Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Okay, let’s get one fact straight immediately: there wasn’t a whole lot of beer drinking going on during my recent visit to Utah, but I did manage to secure a few beers from Wasatch Beer including a seasonal pumpkin ale, which I sampled while there along with a six-pack of their somewhat irreverent Polygamy Porter. Also, we paid a visit to Trolley Square where I dropped in to Desert Edge Brewpub for a quick glass of their stout.

When we left Utah, I squirreled 5 beers (one pumpkin ale, four porters) away in my checked luggage in order to have some samples for tasting back at BeerRant HQ. Four of the beers were wrapped carefully in paper and then in plastic grocery bags, then stuffed tightly into shoes while the fifth was equally well wrapped and carefully placed between layers of jeans and a sweatshirt (it snowed in Utah while we were there by the way).

Once home, I eagerly opened the bag and found that our friends from the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) had checked the bags contents and left me a note. Everything was in order and ship shape and I’m not at all bothered by this; in fact I fully expected that it might happen.

Here’s a neat page from the Wasatch website that gives some background into their history and their link with Squatter’s (Salt Lake Brewing Company). No doubt Utah is probably a rough place to make a go as a brewer; their booze laws were a morass of regulations and loopholes the last time someone sat down and tried to explain them to me. A visit by the Winter Olympics may have caused a change in their laws but I don’t know for sure.

Wasatch Pumpkin Ale
Oddly, there is no mention of the Pumpkin Ale on the Wasatch website, which makes me wonder if they’re ashamed of it. The folks at Beer Advocate think Wasatch Pumpkin Ale’s the shizzle and I’d tend to agree, generally. I sampled the Pumpkin Ale both in Utah and back at BeerRant headquarters and I was tempted to save the last of the six-pack for a holiday/pumpkin/Oktoberfest blow out sample post but I’ll include it here since it’s a Utah beer. This is an unfiltered ale and a “brewmaster seasonal’ according to the label. It has a distinct spice smell that is sweet and pleasant. It pours an orange bronze color and has more taste of spice than pumpkin with a medium thick mouth feel. This pumpkin ale isn’t too bad for a beer with low alcohol by volume.

Wasatch Polygamy Porter
Polygamy Porter is the Pumpkin Ale’s irreverent cousin, I guess. I wonder why the brewer didn’t see fit to hang a similarly off-color handle on the pumpkin product? Anyway, Polygamy Porter has a grainy bread smell with a mild alcohol bite. It pours a dark tea color – but not opaque – and has a medium thin mouth feel. There’s a vague coffee taste and a bit of soot there, too. Medium to heavy lacing if poured aggressively. The finish is slightly dry and nutty. Frankly a bit thin and not really representative of the style in my opinion, but certainly worth a shot if only for the novelty. Will I have it again if I’m in Utah? Certainly. Here’s the Beer Advocate feedback for Polygamy Porter. (For those of you keeping score, the porter scored slightly lower than the pumpkin.)

Oh my heck, what is this?

On our last day in Salt Lake City we paid a visit to the downtown area and spent an hour or so mindlessly wandering around Trolley Square. Those of you with a gruesome bent will remember that this mall was the scene of a mass shooting in early 2007. You can get the scoop on the tragedy at Wikipedia. The whole experience was somewhat surreal and only later, while watching a show on the History Channel did I find that many of the stores we went into during our visit were locations that played prominently in the shooting and the shoot out between the gunman and police. But I digress…badly.

I knew from some earlier internet noodling that Trolley Square was home to at least one brewpub and eventually we wound our way upstairs where I found the Desert Edge Brewpub. I’m not able to find a website for them, so here, once again, is a Beer Advocate page, this time for Desert Edge.

I briefly contemplated trying one of two seasonal beers on the menu but opted for their Latter Day Stout instead. I reasoned that the weather was unseasonably cold – it had snowed the day before – and a dark, thick beer would be just the thing to tide me over before our flight home. The stout turned out to be a huge disappointment, really. It arrived looking coffee black with a tan head – not bad. First taste was a grain taste with a hint of chocolate, but then a sooty, burnt taste intruded into the mix. A thin mouth feel only added to the disappointment. The kindest thing I can add is there was a faint Guinness-like taste at the finish. I finished the glass and we beat a hasty exit. I won’t likely make a special effort to return to Desert Edge, but I’ll try to get back to Trolley Square because I particularly like the Cabin Fever store where I purchased a neat book on Christmas beers. (Stay tuned for a review of that book.)

