Coaltrain holiday tasting in good taste



I have a confession to make, and I'm really, truly, deeply embarrassed by it.

Out of some 20 beers sampled Thursday night at Coaltrain's Infamous Christmas Sale Tasting, some of them small-batch and relatively rare, Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic made it into my top three.

I might have a new guilty pleasure, but at least Im honest about it.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • I might have a new guilty pleasure, but at least I'm honest about it.

Yeah, I used to drink Sam Adams' cherry wheat — in high school (not with my parents' approval, mind you, but restaurant shifts with friends) — but for the last 15 years I've pretty much regarded the operation as a macrobrewery that is serviceable in a pinch, but not worth buying over our abundance of great Colorado microbrews.

Perhaps I've been wrong, or perhaps it is during this one season, with this awesome seasonal, that the Boston brewery deserves a nod.

In the end, it doesn't matter: Drink what you like, always.

Anyway, I was so caught off-guard at how much I liked the beer ($8.99/six-pack), with its slightly velvety body, noticeable vanilla notes and a tinge of sourness — truly great depth. Read the bit on the history of Lambic brewing on Sam Adams' website to see where that depth comes from.

Before I ramble about a few more favorite samples, let's explain what this event is.

According to Coaltrain wine manager Shannon Speaks, it is part of the store's largest sale of the year and provides customers a chance to taste a wide variety of beers and wines ahead of holiday shopping.

"Plus, it's a great party," she says.

Co-owner Peggy McKinley says Coaltrain has held the function annually almost since its opening 30 years ago, with the Warehouse hosting the past five years.

After paying the $35 entry (I was comped), guests walk around with an order sheet that lists all the drinks on display and their regular and sale prices. Some wines were marked down from around $16 to $14, others from $22 to $17, so discount percentages range.

You can take notes as you sip and design a buying plan, or just enjoy the whole affair as a sampling, as you might Craft Lager Festival, the GABF or the Manitou Springs Colorado Wine Festival.

Beers with extra flavors imparted by alcohol via wood — a beautiful thing.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Beers with extra flavors imparted by alcohol via wood — a beautiful thing.

To be clear: The sampling is done here, the buying is done later in-store. Oh, and there's some light appetizers provided by the restaurant, meaning between the snacking and drinking, you can easily recoup your entry fee in value.

Aside from a deviation to sip one of my favorite all-time wines, The Prisoner, I mainly hung out with Coaltrain general manager Austin Sherwood, who is essentially the store's beer buyer, and was co-pouring the brews Thursday.

He walked me through a progressive tasting — lights to darks to sour, hoppy and fruity if I remember correctly — and was kind enough not to make too much fun of me about the whole Sam Adams thing. (Hey — he's the one who stocks it, and I even got Eric Steen from Focus on the Beer to concede that Sam Adams does do some commendable specialty beers.)

Paul Ferrante from Castle Rock's Rockyard Brewing Co. was also on hand to spotlight a list of his beers, the most impressive of which were a double IPA ($10.99/four-pack) and a supremely delicious Bourbon Barrel Stout ($10.49/22-ounce bomber).

Among the Christmas-y ales, I much preferred the complexity of the Belgian strong dark ale, Delirium Noel, over the cough-syrup reminiscent Kasteel Rouge.

Fort Collins' Crooked Stave, recently part of a meet-the-brewer series at Another Pint, made a strong showing with its Surette, a very dynamic, wood-aged Farmhouse Ale.

I could go on, but the point is that it's quite nice to be able to taste something ahead of buying it, which of course rarely is an option at liquor stores outside of special tastings like this. So be it for holiday shopping or just one fun night of sipping, this event is worthwhile.

And you didn't have to attend in order to enjoy the sale prices in store, which extend until the month's end. You'll just be buying a bit blind.

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