Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rocky Mountain High or I'm only here for the beer.........

Until now, Denver has only been a place I've passed through between airport and ski slope. While I'm pretty sure I visited the actual city as a child, I haven't had an opportunity to explore the area as an adult. Recently returned from a work related trip out there which among other things included brewery tours and time at the Great American Beer Festival (yes, I do love my job).

First stop was the town of Golden, home of the Coors Brewery, the world's largest brewing facility. Located just west of Denver along the foothills of the mountains, Golden has a charming little downtown with shops, cafes, and farmer's market. The Colorado School of Mines is located in Golden - was a bit surprised by the size of the campus. 
I was taken with the biking culture evident here - and around the area. In a visit to a recently relocated colleague's home on Lookout Mountain, I was impressed by the number (dozens, really, several dozen) of road cyclists we passed - climbing up the mountain. Also noticed a couple of large groups of mountain bikers on off-road trails along the way. This was a Wednesday night - these were not just casual weekend riders. This interest was reflected in a number of bike shops in town, numerous bike racks along the streets, and at least one manufacturer, Yeti, based there. An old poster in a  storefront caught my eye - looks like my kinda event!

Our group had a behind the scenes tour of the Coors brewery.

One thing I wasn't aware of was that they malt their own barley here. I've visited several other breweries, but have never seen the malting process (first soaking, then basically sprouting, and finally baking the barley in a kiln to the desired toast).
Blue Moon lover that I am, I had a smile when our guide pointed out the cart of ingredients in the Brew House....the orange zest and coriander for the Blue Moon recipe. He said you don't always see them brewing Blue Moon here...must have been doing it special in honor of my visit! ;-) Tasting the beer fresh from the tanks was also kinda cool.

The scenery all around the brewery and Golden was stunning. Though I apparently was too distracted by the beer, to get many landscape pictures.
All that touring works up an appetite, and The Buckhorn Exchange not only provided a tasty, filling lunch, but plenty of local charm. Originally opening in 1893, it holds Colorado state liquor license number 1. The original owner rode with Sitting Bull, learned to scout with Buffalo Bill Cody, and hunted with Teddy Roosevelt. Based on the decor, it appears he was an *avid* hunter, indeed.

Having toured the world's largest brewery complex, it was time to visit a much smaller brewery - The Sandlot at Coors Field. Blue Moon originated here 15 years ago (did you know I love Blue Moon?) The GABF Brewers and Judges reception was taking place, allowing us full access to the facility (did I mention I love my job?)

And I thought tasting Coors Banquet fresh from the tanks was special...how about hanging in the basement of The Sandlot with the brewer tapping the tanks for us to enjoy. A pint from a batch of Blue Moon, a pint of their limited edition Oktoberfest style..... Unfortunately, Chardonnay Blonde, a gold medal winner at this year's GABF wasn't on tap, so to speak.

Of course, the highlight of the trip was the Great American Beer Festival. Attended two sessions, Thursday and Friday night. Enjoyed Thursday night the best. Seemed a bit more civil, folks actually there to taste the beer. Friday night was more like folks there to drink the beer. Thousands of varieties, hundred of brewers. 1oz samples. Which go down easy. Really easy. And are often higher alcohol content than what the average beer drinker is used to consuming. Let's just say you see folks who didn't take this factor into consideration. But for the most part, it's a relaxed, casual gathering of beer lovers. My kinda event.

The silent disco was a scream. And if you dropped your tasting cup, the crowd gave you a scream. Every style of beer imaginable was represented - some really great ones, some really odd ones, a few average run of the mill ones, and some, well, not so great. But the majority a treat to try.
I was somewhat fascinated by this looooong line of folks. What beer were they waiting to try???? Hmm, let me follow the line to the front...Oh, food, the American Cheese Society. Got it. And if you didn't know that beer went great with food, you might want to read my post on it.
In the midst of all the scrambling to find the best beers to try, this sign from Brew Dogs of Colorado made me stop and smile.
Denver's downtown is a pedestrian friendly pleasure to visit. The 16th Avenue Mall is the center of activity. Found the pianos placed along the mall to be a fun touch (ah, the wonderful climate of little rain and no humidity makes things like this possible)

Did make it to one other spot on Saturday morning before flying home. One of the botanic gardens I've always wanted to visit. Took hundreds of pictures there (none of you are surprised, right?). Will cover that in a future post. We'll leave this one focused on the beer. Speaking of which, all this writing has made me a tad thirsty. Anyone want to join me for a Blue Moon?

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