Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mountain Views and Craft Brews in Dillon, Colorado

When asked the question “Where do you go for a relaxing vacation” many people will automatically answer the beach. I’ve never been one to tan much though, and sand makes my beer a little gritty. When I’m asked that question there’s only one landscape that I can think of. No it’s not in a chair with a built in mini fridge. My relaxing landscape is in the mountains. There is something about scarcely populated mountain ranges, snow kissed peaks, and clean air that calms everything down for me. Add to that clean and clear mountain streams for craft beer production and you’ve created my home away from home.

One of my relaxation havens lies one hour west of Denver in Dillon, Colorado. The town of Dillon has been around for almost 130 years, but I just discovered it 5 years ago (like Christopher Columbus).  Since I have always blabbed on and on to anyone who would listen about adventures in the Swiss Alps, this discovery not so far from the cornfields of Nebraska was a vacation game changer.
Do I look as awkward as I felt?
Dillon is a picture perfect mountain town. Resting on the shores of the Dillon Reservoir (26 shoreline miles of mountain lake beauty), Dillon is packed with activities in the summer and winter. In the winter Dillon is situated in the heart of ski country. With a location only 10 minutes from Keystone, Copper Mountain, and 20 minutes from Breckenridge, Dillon is a hub to test the peaks. In the summer the lake is a great place to kayak, stand up paddleboard, or just skip rocks while taking in the stunning mountain views. Dillon has the perfect balance of outdoor activity paired with charming shops, eateries, and of course breweries. The views are magical and the brews kicked out by Dillon’s 2 breweries (Dillon Dam Brewery and Pug Ryan’s Brewing) make this small mountain town a place you won’t want to leave for a while.
Welcome to Dillon
Dillon Dam Brewery
My first brewery stop 5 years ago (and my first stop again this summer)in Dillon was the Dillon Dam Brewery. The award winning Dam Brewery has been brewing Rocky Mountain alternatives to the norm since 1997. The brewery can have anywhere up to 12 beers on tap depending on season with a regular rotation of 7-8. They brew up to 2000 barrels of fine craft beer per year ranking them in the top 75 (in terms of production) in the US among brewpubs. As the brewery says, that’s a lot of Dam beer.  And if the beer’s not enough, the Dam Brewery has a full service kitchen with excellent pub food and more to enjoy while you stare out the windows at Buffalo Mountain.
As I settled into my seat this year for my reunion with Dam beer I wanted a break from the norm. In the past I had always gone straight to the celebrated Sweet George’s Brown English style ale at the Dam Brewery. When I first had this World Beer Cup Bronze Medalist I was hooked (at a time when I was turned off by brown ales). This brown was lightly hopped and had a great caramel flavor with even a hint of chocolate which turned me from indifference to browns to enthusiast.  This year though I wanted to get a new taste from the brewery and accomplished that with my first offering, the Black Weiss.
Where have you been my whole life Black Weiss
Dam Brewery’s Black Weiss was a real taste treat. First, I hadn’t seen this style of German weiss anywhere before (admittedly not looking for it) so I felt that this was a good place to start. It was a smooth dark weiss with great banana notes and a hint of chocolate biscuit to it plus a finishing taste of cherry. As I was playing pool with my kids (rolling the ball on the pool table) the beer settled and as it settled I also caught a nice clove hint as well. The black weiss was only a seasonal brew but definitely worth snatching up when Dam Brewery puts it back in season. I then moved moved on to one of Dam Brewery’s gold medal winners, the McLuhr’s Irish Stout.
I felt fine drinking a stout (which some label a cool weather beer) as the temperature was dropping into the 40’s-make sure you pack a sweatshirt even in the summer because the night’s still get cool-that night. The McLuhr’s stout was as good as advertised. The head was silky smooth and the caramel and black malt made this slightly dry stout rich without being too thick. It was another fine hand crafted creation from the Dam (it never gets old saying it trust me) team. I could have stayed all night but as travelers with kids I drank responsibly as always. I knew though that I would come back soon as should anyone making a trek to the area.
Hey Pug Ryan's, can I steal your tub?
Pug Ryan’s Brewing Company
We headed back to our condo on Lake Dillon (if we ever become rich our heaven would be owning a condo on the lake) and decided that having a few beers while the moon shimmered on the lake would be a good way to end our evenings. Luckily I had (just 1 week earlier) met the guys from Pug Ryan’s Brewing at Denver Brew Fest! I had tried their 3 wonderful lagers at the brewfest and also learned that for the past few years I had been staying right down the street from the brewpub yet I had never figured it out (sorry about that).
Like the Dam Brewery, Pug Ryan’s has been brewing beer since 1997 in Dillon. In 2012 they underwent an expansion which more than doubled their capacity. They have won numerous awards at elite competitions including silvers at the Great American Beer Fest. Besides the brewpub in downtown Dillon they also own and operate a tiki bar down near the shores of Lake Dillon which is open from late May through the summer. Put that all together and I’d say I had been missing out.
Grab your Deadeye Dunkel and hit Lake Dillon
We popped into the brewpub for a quick look around at the equipment and pub itself before grabbing our 12 pack of outlaw cans (YAY cans). The 12 pack was a sampler of the 3 lagers that Pug Ryan’s brews (Deadeye Dunkel, Hideout Helles, and Peacemaker Pilsner) which felt like a handcrafted celebration of Central Europe. The Peacemaker Pilsner was my first choice as a nod to my Bohemian rooted in laws I was with. The pilsner was a nice light golden color with a classic Czech dry finish. It was nice to see someone honoring this style that goes back as far as modern brewing goes, and it tasted great (don’t say less filling) too.
My next 2 were the helles and dunkel. For me those 2 styles have a lot to live up to as I have always asserted “beer” with helles and dunkels I’ve had in Munich. What I found in the Deadeye Dunkel (nice malty core with a subtle hop profile overlapped with a subtle sweetness) and the Hideout Helles (a light amber bock with a sweet undertone and malt goodness) were great takes on these German lager staples. I found out that the hops for the Helles were from a monastery in Germany adding to the real German authentic, yet still Colorado unique, flavor of both of these lagers. With a seasonal rotation also in Pug Ryan’s arsenal, my time not knowing what the helles (that was lame) I am doing in Dillon will be spent frequenting them as well as the Dam Brewery.
No matter what adventure you’re looking for, you are sure to be able to use Dillon as your base. From hiking to mountain biking, sailing to skiing you will be hard pressed to find a more picturesque spot to start from. Put all that together with the fact that this small mountain town has 2 craft breweries and say goodbye to stress and hello to relaxation in Dillon.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hawaiian Cocktails on the Garden Island of Kauai

