Saturday, October 2, 2010

Denver Day 4: Tulo!

Breckenridge Brewery served us an insane brunch. Their western-Mexican culinary flair manifested itself in spicy queso egg bakes, creamy chorizo gravy over biscuits, seasoned homefries with bell peppers and onions, bacon, and delicious green grapes coated in yogurt and drizzled with the same agave nectar that's used in their famous Agave Wheat.

With my breakfast, I threw back a surprisingly hoppy and subtly spiced saison that I probably won't ever taste again. Their brown ale was also quite good. In Cleveland, we are never far from Breckendridge's oatmeal stout, Avalanche amber, and vanilla porter. It was cool to sample some different non-flagship beers from the 'ridge.

Another thing I respect about the Breckenridge brew pub is that they are a barbecue restaurant. Most of the brewpubs we visited (if not all of them) offered the same mix of ethnic sausage platters, pizzas, beer cheese soup, and burgers. Seeing a pub that specializes in something different different was refreshing.

After our Breck tour, we somehow ended up getting a private tour of Great Divide outside of regular business hours.

Great Divide's pub is tiny. Our group of 30 stifled all natural movement and filled the place with hot breath and noise. It wasn't until our group split in half for tours that I noticed the cool handmade wooden boxes filled with found objects hanging on the walls. I instantly fell in love with the Hoss, a rye lager branded with a label like a Woolrich jacket. My smoked baltic porter was also a treat.

The tour was brisk, but interesting. The guide, like the others, assumed that we were already familiar with the brewing process and instead concentrated on the history of the brewery and pub, which was once a milk bottling plant. He explained how Great Divide received a grant to build their brewpub in this vacant and somewhat depressed area, as they promised jobs, environmental stewardship, and tourism. For as much as these smaller breweries teased New Belgium for its in-your-face touchy-feely mission statements, they all kind of do the same, with just a little more subtlety and a healthy dose of self-awareness.

On our last day of organized brewery touring, James and I scored two tickets to the would-be sellout Rockies/Giants game at Coors Field. Sated by a coal-fired veggie pizza, we hiked up the steps to our seats, located above the purple row of seats that marks a mile above sea level.

On that night, the Rockies were still playoff contenders, though their hopes have pretty much been dashed since. Early in the game a foul ball sliced into the stands and the stadium heaved a collective gasp. I laughed and noted to James that this was a pretty dramatic, reactive crowd before realizing that it has been so long since I attended a sold-out baseball game. The last Indians game I attended had only 6,000 other attendants. In a crowd like that, you don't get that grand reaction. You hear individual conversations float lazily over rows of empty seats. From the right spots you can hear the guys in the press box announcing for radio.
It was in that moment of sonic unity that I became invested in this game. The stakes were tangible. I rose excitedly for every base hit. I slammed my fist against the armrest when the starting pitcher got lit up in his first few innings. I high-fived the big dude next to me who was kind enough to share his giant bag of peanuts, so long as we agree to tolerate his newlywed jokes.

We watched the rest of the game after the fifth from various walkways throughout Coors Field and happily stayed to holler and high-five when the game came down to a thrilling play at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the tenth. This kind of win in the cold thin September air always takes me back to the golden years at Jacobs field. October baseball felt close again at Coors Field. It broke my heart to think of returning home to the losing team I call mine, but for that one night I got to hang my hopes on somebody else's hometeam. I hope it wasn't my Clevelander aura that jinxed them when we packed up and left town after that big win, four games behind in the wildcard race.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Denver Day 3: Business Time

Our three-brewery excursion exhausted us. We woke with dry mouths and nagging headaches which would only be quelled by a rigorous morning workout and several cups of tap water.

Working out at this elevation is humbling. Just shuffling on an elliptical with little resistance for a mile was taxing. I took shallow and unfulfilling breaths. Still, to commit to working out while slightly hung over and still jet lagged gave me a burst of positivity that I carried with me on the bus to Boulder.

