Rocky Mountain Brews
by Marty Jones
New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, Colo., has expanded its brewery in an effort to keep up with demand for its neo-Belgian beers and flagship Fat Tire. The company hosted a brewhouse open house in February to present the new facility. Like so much of New Belgium's operation, the new facility is a top-shelf mix of technology, brewing smarts and inspired thinking.
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The centerpiece of the brewhouse is a 200-barrel Steinecker brewing system that features the Merlin wort-heating system. Beer is dispersed over a heated cone and then circulated for 35 minutes, greatly reducing New Belgium's brewing times and energy costs. The system allows NB to brew 12 times in 24 hours. "We believe that over time we will be able to use half the energy to make twice the volume of beer," said New Belgium Technical Director Floris Delee.
The brewhouse's aesthetic touches include exposed wood beams and mosaic tile art surrounding each brew-kettle. Expansive windows provide natural light for brewers, and windows near the ceiling of the brewhouse open and release heat when inside temperatures rise beyond comfort levels. The brewing system also captures waste heat and reuses it the brewing process.
The brewery expansion is tied to a new wastewater treatment facility that treats water in five aerobic and anaerobic ponds. The water is cleaned and returned to the Fort Collins municipal water system. Methane gas from the water treatment is used to help generate electricity in the brewhouse.
Attendees at the brewery unveiling were treated to magnums of a limited-release beer, Fat Tire Tandem Ale. Kin to Fat Tire in name only, Tandem is a caramel-colored, bottle-conditioned thriller that is dry-hopped and fermented with two Belgian yeast strains. It features citrus peel notes in its Orval-like nose, herbal hop flavors and a dry, Campari-ish finish. It was delightful. It's also all gone, a limited-release beer in the true sense, to the chagrin of this taster and others.
Cynics who snicker at the mainstream appeal of Fat Tire should reconsider. Media Liaison Bryan Simpson points out that Fat Tire accounts for over 80 percent of NB's sales and supports the company's array of world-class beers, from NB's heavenly seasonals to its year-round gems such as Trippel and Abbey. "We're not resting on the laurels of Fat Tire," Simpson said. "Because of that beer we get to be creative and make beers like La Folie and Biere de Mars." Roll on, Fat Tire.
In Other News
The Boulder Strong Ale Festival, held February 7-8 at the Barrel House, was a smash. Presented by Adam Avery and his cohorts at Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colo., the event presented a knee-knocking array of 40 beers all weighing in at over 8% abv. Colorado-brewed highlights included Avery's own beers (Hog Heaven, Salvation, a 2000 version of The Reverend, and The Czar Imperial Stout) and a wonderful Belgian strong ale from Palmer Lake Brewing in Colorado Springs.
Out-of-state stars included heavyweights from Dogfish Head (the verdant 90 Minute IPA), Russian River (the last Colorado keg of Pliny the Elder, now that the brewery has temporarily closed), Samuel Adams (the 24.3% abv Utopia) and hop-head satisfiers from California's Pizza Ports (Wipeout IPA and Hop 15).
The event was a huge thrill for Front Range strong-beer lovers. Shortcomings of the affair? Just one: Half of the Barrel House was bombarded with 1980s radio hits on a house PA the staff apparently didn't know how to turn down. The barrage made thoughtful discussion of the beers difficult and proved that songs by Rick Springfield, Journey and Billy Squier are in bad taste at a beer tasting.
Speaking of tasting, Breckenridge Brewery has released its latest year-round beer, American Hefe Proper. An unfiltered American-style wheat beer, it's being marketed as an accessible companion to Breck's Avalanche. Hefe Proper is presented in new packaging that bears a weathered look and feel.
Marty Jones is a Denver freelance writer and leader of Marty Jones & the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys, Colorado's kings of bash-grass and drunky-tonk. Got beer news from the Rocky Mountain region? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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