A perfect Hawaiian vacation evokes visions of bright sun, soft sand, blue ocean, and a frosty alcoholic beverage in hand, especially after a day of hiking, kayaking, or snorkeling.  The Hawaiian Islands are replete with signature Hawaiian cocktails such as Mai Tais, Lava Flows, and Piña Coladas.  We discovered three of Kauai’s best Hawaiian cocktails with some very unique ingredients.

Duke’s Kauai Kalapaki Colada

Duke’s Kauai Kalapaki Colada Hawaiian Cocktail Kauai
Piña Colada, on the rocks?
Normally when you think of a Piña Colada you think of a frozen beverage.  But Duke’s Kauai Kalapaki Colada is surprisingly served on the rocks.  I would have never thought of having a Piña Colada on the rocks, but after tasting the Kalapaki Colada I may never go back.  Duke’s Kauai Kalapaki Colada is made with Kōloa Gold Rum from Kōloa Rum Company, macadamia nut liqueur, pineapple juice, and coconut syrup, all served on the rocks.  Who knew a Piña Colada could have such complex flavors?  Duke’s Kauai is located on the Marriott Kauai property just south of Lihue and we visited while we were staying at Marriott’s Kauai Lagoons.  In addition to the Kalapaki Colada, Duke’s Kauai serves a number of other Hawaiian cocktails.

Kilohana Plantation’s Mahikō Lounge Mai Tai

Mai Tais are a popular Hawaiian cocktail, but I’ve never been a fan.  They hand them out at places like overcrowded luaus and they usually don’t taste very good.  But when I visited the Kilohana Plantation during a Kauai food tour we got to try Mahikō Lounge’s Mai Tai and it was unlike any Mai Tai I had ever tasted previously.  The Mai Tai is made with a number of natural ingredients that create layers of flavor in this fresh tasting cocktail.  I’ll share Mahikō Lounge’s Mai Tai recipe, but I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to recreate it’s deliciousness at home, even if you do have Kōloa Rum Company's Hawaiian rums.

