Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Colorado Beer Trail

You know craft beer has hit the big time when it gets talked about in Time magazine. But not just any craft beer -- Colorado craft beer.

Joel Stein wrote up an interesting article last month called "The Colorado Beer Trail" in which the intrepid, non-beer drinking reporter tagged along with the Big Beer Kahuna himself, Scott Kerkmans (Chief Beer Officer for Four Points by Sheraton), for a tour of Denver-area breweries.

It's a really good article, even if it's written by someone who - before going on this excursion - proclaimed not to like beer. Hey, it's OK not to like beer... my wife really doesn't, but too often beer articles written for mainstream media are done so by people who not only don't like beer, but can't tell the difference between a Hefe and an IPA. At least Joel sounds like he knows what he's talking about, thus he can accurately convey to readers what he was drinking and experiencing. There's nothing worse than a writer writing about something they know nothing about. It does a huge disservice to the writer, the magazine (or website), and most importantly... the very topic being written about. If uninformed, it might actually sway the opinion of someone who doesn't know better.

While you're reading the article be sure to check out the accompanying photo montage taken by David Bowman. There's some really good pics in there.

Oh, and Mr. Kerkmans... about that bus tour of Denver-area breweries - call me! ;)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Beer Tap TV

What's better than watching TV while drinking a good craft beer? Watching TV about good craft beer while drinking a good craft beer!

Apparently Erik Boles and Dusty Frazier had that same idea, cuz they're the creators and hosts of the new internet television show Beer Tap TV.

According to the website Beer Tap TV is more than just a drinking show. After watching the first episode I agree. Erik and Dusty have good on camera chemistry and they chat up Colorado brews (Bristol's Red Rocket and Breckenridge's Avalanche Ale) in a way that will make even beer geek noobs want to tune in. They "edumicate" viewers (myself included) as they articulate the finer points of craft beery goodness.

Iroincially, neither of the beers they discuss (and taste) are ones I personally care for, but hey... different strokes for different folks. That's why there are so many breweries making so many beers. Successfully. The craft beer industry done blowed up people!

Embedded below is the first episode, but do yourself a favor and get on over to their website, register, and become a part of the BeerTap community that Erik and Dusty hold as dearly as they do a pint of fine craft beer. The show is for the people and they want to hear from the people. So go!

P.S. Look for me on an upcoming episode. ;)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Suds

What's this -- a Sunday post?! Has hell frozen over? Have the macro-brewers learned the error of their mass produced crap beer ways and just given up? Uh... no. But tomorrow is an extra day off, and right now I need to rest after the long day spent outside in the yard doing things that should have been done weeks ago.

Which means we in fact did not go to the Beaver Creek Blues and Brews fest as originally planned. Fran and I woke up Saturday morning and realized that we were just too tired to get up and go drinking -- again. Plus, there was the little fact that when we called to cancel our reservations, it was snowing in Avon. Snowing. On Memorial Day Weekend.

And why were we too tired to go to a festival of fun and frivolity that also included three of my most favorite things in all the world (blues, brews and BBQ)? Because our Northern California vacation was nothing short of a week long bender. A human body can only consume so much beer. Plus, my taste buds felt like they were dragged over a field of dead, dry hops. Enough is enough. Besides, we're having a get together today... to drink beer. So not all is lost to yard work!

Vacations are a duel edged sword. It's all fun in the sun while you're there, but when you get back you wish you hadn't left in the first place. Hell, I already need a vacation from the vacation, and I've only been back (to work) a few days. Speaking of... I'm going to be heavily inundated with my mortgage paying "day job" through next week, but I wanted to hoist a few beers thoughts up here just to let you know I'm still alive.

Here are the breweries, wineries, and beer bars we actually hit during our drinkstorming adventure through Northern California:

Wednesday the 14th
Toronado Pub (the next place I'll be writing about on The Beer Bucket List)
21st Amendment Brewery

Friday the 16th
Sterling Vineyards
August Briggs Winery
Cuvaison Winery
Silverado Brewing Company
Calistoga Inn (which houses Napa Valley Brewing)
Hydro Bar & Grill

Sunday the 18th
Russian River Brewing Company

Tuesday the 20th
Mac & Jack's inside the Seattle-Tacoma Airport on the way home

Needles to say, lots of drinking was done. However, I do have detailed notes on most of these places, so expect a series of write-ups. Hopefully.

