Reviews: Colorado Native IPL, Whole Wheat Bock from AC Golden

So this year I got onto the AC Golden Brewing media/marketing list, and they’ve sent me two beers so far to sample: Colorado Native IPL and 100% Whole Wheat Bock. AC Golden is a specialty arm of MillerCoors, and as such their beers are for the most part generally only found in and around the Denver market. That’s a bit of a shame because—despite their parent-macro origins—these are some fine beers that would do well in other markets. And if you’re comparing against other macro specialty lines, like AB’s Shock Top, I think these are the best I’ve had so far.

Colorado Native IPL (India Pale Lager)

AC Golden Colorado Native IPLAC Golden/Coors claims these are brewed with 100% Colorado ingredients, and they even go so far as to use bottles and cans manufactured in the state. There might be some quibble about this claim (I very much doubt the lager yeast ultimately has its origins in Colorado, for instance…) but I like the position and niche they are claiming. This IPL is their lager answer to an IPA, 6.1% abv, bittered with Chinook hops and finished with Centennial, Cascade, Nugget, Chinook and Crystal hops. They then dry hop with that same blend. The first thing I noticed about that is—hops! More than I would expect any macro brewer, specialty or otherwise, to use. And they are there in the beer.

Appearance: Clear and golden colored, with a lacy white head.

Smell: Spicy and earthy hops—zesty in a spicy-floral way. Very nice aromas here, not the American citrusy hops found in west coast IPAs but strong, solid spiciness that makes me think Noble hops, or Saaz.

Taste: Clean malty backbone with smooth lager presentation. Hops are spicy bitter, really well-balanced and crisp, and definitely take the front seat as the name implies. Spot on for flavor.

Mouthfeel: Lightly medium-bodied, very clean and smooth with nice hoppy aftertaste.

Overall: Really good, surprisingly so considering the macro origins (and revealing my own bias)—I like when they defy expectations.

Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 2.96/5 (4 ratings). RateBeer: 2.88/5 (3 ratings).

100% Whole Wheat Bock

AC Golden 100% Whole Wheat BockIn my opinion, this particular beer is much more interesting than the IPL. It’s their new seasonal, again only really available in the Denver area, and is 7.5% abv. The really interesting part is that, as the name implies, this beer is made entirely with wheat malt, red wheat ground and malted in Bamberg, Germany. I don’t know that I’ve tried an all-wheat beer before, let alone a bock-styled one.

Besides the malt bill, the paperwork indicates it was aged three months before bottling, and then aged again for an additional year in the bottles. The bottle I received is actually a 750ml bottle, and has an addition I’ve not seen before on a beer: a nutritional label.

AC Golden 100% Whole Wheat Bock nutritional label

“TIP: 100% wheat beers are required to have a nutrition box on their label. If the label doesn’t include a nutrition box, the beer is not 100% wheat.”

This caught me off guard, and I can’t help but be fascinated by the information given on the label, especially the vitamin A (probably because you always hear about vitamin B). Yes, this is something you can look up online. But I didn’t know if a beer is all wheat it had to have the label.

Appearance: Dark-brown to black, off-white head that fell quickly to a minimal skiff, but it’s persistent and has nice legs.

Smell: Some chocolate, dark fruits, a touch of bready wheat. Very pleasant, dark rye bread comes out, appetizing aroma like bread dough rising.

Taste: A dark rye-like spiciniess, lightly roasty, the body is thinner than you’d expect from the wheat which is interesting—it’s light, and the dark fruit and berry notes give it a faux-tart quality that has some complexity. A bit of black malt flavor at the back. A tart and complex red wine strongly comes to mind.

Mouthfeel: Thin for what I’d expect for a bock, but I suspect it’s the wheat that thins it out. Smooth, clean, finishes roasty.

Overall: This is a nice, unique beer—I wasn’t entirely sure how to describe it until the “red wine” notion came to me.

Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 3.56/5 (6 ratings). RateBeer: 2.95/5 (3 ratings).

Both of these beers are surprising, but worth seeking out if you are in the Denver area. Yes, they are brewed by a megabrewer—but good beer is good beer and worth trying.

Monkless Belgian Ales: Bend’s newest brewery

Monkless Belgian Ales logoLater this month, Bend’s newest brewery is set to start selling its beer: Monkless Belgian Ales. Founded by partners Kirk Meckem and Todd Clement, they just got their brewery licensed and plan to brew only Belgian-styled ales on a one-barrel system. Kirk Meckem reached out to me to let me know they are planning on launching on tap at Bend’s Humm Kombucha on November 28 with their first beer, a Dubbel named “Dubbel or Nothing.”

Meckem forwarded me some introductory text they’d written up about themselves and I hope to have additional details soon:

In 2011, two friends living in Bend, Oregon, wondered why in the beer capital of the Northwest, it was almost impossible to find a good, local Belgian style ale. Sure, a Belgian IPA, maybe a Witbier or a Saison would show up on occasion, but good luck getting a keg for your kegerator. Sure, times have changed some since 2011, but only a few of the local breweries consistently devote any capacity to brewing Belgian styles. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands and began brewing the beers we love – not just the occasional batch, but each and every one. We are committed to brewing excellence, in process, product, and motivation. Our end goal: to coax the truly special flavors and aromas from the Belgian yeast we use, extract the flavors from the grains and hops to their fullest degree, and provide the best beer money can buy. We hope you enjoy our beer as much as we do.

