In November, Big Bear Wine and Liquor hosted the first (possibly to become annual) Brew Fest in the Pueblo Convention Center. The Brew Fest featured over 100 breweries, many of them located along the Front Range, and provided a unique opportunity to sample a large selection of the state’s seasonal beers as well as see what’s trending among Colorado’s craft brews.
Colorado’s Front Range has been called the Napa Valley of beer because of the number of micro-distilleries and craft breweries in the region, and for the quality of beer produced. On the whole, Colorado craft brewers are known for experimenting with infused flavors in lagers and pushing the boundaries of hoppiness in ales. This may be a reaction to the light lagers of the huge international chains like Coors and Miller, or it may simply be a regional style that has grown out of local food culture. Either way, the most successful breweries manage to balance out the hops and create smooth, accessible beers that still have a unique flavor.
One of the best examples of that balance is Bristol Brewing‘s Beehive Honey Wheat Light, a sweet and refreshing, full-bodied beer that’s easy to drink but still has intriguing taste of local Black Forest honey, along with a balance of aggressive malt and soft wheat.
Dodgeton Creek Brewing in Trinidad brews a Miner Extra Pale Ale that’s light and bright, with a crisp finish. Dodgeton Creek also has a very accessible IPA–India Pale Ale–that will appeal to people who generally find IPAs too bitter or spicy for their palate.
On the other hand, if you DO enjoy the bite of a traditional IPA, try Three Barrel Brewing‘s Hop Trash. It’s very hoppy, but also complex and completely enjoyable, with just right amount of honey and citrus flavors to give the beer balance. A dry finish leaves you craving one more sip.
Finally, there’s Walter’s Brewing Company, Pueblo’s original brewery. It first opened in the 19th century and has recently been revived as a microbrewery. Walter’s lagers are very light and easy drinking. The dark lager will appeal to those who enjoy European-style lagers.
Colorado breweries also took the Brew Fest as an opportunity to introduce their seasonal fall and winter beers.
One of the most unique examples is Upslope‘s Christmas Ale, which has a distinct dry fruit flavor along with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The sweet malt imparts a red tone to the beer that makes it perfect for when you’re sitting around a fire roasting chestnuts or beasties.
Other notable seasonal beers include Fort Collins Brewery‘s Big Shot, a seasonal brown ale that’s very mellow and smooth, perfect after a long day on the slopes. And Colorado Native‘s Winterfest seasonal beer is smooth, with a bitter bite at the finish. Colorado Native Brewery is unusual because all elements of their beers are made in Colorado, from the hops and wheat, to the bottles and labels that make up their final product.
Winter is also the perfect time of year to enjoy darker beers like stouts and porters, and this is where the craft breweries of the Beer Fest really hit it out of the park with delicious, creative brews.
Oskar Blues‘ Ten FIDY (so called because the alcohol content is 10.5 percent) is a Russian imperial stout that’s intimidatingly dark, but don’t let that put you off. The texture is thick, almost syrupy, and the flavors are reminiscent of everything good in life: French roasted coffee, molasses, and dark chocolate. The hops are earthy and complex, and the finish is smooth smooth smooth, like the world’s most interesting man.
Another outstanding stout is Left Hand Brewing‘s milk stout. Yes, it contains milk, and yes, it works. Left Hand Brewery only brought a selection of their dark beers to the Brew Fest, most of which are very aggressive and bitter. But the milk stout is a revelation: light and slightly sweet, exactly the type of stout to win over people who claim they don’t like stout, and capture the hearts of people who do.
San Luis Valley Brewing Company continues to demonstrate excellence with their Saddle Up Strong Scotch Ale, a seasonal ale that’s dark, thick, smooth, well-balanced, and completely amazing. It’s compulsively drinkable, which may be a bad thing since it tends to sneak up on a person.
Boulder Beer, Colorado’s very first craft brewery, also showed off a very interesting porter called Shake. Rich, thick, and strongly infused with chocolate, it really does taste like a semi-bitter, dark chocolate shake–a perfect accompaniment to a classic American burger and fries.
Crazy Mountain, located in Edwards, has beers that are very unique and experimental–definitely not the type of stuff that would appeal to everyone, but perfect if you’re seeking something off the beaten path to whet your whistle. Their Lava Lake lager stands out as the most idiosyncratic of all the beers at the Brew Fest. It has a strong citrus flavor, and is infused with coriander, orange peel, and camomile. Their Snowcat coffee stout is extremely aggressive and bitter, with a coffee taste that hits you in the face full-on and leaves you slightly reeling. Pikes Peak Brewing, meanwhile, offers a green chile lager with a more delicate and subtle infusion than SLVB’s green chile lager, which should have a greater everyday appeal for those who love spice with their beer.
As for the non-Colorado breweries, Big Sky Brewing Company was a favorite with their Winter Ale, which has a refreshing bite without the bitter aftertaste common in many of the Colorado ales sampled.
There was also a handful of distilleries represented at the Brew Fest including Breckenridge Distillery and Spirits of the Rockies, Pueblo’s very first distillery. Spirits produces high-quality moonshine made from corn mash, as well as infused flavors like apple pie. The apple pie moonshine isn’t overly sweet, and both the regular and infused moonshine have a clean mouthfeel.
Overall the Brew Fest was successful, empirically demonstrating the variety and quality of Colorado brews. It’s never been more obvious that if you’re a beer lover, this is the place to be! Next year we hope to see more craft and microbreweries in the area, inspiring one another to push the traditional styles of beer and create new brews with exciting and intriguing flavor profiles.