Now back at BeerRant headquarters, I’m trying to make sense of a plethora of pumpkin and spice beers and hoping I’ll be nimble-minded enough to keep everything straight in my head long enough to get the experience posted. My heck, beer blogging is tough.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beer Moment: A Fall Ritual

I did something this week that I have never, ever done before. I burned leaves in my backyard. Yeah, big deal.

I think its something of a legend from the eastern states. I imagine parts of New England where they figure everyone in Phoenix carries a six-shooter and I’ve always harbored this mental picture of folks raking leaves in the fall and burning same. Environmentally I suppose this old annual chore is probably frowned upon these days – if anyone ever actually burned piles of leaves outside of a Rockwell painting. This past weekend I mustered up some gumption and tried it myself.

The ash tree in the yard doesn’t usually drop its leaves until December or January, but this year the leaves fell early for some reason. So, even with the daytime temperature hovering in the mid-90s, I raked and burned the leaves, all the while expecting a nosy neighbor to call the police or fire department.

Whether it’s actually done in the eastern United States or not, I’ve learned that there may very well be a therapeutic aspect to an annual leaf-burning ritual. The leaves crackle as they light, the fire roars up only to die slowly into black ash, greenish-white smoke billows up as a new handful of leaves are dumped onto the smoldering pile and there’s a brief lull, a pause, while the heat builds and then the fire flares up again. It strikes at something primitive in a person. I think it might be a sort of antidote to the impending cabin fever that a person must know is coming as a result of winter’s months cooped up inside.

For me, the beer of choice was just something I had leftover from a day or two earlier: a glass of Deschutes Pale Ale. It seems I think that I’ve had more beer from Deschutes than any other brewer this year. They are my new found favorite, I think. I also like burning leaves in the fall, but since my neighbors, the police and fire department will probably put a stop to the whole leaf burning ritual; I think I’ll just get accustomed to enjoying my Deschutes in a lawn chair on the porch. Ah, therapy.
Yes, I've got a post in the works for Utah. Sampled a couple of beers from Wasatch Beer. Bear with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Virginia/D.C. Trip: Quick Finds on the East Coast

Holed up in a recently built Holiday Inn on the edge of Prince William State Forest, and near the Quantico Marine Corps facility, I set out to find some local beers to sample. I didn’t have to look far. In the small bar and restaurant in the lobby of the hotel they had something on draft called Old Dominion Lager. My meager notes describe it as “a Virginia brew” with a light golden color and medium lacing. A pretty plain offering but typical of this sort of beer, I think and the advantage here is in the freshness. The stuff is brewed just up the road so the assumption is that when you sample Old Dominion at the Dumfries Holiday Inn, you’re getting the best product they have since it hasn’t been shipped all around the country before arriving at your table.

Here’s the Old Dominion website. Pity to see that they’ve suspended operations at their brewpub.

The suspension of brewpub operations is likely due in part to the company’s recent acquisition by a consortium that includes Anheuser-Busch. The Beer Activist spells it all out for us rather nicely. He makes the point that now that they are tied to A-B, the folks who make Old Dominion will be more focused on sales and marketing and may neglect their role as “good business citizens within the local community.” The closure of the brewpub proves the point, I think.

In between tours, side trips, lunches and meetings, I managed to take the rental car out into the neighborhood and pick up some local beers, specifically a six-pack of Yuengling Traditional Lager and a mixed six pack of beers from Saranac Brewing. Let’s go over those quickly, shall we?

The Yuengling Traditional Lager pours a nice golden bronze color and looks pretty good in a plastic Holiday Inn cup, I have to admit. The beer exhibits a mildly roasted smell and was actually a darker color that I’d expected. Taste was slightly malty and sweet and fairly light. I’ve been told that Yuengling products do not have much of a shelf life and there’s a fine line between a good bottle of Yuengling and one that’s past it’s prime. All the more reason to enjoy Yuengling products during a visit to the eastern U.S.