James and I were nuts enough to crack open a beer on the way to more beer. We shared a crisp, malty blonde sharply packaged in an aluminum can by Ska Brewing Company. As we polished off our can and turned our eyes forward, we were overwhelmed by the beautiful severity of the Rocky Mountains beyond the bus' dashboard. We were driving into those mountains, or they were about to consume us. Either way, the view was impressive. We wondered about the scattered lodges and houses built onto the sides of the mountain range. Recalling Colorado's recent brush fires added drama to the scene.

A skankin' good brew

Boulder Brewing Company stands at the feet of the Rockies. The door at the loading dock rolls up to reveal the snow-crested mountains. When we first arrived at the scene we were greeted with an outdoor beer garden picnic, complete with centerpieces and decorative hop vine garlands. The grillmaster hooked his iPod up to a portable stereo and we all received a pint of our choice to as a party favor. I opted for the Buffalo Gold, a golden ale that I've never seen in Ohio, even though it's been a staple at Colorado's first microbrewery since 1989.

If I worked at this brewery I'd keep the door open year-round

Our tour guide, affectionately dubbed Chicken Dan for reasons less interesting than the nickname itself, was goofy, sarcastic, wily, and endlessly entertaining. He led the tour in Willy Wonka fashion, madly gesturing towards various brewhouse elements with a long metal keg rod. His humor and vibrancy set this tour apart from the others. You can only see so many towering fermentors and bottling lines before they all start to look the same.

Chicken Dan and his pole

One anecdote that I fondly recall from Dan's tour is that Boulder Brewing Company started in a goat shed. For this reason, Boulder decorates its mug club mugs and pub walls with goats.

Our picnic at Boulder consisted of grilled burgers, brats, and hot dogs with a delicious potato salad and chips. I gave the vegetarian barley burger a shot, and it was delicious. The best beer I tasted on our trip (or one of them) was Boulder's dark mild English ale, named Business Time. This flavorful well-balanced session beer was fresh off a gold medal win at last week's Great American Beer Festival. The brew was so named because its low alcohol content makes it a manageable lunch hour beer, but when the marketing folks got a hold of it they turned the name into a Flight of the Conchords reference. Because James removed my garter to this song at our wedding, a marketing guy printed us two limited edition posters for the beer on excellent stock for no cost.

Sampling toasted malt gave us a great idea for a new cereal

The tour of Avery Brewing was fast and unremarkable, though our guide was personable enough. I think he knew we were already familiar with the brewing process and just wanted to get us to the good stuff: the beer. Avery is oddly located in an industrial park, so even though the pub itself is comfortable, it's tucked away in a place that I would probably avoid on weekends if I were a local. But again, the beer is what's important, and Avery does a fine job creating delicious small-batch treats. Some standouts included the casked sour ale (tapped by a tough dude with a sledgehammer!) and a passionfruit wheat beer unlike anything I've ever tasted. We spent some time playing with two retrievers hanging around the brewery and took home free branded glasses.

Tap that sour!

After two straight days of consuming nothing but beer, my new husband and I required a different kind of refreshment and some time away from the throng. For cocktails, the concierge recommended the Brown Palace, Colorado's oldest hotel, conveniently located a block away.

We were not prepared for the elegance and classic opulence of this hotel. Marble, onyx, carved wood, disarming high-ceilinged beauty. Our footsteps patted against the floor and their echoes hung importantly in the air. We were walking towards the Churchill Room, a cigar bar that James noted was probably once meant to be enjoyed by men only. For whatever reason, I found this to be dreadfully romantic. I ordered a Manhattan, which arrived in halves: one in a martini glass and the other in a shot glass placed in the center of a small, shallow bundt-shaped pan of ice. This perplexed me and I felt like a rube until our waitress assured us that this serving method was a Brown Palace exclusive.

James and I traded puffs of a mild cigar and he shared the muddled cherries from his old fashioned. Yes, we capped a day of drinking with more drinking. But being in a dark oaky room with James and looking into his eyes through the cigar smoke that rolled fluidly from his lips made me realize why we are doing this thing together and I felt overwhelmingly in love in that room.

Our beer tour friends let us snuggle in the throne at Avery