While traditional style guidelines allow for a wide range of ABV, many Scottish ales that you’ll find in craft breweries come in at the higher end of that spectrum so it seems appropriate to feature this warming winter beer in January.
Scottish ales stick to the darker side of the color spectrum, from dark amber to dark brown and similarly have a medium-to-full body with some of the strongest even getting a little syrupy. The common thread running through all Scottish ales is sweetness and caramelization built on a malty base. There is a wide variety available including some very malty examples with a hit of caramel & sweetness and others that taste very caramel-forward. Occasionally these ales will have some peaty-ness or smokiness to them due to smoked malts, and especially with higher-alcohol varieties you’ll find dark-fruit esters (think raisins or plums) but the one characteristic you definitely won’t find is hoppiness.
From a historical perspective, Scottish ales were traditionally fermented for longer periods at relatively low temperatures given the climactic limitations of the area. Likewise, the significant maltiness and minimal presence of hops reflects the reality that Scotland is great for growing grains, not so much for hops. The beers are frequently listed with a “shilling” designation (70/80/90) with the highest-gravity versions titled “wee heavy”. Without going into a massive history lesson, suffice it to say that increasing shilling values reflected higher alcohol percentages and thus higher prices.
A couple of local examples that you can find easily are Bristol Brewing Company’s Laughing Lab and Odell Brewing’s 90 Shilling Ale.
Black Shirt Brewing Co. has traditionally been known for two things: music and red ales. The music-themed taproom and backyard performance space have hosted dozens of music events, and their unique red base forms the foundation of all their beers, even styles not traditionally associated with being red. Located in RINO, Black Shirt makes a convenient stop on a pub crawl or when venturing in or out of the area, although it is slowly being dwarfed by the massive developments marching through the area.
BEER LINEUP: As mentioned above, all the beers use the same red base which makes for some interesting combinations – red saison anyone? While this would seem limiting, Black Shirt’s in-house beers cover a wide spectrum from a light Kolsch through a saison and some IPAs all the way to a porter. Because everything uses the same red base, all of Black Shirt’s beers have a certain hoppy/grassy flavor in varying levels which can be a love/hate thing depending on how you feel about that flavor profile. If it’s not your thing, they also serve rotating guest beers.
ATMOSPHERE: The taproom has great energy generated by the constant turnover of people stopping in for food and a couple beers on the way to or from other activities. The rather small, industrial-looking space is augmented by a recent expansion into the brewing area along with a small front patio and a large backyard with performance space for warm-weather concerts. Billing themselves as a music-centric brewery, Black Shirt hosts frequent shows and has decorated the taproom with music art and artifacts, plus a big-screen playing concert videos. Black Shirt also has a full kitchen that’s open relatively late (11 p.m. weekends).
SERVICE: The service was very quick, efficient and friendly, and the servers offered helpful information and recommendations on the food and beers. Given the relatively small space it almost seemed like they were overstaffed, which is a true rarity in my brewery experiences.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Tucked into the far edge of RINO near 38th & Walnut, Black Shirt seems to have caught the beginning of the redevelopment trend. The area has grown around the brewery and now hosts perpetual construction of large office buildings and apartments while various art galleries, restaurants, and entertainment venues pop up in many of the remaining old buildings. There’s enough to do in the area that Black Shirt can be part of an afternoon or evening stroll or pub crawl, or a quick stop on the way to or from some entertainment. Although quickly dwindling with the rampant construction, street parking is usually possible within a few blocks and the 38th & Blake A-Line rail stop behind the bar makes public transit a realistic option. Bike lanes also run on nearby streets.
STANDOUT BEER: Common Red Kolsch. The red base adds a bit of complexity and bite to the simplicity and crispness found in a standard kolsch, along with a bit more body and of course the red color.
Happy December! What better choice to explore this month besides Christmas Beer?
The Christmas Beer style is very broadly defined, but some generalizations can be made. Typical characteristics include malt-forwardness with low hop flavors, and a recognizable aromatic component usually along the lines of spicy, bready and/or dark-fruit. To ward off the winter cold, Christmas beers have a dark color and full body, often accompanied by a high alcohol content.