Oh, and it looks like I might have another beer writing gig or two lined up. More on those as (if) they solidify. Don't wanna jinx anything ya know! ;) And I thought I was busy before. HA!

Hop(e) everyone has a great Memorial Day Weekend. What's left of it anyway. So drink heartily... but drink responsibly.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Blues, Brews & BBQs!

If you find yourself with nothing to do this weekend, head on up to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado, for their annual Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival. Hey, at least it's beautiful up there. Just be sure you can drink at elevation!

This year the blues music will be provided by Marc Broussard (2:00 to 4:30 pm) , Marcia Ball (4:30 to 6:00 pm), and Donna Jean and the Tricksters (12:00 to 2:00 pm). Top BBQ chefs from Kansas City, Des Moines, Iowa, Colorado and other BBQ-y locations nationwide will be cooking up some great food and providing demonstrations. So if you fancy yourself some kinda BBQ genius... you'll want to be there.

Oh, and there's one other thing... the brew. What's the BB&B without the brew?! Beaver Creek supposedly hosts "the largest Colorado Microbrewery Beer Tasting in the state." Ya, not really. Fran and I have been 3 times in a row and while they tout 35 Colorado-based breweries, there most certainly was not that many last year. In fact, each year's fest has gotten smaller and smaller. We'll see what happens this year.

Hope to see you there. If not... have a great memory-laden Memorial Day Weekend! Drink heartily, but drink responsibly!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Brews, Blues and Laughter

Fran and I have lived in Colorado for almost 6 years now and it still amazes us how often we find new experiences. Those of you who know us, or run with us in the "Professional Drinker's Tour," know we like to travel the width and breadth of this great state (affectionately and appropriately entitled "Beerstate, USA" by my buddy, John "The Beer Hermit" Morrissey) looking for great beer (and soon wine and spirits), blues, food and bars.

We found all of that this past weekend down in Canon City, Colorado, a mere hour southwest of Colorado Springs. Anyone who has visited the Royal Gorge (or has a fetish for jails) has likely gone through Canon City because Highway 50 runs smack through town. Well, now they have two more claims to fame. One seriously kick ass fun brewfest and one seriously kick ass fun brew pub. First the brewfest... the 4th annual Brew Ha-Ha.

In my previous post I listed the 20 breweries that would be in attendance, and they were all there dolling out some of the finest brews available. A couple really popped out. I'm a Hefe fan, and while I like nearly all the hefe's made in the region, the one that continues to stand out is the Hefe Suave from San Luis Valley Brewing Company. It's the frakin' bomb! Sadly, while they are finally bottling this fine elixir, it's still not available in Colorado Springs. Sometime soon Fran and I are gonna have to truck out to San Luis Valley and stock up!

The great thing about hefes, and all craft beers really, is the diversity they bring. Everyone likes something different, and with all the craft brews available you're sure to find one you like. It also gives credence to the notion that there simply can't be too many breweries. The industry is exploding, and as more people learn that they don't have to stand for Macro-Crap-Beer, the demand for craft beer is only going to grow.

Case in point, two smaller breweries in the southern end of Colorado. First, McClellan's Grill & Brewing Company in Canon City. This brew pub is owned and operated by Joe and Dana McClellan, who have created an absolutely amazing beer oasis in the heart of a small (but growing) town. The after-party for the Brew Ha-Ha was held here, complete with a helluva fine reggae playing band (with their own killer twist) who's name escapes me at the moment (sorry guys and gals!). Joe and Dana pride themselves on quality "Americelt" eats, ales and atmosphere and they have all three in spades! The food was fantastic, the ales (the Blonde in particular) are awesome, and the atmosphere, well... you need to check it out for yourself. Fran and I are already planning our next trip down there just to hang out with Joe and Dana and all the fine folks at McClellan's on a night that isn't quite so... crazy. ;)

While at the Brew Ha-Ha (as well as the after-party) I was fortuitous enough to meet and hang out with Jeff Aragon, the owner and head brewer of Trinidad Brewing Company. Trinidad is about as far south on I-25 as you can get before running into New Mexico. They had a few offerings at the fest (of their many that they serve up at their brew pub) that absolutely knocked my taste buds in the dirt -- in a good way! Their Bon Carbo Stout weighs in at a robust 8.9% ABV. It's black in color, which is good since "bon carbo" means good coal. Don't worry, it tastes better than coal! Fran and I already have plans to head down Trinidad way later this summer and live the experience that is TBC.

