Beer of the Month: Stout

20180106_150906_HDRFebruary has become Stout Month thanks to the designation invented by the Mountain Sun family of pubs. Despite the somewhat Hallmark Holiday feel of it, they do make a good point that it’s a great time to drink this hearty winter style.

Stouts actually cover a lot of territory so first let’s talk about commonalities. Stouts are dark-colored, from brown to almost black, with significant roast malt flavors. You’ll find no noticeable hops, sourness or anything in that realm. They are generally low-carbonated, medium-bodied beers but can range up though full-bodied, and the frequent addition of nitrogen can impact their mouth-feel. Regular Stouts usually have low/medium alcohol content, but any time you see “Imperial” be prepared for a high-gravity treat. As a category I think of Stouts as warm, comfort-food beers for the cold dark nights of winter.

Getting into the nitty-gritty on some of the variations, Irish Stouts and Dry Irish Stouts are likely to be  familiar to almost everyone. These beers showcase the chocolate, roast, 20180527_134925_HDRand coffee characteristics of the malt and downplay the sweetness. Alcohol tends to be low. The best-known (though definitely not craft-beery) example is Guinness, which also figures into the origin story of Stouts. Stouts grew out of porters, where stronger porters were designated Stout. Guinness adopted this practice in their Extra Stout Porter but eventually dropped the “porter”, and their wide distribution network helped popularize Stout as a unique style.

English and American Stouts have many similarities to Irish Stouts with the key differences being more sweetness and potentially slightly higher20181205_185334_HDR alcohol. If you see a craft beer listed simply as a “Stout” on the menu, then likely it is one of these. One key note in this category is that brewers like to experiment. Craft breweries have added everything from cherries and plums to vanilla and pumpkin spices. Several have even combined peppers, chocolate and cinnamon for a tasty Mexican chocolate stout.

In addition to adding flavor ingredients, some recipes make more fundamental changes to the beer. Oatmeal Stouts add oats to the mash for a nuttier, bready flavor and a much smoother, fuller body. Milk Stouts add lactose sugar for a sweeter and somewhat smoother beer.

Finally, the royalty: Imperial Stouts. There really is a royal connection, as these were brewed for the Russian Imperial Household back when Russia had that sort of thing. Perhaps the bitterly-cold Russian winters required offsetting warming beverages, because these thick, almost-syrupy, high-alcohol beers will certainly heat you up. These very dark, full-bodied brews intensify the standard Stout flavors of roast, coffee, chocolate and sometimes dried fruit which ideally balance the higher alcohol for a  smooth and complex-but-pleasant quaff.  You may see the terms Russian Imperial or American Imperial but they are very similar, and barrel-aging has become popular as  a way to add even more complexity and alcohol.

 

Weekend Beer Update

This weekend offers quite the range of options, from anniversary parties to cooking with beer! And of course don’t forget to stay the course for Stout Month.

Friday 23rd – Saturday 24th: Halfpenny Brewing Company wraps up their 2nd anniversary week with their final special tappings, live music, food, and giveaways.

Friday 23rd – Saturday 24th: Sort of Halfpenny’s older 20170103_210350_hdr.jpgbrother, Goldspot Brewing Company will celebrate its 3rd anniversary over with special beer releases and a big 16-beer menu over the weekend.

Saturday 24th: If you want to mix up your Stout Month and take a break from Vine Street Pub, head east to Ursula Brewery for their release of nine different versions of their 180 Gram Twist and Stout including barrel-aged, flavored, and a 2016-18 vertical tasting

Saturday 24th: The SOWN III expo comes to the Oskar Blues Brewery downtown Denver location at 2:00 and spotlights local ingredients in beer, pouring beers from seven area breweries that use local Troubadour Malts. Additionally, they will host a panel discussion with local brewers and growers on the importance of locally-sourced ingredients. Note: This is a ticketed event ($5).

Sunday 25th: Beer is Food! At least according to Living the Dream Brewing Company, which is holding a contest for recipes containing their beer. The cutoff for entries has already passed but stop by and vote for the best use of beer in food!

Weekend Beer Update

Nothing goes better than the Superbowl and beer and several breweries are hosting Bowl-related events. Alternately, stop by your favorite taproom to grab a growler to share with friends at a Superbowl party! Once the big game is over, the rest of February promises to be a dark and boozy month full of stouts, imperials, and barrel-aged beers.

Thursday 1st: Today marks the first day of Stout Month at Vine Street Pub so pick a date on the calendar, get some friends together, and get your stout on!