Christmas beers allow for a lot of creativity, although most revolve around spice components like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The winter spice flavors are frequently accented by “darker” or sweeter flavors such as caramel, chocolate or nuttiness to provide balance. Additionally, some Christmas beers have dark fruit flavors such as plum, raisin, fig or orange peel. Over the years I’ve even had one or two that tasted more like potpourri, and not in a good way. That said, I’d highly recommend cozying up to the bartender, asking some questions to establish that brewery’s flavor profile, and trying a splash before ordering a full pour.
Generally brewed in the cooler months for summer drinking on the farm, the saison season now extends year-round due to modern production methods. For me it’s a great fall beer to transition between summer and winter: not thin and light like sessionable summer lagers but not too dark and heavy like the hearty winter stouts. There are a number of sub-categories of saison like French or Farmhouse but I’ve tried to provide general expectations below for the more casual, non BJCP, beer-drinker.
On first impression, saisons will present somewhere in the golden-to-orange spectrum and may be slightly cloudy with significant head. The aroma will often have light fruit, hops, or spice notes and maybe even a bit of tartness.
Brewed with pale malts, wheat and light/medium hopping, most saisons will be balanced and typically have a noticeable yeast component. Because they were traditionally made on farms with local ingredients, spices and the yeast blowing in the air, there can be a significant variation in flavors. In many cases the yeast or other local ingredients produce fruit, sour or spice notes and some of the farmhouse styles contain flavors that many describe as “barnyard” or “earthy”. While most saisons brewed in America will come via a keg, the traditional method involves a secondary fermentation in the bottle and a relatively high level of carbonation.
While flavorful, saisons typically avoid the extremes; not hellaciously hoppy, puckeringly sour, thickly malty or boozy. Given the variation in flavors, I would suggest trying several different styles from several breweries before making a decision on whether saisons are your thing or not.
The GABF circus comes to town and will supposedly be bigger and better than ever, with an expanded footprint in the Convention Center and even more breweries and beers. One key change for 2018 is that breweries will no longer be grouped by region, but simply be alphabetical. And of course, to maximize your drinking pleasure don’t forget to download the app with the latest maps, participating brewers, and beers!
If large crowds or expensive tickets aren’t your thing, you can still jump in on the fun with one of the dozens of GABF-related events at breweries and taprooms across the metro area. Check out the links below.
Oktoberfest in Munich starts September 22 so it seems an appropriate time to learn about the Märzen/Oktoberfest style. These medium-bodied lager beers range across a palette of dark golden, coppery, and amber colors to combine with malty flavors, which make a perfect companion to the slightly cooler days and chilly evenings of early fall. Oktoberfests generally contain no discernable hops flavors, although they can sometimes have a little breadiness or cracker flavors to accompany the malt. They also trend higher in ABV than most other German beers.
The tradition of Märzen goes back to the days before refrigeration when March (März in German) was the last month cool enough to allow for consistent and safe lager brewing. Brewers brewed these beers in March and then let them mature over the summer in cool caves, to be consumed in the fall. Generally brewers use well-kilned malt to produce the darker colors and deeper malty flavors, and bottom-fermenting lager yeast that does its best work slowly and at cooler temperatures.
All of the elements that resulted in our current association of Märzen with Oktoberfest, fall, and Germany came together in the early 1800s with the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in Munich, Bavaria. The epic party that followed the 1810 wedding went on for five days and was so popular that it became an annual tradition that continues to this day. The celebration happily coincided with the annual tapping of the Märzen beers and the two became intertwined.
Personally, I feel like EVERY week is Colorado Craft Beer week, given the brewery bounty along the Front Range. However the Colorado Brewers Guild makes it official by kicking off Colorado Craft Beer Week today through April 7th. Check out the link to their event listing of special releases and other commemorations by local breweries.
Additionally, there are MANY breweries doing their own thing that aren’t listed so ask your local craft brewer how he or she is celebrating our state’s abundance!