Tuesday, November 17, 2009

So with the pending end of the first decade of 2000s comes any number of 'Decade on Review' issues. Most notable is the Onion's AV Club, who's annual Year in Review issues is worth waiting for, let alone their Best of the Decade issues. Far be it from me not to jump on a bandwagon: I give you the Breweries of the Decade:

But first some caveats. These rankings are based on more than just beer, but beer plays the biggest part. Tasting rooms, brewery sponsored events, personal impacts, trinkets - these all matter. Also, as a Colorado Kid, rankings for local breweries tend to get more attention than they may deserve. Not for preference necessarily, mind you, but because its more of what we got. So, angry letters can be directed to my sometime co-author, Brandon, who may or may not be writing about Michigan-based distilleries later this week.

But I digress, on with the show:

1) New Belgium Brewery. An obvious answer, possibly a cop-out, but in truth, its hard to argue with New Belgium when the all scores are added up. Despite notable mistakes - angry looks continue to be directed to you, La Folie - New Belgium's beers have been consistent staples, if not actively sought out. They are among the great originators of what I call the Second Golden Age of American Brewing (1985ish - 1995ish; in later posts, we'll give an exhaustive history of beer in America). Coming into being around the time as such craft brew stables as Brooklyn Brewery, Sierra Nevada, and Sam Adams, New Belgium has continued to push the envelope in terms of new beers. The much reviled La Folie proves this, but also their great and long departed Saison and Lips of Faith series prove a commitment to trying new things.

Outside the beer realm, events like the Tour de Fat cement their position as a leading brewery: these events are non-stop fun, and go far to celebrate the culture of beer (and bikes, which buys a lot of good will on the part of this author).

2) Dogfish Head Brewery. New Belgium takes risks and tries new things, in a measured manner. Dogfish Head, conversely, dives head first into new styles and takes all sorts of risks. Theres the obvious beers, the year rounders: 60 minute IPA and their Indian Brown Ale. Pretty standard stuff. But even in their year round beers, things are ratcheted up a notch. Case in point: Palo Santo, a personal favorite. Like a belgian abbey style beer, rich and dark, but aged in casks made from obscure Paraguayan wood (the largest wooden brewing tanks in North America, natch) with 12% alcohol (up there with most wines).

Stop and think about that. This is should be a niche beer, at best. Blindingly stong, not cheap (although not necessarily expensive by modern standards), and rich rich RICH. The tanks used give a very distinct flavor and smoothness, but not something you wouldn't notice if you weren't looking for it. Whos going to go for this, other than the the pickiest of beer snobs? And yet, this is a beer they make available year round. Imagine a brewery that is committed to doing that and making a beer with raisins - Raison d'Etre - and you see where I'm coming from. Their use of, and production of beers with, exotic ingredients such as blackberries, blueberries, and Pinot Noir juice (!) make this a brewery not to be ignored.

3) Oscar Blues Brewery. This might be viewed as yet another nod to Colorado breweries, but that would be wrong. OB earned their place on this list for two reasons: 1) great beer, and 2) starting the canned beer renaissance. Over the past decade, its been hard to avoid the Evel Knevel-themed cans of OB and the tastiness inside.

Generally speaking, their beers are dry and hoppy. Like many craft American beers of the last decade, OB hasn't been afraid of hops, despite a world wide shortage. Unlike many, thought, OB doesn't get silly: their hops serve an end. OB has a blue-collar feel, and their beers reflect it. Ten Fidy is as close to drinkable motor oil as a man can get - thick, dark as night, and of so tasty. Their Pilsner is a reinvention of the breed, with actual malty flavor most modern American lagers lack. Overall, these are the kind of beers you can have while renovating a house (trust me), tuning skis (again, been tested), or hanging our manning the grill.

OB tends not to get as much credit for their beers, however, as they do for how they get their beers in our hands. In a time when most craft brewers stuck by tried-and-true bottling, OB bucked the trend and began canning their beer. For the first time in decades, a good beer was made available on a large scale in cans. Cans that you can taking hiking, rafting, to a concert, wherever. This was a major shift for craft brewers, who saw their markets change dramatically. As recently as three year ago, your beer choices at Red Rocks or any other concert venue would have been a flat draft of Bud Light in a plastic cup. Suddenly, OB, New Belgium, and others are available...a win win for beer drinkers and small brewers.

4) Ska Brewery. You'll note that as the rankings get higher, I go further and further out on a limb. New Belgium is an (agurably) solid choice, but Dogfish Head? Really? Rather than reverse that trend, I've stepped further out on a shaky branch with my last ranking. But hear me out...

Ska is a good beer, a great local choice. Operating out of Durango for well over 10 years now, Ska has in recent years increased their presence statewide and beyond. Before that, my only exposure was swinging by their old brewery in BoDo after a trip to Durango Diner and only my way to the old Yeti Cycles factory for (hopefully) cheap gear. Times have changes since then - Yeti is in Golden, Ska's got a new bigger brewery, Durango diner remains fucking awesome. And Ska's beers like Buster Nut Brown Ale, the relativy recent Steel Toe Stout, and one-offs like their green tea beer from a few years back are as good as they always were.

And here is why I like Ska, and why I think they belong on my (and not necessarily your) list. I can think back and associate Ska beer with alot of good times - cross-state road trips, capping off great rides, you name it. I have friends who can look at Bud Light and say the same thing, and the crux of their argument for Bud Lights greatness would boil down to the same thing: when times were good, their beer was there. And for me, Ska is my beer, and so it earns a place on the beer of the decade list.

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