Thursday, March 3, 2011

I'll Be the Judge of That: 2011 Beer Drinker of the Year

This wig is way too tight!
 If perchance you were wondering why there was no blog last week, here's the reason:  my lovely wife Elaine and I were in Denver for the 2011 Beer Drinker of the Year Finals at the Wynkoop Brewing Company (AKA The Place Where I Can Drink For Free).  Yes, I had to pass my crown along to my successor as BDOTY last Saturday.

Unlike when we flew down there last year for me to compete, this year's trip was so relaxed that it should count as a mini-vacation.  Since this was our third "beer" trip to Denver in a year, we had the lay of the land down.  Still, Denver is such a great beer town that we still found great new things to do.  Here are some highlights:

Outside of Pints Pub
Lunch at Pints Pub.  This British-inspired brewpub was on my list to visit back in September during the GABF, but we just never made it there.  Too bad, as Elaine and I thought it was a great place.  The food was excellent, the single-malt Scotch selection is the biggest outside of Britain and the cask-conditioned beers were pretty good.  I led off with a pint of their Dark Star Ale, listed on the menu as being in the "Yorkshire-style", so I was looking for either a Northern Brown Ale or perhaps a Black Mild.  In the glass it was a dark, translucent brown, with a small tan head that dissipated to a collar.  The nose held some hop aroma, along with roast malt.  Carbonation was spot on for a cask ale, the balance was excellent, with the roast malt flavors guiding you on to a nice finish.  All-in-all, very nice and a good start to lunch.

Inside Pints Pub
Next, I ordered the other beer on cask, their Lancer IPA.  This brew was less impressive than the first, I'm afraid.  Visually, it was very appealing, copper-colored with a nice, long-lasting head.  The aroma was nice, with plenty of floral hops.  However, I found an off flavor when I tasted it, something phenolic, reminding me a little of nail polish.  Not so bad as to make me send the pint back, but I certainly wouldn't order another.  Still, I would certainly recommend a visit to Pints when you're in Denver; it's cleaner and brighter than a real English Pub, but that's not necessarily a bad thing...

Bill's Strong Scotch Ale
Drinking "my" beer at the Wynkoop: One of the rewards of being chosen as BDOTY is that you get to design a beer that will be brewed by Wynkoop and served during the next year's competition.  Back in September, I had given Andy Brown, their head brewer, the "specs" for my beer, based on the H & H Highland Ale that I had helped brew at St. Elias on Labor Day.  Andy made some adjustments to adapt the beer to his equipment and also to convert it to a cask-conditioned ale.  The beer was released on 2/17, and  Elaine and I dropped in on Thursday 2/24 to give it a try.  The beer engine that delivered the beer was equipped with a long swan neck and a sparkler, perfectly correct for a beer style from the north of Britain.  Together, they produced a beautiful dark brown pint, with a lovely, frothy inch-thick head.  The aroma was of caramel, with a touch of smoke, the carbonation was excellent, and the flavors were superb.  Andy even used oak spirals to impart a slight woodiness.  Bill's Strong Scotch Ale was everything I'd hoped it would be, and I am proud to tip my cap to Andy for a job well done.

Me & my friend Pliny
Enjoying hard to get brews at the Falling Rock Tap House: No beer lover can visit Denver and not make at least one stop at Falling Rock; it's the law.  Especially on a weekend when they're planning to tap a small amount of Russian River's Pliny the Younger Triple IPA.  This is the amped-up version of their Pliny the Elder Double IPAPliny the Younger is only released in February and is available in only a select few spots besides the brewery tap.  It's 11% ABV, has IBUS off the charts due to using three times the hops of a standard IPA and being dry-hopped four times.  Falling Rock released a few gallons at 1 PM on Saturday, 2/26, and I was there to get a glass.  The beer was a very pretty clear gold with a nice white head, almost like a nice pilsner.  The hop aroma was massive, as you would expect.  On the tongue, the hop flavor was equally massive, totally masking the alcohol.  Easily one of the hoppiest beers I've ever had, I'm not sure that I would say that it lived up to the hype.  Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing beer, but I can't help thinking that it wouldn't be quite so highly prized if it wasn't so hard to get.  Still, I'm glad I got to try it and form my own opinion, rather than reading those of everyone else.

While I was waiting for the Pliny the Younger to be tapped, I had a pint of Pizza Port (San Clemente) ABLE Session IPA.  I picked this beer for a couple of reasons:  First, we don't get Pizza Port here in Alaska, but they seem to do well in competitions.  Second, it was only 4.2% ABV and I wanted to keep a clear head, as I needed to be a judge later in the afternoon.  This turned out to be an inspired choice, as I thoroughly enjoyed the beer.  It poured a light gold with a nice white head, once again more pilsner in appearance than the typical copper color of an IPA.  It had a nice clean hop aroma and a very pleasing balance of carbonation and bitterness from the Centennial hops used exclusively to make it.  In sum it was very enjoyable and certainly lived up to its name as a session beer; I could have drunk pints of it all afternoon.
Oskar Blues ODB Barley Wine

During a separate visit to Falling Rock, I had a beer which was most certainly not a session beer: Oskar Blues Brewing's Old Double Bagger (ODB) Barley Wine.  This was another beer that I picked off the chalkboard beer list without knowing anything about it, simply on the brewery's reputation.  At 13.2% ABV and 100 IBUs, this beer is a monster; the first sip made me think of their Old Chub on steroids!  It was a dark ruby in the glass with a nice cream head that left lace all the way to the bottom.  The aroma was of caramel, alcohol, maybe some wood and a touch of smoke, along with a touch of citrusy hops from the Columbus variety that was used exclusively to make this powerful brew.  It had great mouthfeel; smooth, rich, and warming with a long slow finish.  Oskar Blues claims this beer is a work in progress, and will improve as it ages.  As good as it is now, I shudder tho think that it can get better!

