Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Where the Craft Is, Downtown Denver Edition

Remember when downtown Denver was awash in craft beer destinations? Euclid Hall, Freshcraft, Lucky Pie, Falling Rock Tap House? All share the common theme of being places where I drank too much, but also are all just fond memories of beer bars who have departed. On a recent visit to the city, I was lucky enough to share hotel elevator space with crowds from both a tattoo convention and some big karate event, so there were plenty of visitors to the city. But the 16th St. Mall was a shell of its former self with the major construction going on there. Used to be you had to go back and forth between homeless people asking for money and SPCA/Greenpeace etc. asking for money. Hardly anyone asking for money there anymore. So where are people going, and more importantly, where are they drinking?

Surprisingly, or maybe not, most craft beer choices in downtown Denver are down to regional or national chains. You have Rock Bottom, who deserves credit for being one of the originals in Denver and staying alive all these years. Mellow Mushroom, the pizza chain with a multitude of taps, does a good job of supporting local and doing events with breweries. Yard House is still always one of the busiest places in town. Rhien Haus, a mini-chain with locations in Colorado, Kansas, and Washington, reminds me of a frat house dropped into a German beer hall. They usually have a decent selection and also serve up good goulash. So the few outliers are places such as Stout St. Social, with a mostly Colorado tap list, as well as beers brewed at their Boulder Social location. I guess Tap Fourteen should be mentioned, though sometimes it has a feel of a frat house that was dropped into a frat house. With a better beer selecton. Also should mention One Up, which is unbearable on weekend nights but a great arcade bar with some decent beers.

Most of the action is going on in the RiNo district, with places like the divey Star Bar putting together great tap lists and some fine GABF events as well. Finn's Manor was hosting a Belgian beer fest this past weekend, complete with bottle pours of Cantillion. Improper City, First Draft (where else can you pour your own Maine Dinner, Lawson's Sip of Sunshine, and Russian River Pliny the Elder???), and breweries like Ratio, Our Mutual Friend, Bierstadt, Odell, round out a few reasons RiNo is drawing the crowds. Cohesion Brewing isn't technically in that official area, but close and worth a visit for a mliko pour. And of course there's all the fun historic bars on Colfax, as well as Cerebral Brewing. If you have extra time, I recommend driving up to Niwot, just outside Boulder, to Fritz Family Brewers, for some of the best lagers being made in the state. Though the Denver beer landscape is changing, there are still many reasons to drink there. You just have to venture further from that Convention Center hotel than in the past.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Drinkin' in the Moonslight

Flock Of Moons opened quietly on Friday, July 14, and though the craft beer world is in a slump overall, Albuquerque craft beer fans flocked to the new brewery. People are already giving it rave reviews on Google, save for the person who won't be coming back because "one of your guests was harassing me." That's a tough thing to hold against an establishment. Guests are a lot like family: you can't just pick 'em, and they're not always welcome guests. Here's hoping she'll give Flock Of Moons another chance. After all, the brewery opened in the former Winnings Coffee space that was notorious for having the most annoying crowd. I had to leave Winnings more than once because someone struck up a one-sided conversation with me. No, I'm not looking for life advice from someone who sits at a table outside this coffee shop every single day, all day. And who carries a sword.
And everything at Flock Of Moons is nice, which should be enough for warranting a second visit. I don't expect much when visiting a new brewery for the first time, but this place had nice touches abound, from the obviously thoughtful logo'd glassware to the snack choices available for purchase (from locally made Cornivore popcorn to mini bags of Snyder's Honey Mustard and Onion pretzels... haven't seen those at a beer bar since Cologne, Germany). There is seating at the bar for about ten, and hightop and table seating throughout the space, as well as six picnic tables on the sizeable patio. Your non-beer drinking friends can even get mixed drink suggestions from 505 Spirits patrons who are just a fence across from 505's patio, and then sneak over there for a quickie while you enjoy your beer.
And will you enjoy your beer? I'd say yes, as all were very nice, especially for a first batch. Lagers are an ambitious endeavor to showcase in the grand opening of a brewery, yet two of the three Flock Of Moons offerings were lagers: a (New) Mexican and a Vienna, along with a hazy IPA. They also currently feature six other NM brewed beers and a Sandia cider on tap. I found their NM lager to be very drinkable, with a bit of welcome hop bite I'd associate more with a German Pilsner. The Vienna had a nutty richness to it, and the hazy, while lacking the opaqueness I prefer for the style, shined from the dominance of the Mosaic hops. Tropical Stout is soon to debut, and a west coast IPA and Czech Lager are in the works. Flock of Moons is a welcome addition to the Albuquerque Beer Scene. I look forward to their upcoming beers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Break Out That Christmas Ale Early

