What does a beer lover do when the Great American Beer Festival is sold out? I decided to go to Denver the weekend before and participate in the Denver Beer Fest which focuses on just Colorado beers. It’s the third year for the week-long event proceeding GABF and one event in particular, Great Contenders, allowed us to sample about 50 different brews from more than 20 Colorado breweries (full review in another post).
One of the stars from that event was Bristol Brewing Company. We met David Boone who was pouring a beer called Laughing Lab. It is a Scottish Ale and their flagship beer. It is so popular in the Colorado Springs and Denver areas that Boone was surprised we’d never heard of it. My husband explained that we were visiting from Texas and asked if we could come down and tour the facility. A few emails and a one-hour drive South from Denver and we arrived at the Bristol Brewing tasting room where Laura Long (pictured) told us more about the beers on tap and showed us around the facility.
Laura pours our beers in the tasting room at Bristol Brewery
We tried the three beers Boone brought to the Great Contenders event – Laughing Lab, the best in show brew that brought us here, Cheyenne Cañon Piñon Nut Ale and Red Rocket Pale Ale. Laura set us up with a full tasting at the brewery. When she said that she likes to present the beers from malts to hops, I knew we were going to get along just fine. As you know, many brewpubs sort their beers by the color wheel. I wonder if that isn’t to train the wait staff on which beer is which when they set them down on the laminated menu. Since I’m used to a bartender setting glasses down and walking away, it was a real treat to sip the beers with someone who knew the flavors and was able to answer questions.
Beehive Honey Wheat – is an unfiltered American-style wheat that uses an ale yeast and Black Forest honey. It has a thin mouth feel and is easy to drink year round. Looking at the merchandise available for sale, this is a popular brew with the ladies. I almost always start out with a wheat beer but this is one that you could stick with all day and into the night. No fruit served on the side which always makes me happy. The citrus stands alone and the creamy head stuck to the side of the glass all the way down. Fresh from the brewer’s teat is the only way to drink a wheat beer.
Laughing Lab – is a Scottish Ale that uses 6 different malts. Half of what they produce at the brewery is Laughing Lab and it is their flagship offering. Laura told us that when they first started brewing, Mike Bristol predicted that they’d do 70% of their business with the Red Rocket Pale Ale and 30% serving Laughing Lab. Who would have thought that a Scottish Ale with a little bit of a peppery aftertaste would overtake a Pale Ale in a city with so many craft brews to choose from? I know that when we go into a store, as dog lovers we have often been persuaded to try a new beer simply because there was a dog on the label. Marketing or no, the success of this beer is well deserved. We flew home with one six pack in our luggage to share with our friends in Texas and it was this beer. Read more about Camden, the dog on the label here and here. Bristol Brewing is also featured on page 8 of The Brew Dogs of Colorado book.
Mass Transit Ale – is an amber ale and when I asked the locals, this was one of the top three they named as their favorite from Bristol. Nothing distinct stood out to me about this beer besides the color (lighter than most – almost golden copper) but even in that, I was impressed with many Colorado brewers for putting up beers that represented the style of the beer as opposed to the tweaks they could make to distinguish the beer from others in the same category. Tasting beer in Colorado is like trying to pick one pure-bred from another in the same class at the Westminster Dog Show. This amber is one of the best you’ll taste in its class and could be the poster child for an American Amber. How do I know? Because Laura turned me on to the BJCP Styles app for my iPod touch.
Hoppy Joy Mascot, Herbert, reads the tasting menu at Bristol Brewing
Yellow Kite Summer Pilsner – is available from April to October. This uses a German pilsen barley, Saaz hops, and a lager yeast. It has a touch of sourness that I like and expect in a German pilsner (i.e., Pilsner Urquell).
50th Anniversary ESBee – Bristol brewed a beer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Golden Bee pub at The BROADMOOR resort. This was one of two ESB’s they had on tap. What struck me about this beer was that it wasn’t flat like I associate with European versions of this style. The head was creamy and the taste was a bit fruity.
Local 5 Ale – was the second ESB they had on tap in the tasting room. This is one of their community beers. Four times a year, Bristol brews a batch of beer where 100 percent of the proceeds go to local charities. This one is for the firefighter’s union. Laura told me that they only have about 250 firefighters serving approximately 600,000 people in the Colorado Springs area. The proceeds from this beer help the union transport and host families of fallen firefighters who come in for the national Fallen Fire Fighters memorial services held in Colorado Springs each year. Enjoy the malty goodness of this beer and donate to a good cause.
