Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ACBW Day 3: Crazy Mountain Brewery

The scene at Crazy Mountain was like something out of Craft Brew Magazine, if Craft Brew Magazine were real and full of giant glossy photos of good looking people brewing and drinking beer. It was perfectly sunny and sweatshirt-cool out. A group of drinkers were enjoying a very funny game of ladder golf (a/k/a “donkey balls”). Several medium-sized, well-behaved dogs looked on and took turns monitoring the grounds. A group of rugged gentlemen (a mountain frat, if you will) were gathered just outside the front door, being jovial. The garage bay next door was wide open and housed a group of women who sat on folding chairs in a circle and drank beer. Inside the tap room, a couple was sitting on the chairlift (you can’t be a mountain-anything without a chairlift. Even the zoo has chairlifts), enjoying each other’s company. At the oversized picnic table—adjacent to a wall bearing a pretty sick mountain mural—a dozen people sat or milled about. I snuck a photo of them and, while no one seems to be aware of the camera, every one of them is smiling. Roses grew right up out of the concrete floor and I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn checking the temperature of the wort in the back. Normal Rockwell would have painted this scene if he were alive and toured breweries and hallucinated about unicorns.

I really liked the creative undercurrent at CMB. It reminded me a little of some of the northern Michigan breweries that are fearlessly and brilliantly experimental. I sampled three of CMB’s seasonals and was wowed by two. My favorite—both in name and substance—was the Apr├Ęs Cuvee.

This review is short mainly because my visit was short. I stopped into CMB only after being tipped off by my new Michigander friends, Ted and Amy, at Glenwood Canyon. But I still had a two-hour drive back to Denver. And a steady stream of thirsty mountain folks, taking advantage of $2 Tuesdays (right? It must be true. I tweeted it while I was there), kept derailing my otherwise pleasant conversation with Kevin, one of the owners, who was working the bar. I had so many questions, too: why “Crazy” Mountain? Who painted this sick mural? Why are you located under a Subway? How is it possible that you have more dogs than Subarus and Jeeps combined in your parking lot? So I’ll have to go back, with my dog and my unicorn. And my Normal Rockwell iPhone app.

A postscript about circled-up group of ladies in the garage next door: they call themselves “Females and Ales” and they are a women’s drinking club. They meet every other Tuesday and each female brings her favorite beer to pass according to a shifting theme. How great is that? It’s like a potluck of beers. Again, I didn’t have time to get the lowdown, but you can find much more detailed description Krista Driscoll's well-written article.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

(P)review 2: Pateros Creek Brewing Co.

I am rarely on time. Chuck will attest to this. So will my wife, my optometrist, and my high school band director. But to Pateros Creek I was a good six weeks early. They won’t open to the public until around the beginning of June (though they have been brewing out of Loveland, CO, since September of last year). Bob Jones, Pateros’s business manager, was kind enough to let me crash his painting party in the middle of the day three weeks ago to talk about beer and his brewery that will soon be.

I found Bob taking a break from his decorating duties and chatting with the heating and cooling guy over the heat exchanger on their 10-barrel system. The giant brass tanks are shiny and new-looking, save a few transportation battle scars. Pateros picked them up from a defunct brewery in Wisconsin. There's a great video of the installation on Youtube. Bob informed me their plan was to be brewing by the following week. Given that much of their equipment is still in Loveland, and the rather naked state of the brewery (not unlike my sprinkler system: a few pieces lying about, looking really good, but not actually attached to anything), I thought this was pretty optimistic. (If pictures and Twitter feeds are to be believed, the first batch was, indeed, fired up almost exactly a week later.)

Bob manages to be soft spoken but conversational, quiet but informative. Like a science teacher. Or Ira Glass. Bob’s son, Steve, is the brewer, giving them a kind of inside guy/outside guy division of labor reminiscent of ‘Beer School.’ Steve’s wife, Cathy, is also involved, in the position of “Marketing/Creative Director.” That’s no small job, even at this small brewery. Pateros, after all, has not always been Pateros. They initially incorporated as Horsetooth Brewing Company. However, Fort Collins is a serious beer town, home of the Liquid Poets Society and nine official breweries. You’re bound to encounter some beer overlap. Sure enough, Pateros got a call from another local brewery that laid claim to the name ‘Horsetooth’ for one of their own beers. Right behind the call came a nasty letter from an attorney, backing everything up with nasty words. Words like “cease and desist” and “trademark infringement” and "res judicata," I imagine.