But not because it's time to celebrate. In yet another craft beer shocker, Anchor Brewing has announced its closure. For many of us, Anchor holds fond memories of drinking Liberty Ale (first IPA-like beer for me), the iconic Christmas release Our Special Ale (annual since 1975), and Anchor Steam (confession: I never liked it! So maybe that's not a fond memory). But the writing may have been on the wall back when Sapporo bought the Anchor brand back in 2017 for $85 million. Trying to refresh legacy breweries is a tricky business. New Belgium caught lightning in a bottle with their Juice Force, but nothing Anchor tried to do really caught on. It seemed to turn into the beer you'd see languishing on the shelf at Cost Plus. And now the brewery staff has been given a 60 day notice. Maybe I'll pop open this 2006 OSA tonight and toast the memory of Anchor Brewing, and lament this closing as a further decline of civilization.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Green City Fest 2023, Pt. 2

The use of Other Half's original taproom was a nice touch, and that area hosted some of my favorite beers of the fest. Human Robot even brought a stitchfass (gravity-pour keg, pictured) of their Hallertau Pils of from Philadelphia. Others were Long Live Beer Works from Providence, RI, who brought The All Seeing Eye Extra DIPA, and Fidens, who brought Triple Jasper TIPA. I would have to give that Triple Jasper my vote, if anyone asked for my vote, for best beer of the festival. Fidens also gets an extra nod for bringing more than one beer. They were also liberally pouring samples of Socratic Questioning 57, Broccoli's Axe, and Deeper Purpose Imperial Stout, as well as handing out stickers like crazy. The Fidens guys seemed to be having the most fun at the fest, or maybe I was just having fun because of how many different beers they poured. No, they were also having a good time. They did have competition in the fun category from the Human Robot guy, who at one point implored everyone to, "Make some fuckin' noise!!! This is a beer fest!!!!" As a jaded pourer at many beer fests where you have to watch for the slightest signs of intoxication, I can really appreciate his enthusiasm. Plus he started some E-A-G-L-E-S chants, which in turn got the New York guys going. Good times.

Another group that was enjoying the spirit of the fest was Tin Barn Brewing out of Chester, NY, who brought some cleverness to their booth. They poured their Dropacana #3 orange, mango, and banana fruited sour out of a familiar container (pictured) over ice and garnshed with an orange slice. Does all that theatre make it taste better? Absolutely! I can't even remember what it tasted like, honestly, but I remember how much fun they were having putting it all together.

More fun was this Other Half employee tasked with going around and pouring liberal amounts of lager directly into people's mouths via some genie bottle/bong-looking thing. Nice palate cleanser, and a nice touch by Other Half. It wasn't extreme heat in New York at the time, though lingering area storms had upped the already considerable humidity and being in some stuffy areas of the fest didn't help. A few water stations scattered around were helpful, but I think we need more people doling out lager shots at festivals. Think that would fly in NM?

