Thursday, September 23, 2010

Denver Day 2: Is that Ed Helms?







These people can drink. They are tireless and unflinching in their consumption of beer. They put me to shame. They also do not weigh 115 pounds, so I try not to get discouraged when I can't keep up.

We had our first brewery tour today at New Belgium, but our bus mates were not about to wait until we got to the brewery in Fort Collins to imbibe. They drank Oskar Blues and Ska Brewery cans from a cooler on the seat across from us. We were patient.

New Belgium is the third largest craft brewery in America, behind Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. This fact was surprising to me, considering that New Belgium's distribution is limited to just a few states. While Ohio may get surprised with the occasional errant sixer of Fat Tire, we do not get to partake in any of their beers 99.9% of the time.


One of the limited edition New Belgium bicycles.

I have to say, I fell in love with New Belgium Brewery. They are real environmental stewards in every way. Yes, they tend to brag about it, but they have every right to. Their brewery has been employee-owned for several years. They rely on natural light, solar panels, and wind power to produce their beer. Spent grain goes to farms (a fairly common process). They reuse water. They have communal bikes that employees can use to travel around Fort Collins. And after each employee's first year, he or she receives a free limited edition New Belgium bicycle. After five years, they receive an all-expenses paid trip to Belgium. It sounds like a truly awesome place to work. There's also a metal curly slide that takes employees from the catwalk above the bottling area to the main floor of the brewery. We got to go down it!

I did my best to catch James coming down the slide!

Our beers were fantastic. My favorite was the 1554 black lager. It was crisp, roasty-toasty, and refreshing. Brewing black lagers seems to be a big trend right now with craft brewers, and I'm totally okay with that. I also got a snifter of one of their "Lips of Faith" beers, which are basically experimental small-batches that they release for brewpub visitors. This one was called La Folie, a sour ale that tasted like granny smith apples. So good. The best beer of the day by far. It's a shame that I'll never get to drink it again.

For all the Fat Tire worshippers out there (I personally think it's solid but hugely overrated), we got the scoop on the name of the New Belgium flagship. When the founder visited Belgium for the first time, he took his mountain bike so he could travel like the locals and immerse himself in their beer culture. Because the mountain bike was a relatively new invention and most of the Belgians had lighter, more street-friendly bicycles, they all laughed at his crazy "fat-tired" bike.

Since we had some time after our tour of the very spunky, very hip New Belgium, we got to take a bit of a diversion and visit Odell Brewery in downtown Fort Collins. James and I broke off from the group early to explore the area and we came across a ton of cool cafes and shops, including one very tiny toy store with a crazy science teacher-type dude who tried to wow us with his inventions. James and I enjoyed our time away from the group. It got me really excited for our road trip west after our time in Colorado. Adam will be happy to know that we crossed over the Poudre River! Go, Poudre!

All inside jokes aside, the river and the trail were beautiful.


We found this bear on the main street in Fort Collins.

Odell Brewery was an absolute treat. It's a small brewery with the same heart and a similar philosophy as New Belgium (everybody lives "green" out here!) The beers are just as solid, and the fact that they're a small batch brewery gives them a lot of freedom to experiment. The tour was fantastic. We got to see some of the barrels that they age certain beers in, and were surprised to learn that some of the fresh unused barrels come from a company that was formerly located in Canton.

James sniffing some dry Amarillo hops at Odell Brewery

On the way in, we each got to pick a ten ounce pour of a beer of our choice. I opted for the Curry Wheat beer. Although I normally think wheat beers can get boring and are often uninspired, the introduction of one of my favorite spices was too much to bear. And yes, it was excellent. Very well-balanced, and the curry was present but not overwhelming.

If I would have known that we would each get our own six beer sampler upon completion of the tour, I would have said nay to the 10 ouncer. Alas, I had to drink more beer. I got the "pilot" sampler, a selection of the brewery's new experiments. James got a sampler of their flagship beers. One of my favorites was a wheat beer that had a strong hop presence. The wheats are really different out west. It's awesome. They also had this beer called the Ellipsis, which was a British-style imperial sour or something like that. It was absolutely nuts. Sour plum, apple, sugar...just candy in a glass. So complex and tasty.

Yes, we drank all of these beers. We are champions. Big, bloaty champions.

We did some souvenir shopping at Odell, leaving with a branded bottle opener that we can drill into our wall and a $25 250 mL bottle of the Woodcut aged lager. We'll have to crack that open with the family at Christmas!

After the pleasant surprise at Odell, we were jazzed to visit Left Hand. This is one of my favorite breweries. Their Sawtooth ESB is a favorite of mine, a definite standby that I order when I can't be forced to make a decision. And it never disappoints.