Here’s a link to the Yuengling website.

Here’s a link the official Yuengling Brewery Blog!

About midway through my stay I became nervous that I might miss out on trying anything else while in Virginia, but I managed to find a traditional grocery store not far from the hotel (Eureka!) where I discovered a plethora of local beers. So much so, that it took me a moment to figure out my game plan. I opted for a mixed six-pack of beers from Saranac Brewing and sampled four of them in the hotel room.

Saranac Pale Ale had a sweet grassy smell and gave a nice pour. Mildly hoppy smelling in the glass, it has a slightly sour, mildly grainy taste.

Saranac IPA was only slightly hoppier than the pale ale. It had the same bronze gold color as the pale ale, with a robust head of light tan. This one was surprisingly sweet and not overly hoppy with a dry finish. The label claims this is “very hoppy in both aroma and flavor.” I don’t go in for hopped up beers but this one’s just right in my book.

Saranac Brown Ale smells surprisingly hoppy and pours a nice brown color with a sturdy head and heavy lacing. There’s a mild alcohol bite in the finish but the overall taste is light.

Saranac Adirondack Lager was evidently once called Adirondack Amber – I’m too lazy to chase down the reason for the name change but I’ll wager there were lawyers involved. This one smells like cheese in the bottle and in the glass – mozzarella or Parmesan, I think. It pours a light bronze color with a thin head. It tastes like cheese, too, though not necessarily in a bad way, I guess. Of the four Saranac beers I tried, this one was my least favorite. All in all, I think Saranac brews some worthy beers. Here’s a link to the Saranac website.

I squirreled away two bottles of Saranac and a bottle of Yuengling in my checked luggage for the flight home. Given the buzz about the shelf life of Yuengling, I suppose I’d better dig that one out of the fridge and drink it today, huh?

On my way out of the Virginia/Washington, D.C. area (yes it rained during my drive back to Dulles, too) I lingered at Moe’s Bar and Grill in Concourse D. Moe’s is a decent enough place; the service was good and the food not too expensive. I had a quesadilla and a glass of something called “Moe’s Ale” all the while thinking of my experience earlier this year with a six-pack of Moe’s. Remember? Moe's Backroom Blunder? Remember how Moe redeemed himself?

I don’t know if Moe’s Ale (on tap at Moe’s Bar and Grill in Dulles) is made by the self same Moe who makes Backroom Lager, etc. Here’s what my notes say for Moe’s Ale: Malty smell. Red/amber color with a nice light tan head and heavy lacing. Watery taste but slightly thick mouth feel. Tastes like cereal, corn or cornflakes at the finish. This wasn’t a bad beer frankly; I just wish I knew more about its origins.

For a second round, I had the waitress draw a glass of Yuengling’s Lager and found it to be slightly hoppy and sweet but really reminiscent of Moe’s Ale. At this point the first beer and the quesadilla may have beaten down my taste buds, but I’d have to say the bottled Yuengling I tried earlier in the week was better than the draft Yuengling I had at Moe’s.

Here’s a review page for Moe’s Bar and Grill at "Yelp."

That’s it for the D.C./Virginia trip. Since returning from the east coast, I've been to Utah, but now I’m settled back in at the ranch and sampling whatever comes my way. The beer diary isn’t keeping up with the tasting notes, I can tell you that! I'll post a couple of my Utah discoveries in the next few days.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Colorado Trip: Quick Riffs

I think I’ve traveled more in the last month than I’ve traveled in the past year, what with a jaunt to Denver, then Virginia via Washington, D.C., then to Utah. Gosh I’ve amassed a stack of beer notes! Here’s a run down of the other beers I sampled while in Colorado.

Sam Adams Oktoberfest 2008
Sampled on October 18, 2008
The Elephant Bar, Belmar, Denver
Tastes like a red. Good representation of a marzen, I think. Worth having again before the season is over. (No photo, sorry.) Better than a couple of other Oktoberfest marzen's I've sampled since returning from Denver - I'll post something on that later. Here’s a path to the Sam Adams site.