Attorneys. Pfft.

So the Horsetooth Brewing Company agreed to change their name. Accordingly, they fired up the marketing machine. They devised a brilliant way to expand the publicity they were getting from the threat of beer-on-beer legal action: an invitation to the public to rename them. It was wildly successful. Bob said they got something like 600 suggestions. That’s 600 people who knew the brewery existed and were interested enough to want to contribute something. All before selling a single pint. The winning name—Pateros, obvs—is its own conversation piece. Ask Bob or Steve about it next time you’re in there. (Or read about it.)

This spat does seem to have a relatively happy ending. Both Pateros and the Horsetooth brewer joined the seven other breweries for the second annual “FC Collusion.” They all get together and collectively produce a single brew, which they just released today in honor of ACBW. I don’t know if Bob or Steve hung out with their (former?) rival. I didn’t follow-up or anything. But I watched the video and didn’t see any attorneys milling about. So I’m guessing it went okay.

Look for Pateros to open in the next few weeks. They’re right on College, just a block or two from the north end of the strip. Pateros beer is already in restaurants around town, but I’m going to wait until I can enjoy it fresh out of the tap. Sitting out on their patio. Sipping a Cache la Porter. Having discussions about trademarks and local history. And not worrying about the time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

(P)review: Denver Beer Co.

I stopped in at Denver Beer Co. yesterday for their “Hop Swap,” a practical marketing gimmick in which the beer-drinking public does their work for them. Each participant adopts a Cascade hop plant from the brewery, cultivates it for the summer, harvests the cones and then returns them to DBC to be included in a batch (or two) of beer. It reminded me of that class project where you and a partner have to parent an egg for a week without breaking it to get an ‘A’. (Actually, did anyone ever do that? My hunch is that it was simply a creation of sitcom writers. Sitcom writers from the 80’s. Terrible ones.)

I was initially skeptical of the Hop Swap. It made little sense. Who would spend an entire summer growing a crop for someone else, for free? No grade, no stipend, no kind of quid pro quo. It seemed awfully un-American.

My investigation revealed two things: 1. Being in a situation where something in limited supply is being given away, first-come first-serve, will cause me to need to have one, right now. I feel this is a distinctly American quality. 2. The people of Denver are such supportive beer fanatics that they will do almost anything to ensure the production of more barrels, including growing the ingredients pro bono. In the 10 minutes I was there, chatting and poking around, they probably gave out 20 plants. A steady stream of curious folk wandered up from the street, from their bikes, from cars—and keep in mind DBC is not right on any major pedestrian walkway. Nearly everybody went away an excited owner of a baby hop vine. Several signed up a “friend” and took two. It was hard not to buy into it after a conversation with Patrick, whose calm enthusiasm and easy explanation made me forget why I’d had any doubts to begin with. Perhaps most impressive is that they enlisted all these brewing soldiers without the use of alcohol—they don’t open until July and had no beer on hand to prime the pump.

Since I can’t comment on their beer (yet), a couple comments on the facility: first, it’s enormous. DBC is brewing in seven-barrel batches and a good chunk of their Walmart-sized building (only a mild exaggeration) is stuffed with kettles and tanks and other equipment. These guys are committed. And they expect to sell most of their beer out of the tap right there at the brewery. No plans to bottle or can any time soon, though you should be able to find their beers at a few restaurants around town. Finally, look forward to some interesting seasonals and single batches from these guys. A 7-barrel batch sounds kind of big to experiment with, but Patrick gave me a few examples of some of the one-offs and they sounded pretty intriguing. I don’t remember the details, but that’s no surprise. I had hop fever by that point.

Happy American Craft Brewing Week!

To celebrate ACBW, Jonesydog will be profiling a series of smaller breweries we think you should keep an eye on. Up-and-comers. Hot prospects. Breweries we are excited about, and that we think you'll get excited about. These are the kinds of places that represent what craft beer is all about. And we are so cutting-edge that some of these places haven't even opened their doors yet. But they will, and soon, and we have good reason to believe they'll deliver.

In the mean time, we hope you're enjoying all the great ACBW events around Denver. Here's a calendar. Go nuts. And check our Twitter feed for updates.