How's that for lace?
Dropping in at The Cheeky Monk:  No visit to Denver is complete without hitting the massive Argonaut Liquor store on Colfax Avenue to load up on beers to carry back to Alaska.  And no walk to and from Argonaut is complete without stopping in at The Cheeky Monk for a beer.  Easily one of the nicest Belgian Beer bars around, I love dropping in since you never know hat they'll have on tap.  While I had missed the Dogfish Head World-Wide Stout by a day (darn it!), they still had Boulevard Brewing's Tank #7 Farmhouse Ale on.  I had this beer in a bottle on my last visit to Denver (see my review on 9/27/2010) and loved it, so I didn't pass up a chance to have it on draft.  It was just as excellent as I remembered and produced some of the most perfect Belgian lace I'd ever seen.  So perfect in fact that I had to have Elaine snap a photo of it.

Lamb stew + Scotch ale = Mmmmmm!
Friday Night Beer Dinner at Wynkoop:  This was something new for this year's BDOTY contest.  A Beer Dinner held the night before, open to the public, and showcasing beer and food pairings chosen by the current title-holder and the three finalists.  Each finalist was given a different dish and asked to select a beer to pair with it. James Clark from Virginia was assigned the first course, a salad of Scottish bangers, malt vinegar cole slaw and apples.  He chose to pair it with Ska Brewing's ESB.  Phil Farrell from Georgia, back for his fourth time as a finalist, was given the main entree of grilled tri-tip steak, twice-baked potato, roasted garlic and thyme butter, and succotash; he chose to pair it with an Avery Dugana Imperial IPA.  The dessert course fell to Mike Dixon from North Carolina, a flour-less chocolate habanero cake with creme anglaise, which he matched up with Great Divide's Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout.  As for me, I had it easier as the beer was already chosen: Bill's Strong Scotch Ale.  I just needed to come up with a dish to pair with it.  Working with the Wynkoop folks, we settled on with a lamb stew served in a sourdough bread bowl, served as the second course.At the very end of the meal, we finished up with a glass of Wynkoop's The Coupler, an Imperial Barrel-aged Milk Stout.  The beer pairings were well thought out and worked quite well; all the beers were exceptional.  The food was excellent as well, except for the dessert.  I'm afraid there was a little too much habanero in it, and I say that as someone who likes spicy foods!  Still, it was a wonderful evening and a great addition to the BDOTY festivities.

God save this honorable court!

James & Mike look on in awe as Phil blathers.
The Contest:  At 2 PM on Saturday, the three finalists put on their thinking caps and put their best foot forward in an effort to impress the seven judges.  I can honestly say that all of us judges were impressed by each of the finalists; it was easy to see why they had made it to this top level.  We tossed questions-- some serious, some less so-- at them for over two hours in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Wynkoop.  Each of the contestants took their turns at whispering to beer, listening to beer, and even trying to bribe us.  Finally, we retired to deliberate.  The discussion was vigorous, but in the end the judges were unanimous in selecting Phil Farrell of Atlanta (AKA The Chicken Guy) as Beer Drinker of the Year for 2011.  I had the great pleasure of making the announcement and being the first to shake Phil's hand and surrender the title of BDOTY to him for the next twelve months.  But I'd like to challenge all of your reading this to think long and hard about entering next year's competition; even if you don't win, it's still great fun.  And I know we'll be seeing James and Mike back again in the future.

All Hail Phil Farrell, 2011 Beer Drinker of the Year

That about wraps up my recent beer travels, but there are a couple of upcoming local events that I must mention.

First, at noon tomorrow (Friday, March 4), Kenai River Brewing Company will begin selling their new six-packs of Skilak Scottish Ale to the public.  To celebrate, they will be cooking up bratwurst in the beer and giving them away at the brewery, starting when they open at noon.  Beer and brats for Friday lunch?  How can you beat that?

Second, you may or may not realize that next Tuesday, March 8, is Mardi Gras. As someone who was born and reared in the Crescent City, Fat Tuesday is a very important holiday to me.  In celebration of the last day of Carnival, St. Elias Brewing Company will be serving gumbo and will have a 10-piece Dixieland jazz band playing from 7 PM on.  So why not put on your masque and stop by to have one last blow-out before Lent starts and we aren't allowed to have anything except doppelbocks for the next 40 days?

Until Next Time, Cheers!


Cody said...

You had a busy weekend! Yep, you hit some real classics down here in Denver. You probably used all the money you saved at the Koop to pay your bill at the Cheeky Monk! It is a bit pricey, but I love that bar too. It was great to see you and Elaine again, and we'll hook up this August in Alaska.

Cody Christman - 2009 BDOTY

takajose said...

Just now "found" your blog! My brother lives in Denver, so I'll have to ask him if he's been to the watering holes you mentioned! (Somehow I'm guessing yes). Nice to see you're enjoying retirement ;) Adveriad!