Odell’s 90 Shilling Ale
Sampled on October 18, 2008
Lucky Lanes, Belmar, Denver
A good roasted, sweet malty smell and taste. A bit hoppy in the finish but not bad at all. Presents a dark amber color. (No photo, sorry again.) Click here for the 90-Shilling page at O’Dell’s.

Dogfish Head Punk Punkin Ale
Sampled on September 22, 2008

Smells vaguely of spice and cinnamon. Grassy smelling with a slight alcohol bite in the glass. Pours amber gold color with a nice head. There’s an alcohol bite that isn’t off-putting at all. Maybe the best pumpkin beer I’ve tried based strictly on style and the first Dogfish Head beer that I can say that I like.

Here’s Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale page.

In the rush of travel, I also sampled (in no particular order) a couple glasses of Boddington’s, a few Single Track Copper Ales and of course the ubiquitous beer float using a can of Young’s Chocolate Stout. I neglected to make notes for the Boddington’s or the Single Track and I failed in my efforts to coax my brother-in-law into trying the joy that is a beer float. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Colorado Trip: Mocktoberfest

My life is one little bit of irony piled upon another, really. See if you can spot the irony in the following tale. (I’ll try to help.)

My recent visit to Colorado coincided with Denver’s annual Oktoberfest event in the downtown district, near of all places Coors Field (ironic). My sister and brother-in-law obligingly carried my sorry carcass downtown to seek out the event, which frankly turned out to be a big flop. Oktoberfest? More like Oktoberbust. Sorry I missed the mini-marathon they held (ironic lie).

A side street was cordoned off and tents were arrayed along the sidewalks and there was polka music playing someplace. I saw a number of fellows walking around with giant Paulaner steins, but the crowd was thin and the beer offering was limited strictly to Paulaner with Jagermeister as an alternative. Even the food offerings seemed dicey so we ducked in to Mexico City restaurant (ironic) where I sampled a Dos Equis Dark that was served in a Miller High Life glass (ironic). The Dos Equis smelled of lime mostly, since it was served with a slice of lime. The taste was sweet and malty. I’ll seek out and buy Dos Equis Dark again, not simply because the beer is good, but because I rather like their current advertising package featuring “the most interesting man in the world.” (In the coming months, I’ll be pitching a new marketing campaign for Beer Rant: “The least interesting man in the world.”) I won’t serve Dos Equis with a lime though; that’s part of my least interesting man shtick.

Under whelmed by Oktoberfest, we wandered around the downtown district and took in some after dark sights, including Coors Field and El Chapultapec, a hip jazz joint that I admired from the outside, but didn’t enter (remember, “least interesting man…”). Eventually, still a tad hungry despite our Mexican food interlude, we found a seat at The Samba Room (ironic) where I sampled a Xingu Black Beer. I’ve had Xingu before and liked it and my experience in The Samba Room was no different. Xingu is of course very dark – black, in fact – with a brown head and a sweet, malty taste. The pictures I took don’t do it justice.

If my visit to Del Norte Brewing was the beer highlight of my Colorado trip, then Oktoberfest Denver must go down as the low point. However, while Denver’s Oktoberfest may have been a bust, I think our stroll around downtown was very nice.

The Beer Advocates don’t seem to advocate drinking Dos Equis Dark Lager. Fine. I like it.

Here’s the site for Xingu Black Beer. Hmmm. Amazonian beer. I’d never thought of that.

As for El Chapultapec (1962 Market St., Denver), my copy of Colorado: A Liquid History reveals that this bar opened in July 1933 to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. Don’t go here looking for microbrews, though. Bar owner Jerry Krantz is quoted as saying, “…we got places down here now that make their beers right where you can see ‘em. We got places that get their beer from as far away as possible. Most of mine just comes from Golden or Fort Collins.” Fair enough. I’m sorry I didn’t go in. I’ll try to pay a visit if I get back to Denver. (I took that picture above and the one below.)

Up next: Colorado Quick Riffs
Up after that: Some samples from the Washington, DC/Virginia area.
Up after that: Some 3.2% craziness from Utah.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Colorado Trip: A Visit To Del Norte Brewing

While there are a number of things that stand out in my mind after 10 days or so in Colorado and Virginia, including time spent with family and time spent with some cool older gentlemen from the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, I can say without hesitation that the beer highlight of the trip was paying a visit to Del Norte Brewing in Denver, Colorado.

