Following up on our first jaunt to the Great American Beer Festival in September, Bryce Crawford and I hit up this past weekend's fourth annual All Colorado Beer Festival. On the whole, consider this evidence as to why our state remains one of the strongest brewing states in the country.
Let me start by congratulating the folks from Rocky Mountain Brewing, who won the people-voted Favorite Brewer Award at both of Saturday's sessions. It's no major surprise why: Their Eat a Peach and Cherry Pie beers were simply stupifying and delicious. Bryce commented that he could taste the fuzz on the peaches; rather than tasting like beer first with an afterthought of fruit, a strong peach nose greeted you, and it was all peaches from the get-go. Pretty much the same thing with the cherry (which you can find on tap at the brewery in a few weeks — call ahead).
Brewer Nick Hilborn told me he tries to make it taste like drinking a piece of peach pie, and that he spent more on the fruit ingredients than the beer ingredients. Owner Duane Lujan says they were inspired by Wisconsin-based New Glarus Brewing Company, which is famous for its fruit beers. For the cherry beer, RMB used Montmorency cherries from Michigan, which helped it beat out 85 other entrants for a gold medal at the World Beer Cup this year in the Fruit or Field Beer category.
Though Bryce and I both loved the fruit beers — we would drink them in a house, with a mouse, in a box, with a fox, here, there, anywhere — one other beer earned our vote for favorite at the festival: the La Noche del Diablo Black Saison from Black Fox Brewing. For it, brewer John Schneider aged the beer on Michigan-grown cherries and more than 50 pounds of Ghirardelli dark chocolate. He then added some cinnamon, cayenne and New Mexico-grown red chiles, which showed up on the back end as a pleasant bit of spice in the throat. On the front end, the chocolate and cherries made for a rich sweetness, where no one flavor overpowered another. Truly a brilliant beer.
We were excited also to sample beers from some outfits that are new, and some that are just new to us. Both Loveland-based Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and Parker-based Elk Mountain Brewing opened recently and served some solid beers on Saturday. I got a first taste of AC Golden's Colorado Native, which is a perfectly fine amber lager. Buena Vista's year-and-a-half-old Eddyline Restaurant and Brewery served a great IPA.
In no particular order, some other standout flavors from the day:
• Twisted Pine's Billy's Chilies beer, probably the finest chile-infused beer I've tried (some have the nose, not the flavor). The brewers told us they bought all the peppers from a local Mexican grocery store in Boulder — pretty cool.
And lastly, some preliminary numbers this year (some may change a bit, he's still counting) from festival director Randy Dipner:
• 29 brewers served 74 different beers, representing roughly a quarter of the state's breweries.
• Eight tasting/education sessions were hosted by the Zymurgy Institute from CSU-Pueblo, each attended by around 25 people.
• More than $15,000 was raised for beneficiaries: TheatreWorks, the Empty Stocking Fund and Homefront Cares.
• 1,400 attendees total made it the largest festival to date. (Dipner says they hope to expand by a few brewers next year and add a special nitrogen-tapping station to feature a few nitro-charged beers.)