I also met the man who has the single greatest job (other than Zane Lamprey that is) in the history of humanity. Scott Kerkmans is the Chief Beer Officer for Four Points by Sheraton, the third largest hotel chain in the world. He decides what beers go into each of them, which requires him to scour the globe and drinking beer. (sigh) What I didn't know was that he got his start at Alaskan Brewing Company (which just started distributing their brews here in Colorado). He was a guest server at their booth and we got to chatting. Recently Scott held an open call for an apprentice; they received over 1,000 applicants and finally narrowed it down to 10 people. They planned on picking the finalist this week. Good luck whoever you are... ya lucky bastich!

OK, I've rambled enough, but that's alright because Fran and I are heading to Northern California for a few days. While there we'll (for sure) be hitting the famed Toronado Pub and 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco. Our sojourn will also take us to the Napa Valley, where we'll be stopping by the August Briggs Winery, Sterling Vineyards, and staying at the Calistoga Inn for a night. With any luck we'll be able to swing by the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa to toast the opening of their brand new brewery.

Needless to say I'll have a lot to talk about when we get back! Until then... Zivjeli!

Friday, May 9, 2008

TGIF BeeRoundup Cavalcade of suds!

A man with a plan: Bury me in a beer can!

Bill Bramanti, a 67-year-old South Chicago Heights man, loves him some PBR. So much so that he ordered a custom-made beer can casket to show his undying love... which he will take into the hereafter.

He doesn't plan on needing it anytime soon, but using it? Hell yes! Last weekend he threw a party to show it off and filled the sucker with ice and 15 cases of his favorite brew. Bramanti bought the custom casket from Panozzo Bros. Funeral Home in Chicago Heights, while Scott Sign Co. designed the beer can.

"Why put such a great novelty piece up on a shelf in storage when you could use it only the way Bill Bramanti would use it?" said Cathy Bramanti (his daughter).

Now there's a man after my own heart... and guess what I'm gonna be buried in when it's time for the very "Last Call"?! OOOOH YAAA!


Beer Cocktails and Mixers are making a comeback.

According to an article in am New York, beer cocktails are making a comeback.

Karyn Seltzer is the general manager for Telephone Bar & Grill, an English pub in the East Village which specializes in beer cocktails. She says: "Now there are lots of breweries and people are becoming beer connoisseurs, and looking at beer similarly to wine." Amen sister.

In fact, they've been serving "beer cocktails" for 20 years. Try these bad boys on for size:
  • Black Velvet: made from Guinness and champagne
  • Shandy: a mixture of ale or lager with 7-Up
  • Snakebite: lager and cider with black-currant ribena (syrup)
  • Telephone Lager and Lime: light lager and key lime juice
On a recent sojourn to Edelweiss (our fave German restaurant here in Colorado Springs), they too had several beer mixers available, such as Pilsner and Coke (or Sprite), and Erdinger Hefe with Coke. I know, it sounds horrid, but they're fantastic! Give 'em a try next time you see them.


Obama woes blue collars with brew.

According to a report from -- of all places -- the Telegraph in Great Britain, Barack Obama "may have found the answer to his troubles in a place familiar to millions of Americans: the pub." So that's how the Brits think of us , huh? ;)

Apparently aware that blue collar voters saw him as "uppity" following his remarks about “bitter” small town Americans, Obama recently visited three pubs in Indiana and North Carolina in order to "boost his credibility with the working class."

A few day ago Obama visited the Raleigh Times Bar and found himself momentarily beerless. "Where's my beer?" he asked.

Point for Obama in my book. After doing some research about the RT Bar, they have some serious kick ass beers! Check out their beer menu... it's jam packed with beery greatness! I'm adding this to the list of bars we need to check out some day!

But what does ole Obi-wan-Obama reach for? "PBR," he said, choosing Pabst Blue Ribbon.


Oh, but it gets worse. While in Pennsylvania last week he was seen drinking Yuengling, America's "oldest brewery." They make some great beers mind you, but this is where my admiration for him waned. He double-checked the name of the beer to make sure it wasn't "some designer beer or something".