For me at least Del Norte is really a nod in two directions because I live in between the place where Del Norte beer is crafted and the place that Del Norte beer is attempting to honor with their Mexican style brews.

As I prepared for my visit to Denver I scanned the map over at the Beer Mapping Project, hoping to find a suitable brewpub or brewery near my sister’s house on the west side of Denver. Only one beer venue fell within a 10-mile radius of my base of operations: Del Norte Brewing. I visited their website and dropped them an email, stating that I’d be interested in paying them a visit. I received a kind response, indicating that, while they don’t have a taproom or retail space, I’d be more than welcome to drop by the brewery for a tour and chat. The message indicated that they expected to be bottling during my visit. Thrilled, I printed the email, along with the phone numbers that were provided and packed them in my luggage.

If you don’t believe that beer folk are good folk then I’d suggest you spend a few minutes chatting with Jack Sosebee, whose Del Norte Brewing Company business card reads “Owner/Brewer.” I’d add “Beer Ambassador” to that job title, too. I called him at about 9:00 on a Sunday morning and by 10:30 I was walking into a nondescript warehouse space in a mixed use light industrial/residential area not too far from the University of Denver. Within minutes of my arrival I had a sample of Del Norte’s beer in my hand as we strolled through the compact brewing facility.

From the very start our talk was conversational, light and friendly; just two beer fans chewing the fat. No doubt my interest in beer lies more in the product than in the process, but when you’ve got someone who’s as enthusiastic about his work as Jack Sosebee seems to be, well, it’s all a package that seems to fit. (There’s a Madison Avenue jingle in there somewhere, I know it.) Jack and his business partner Joseph Fox are striving to bring back the traditional Mexican style of beer that has largely disappeared from the United States market in the last decade. I asked Jack if this exodus might be due to the rise of the locally brewed craft beer market in the U.S. and he allowed as that might be one reason while graciously admitting he’d never really thought of it in those terms. Jack pointed out that beer traveling north from Mexico typically arrives damaged, having languished on one loading dock or another for days and weeks before hitting shelves in the States. Faced with consistently poor quality imported brews, American beer drinkers may simply have turned away from those traditional Mexican style beers. Whatever the reason for the void, Del Norte Brewing seems perfectly willing to fill the niche.

I asked Jack what sets Mexican style beer apart from beers that we’re traditionally familiar with here in the U.S. If I may condense his answer into a single word, that word would be “corn.” (You won’t find this on the Wikipedia page for Beer in Mexico.) Corn is a decidedly American addition to the brewing process, making its appearance on the brewing scene in the late 1860s. Back then brewers learned that, although it was more expensive than all-malt Bavarian brewing, using corn or rice produced a lager with an attractive yellow color and favorable characteristics in body and head. The folks at Del Norte revisit this philosophy and succeed in producing beers that satisfy both the eye and the palate.

Orale, Del Norte’s Mexican style lager pours a nice golden color (bet it’s the corn) with a white head and there’s a sweet smell to it. The taste hints of grain (the corn again, I’d bet) with a mildly dry finish. It strikes me as more hoppy than, say a Budweiser and more carbonated than your run-of-the mill beers with a very slight alcohol bite to it.

Manana is Del Norte’s Mexican style amber lager and to me it smells faintly of banana bread, pouring an attractive dark tea color with a straw colored head. There’s the taste of bread in there with a hint of roasted grain and the mouth feel is heavier than the Orale.

Both Orale and Manana are terrific session beers and no doubt they would compliment a plate of enchiladas or carne asada. Of the two, I prefer Manana but that’s no doubt a reflection of my general preference for darker beers in general.

Jack is a font of Mexican-style beer knowledge and that passion translates into an unusual collecting hobby. While discussing their label design – oval, two label front and back – Jack confessed to having amassed a collection of some 900 Mexican beer labels. To me it’s proof that we should all decide what we love and work at that as much and for as long as we are able.