The main taproom area was crowded at times, as this was the area with the restrooms and food offerings (did not get any food, thugh the brisket looked awesome. Made many trips to the restrooms. The taproom had a good setup for beers: you lined up in one of four lines, marked A,B,C, and D. The first two lines were dedicated to Other Half beers, including eight released for Green City. The other ten taps were for breweries such as Cerebral, J Wakefield, Alvarado St., Cushwa, Green Cheek. And while we're speaking of Green Cheek, I wasn't necessarily disappointed, as I've been fortunate enough to be able to visit their taprooms directly a number of times, but I felt they missed an opportunity to show off their skills at hazies. For the two days of the festival, they poured a Pilsner and a west coast IPA. Both good beers, to be sure, but I feel Green Cheek is producing some of California's best hazy DIPAs and TIPAs, up there with Monkish and North Park. Other than that, I thought all the breweries brought interesting, and in some cases, rare beers to be consumed. This fest isn't the easiest to get to every year, but I look forward to coming back next year.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Green City Fest 2023, Pt. 1

As a relative Luddite when it comes to social media sites, I tend to miss out on a lot of releases and festivals. Take, for instance, Other Half's Green City Festival, which I found out about about two weeks after it took place in 2022. After looking at the guest brewery list and then kicking myself for about 20 minutes, I vowed that I would not miss it in 2023.

And I didn't. Scaled down from 2022's larger venue that boasted over 80 breweries, this year's was held at Other Half's Centre St. location and hosted 38 breweries. I was initially disappointed in that I wouldn't get the variety from the previous year and also apprehensive that the Other Half venue would be too small to host a festival. But I bought tickets anyway, to both the Friday 6-10 and the Saturday 12-4 events, since it was promised that each brewery would be pouring a different beer each day. And can I just give out kudos to Other Half from a lifelong night owl for starting a festival at 6? I'm rarely ready for a beer before 9 pm, but 6 is doable for me.

The flight into LaGuardia was surprisingly on time, and the NYC skyline never disappoints. The wait for baggage at LaGuardia always does. They should look into hiring a second person to unload baggage in the future. Once the wait for luggage was over, the wait on I-278 began, though that was to be expected with a 5:30 pm arrival time. I just can't fathom how people spend day after day in this traffic to and from work. Can the payoff be that great, especially with what you're paying for NYC rent?

If you've got enough money leftover after rent, the answer may be yes, especially if you throw craft beer into the mix. Countless options for food and drink abound, though we decided to go light the night before the big festival...so we started out at Other Half's Domino Park location, a prime waterfront in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Then rode bikes over the bridge to drink some IPAs at The Grand Delancey bar in Essex Market. They only had about, gosh, 8 or so that were worth trying, so had to do all of them. Then walked to Proletariat's new-ish location, where more IPAs called our names even though we tried to tell them we had planned on going light. They didn't listen, just kept calling. We eventually ended the night the proper way, at Joe's Pizza's Union Square location.

Fest day. After hitting a Brooklyn BBQ spot to fill up, we did some pre-gaming with lagers from Schilling and The Seed at Queue Beer. Located right around the corner from Other Half, Queue is from the same people who run Manhattan's fine Carmine Street Beers. Seemed like half the brewery reps had the same idea, as Queue was busier than I've ever seen it. Finally, it was time to head to the fest. Lined up about 15 minutes prior to doors and there were a good 40 or so people ahead. Other Half did the smart thing and had people scanning tickets and giving wristbands to those in line for faster entry, and it worked well. once in, there were three areas pouring beer: an outdoor tented alleyway, Other Half's original taproom (pictured), and their current taproom. In addition, the sidewalk connection the three areas was roped off so you could get away from the crowds and drink out there with more elbow room. First beer? Went big with Root and Branch Chainsaw TIPA. Big beers were predominant at the fest, and I'm not complaining. I was disappointed, however, to see that each brewery only had one offering. I thought they were going to each have one unique offering per day, as well as others that they'd pour both days. Lines in the alley space were only two or three deep for most pours, except for the Monkish line, where there were usually about 20 people waiting, but the line moved quickly.