Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis. Read about how I eased myself into the day before reading on...
So if you're just tuning in, I'm back in Fort Collins, Colorado and I'm feverishly attempting to adjust to mountain standard time before I fly to Portland, Oregon (and adjust to pacific standard time respectively) early tomorrow morning. My Dad and I maybe drank a little more than I should have at lunchtime, one double IPA quickly became three and then a hefty yet thoroughly enjoyable tasting session went down at Black Bottle Brewery. We were going to have a quiet night in but had been promised a share of some special bottles by Michelle, the bar manager at the Mayor of Old Town and so this evenings plans suddenly hinged around these beers.
For me, few beers match fresh Odell IPA
After about an hours rest we called a taxi and made our way back into a bustling Fort Collins. Our first stop was my Dad's local watering hole, Odell Brewery, I mean how can we not go to Odell's while I'm in town, it would be foolish, nay utter madness not to pay them a visit. My Dad walking through the doors of Odell's is akin to any scene that Frasier Crane enters the bar in Cheers, cries of 'hi Frank' ring from the bar and pints of super-fresh IPA are being poured before we've even had the chance to say hello. Tonight people were queueing outside the door to get in but this is my Dad's local and there's no chance in hell of him standing in line so he scoots around the side door and strolls effortlessly towards the bar and skillfully avoids us a twenty minute wait for a beer.
We stroll outside and enjoy our IPAs in the evening sun, Odell's is pumping, there are people of all ages spilling out the doors, some playing a friendly game of cornhole and a local band are in full swing on stage, hell there's even a guy painting a portrait of them while they play. There's no less than 20 beers on tap today, favourites from their core range are joined by seasonal and one off specials and a few pilot brews. My Dad orders me a glass of Amuste, a brand new 9.3% imperial porter that's a limited release available only on keg and in 750ml bottles. Amuste's unique twist is that it uses juice from Tempranillo wine grapes as an adjunct and then is aged for 12 months in red wine barrels. The aroma is intoxicating, rich molasses frivolously dances around with rich summer fruits and a hint of alcohol. 'Bloody hell' were the only words to come out of my mouth after my first taste, I took another sip... 'Bloody hell' I say again, this stuff was good, it was as if someone had taken a glass of (decent) red wine and topped up my glass of black treacle and liquorice rich porter with it. The remarkable thing was that all of the flavours from the rich porter to the vinous berries and the slight sourness from the barrel were in in perfect harmony. I take another sip 'sweet Jesus' is the next exclamation that comes to mind, I buy a bottle to take home and fully plan to lay it down for a year to see how all these crazy flavours merge and mellow over time.
I'm feeling a little tipsy, but no matter, I can pace myself, I do this sort of thing all the time and once I've got some food in my belly I'll be right as rain. Oh, but we must get some tasters in before we go, a new pilot IPA? Sure! Some coffee stout? Seems like a good idea to me... 'Ok let's get some food' and so we headed off for pizza at Old Chicago, which has well as carbohydrate laden products also offers over 100 different brews... help.
I almost immediately decide to plump for a beer I've had before and trust wholeheartedly, Avery IPA, this Boulder based brewery has never let me down before and this pint is rich, fresh and chock full of resinous pine and grapefruit. While at dinner I try and work out if I prefer the Avery or the Odell IPA, I simply can't decide and the only logical conclusion is to order another pint of the Avery to see if that sways my decision but the waitress brings me a can of Shift by New Belgium by mistake (it was what my Dad was drinking.) I didn't really fancy a lager but Shift is no ordinary lager, in fact its bouquet of lime and lavender surprises me as I dive in to take a huge gulp. At this point I open up my phone and go to type in some tasting notes but all I end up writing is 'probably the best lager in the world' and I think it just might be, too.
