When it comes to Colorado breweries, it’s hard to say who is the Rocky Mountain highest in the eyes of the national beer scene. Oskar Blues might be the best known, if for any other reason than their importance in the advancement of canned beers. Perhaps, it might be one of the cult favorites, such as Avery or Great Divide, with their powerful barleywines, aggressive IPAs, and molasses-thick stouts. Then there is always Coors and the “New Coors,” also known as New Belgium. Then there are some fifty- plus breweries around the state that intense scholars of the subject might know about, but you most likely are not familiar with.
Not tremendously far from New Belgium’s brewery in Fort Collins and sharing Longmont, the same otherwise nondescript farm town along the Front Range as Oskar Blues’ brewery, is Left Hand Brewing Co. While the other tasting rooms either are in the spacious brewery room itself or resemble frat rooms, Left Hand could be the corner pub if it weren’t for the national level quality of what they serve. This is where Norm Peterson would get a nightly pint if he followed Wes Welker west from Boston.
Left Hand started in 1990 as the home brewing project of Dick Doore. For those of us who aspire as homebrewers, it never fails to astonish me how some can continue on to make such incredible brews, while the rest of us could never dream of opening a place like Left Hand. Doore teamed with ex- college friend Eric Wallace in 1993 and started the Indian Peaks Brewing Co.
Then the lawyers got involved. Another brewery was making a style at the time with the same name. Cease and desist is never a fun game. Hence, the brewery’s new name came from the local southern Arapahoe Indian tribe’s leader, Chief Niwot, whose name translates to “Left Hand.” (more…)
“I’ll have a Fat Tire and that IPA from Fat Tire.”
I’ve heard that sort of request numerous times from beer drinkers who aren’t even novices to the genre. It’s the craft beer specialty mindset where one specific beer from a brewery achieves such an exalted status that the beer’s name supplants the actual brewery’s.
Quick, who brews Fat Tire Amber Ale? That’s a lot harder to swiftly think about compared to the brewer of the Lagunitas IPA.
Perhaps Lagunitas IPA cannot be included in this discussion, though it very much fits amongst its colleagues for iconic beers. I for one knew about Arrogant Bastard years ago, but had no clue who actually brewed the beer. The same for Black Butte, Pliny, and Fat Tire. These are the flagship beers of the craft beer movement that has swept across the country from beer epicenters like Portland and Denver to the tiniest towns of West Virginia and Delaware (can you think of a Delaware craft brewer? Don’t think too hard.).
These are also the beers that are starting to verge on over-expansion. Like with restaurant chefs, craft breweries can very quickly expand its output to too high a level and the product begins to be noticeably compromised. I always use the airport as an example when this really starts to be the case. Just ask Wolfgang Puck. And now, it almost seems you can find Lagunitas IPA and Fat Tire Amber Ale at as many airport bars as Stella Artois and Shocktop.
That’s a good thing in that travelers get decent to good craft beers, instead of the mass produced messes they used to be stuck with. That’s also a bad thing because what were often exceptional, very personal small batch beers are now a fraction of what they once were.
My family, many of whom live near New Belgium in Colorado, treat Fat Tire Amber Ale with the same reverence as John Elway.
After sampling all 17 beers recently on tap at New Belgium’s Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, it’s fair to say Fat Tire is very much in the middle of the pack at its own brewery. It’s not that it’s a poor product. It’s just nothing special. That was a universal opinion. The signature beer of a craft brewery shouldn’t be one you don’t remember at the end of a tasting, even with all of the stouts and Belgians pyrotechnics over the course of the sampling journey. (more…)