If our conversation was moving along smoothly, the same can’t be said for the labeling machine on the day of my visit. On the phone Jack mentioned that the line was acting up (“glitchy” was the word he used, I think) and when I arrived at the shop, nothing had changed. Indeed, as it turned out, the day’s bottling work was cancelled, with the Del Norte crew (five or so by my count) vowing to get with the manufacturer of the bottling equipment to see if a solution could be found so that bottling might resume later in the week. Through all this, Jack had a smile on his face, chatting amiably with me about Del Norte beer, craft beer, Colorado beer, Mexican beer and the vagaries of trying to make a go of it in a crowded craft beer market.

There are plans for seasonal beers in the future and Jack anticipates they’ll outgrow their current warehouse manufacturing setup sooner rather than later – even if the square footage continues to be sufficient, the capacity of their brewing equipment will need to increase to keep up with what they hope will be continued growing demand. There are plans to expand distribution outside of Colorado as well and one can only wish them all the best luck. Certainly they have the public relations skills they need, because I couldn’t have felt more welcome during my visit. If you’re in Colorado, I encourage you to visit the Del Norte Brewing website to find out where their beers are available. If you live elsewhere, as I do, then I can only suggest that you remain patient, all the while hoping that some day soon you’ll see Orale and Manana on tap, or in a retail outlet near you.

The Del Norte Brewing Crew
Mike Maynard, Sales & Distribution, Joseph Fox, Owner/Brewer, Jack Sosebee, Owner/Brewer

I dropped Jack an email and hit him with a couple of follow up questions before posting this story. Jack reports that the day after my visit, they contacted the manufacturer of the bottling machinery and got the glitch worked out. Seems the manufacturer had mis-wired one of the machines components. Joe worked the necessary fix and the Del Norte line was up and bottling the next weekend.

When asked where he thinks Del Norte Brewing will be in 5 years, Jack said he thinks they’ll be in a new facility, with a greater brewing capacity, distributing their beer not only throughout Colorado but also around the Southwest (west Texas to southern California, specifically). Jack thinks Del Norte will still be producing their flagship beers Orale and Manana, a couple of seasonal beers, and other beers that reflect the variety of beers available throughout Mexico. Jack finished his answer to this question by predicting they’ll still be having fun, and who’s going to argue with a prediction like that?

Finally, when asked about the Great American Beer Festival taking place in Denver this week, Jack said that yes, Del Norte Brewing would be there, “hoping a lot of people have a chance to enjoy our beer with us.”
That’s my hope too.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Colorado Trip: Homecoming

Not wanting to show up at my sister’s home empty handed, my first stop after leaving Denver International Airport was a local grocery outlet where I picked up a six pack of Boulder Brewing Single Track Ale and a six pack of Tommyknocker Jack Whacker Wheat Ale, which seems reason enough to start off with a discussion of some beers from Tommyknocker Brewing based in Idaho Springs, Colorado. I spent a few years of my childhood growing up in Idaho Springs, so there’s naturally a soft spot in my heart for anything from there – including Tommyknocker beers, I guess.

I’m not a proponent of gimmicky names, slogans or mascots in the world of brewing. Theme beers are also somewhat annoying to me and Tommyknocker fits into that whole genre of theme beers, with each brew sporting a name that is based on a long-running theme. In the case of Tommy Knocker, it’s a mining theme that is perfectly apt for Colorado and Idaho Springs in particular but I find the cartoon characters and clever names a bit obnoxious in fairly short order. (For example, Tommyknocker’s stable includes beers with names like Pick Axe Pale Ale, Ornery Amber, Butt Head Bock and of course Jack Whacker Wheat Ale. Ughhh. Please.) But in the end, while I may not be a fan of their marketing technique, Tommy Knocker’s beers do measure up for the most part.

I sampled the six-pack of Jack Whacker shortly after settling in at my sister and brother-in-law’s house. My field notes from the sampling describe a surprisingly roasted smell from a golden colored pour with a thick head. The beer poured cloudy and had a strong lemon/citrus flavor with a surprisingly thick mouth feel. Reminded me somewhat of Hoegaarden, though I prefer Jack Whacker to Hoegaarden. (Hoegaarden tastes like sausage.) Jack Whacker is definitely a summer beer and would sit pretty far down on my list of “go-to” summer brews if I actually lived in an area that carried Tommyknocker products.