Point lost Mr. Obama.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Do you have Mojo!?

Drinkin' ain't easy. And writin' about drinkin' while you're drinkin' ain't any easier... but it sure is fun!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word mojo as "a magic spell, hex, or charm." The Urban dictionary's definition is a bit more focused: "your cool/style essence; that quality, often elusive, that sets a person apart from everyone else." In effect, the word "magic" can replace "mojo" in virtually every scenario.

Well, it's ironic then that my particular "cool magical writing style" (cough) has caught the attention of the folks at Mojo. You know, the high-def television network responsible for the greatest TV show known to mankind -- Three Sheets. I may have rant and raved about a it few times here.

Well, guess who's gonna be writing for them? Thaaaaaaaaat's right.

They have a new section on their website called Mojo 135. It's a place for those who have mojo -- and an opinion; "where the knowledgeable (that'd be me, about beers and bars at least) share their experiences and exchange their ideas." And if you've been reading my beer confessions for any length of time you know I don't mind giving out my opinions. One of their slogans is: "Life is how you see it." Let me tweak it a bit with my own special mojo-sauce: "Life is how you see it, so attack it. It's going to kill you anyway."

I'll be writing up a few different things, but primarily I'll be expanding on a list I started here on my blog, my beer bars everyone with a pulse must visit before they die list. The name of the segment on 135 will be called The Beer Bucket List. In fact, the first one went live today!

So do you have the mojo it takes to join me on this beertastic journey?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Surfside eats & alcoholic treats at Palapa's

I'm going to shift gears away from beer for a few minutes because I want to give a big shout out to Palapa's Surfside restaurant. I first heard about Palapa's from our local food critic, Nathanial Glenn (a guy I admire as much for his writing as for his culinary opinions), who penned a fantastic review of the place in the March 20 edition of the Gazette.

Everything in his review is dead on accurate, down to the several groups of people who (still, after being opened since January) walked in (seemingly straight off the prairie; apparently their one trip to the "big city" every week), looked at the menu, and walked out. Part of that I'm sure has to do with the prices at Palapa's, which are higher then other places. Golden Corral all-you-can-eat-and-hope-to-digest buffet dining this (THANKFULLY!) is not. No, Palapa's is a one of kind restaurant... especially here in Colorado Springs, where chain restaurants and their bland food is loved by the unwashed masses. The old adage "you get what you pay for" could not be more accurate.

*I do want to state that there are some exceptional restaurants here (Blue Star, Edelweiss, The Famous, and Phantom Canyon to name a few).

In his article Nathaniel briefly mentioned one of the entrées -- the Scallops of Love. What he failed to mention was just how damn good -- scratch that, great -- they are. Simply put, these scallops are hands down the best Fran or I have ever had. Period. Dot. Exclamation point. Keep in mind that this statement comes from two people who lived in the the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years, a place where fresh seafood is part and parcel of everyday life. SF is to fresh seafood and top notch cuisine as Colorado Springs is to gorgeous mountain vistas and amazingly fresh buffalo steaks. Colorado Springs needs a place like Palapa's.

But it's not just the food that's so great. Nate Windham, the "much-loved mixologist from The Red Martini" is the joint's executive bartender. Any restaurant that takes their drinks as serious as their food is a winner in my book. See, Nate is to spirits as I am to beer. He's a Spirit Geek through and through and knows as much about the history of alcohol as how to mix them.

Ironically, Palapa's only serves bottled beer (Odell's, so beer lovers like myself do have good options). They have nothing on tap. But Nate is so knowledgeable about spirits (and only serves the best) that he had me downing a shot of Tequila with some kind of "traditional" chaser that made me want more. Those of you who know me know I over indulged as a youth on Tequila (thanks Joe!), so I practically dry heave at the mere smell of the stuff. Well, not anymore. The man is an alchemist... a true Liquid Engineer.

Nate is joined at the bar by Joey and Sean, his liquid engineering apprentices. All three combined to make some of the best mixed drinks we've ever had the joy of sampling, and made our anniversary evening a truly special one. But more then that... they made us feel at home. And for Fran and I, who pride ourselves on being consummate Bar Flys -- bartenders make or break a bar. If we don't like the atmosphere at the bar we're not coming back. Palapa's has some of the best barkeeps in the entire city. We'll not only be back, but we're brining the entire Professional Drinker's Tour with us next time!

