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.

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