Thursday 1st: Today also marks the start of Frozen February at Wild Woods Brewery in Boulder. They’ll showcase imperial, barrel-aged, and winter seasonal beers with weekly tap and bomber releases, plus special cellar tappings.

Friday 2nd: De Steeg Brewing celebrates their fifth anniversary Image result for public domain chili photoswith a beer and cookie pairing. Note: This is a ticketed event.

Saturday 3rd: Fire up your taste buds with Copper Kettle Brewing Company’s 2nd Annual Chili Cookoff. Visit their website to sign up to participate, or to get tickets to taste and vote for your favorites.  Note: This is a ticketed event.

Saturday 3rd: Hop on the Winter Bus Loop between Strange Craft, Black Sky Brewery, Renegade Brewing, and Seedstock Brewery. For just $5 you can start at any brewery and catch a bus that circulates between all four. Even better, complete the circuit and get a free beer on your next visit! Note: This is a ticketed event.

Saturday 3rd: Rock out (quietly) with Diebolt Brewing Company’s Vladislav Release Party and 80’s Disco Party offering various flavor options of their Bourbon Aged Imperial Stout and of course funky dance moves. Note: This is a ticketed event.

20171106_194213_hdr.jpgSunday 4th: Superbowl Sunday starts early at Bruz Beers with the dog-friendly Puppy Bowl, where they will tune in to the Animal Planet show and have doggy bowls and other dog-related products for your pup. From there they launch right into their Superbowl viewing party and potluck. Bring a dish to share and get your first beer free.

Sunday 4th: If you’re more of a south-Denver person, Living the Dream Brewing Company will also be showing the game on their big screen.

 

Brewery Snapshot: Vine Street Pub & Brewery

Vine Street Pub & Brewery is part of the Mountain Sun family of Front Range restaurants and breweries that strive to make fresh food and beer using as many local ingredients as possible and working to offer the local community a place to come together. Vine Street is the sole Denver outpost, located along busy 17th Street in the Uptown neighborhood and features both a kitchen and brewery.

BEER  LINEUP: Vine Street offers a little bit of everything from traditional styles to high-gravity offerings. There’s nothing too wild and crazy but the two-dozen beers on the menu leave plenty of room for exploration.

ATMOSPHERE: Given its Boulder roots it comes as no surprise that Vine Street has a bit of hippy, mountain lodge feeling with lots of wood and funky art. The crowd seemed to be a mix of locals and people stopping by but everyone seemed to want to linger. For warmer days the two patios with outdoor bar games allow you to get some fresh air. The kitchen presents a menu of bar comfort food with lots of healthy options that can also fit most dietary restrictions.20180115_132222_HDR

SERVICE: At every Mountain Sun establishment I have visited the service has been excellent and Vine Street is no exception. The staff was friendly and considerate, bringing sharing plates without being asked, making suggestions, and reminding us that they have options for various diets. The servers seemed genuinely engaged in insuring that we had a wonderful experience. Note: All Mountain Sun locations only take cash.

NEIGHBORHOOD: The Vine Street location stands in an old storefront on the corner of 17th and Vine surrounded by many large, gracious old homes along with a number of multi-family buildings, giving it a true neighborhood-business feel. Between the residential area and the many other businesses lining 17th Street the area is truly walkable, which is probably good as it can be a minor hassle to find street parking.

STANDOUT BEER: Nitro Cleveland-Style Brown Ale. We visited on a cold, snowy day so a rich and creamy brown really hit the spot. The server wasn’t exactly able to explain the  “Cleveland” appellation but perhaps it has something to do with the co-mingled spice flavors that were difficult to single out – cinnamon? nutmeg? Asian? – hard to pinpoint. Although it was thick and so dark as to be opaque, the malt clocked in at only a medium roast which allowed the spices to peek through.

Weekend Beer Update

January closes out strong with a couple of big festivals and some options for good eats on Sunday. Personally, I’m viewing this weekend as training time for Stout Month at Mountain Sun and their sister pubs in Denver and Boulder.

Friday 26th & Saturday 27th: Denver Winter Brew Fest comes to Mile High Station for two evenings and features over 40 breweries. Proceeds benefit Swallow Hill Music Association. Note: This is a ticketed event.

20170429_161109_HDRSaturday 27th: Get your dark on at River North Brewery’s SuperStout Party featuring big, dark beers on tap starting at noon.