Later in my visit, I made a point to drive up the canyon into Clear Creek County to visit my childhood stomping ground; always a dicey proposition. In the summer, or fall, with weather that’s cooperative, I tend to get homesick for that area and I have to remind myself that for a good portion of the year, it’s colder than a well digger’s elbow. Add to this the narrow mountain valleys that block the sun for a good part of the day when the winter sun is low and we’re talking cold country.

When I was growing up in Idaho Springs during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the building that now houses the Tommyknocker brewery and pub, was the Placer Inn, which was home to a bowling alley where my mom bowled on a league team that was sponsored by my dad’s Texaco gas station. All this to say that, while I no longer live in Idaho Springs, it’s still very much a part of who I was and who I am.

To see a brewpub in the old Placer Inn is a bittersweet thing. I have a vague memory of the look and sound of the place when I was growing up and to visit there now brings on a bit of the nostalgia, but even as I begin to pine for that bygone time almost 50 years ago, I rejoice in the notion that it’s become a doggone beer brewery for heaven’s sake! Just another reason to wish I was a local and could knock back a pint of fresh beer every afternoon.

Here’s what the Placer Inn looked like about 20 years before I was born (it remained little changed during the 1960s and into the 1970s).

After a tour around town I popped in for a glass of beer before heading back to Denver. There isn’t likely anything inside the Tommyknocker brewpub that even remotely harkens back to its bowling alley days, but the business of brewing is clearly underway, even if the pinsetters have long been forgotten. Taking a spot at the bar I asked if they had anything in the way of a stout and the tap tender pointed out both a stout and a porter on the menu. I opted for the Black Power Stout and watched as it was drawn from the tap right before my eyes. Beautiful.

Black Powder Stout presents a luscious coffee black with a creamy brown head that looks a bit like ice cream. There’s definitely coffee and chocolate in the smell and in the taste. It’s a very good stout, rating high on my list. Pity that it’s only available on draft and by the keg.

Not wanting to leave without a second sample to document, I asked for a sample sized glass of their Ornery Amber and found it to be not quite as hoppy as I expected with a slight alcohol bite. This amber has a bread or grainy finish and while it isn’t as good as the stout in my opinion, I liked it better than the Jack Whacker.

I chatted briefly with a local perched on a neighboring stool – wistfully admitting that I used to live in Idaho Springs, but still sounding and looking like a tourist. As if to confirm the notion, I left with a Tommyknocker t-shirt and can cozy. Who says you can’t go back? How else will you buy souvenirs?

Here's a shot of the Tommyknocker trophy case (so to speak):

Here’s what some other folks had to say about Tommyknocker beers:

Here’s a nifty post about Tommyknocker that appeared on The Beer Hunter. (Talk about nostalgia. This post dates back to 1999. Nice.)

Beer Advocate gives Tommyknocker high marks in general and rates their Black Powder Stout especially high.

Here's a picture of my Black Powder Stout being drawn at the tap (sweet):

Here’s an older post by my buddy over at Lagerheads. He noted a lightness in the alcohol content when he sampled the Jack Whacker and I note that the six pack I tried was less than 3.2% abw, so as usual he’s right on.

Chipper Dave at Fermentedly Challenged sampled the Jack Whacker more recently and seemed to like it.

Stop by the Tommyknocker website.

Cheers to the folks at Tommyknocker and the local pub folk who made even a displaced native feel at home, if just for the time it takes to knock back a glass of stout.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Back at home and settling in...

Ive returned from about 10 days traveling in Colorado and the Virginia/Washington, DC area and I’m working up some posts recounting my trip. Bear with me.

I sampled a few new beers, had a terrific visit to a small craft brewery in Denver, found an outstanding liquor store, visited a mysterious wild hop vine from my youth and tracked down a few historic Rocky Mountain drinking establishments. Among the beers sampled: stuff from Boulder Brewing, Del Norte Brewing, Dogfish Head Brewing, O’Dell’s Brewing, Saranac Brewing, Tommyknocker Brewing, and Yuengling Brewing.

I’ll have a few pictures to post and some rambling thoughts on a lot of what I saw. Please check back in a day or so!

Colorado Beer Facts

Denver Colorado Beer Facts