We finish our pizzas, well I finish half of mine because it's huge and I'm full of beer but I feel as if I've had enough sustenance to continue onward. It's past 8pm, thankfully I don't yet feel the claws of jet lag behind my eyes and so Dad and I once again begin a march towards the Mayor of Old Town. It's busy in the Mayor and there's no spaces left at the bar so we join Michelle at a table and I immediately order a beer I'd had my eye on earlier in the day, Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15. Racer 5 is probably one of my favourite beers on the entire planet so the chance to try an imperial version that's been brewed to celebrate 15 years of brewing at Bear Republic is one I welcome and embrace willingly. Racer 15 has a much bigger malt profile than its little sister and those digestive biscuit and toasted bread flavours support a huge amount of Citra hops that produce flavours of lemon, grapefruit and pine needles without ever giving away its 9% ABV. It's divine but it falls short of the Lagunitas Sucks I had at lunchtime by about the breadth of a gnats wing, they are both sublime beers but Lagunitas takes the crown on day one.
I most certainly wasn't getting a rum deal on this occasion
The first beer that Michelle brings us is a bottle of Rumpkin from Avery Brewing, an imperial pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger that weighs in somewhere between 15 and 18% ABV. I'm a little wary as pumpkin beers just aren't my thing but when Michelle produces a bottle of 14 year old Balvenie Caribbean cask single malt whisky to pair with this beer things start to get really exciting. The Mayor only gets its hands on a single case of 24 twelve ounce bottles of Rumpkin a year and they retail for a princely $20 a bottle. At this point I'm hoping the sense of privilege doesn't outweigh my sense of judgement when it comes to judging this beer but of course at this point that's not possible because my sense of DRUNK is outweighing my sense of judgement. Cinnamon, five spice and ginger all start to groove around my nostrils on a bed of funky molasses, notes of oak and alcohol join the party but it's when taking a sip of the Balvenie Caribbean cask that the party really gets started. Notes of oak and vanilla merge with a wave of warming booze and... well, here's to taking it easy.
It truly was a special beer and I really enjoyed it despite it not being something I'd normally order. Michelle then produces a bottle of New Belgium Transatlantique Kriek as soon as we finish draining the final delicious dregs of Rumpkin from our glasses. The story of this limited release Belgian style lambic begins in Brouwerij Boon in the Lembeek region of Belgium where tanks of their regular Kriek are shipped across the Atlantic and into the capable hands of New Belgium Brewmaster Peter Bouckaert. Bouckaert then brews a full bodied golden lager which when finished is blended with the Kriek to form a completely new beer. It pours a deep cherry red colour as you'd expect and produces a pink fluffy head with a bit more vigour than a regular Kriek. The nose is awash with sugar and cherries, the extra carbonation from the lager giving this a little lift too. For an 8% ABV beer this most certainly does not drink like one with it's tart, slightly sweet cherry flavour hiding all traces of alcohol from me. There is a hint of rounded sourness but it's not so sour as to put you off if you're not a fan of the style, in fact it's dangerously drinkable and my glass is gone in next to no time.
As I sway gently back and forth on my stool I look to my left and to my delight I've still got half a glass of Racer 15 that in all the excitement I've completely forgotten about. My Dad goes to call a cab and is told that we'll have to wait around an hour and the last shreds of hope of me getting an early night disappear into the ether. Michelle asks if I want another beer and because I'm being sensible I say something along the lines of 'I've had enough beer but I really fancy a whisky' she asks me what kind of whisky I like and I vaguely remember saying asking for something 'ridiculously peaty' and soon she returns with a very large glass full of Ardbeg (don't ask me to tell you which one, this isn't a whisky blog), a wonderful way of rounding off a completely sensible day of drinking. Thanks again to Michelle and her brilliant team at the Mayor for yet another fantastic evening and for sharing all of those wonderful beers.
Eventually the cab arrives and we bid the Mayor adieu, for now at least. It's way past midnight and I have to be awake in less than five hours in order to successfully catch my flight to Portland. I somehow manage to slip my pyjamas on, lean over to plug my phone charger in... then I pass out.