In addition to the Dubbel, they currently have a Tripel in the tanks that they hope to have ready by the end of the year.

Monkless Belgian Ales founders

Founders Todd Clement, left, and Kirk Meckem (photo from Facebook)

This bumps the regional brewery count up to 27, and 19 for Bend alone. (Actually 20 if we count Shade Tree Brewing, which was originally being brewed in Redmond and is currently undergoing new build-out in Bend.)

The Session #93: Beer Travel

The SessionThis past Friday was the first one of November, and for timely beer bloggers everywhere (which I am not in recent months, at least as far as getting these posts out on time), it was the collaborative beer blogging day for The Session. This month’s Session was hosted by Brian at The Roaming Pint and he conjured up the topic of Beer Travel to chew on:

In Session #29, Beer by Bart asked writers to tell him about their favorite beer trips to which he got some great responses of personal favorites and general tips for certain cities.

So as not to tread over old ground my question is going to focus on the “why” more than the “what”. So I ask you fellow bloggers and beer lovers, why is it important for us to visit the place where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?

The idea was to respond to one or more of those posed questions, and of course to stimulate thought. To my mind, the first of those questions is the most important.

Why is it important for us to visit the place where our beers are made?

I think the answer is simple: to better understand and appreciate the beer. The discussion is a bit more complex.

There’s something to be said for the “fresh factor” of drinking beer from the source, though visiting a brewery is not always a guarantee that the beer you drink will be particularly fresh—I’ve had my share of stale beers “from the source,” as we all have I’m sure. It certainly doesn’t hurt: if you visit Russian River Brewing and they’ve just tapped a brand-new keg of Pliny the Elder, then it doesn’t get any better than that! But I really don’t consider how fresh the beer is when I’m beer traveling. For me I’m excited to explore new breweries, and new beers, and (as a writer) new stories.

When you experience the story of the brewery—a story that is presented in myriad ways, whether you take a brewery tour, or meet the brewers themselves, or see what part of town it’s in, or how it’s decorated, or any number of other little things—it can give you much more context and appreciation of the beer they brew. Much more than you will experience drinking a bottle of their beer from hundreds or even thousands of miles away or just reading their website. It’s like the difference between visiting an amusement park and only reading about it—it is something you simply have no context for until you visit and go on the rides.

I’m not gonna lie, not every brewery and beer is a winner, and I’ve occasionally been disappointed with one or both after visiting. We all have. To use my amusement park analogy, maybe it’s like being on the ride where that one weak-stomached kid pukes all over the place, or where you wait in line half an hour for the one ride you really wanted to go on only to have them close it just before you get there.

But even in those cases visiting can be instructional, or enlightening. I’d rather have a great “bad beer” story to tell friends over good beer, or learn that doing X and Y to a beer might sound like a great idea but really isn’t which might be something that helps another brewer at another brewery sometime.

All these sound like lofty goals and ideals, it’s true. The other real reason we should travel for beer is quite simple: it’s fun.

On Anheuser-Busch buying 10 Barrel

I had been working on a long post on the buyout of Bend’s 10 Barrel Brewing by Anheuser-Busch but ultimately I think there’s been quite a lot written on all sides by people already that I feel like it would be redundant.

10 Barrel Pumpkin LambicHowever I’m the Bend Beer guy, and everyone wants to know what I think about it (it’s quite the topic of conversation in Bend these days, as you can imagine), so here’s my shorter answer:

Whether we like it or not, growth and consolidation is the future for craft beer, in whatever form it will take. The principals behind 10 Barrel are businessmen and they’ve worked hard to grow that business (you can read about it in Bend Beer, of course), so for them at this moment in 10 Barrel’s history this is a smart move. I was very surprised at the announcement, but not really surprised that it happened.

That being said… there is a lot of real anger and backlash in the community right now towards them. From afar it must be easy to dismiss this backlash as simply “haters,” comment trolls, “scorned beer geeks,” jealousy or what have you, but here in the middle of it, talking to real people (not just reading Facebook comments), it’s none of those things. At its heart Bend is still a small, fiercely local community that supports local (and especially supports craft beer), and by itself 10 Barrel being sold would not be a problem—but they sold to a multinational megacorporation whose policies and practices are antithetical to the craft beer industry. And the community is not reacting well to that for a variety of reasons.

My own point of view is, I think it was a smart decision by 10 Barrel to grow their business as it’s where the industry is trending, and it was likely the right move at the right time for them. But yes, I am also unhappy that it was to Anheuser-Busch for several reasons, particularly because of the community backlash I’m seeing first hand. 10 Barrel will survive and probably thrive in the long run, but in the short run we need to remember that 10 Barrel is not just the name and image and beer, it’s the people, the brewers, the employees who work there—they are the ones who will be affected (directly and otherwise) by the anger and animosity the community is feeling right now. And that sucks.

Additional reading/food for thought:

  • According to the Brewers Association, 10 Barrel will no longer be defined as a “craft brewer” as they will be wholly owned “by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.”
  • Local television news station KTVZ has a story about other local brewers’ reaction to the sale. Most of the brewers contacted didn’t want to go on record. “Many didn’t want to go on-camera but told me the move is a bit of a sensitive subject.”
  • Angelo at Brewpublic has scored the first interview with 10 Barrel’s owners, and the first part of that interview is online now.