Red Rocket Pale Ale – was one of the brews I reviewed for the Great Contenders event. It’s a citrusy hop with a good bite and a clean finish. We happened upon this brew at The 1Up bar on Blake Street in Downtown Denver. I remember thinking this was pretty intense for my first beer of the day but after putting something else on my palate at the event and again in the tasting room, it is a very different and smooth brew. My notes after tasting this beer at Great Contenders said, “Very happy with this brewery.” If I were to put a beer flight together to represent this brewery, I would do the Beehive, the Lab, Red Rocket and the next one on our list, Compass IPA.
Compass IPA – is served with nitro. Apparently it is also on tap with CO2 but they were out of that when we toured the facility. Laura suggests doing a side-by-side of the two to see how the nitro helps to balance the hops. I told Laura that I like to do beer tastings that bring people’s palates up to a beer they wouldn’t normally enjoy. My husband loves malts and I’m the admitted hophead, so for him to finish this sampler instead of passing the IPA over to me speaks to how effective it is to go from malt to hops in a beer tasting similar to how it’s normal to go dry to sweet during a wine tasting.
Cheyenne Cañon Piñon Nut Ale – was not one that we tasted at the brewery but we did get to try it at the Great Contenders event. This is another one of their community beers. It was served too cold at the event (hard to manage temperature in an ice bucket) but I let it warm up and it paid off. There were some good alcohol notes and I loved the effervescence.
Black Fox Cracked – is the saison from this wholly separate entity. John Schneider, a Bristol Brewer uses Bristol’s equipment and distribution channels with Mike’s full support. For two years, Black Fox has focused on Belgian-style ales. This Saison is only served in growlers which they brought to the Great Contenders event. It wasn’t peppery or sour and I would call it closer to a wit but it was a good offering and I love their logo and merchandise.
Venetucci Pumpkin Ale – was what was brewing when we came onsite. Another community beer, this one helps a family farm keep giving away free pumpkins to local school children and it is one of their most popular beers. The Bristol staff went out to the farm and hand-picked and roasted pumpkins to use in the brew. This isn’t an extract but real pumpkins. I saw them pulled out of the vat myself and it smelled divine. The farm reuses the spent grain from the brewery for feed and soil conditioning. The beer is released in late October and is gone by the first of the year. It is so popular that they limit how much any one person can purchase. If you are in the area during this time of year, I suggest stopping by the brewery for a taste.
With a Compass IPA in my hand, Laura took my husband and I on a quick tour of the facility. We saw the grist mill and she had us try a couple of the grains. She talked about the percentage of 2-row used versus the darker roasted barleys – a little goes a long way! Their brewing system is made to brew about 6500 barrels a year and she said they will push it to make about 9,000 this year. Colorado is the fifth largest barley producer but almost none of it is used for beer making. Colorado brewers are working on this.
She took us through the process from the mill to the boil, through the cooling system and into the glycol-lined tanks (pre-loaded with yeast) and finally to the bottling machine that runs twice a week. They redesigned their bottling system to reuse water and cut down on their total water consumption. Everywhere you turn, this company is doing the right thing for their community and the environment. We talked and twirled hops in our hands while Boone stood on the platform mixing the mash. A few minutes later, we walked through the refrigerator and back to the tasting room.
This is a brewery set for a major expansion and new equipment and it seems that it can’t happen soon enough. They had two custom fermenting tanks delivered early that were intended for the new, larger facility. With no place to put them, they had no choice but to cut the roof off of their existing facility to house the tanks. They’re working to get them under cover before the weather turns bad. Adding the capacity of two 100-barell tanks will effectively double if not triple what they can produce and distribute.
Laura educated me a bit about Colorado laws. As a microbrewery, they are allowed to sell beer at their facility. This isn’t something we can do in Texas. In Colorado, beer sold in grocery stores has to be 3.2 percent ABV or lower. This allows local liquor stores to give more space to craft beers and creates a great market for mom and pop shops to bring in customers. There was a bill this year that was turned down by Colorado state legislators (HB1284 ) that would have jeopardized that working relationship between liquor stores and the 124+ craft brewers in the state.
Board on display in the tasting room gives visitors the vital stats on all the beers on tap.
Bristol Brewing Company was our greatest find on our trip to Colorado. We skipped the self-guided walking tour at Coors (if you’re in Boulder though, don’t forget to stop by Avery) and we opted out of the trip to Idaho Springs where we planned to eat at Tommyknockers. After this tour, we even decided not to make the drive north to New Belgium because we were just so impressed with this little brewery and that was what we were hoping to find this week as we focused on Colorado craft brews. I told everyone to look out for Southern Star which is one of our local breweries in Conroe, Texas and it’s about a third of the size (in production) of Bristol Brewing. I can’t wait to visit their new facility in the coming years and watch this brewery grow, but I hope they never get big enough to do a self-guided tour. Thanks for the special treatment and attention, Boone and Laura!