We were so shocked at how small Left Hand was. They have a huge footprint around the country and the world, but their production numbers are so low. Because their beers are available everywhere in our area, we definitely didn't expect to see what a comparatively tiny operation this was. The brewery tour was short but sweet, and we finally got to see the bottling process after the previous two breweries seemed to be on break in the bottling area. Yeah, it was cool. Lots of Laverne & Shirley jokes with diminishing returns.

Left Hand was kind enough to serve us a pasta dinner after a day of drinking. It kind of reminded me of Joe's Happy Fun Barbecue when they placed two big pans of spaghetti and pesto bow tie pasta on a buffet for us. We feel huge right now.

I got to taste a Jackmans Pale Ale and a Twin Sisters Double IPA on cask. So, so good. After the tour I ordered a Sawtooth ESB. Like any beer, it tasted so much better from the tap at the brewpub than it does out of the bottle. So awesome. I also enjoyed a pub exclusive called Starsky & Scotch. By that point, I could tell that the beer was good, but I just wasn't enjoying beers anymore. I kicked James' butt in checkers because he was so checked out.

I bought a pub glass with the left hand logo. On the side of it it reads, "sometimes you just don't feel like drinking what everybody else is drinking" or something like that. It was too perfect, and a steal at $4.

We haven't gotten too much free stuff by mentioning that we're on our honeymoon, but that might be because we're on a big tour with a bunch of people. We did get free stickers and chapstick at New Belgium, but mostly people are just being nice and kind to us when they hear that we're recently married. There's always tomorrow.

So right now my goal is to find the best hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint in Denver. There is SO much Mexican food out here. Is any of it better than Cozumel? I don't know, but I'm bent on finding out!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Denver Day 1: Rich Girl

Our early arrival in Denver this morning ended up being pretty fortuitous. We stowed our bags behind the desk at the hotel and set out to explore the city. With no beer tour commitments until 7:00, we had plenty of time to get to know the mile high city.

We spent about an hour roaming the stacks at the Tattered Cover, a multi-floored bookstore that I understand is somewhat of an institution in Denver. After browsing all that time, we left empty-handed but we hope to return and pick up some souvenirs for the road. Hopefully that creepy kid sleeping on a chair upstairs with a coffee table book spread over his lap won't be there next time. We also rested our heads on some riverside rocks in Confluence Park, though we never did end up finding the dog park. (It's all good--we passed several fine canine specimens throughout the day).



Our best decision was to shell out $16 a piece to see Denver Aquarium. I go to a lot of aquariums. I won't say that this was the best, but it was a lot of fun and we got to see several species we don't really get to see out east, like Wolf Eel, Hawkfish, and several kinds of trout. The exhibits were all very well maintained and viewable from several angles, so I got to get in there with my new camera and show off.


James tried to make a connection with a river otter, and then we realized that it was being, uh, mounted. Disturbing? Romantic?



I got to see so many kinds of sharks. Denver Aquarium really spreads the sharks out, placing them in almost every region of the building. We saw epaulet sharks, pajama catsharks, swell sharks, leopard sharks, sawfish, zebra sharks, sandtigers, nurse sharks, and brown sharks. They all glided overhead and around us amongst green sea turtles, barracuda, and unicornfish. My favorite part of the trip was seeing living shark embryos in their egg cases. It was so cool seeing their gills move and watching their little tails twitch. There are some species of sharks that give live birth, but several species lay eggs in these cases that are often referred to as "mermaids purses". Stupid, I know. Oh, speaking of stupid, there was a "mermaid demonstration" at the aquarium, which basically meant that two sort of average looking girls with wigs got to sit in cheap-looking costumes at the edge of the stingray touch pool and block my shine. No matter. We still touched those rays something fierce! The cownose rays were especially friendly, slapping their fins against the side of the pool and sticking their noses up, begging to be touched. Very sweet animals!




I never get tired of aquariums. This visit was the perfect start to the trip. Well, actually the real perfect start to the trip was when we took our shuttle from the airport to the hotel: the driver heard "Rich Girl" come on the radio and just cranked that! We had a sing-a-long together while James and I noshed on our bag of Combos (the BEST road trip snack).

First observations on Denver:

Bikes! Everywhere! Fit people riding lightweight bicycles, obeying traffic laws, getting respect, looking sharp and healthy.

Marijuana! Everywhere! Yes, you can get medicinal marijuana here. We passed a truck advertising "unique cannabis options" and a few centers where you can get it.

Beer! We had our first beer ahead of schedule today at Wynkoop Brewery. It's the oldest Brewpub in Denver, and a very very cool building with free shuffleboard and billiards upstairs until 7:00 and a comedy club in the basement. The beers are excellent. I had a Schwarzbier that bordered on a porter--very toasty, very robust. James had a vegetable ale with chiles in it! It was insane! So good, and it paired well with his burrito. I enjoyed a vegan sloppy joe.

Tonight we dine with the other beer tourists at Denver Chop House where we get free dinner and two free beers. Cheers!