Saturday 27th: Put on your Viking gear a head up to Golden for the UllrGrass Music and Beer Festival, where the name says it all – bluegrass & beer. The festival takes place at several indoor and outdoor venues in Golden and while Saturday is the “beer” part of the fest, activities and music will take place throughout the weekend. Note: This is a ticketed event.

Sunday 28th: Fire up the crockpot and the spicesCup Of Chili, Cheese for Little Machine Beer’s Chili Cookoff from 12:30 to 4:00. Email the brewery to enter or just show up to taste and vote for the best chili in several categories. Winners get some pretty sweet beer prizes!

Sunday 28th: If you’re looking for fancier fare, Briar Common Brewery holds their seasonal Five Course Beer Pairing Dinner this evening. Note: This is a ticketed event.

Halfpenny Brewing Company Flight of the Stouts

If you’re a stout fan then Halfpenny Brewing Company’s limited time (til they run out) Flight of the Stouts is worth the trip down to the DTC area. The lineup features five stouts ranging from standard tap fare to barrel-aged to high-gravity and each has its own charms. A quick summary:

  • Homer’s Oatsey Oatmeal Stout: This is your off-the-tap regular stout with a medium body, deep roasted malt flavors, and slight bite to it.
  • Nitro Oatsey Oatmeal Stout: The nitro version of the above, with the added thick and creamy body that comes with nitro. The nitro also takes out whatever kind of bite the original has for a creamy, roasty, and slightly chocolate-y experience.
  • Heavy Petals 2016 Bourbon Barrel Aged: This one has a VERY strong bourbon flavor with some hints of oak.  Bourbon is primarily what you taste and the beer has a “hot” alcohol flavor to it. Might have been better to serve a little earlier  when there was more balance.
  • Heavy Petals 2017 Bourbon Barrel Aged: This beer achieves the balance that the 2016 lacks. It offers bourbon notes but they are mellowed by the beer, giving some sweeter caramel flavors mixed up with the maltiness. A very complex beer with many subtle flavors.
  • Black Night Imperial Stout: A high-alcohol beer that could sneak up on you because it doesn’t taste like it. This beer also leans toward the complex side, offering significant dark malt and coffee flavors with lesser notes of dark chocolate

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Breckenridge Brewery Farmhouse

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So right off the bat, yes, Breckenridge Brewery is owned by Inbev so it rides the line between craft beer and big-bad-industrial-beer ownership. And frankly, it also feels rather mass-produced (though The Farmhouse was completed before the Inbev deal). Perhaps Breck intended for the suburban crowds of Littleton and Highlands Ranch to feel like they have a “craft brewery” in their neighborhood without actually having to travel or subjecting themselves to anything unfamiliar. Be that as it may, a friend suggested Happy Hour there so off I went and, as designed, had a pleasant and non-challenging experience. The Farmhouse serves all the Breck standards and happily seems to now use some of that added brewing capacity to make stuff you can’t find at the local liquor store. They also do have some pretty great comfort food. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a destination, and truthfully there are plenty of actual, great craft breweries within a couple of miles, but if you do go (perhaps with kids or grandparents) everyone will likely have a pleasant-enough time.

BEER LINEUP: Improved. Previously The Farmhouse offered the same old Breck brews you could get at any restaurant or liquor store (think Avalanche, Agave Wheat) but has since expanded into some one-offs like an orange chocolate stout and barrel aged beers. While not covering every style they have a broad selection from very light Kolsch to deep, dark stouts. Nothing way out there like sours, though.

ATMOSPHERE: Cracker Barrel on steroids – like a rustic building decorated by a midwest housewife with lots of tacky stuff to buy.  It definitely has a family restaurant atmosphere, much like White Fence Farm in Lakewood and it almost seemed like more people came to eat than drink.  I guess that’s not surprising considering the food was fantastic. During the summer the large patio and recreation area offers additional hangout options.

SERVICE: Fun, at least at the bar. The servers flirted and teased the customers and each other. It seemed like the servers actually enjoyed their job. When we needed anything or placed an order they were fast and attentive.

NEIGHBORHOOD: None to speak of. Breck sits on its own semi-rural campus between downtown Littleton and C470 on Santa Fe. The campus backs up the Platte River and trail, and features numerous production buildings for both  Breckinridge and contract brewing along with an unrelated winery.

STANDOUT BEER: Dry Irish Stout on Nitro starts off thick and creamy with heavy roast malt and, as promised,  a drying sensation on the tongue which left minimal aftertaste. Simple but pleasing.