a Limo makes it taste even better. The limo even had glasses so I didn’t have to drink the excellent Modus Hoperandi from it’s aluminium container, the only thing better than that was the Firestone Walker Double Jack that followed it, what a stunning beer and with Firestone Walker beers now appearing in the UK at Brewdog bars you’ve got very few reasons not to go and try some if you haven’t already.

We were at Red Rocks to see the Airborne Toxic Event, a guilty indie pleasure of mine made even better by the fact they were playing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra MADE EVEN BETTER by the fact that they sell cans of Dales Pale Ale at Red Rocks. Sure they’ve got a raft of Bud, Coors and Miller but if you really want to push the boat out they’ve got Killians Irish Red which is arguably Miller with a bit of red food colouring added to the mash but Colorado being Colorado there is Craft Beer. Some may turn their noses up at paying $8 (about a fiver) a can but by my reckoning if it was available in the UK that’s how much I’d blindly pay for it anyway and besides the macro brews were a mere dollar cheaper. Dales Pale Ale is a stunning brew, I’ve mused about it before and I’ve a can I stashed away so I can finally give it a proper review at some point in the future so I won’t bore you with the details right this moment.

The headliners were a band local to Denver that I was unfamiliar with called Devotchka, I can tell you that after several cans of Dales (and the rest) at 6500 feet that their heady orchestral sound was quite mesmerising. I remember very little of the journey back home other than I woke up with the car pulling up towards my dads and a half full bottle of Odell IPA was resting warmly in my hand. The night descended into the kind of anarchy that you only get to see in my Dad’s kitchen, whiskey sours, a very sweet Breckenridge imperial stout, tequila and finally a delightful glass of Macallan 12 just to see me off to bed.

The hangover that I began my next day with suddenly made todays bad head look like the Cotswolds in the Shadow of the Rocky Mountains…