The explosion of new breweries in Denver could be increasing the pressure to make distinct and radical beers to differentiate from the crowd, but a whiskey barrel or some mixed-culture yeasts do not always guarantee a good beer.
One thing abundantly evident at this past weekend’s Denver Beer Festivus at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum is that back-to-basics brewing techniques are much needed for many of the newer breweries. Don’t get me wrong, I love a unique spin on a classic, and if given the choice between a German Pilsener and a specialty-hopped sour ale, I admit I’ll go with the sour most of the time. That being said, powerful flavors will not hide a poorly made base beer any more than a pine-scented air freshener will hide an already odorous taxi cab.
A handful of breweries were able to push the boundaries, and also create a delicious beverage— but the highlights of the day came from well-crafted staples. Ratio Beerworks’ Extra Pale Ale was probably the most balanced of the hoppy offerings. The hop flavor leaned more towards spice and pine than citrus-y, and a medium body made the beer sessionable without having to be watery. For the more hopped-up American IPA, Goldspot Brewing’s Cutter IPA has a heftier body without being cloying or chewy and with more hop flavor than bitterness.
Although they don’t have the wow-factor of IPAs or barrel-aged beers, classic European lagers are the best way to validate the technical quality of a brewery. Without a load of hops to rely on for tongue-numbing bitterness, or barrel-aging to round out harsher qualities, lagers provide a clean canvas to fully appreciate the malty characteristics of grain and subtlety of hop flavors. Tivoli’s Helles Lager exhibits all of the characteristics you’d look for in the most prevalent style of Germany. The soft, bready malt is the highlight, with a balance of spicy Bavarian hops. Crisp, clean, quaffable; all adjectives every new brewery should take note of when building their base beers.
Among the places that were able to successfully utilize non-traditional ingredients was Colorado Cider Company. Spruced Glider Cider proved to be the most seasonally relevant concoction, while at the same time being absolutely delicious. It begins with a huge aroma of fresh spruce and finishes with the flavor of tart apples and peach.
“Although sours abounded, as they tend to at more and more festivals—again, only a handful were successful in striking a balance of flavors”
Call to Arms Brewing Company’s Kiss From a Rose Saison was another welcomed surprise. Made with tangelo zest and hibiscus, this pinked-hued brew has a not-surprisingly floral nose, strawberry and tart cranberry notes, and a soft finish that combats any sweetness.
Although sours abounded, as they tend to at more and more festivals—again, only a handful were successful in striking a balance of flavors, namely sharp acidity with a softly sweet backbone. Both of TRVE Brewing Co.’s beers attained this balance, and with two distinctly different styles. Grey Watcher is a farmhouse Saison that is easy drinking without the thin body of most sessionable beers. A mild tartness provides a bit of brightness to the flavor, along with flavors of citrus zest and a dry finish. Cursed is an American Wild Ale, and is reminiscent of one of the most famous sours from Belgium, Petrus Aged Pale. A heavy tartness is evident, but the complex flavors of dark fruits and a hint of balancing bitterness make this beer worth a trip to the taproom.
Festivals provide an opportunity to sample a variety of new breweries and beers, as well as a gauge of what trends are to come. This time, however, it proved to be a reflection on how quality needs to be brought back to the forefront versus fad innovations.
All photos by Kyle Cooper.