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Rocky Mountain Brews
Those of you who have been around the Rocky Mountain craft beer scene for any length of time realize that brewing is a fluid business in more ways than one. Over the years, we’ve seen dozens of craft brewing operations come and go.

A handful of successful breweries — through some combination of product popularity, visibility, company vibe, business savvy and sheer longevity — have played a part in defining the region’s beer culture. That’s why Flying Dog Brewery’s mid-December announcement that its entire brewing operations were moving to Frederick, Md., felt a bit like the family pooch had run away and been adopted by a new family with a nicer yard. The canine-themed company has been a fixture in the Colorado beer scene since Flying Dog opened its doors in Aspen in 1990.

The Frederick facility already produces 70 percent of the Flying Dog beers, has twice the bottling capacity of the Denver facility and has the capability to produce a wider range of recipes. President Eric Warner cited financial reasons for the move and also said that the company’s business operations would remain largely unaffected, with accounting, sales, marketing and other administrative functions remaining in Denver.

Even in the depths of winter, local beer folk have much to look forward to.

Craft brewers are an innovative lot. Often, innovation means taking old or established ideas and applying them in new ways. A perfect example is Oskar Blues’s remarkable foray into canning, which began a half-decade ago. To call the venture a success would be a gross understatement. Oskar’s sold its first cans of Dale’s Pale Ale in November 2002.

Since then, the brewery’s production has jumped from 700 barrels annually to 14,000 barrels in 2007, proving to naysayers that aluminum cans could have appeal beyond the world of yellow beer. The Lyons, Colo., brewpub commemorated the fifth anniversary of its micro-canning operation in several ways. In late 2007, cans of Ten FIDY Imperial Stout were released in four-packs to select stores in Colorado and beyond. The viscous 10% winter seasonal pours inky-black from its metallic container and bombards the palate with a barrage of sweet and roasted malt flavors.

In early December, the Cajun-themed brewpub threw an anniversary party featuring a buffet of beer-can chicken (of course), barbecued beef, boiled crawfish and, for amusement, mechanical bull riding. The event also served as the official rollout of yet another packaging experiment: 5-liter (1.3-gallon) mini-kegs of Dale's Pale Ale.

Up in Idaho Springs, Tommyknocker Brewery has also borrowed technology from the world of macro-brewing with interesting results. Last September, the mountain brewery installed a tunnel pasteurizer to increase the stability and shelf life of several specialty beers, including their Cocoa Porter Winter Warmer, Maple Nut Brown Ale and Tundrabeary Ale. Surprisingly, the pasteurizing process seems to brighten the flavors of the adjunct ingredients used in these beers. In a side-by-side comparison of pasteurized and unpasteurized samples of the Cocoa Porter, several colleagues and I found the pasteurized version to be noticeably smoother with a more pronounced and clearly defined cocoa quality.

Several Colorado breweries were among a handful of U.S. breweries receiving honors in a pair of international beer competitions. The European Beer Star competition took place at the Brau Beviale trade show in Nuremberg, Germany, late last year. The competition included 575 entries from breweries in 58 countries. Denver’s Great Divide Brewing Company took home a silver medal for Titan IPA and a second silver for Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. In the same competition, Longmont’s Left Hand Brewery earned a silver medal for its tasty Milk Stout.

At the 2007 Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival, Great Divide won another silver medal for Saint Bridget’s Porter while Fort Collins’s Odell Brewing Company received a bronze medal for its 5 Barrel Pale Ale.

Even in the depths of winter, local beer folk have much to look forward to. On Saturday, February 23, Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Company will host the finals of the 2008 Beerdrinker of the Year competition. The event promises great drama, copious chuckles and Wynkoop beer specials, including a lavender-infused ale produced by Head Brewer Thomas Larsen and Diane Catanzaro, the 2007 Beerdrinker of the Year.

While we endure what are typically the snowiest months of the year, a host of hearty offerings should help ward off cabin fever. Longmont’s Pumphouse Brewery is planning a February release of both its Backdraft Imperial Stout (10%) and Firestone Double White, a Belgian ale brewed with fresh blood orange peel, coriander and other secret spices.

At nearby Left Hand Brewing Company, early March will see the release of Chainsaw Strong Ale, which is described as a double sawtooth. The 9% ale will be available in 750-ml silk-screened Belgian beer bottles and kegs.

March will also usher in Collaboration Not Litigation Ale from Avery Brewing. This 9% Belgian strong ale is a blending of Avery’s Salvation Ale and the like-named Salvation from California’s Russian River Brewing Company. Another March arrival from Avery will be Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale. The 9.8% hop-head’s elixir will pack a pungent punch of over 100 IBUs.

If you’re headed up to ski country, check out Malt Mountain Scotch Ale at Wolf Rock Brewing at Keystone Resort. The beer is named for its massive malt bill, which includes a dozen different malts.

Down in Telluride, visitors to Smuggler’s Brew Pub can indulge in Imperial San Juan SkyHOP, big brother of the popular San Juan SkyHOP. The 10.4% American double red ale is fermented with two yeast strains and hopped to a jaw-dropping 124 IBUs.

Rumors are afloat that the folks at Boulder’s Mountain Sun/Southern Sun brewpubs are planning a Denver pub venture around 17th Avenue, near City Park. Stay tuned for further details.




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