But don't take our word for it. Aside from Glenn's review in the Gazette, Palapa's recently received another rave review from Matthew Schniper, the food dude at the Independent.

This is a great restaurant located in an area of Colorado Springs overran with chain drek (i.e., Chili's, TGIF, Ruby Tuesday's, Red Robins, etc.). It needs your patronage in order to keep on tickin... and Fran and I need you to need it so we can keep on eatin' the freshest seafood this side of a coastal town, and drinkin' some of the best spirits money can buy. So if you're in the mood for something more refined then a bagde wearin' buffoon who doesn't know the difference between medium and well-done... Palapa's is the place you need to be.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

4th Annual Brew Ha Ha!

Like beer? Like to laugh? If you said "no" to either one... sorry for you. Life must really suck for you, huh?

For everyone else though... Canon City (not "Canyon" as I had it originally; that's what happens when you fly without an editor!) is having their 4th annual Brew Ha Ha on Saturday, May 10, from 3:00 - 6:00 pm in Veteran's Park (3rd St. & Highway 50). There will be more than 20 of the state's top brewers (and a pair of national brewers). Here's a list of who will be serving up the brew:
  • Alaskan Brewing (Juneau, AK)
  • Amica’s (Salida) – Brewer Mike LaCroix
  • Arctic Craft Brewery (Colorado Springs) – Brewer John Dunfee
  • Big Sky Brewing (Missoula, MT)
  • Bristol Brewing (Colorado Springs) – Brewer Jason Yester
  • Carver Brewing Company (Durango) - Brewer Ken Andrews
  • Durango Brewing Co. - Scott Bickert
  • Flying Dog - (Denver) - Stephanie Kerchner
  • Great Divide Brewing (Denver) - Mary Valles
  • Gunnison Brewery (Gunnison) – Assistant Brewer Keith
  • Left Hand Brewery (Longmont) – Josh Breckel
  • McClellan’s Grill & Brewing (Cañon City) – Brewer Jeff Lockhart & Owner Joe McClellan
  • New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins) – Travis Flett
  • Odell Brewing (Fort Collins) - Kirk Simpson
  • Oskar Blues Grill & Brew (Lyons) - Katie Jones
  • Rock Bottom Brewery (Colorado Springs) - Head Brewer Jason Leeman
  • San Luis Valley Brewery (Monte Vista) - Brewer Angie Graber
  • Shamrock Brewery (Pueblo) - Brewer Alan Styles
  • Ska Brewing (Durango) – Arlo Gramatica
  • Trinidad Brewing Company (Trinidad) - Brewer Jeff Aragon
That's one helluva major league lineup people!

Along with the free flowing brew some top-notch stand-up comedians will be on stage to make folks laugh -- Gretchen Hess, Bob Meddles, Frank Schuchat and Gina Trammell!

And here's where it really gets good... at 6 p.m. the Atomic Fireballs, featuring Carlos Crull and Johnny Watson, will be playing everything from blues, jump and swing music to jazz and country! Oh, but it gets better! Texas blues guitarist Buddy Whittington will be joining the Fireballs! And who is Buddy Whittington ? Oh, only the "Godfather of the British Blues." He's been the lead guitarist for John Mayall's band (the Bluesbreakers, a band that the legendary Eric Clapton once played with) for the past 14 years!

Brews and Blues? Oh hell... I'm so there!

Friday, May 2, 2008

I see a Cicerone!

Ray Daniels is a veteran of the US beer industry and current president of the Craft Beer Institute. He also created the Cicerone Certification Program. Last month Ray went to San Diego (and the 2008 World Beer Cup Championships) to hold the first exam for Certified Cicerone status. Five candidates passed the grueling three and a half hour test which included 200 fill-in-the blank and short-answers, as well as three essay questions. Additionally, they each had to sample 12 beers an-- and guess what they were -- in the tasting portion of the exam.

Each of the five candidates scored an amazing 70% or higher on the tasting portion! SEVENTY PERCENT! That's crazy good taste buds people! What's more, each scored 80% or above overall, becoming the first to carry the title of "Certified Cicerone." These prestigious five are:
Congrats to these bold pioneers and to a whole new level of beer respect!

* Since January, a total of 115 people have passed the Certified Beer Server exam and are now eligible to take the Certified Cicerone exam.