Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I have a bond with Colorado that runs deeper than beer but it was the beer that created the bond. Ever since my first taste of Odell IPA, a beer that years ago changed my perception of what beer could taste like I have held brews from the Centennial State in the highest regard.
One day my travels took me to the town of Longmont about half an hours drive north of Denver. As with most of the front range towns there's a handful of microbreweries and brewpubs here but on this trip there were two I was desperate to visit. First there was Oskar Blues, its vast tin shed facility home to the roaring canning line that helped them to eventually become an international success. Their beers are never understated, they are towering pillars of hop and malt designed to push your palate as far as it can go. It's easy to see why they are so well loved.
Less than two miles away lies the self stated 'world headquarters' of Left Hand brewing. That's about as extravagant as they get. Stepping through the front door reveals a small, understated tap room that in some minute way recalls a cosy British bar but for the most part it's typically Coloradoan. Just like this tap room, Left Hand's beers are often soft spoken, accessible but still brimming with flavour. Their core beer, Milk Stout is perhaps one of the best beers in its class, especially the nitro version. It may sound arrogant for them to call it 'America's Stout' but from where I'm sitting that's a good call. It says a lot about a brewery that have, in the midst of a State obsessed with ever more bitter IPA and more complex sours, have built their foundations on a 6% milk stout.
I first tried Milk Stout before I'd been to Colorado at London's Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Even before I became a fully fledged beer enthusiast I was always trying new beers out of curiosity. Back then it didn't leave much of a mark on me but years later once it was no longer available I suddenly yearned for it's sweet, milk chocolate nuances.
When I found out that Left Hand were planning to relaunch in the UK I was overjoyed. When I found out that they would be launching at one of my favourite bars, Mother Kelly's in Bethnal Green, I couldn't have been happier. So on a late summers evening I made my way east and soon had a cold glass of Milk Stout in front of me. It was everything I remembered but more, it took me back to Colorado but it felt that this time it would be staying for good. This somehow felt comforting. They'd brought more too, Stranger Pale Ale, reminiscent of some of the best traditional British pale ales but in high definition. 400 Pound Monkey which again has that jammy, traditional flavour you wouldn't expect from an American beer but is undeniably American. Clean, crisp Polestar Pilsner, another revolutionary amongst hundreds in the modern rebirth of lager.
There's an argument that we don't need imported beer in the UK, that the strength of our own brewing scene is so strong that it simply doesn't need bolstering. While this may in part be true it's essential that beer drinkers taste and experience as much as possible from wherever they can so that this grand renaissance can continue. Each Left Hand beer is a lesson in balance, consistency and restraint. Welcome back Left Hand, you deserve to be here. My fridge will be well stocked with Milk Stout for the foreseeable future.