Kilohana Plantation’s Mahikō Lounge Mai Tai Hawaiian Cocktail Kauai

In a glass filled with ice add the following ingredients:

1½ ounces of Kōloa Gold Rum
Squeeze of vanilla bean infused simple syrup
Squeeze of Orgeat Syrup (a sweet almond flavored syrup)
Squeeze of lime juice
Squeeze of fresh sugar cane juice 
(Mahikō Lounge has a sugar cane press)
Squeeze of lemon juice

Shake the mixture
Pour in a glass
Float Kōloa Dark Rum on top
Garnish with mint and pineapple

Hukilau Lanai Coconut Okole

Hukilau Lanai Coconut Okole Hawaiian Cocktail KauaiThe third Hawaiian cocktail I had in Kauai was completely new to me, but yet quintessentially Hawaiian.  I discovered the Coconut Okole when we dined at Hukilau Lanai in Kapaa.  It doesn’t look like much.  You’d think it was just a glass of water if it weren’t for the flower floating on top.  But it sure doesn’t taste like water.  The Coconut Okole is made with Okolehao, a Hawaiian moonshine distilled from sugar cane and ti leaf.  The Hawaiian moonshine is mixed with fresh coconut water.  It is a light beverage with a pleasant and very Hawaiian coconut flavor, but with the heat of moonshine.  Hukilau Lanai serves a number of unique cocktail choices with unusual flavors, but the Coconut Okole is the most Hawaiian of the cocktails.

Kauai has endless choices for enjoying an alcoholic beverage.  These are my three choices for spectacular Hawaiian cocktails with unusual and fresh flavors and the taste of Hawaii in every sip.

What is your favorite Hawaiian cocktail?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Celebration of Colorado Craft Beer at Denver Brew Fest

Americans travel from all over cities, counties, and states to attend popular festivals in the summertime. County and state fairs draw in residents with the allure of food on a stick, vomit inducing thrill rides, and sunburned children. These yearly rituals are performed no matter how awful of a time is had because, well, we Americans love the festival atmosphere. It’s a time for us all to celebrate and show our local pride, no matter how unappealing that local pride may seem to be to an outsider (does anyone really want to look at a huge slab of butter shaped as a cow).  But fear not, as there is another summer festival to travel to which trades in the corn dog  and Miller Lite for a grilled bratwurst and  true handcrafted Colorado brew without the tilt-a-whirl. This festival is the Denver Summer Brew Fest.
Welcome to Denver Brew Fest
Along with being a celebration of beer (which on its own is a reason to attend) the Denver Brew fest is in one of the best locations in America to spend your weekend exploring the outdoors. For anyone who has only seen Denver on TV while watching the Broncos, the “Mile High” city is so much more than snowy peaks behind a football stadium. The people of the Denver area inspire good health, great food, and amazing beer with their relaxed attitude and mountain views. The Denver area is peppered with low and high terrain biking/hiking trails and spectacular natural wonders like Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater all while offering all of the cosmopolitan luxury that you would expect from a major American city. The city is a must stop, but if you need a reason to push you over the edge to fly out then a brew fest filled with 40+ Colorado breweries ready to serve you their creations should be that last nudge.

Mile High Station, a great venue
I had been lucky enough to visit the Denver area multiple times in the past 5 years. Each time I fell  more in love with the area and Colorado’s ever growing craft beer industry (which in my opinion is in the top 3 of best brewing states in America). What made this trip special is that I would be paying homage to the familiar and new creations this state had to offer all in one place. The setting (Mile High Station) was the perfect venue for the festival. Mile High Station formerly housed a steel and ironworks factory and shipping yard for ship sections for the Navy during WWII. The building had been carefully preserved during its renovation into what it is today. Today this classic structure has the original brick exterior and I Beam steel structure along with an inviting open concept and awesome brick bar area.
The calm before the storm
I walked into this great room and observed what I love about the craft beer industry, the comradery. The time spent before the thousands of beer fans entered the event was spent setting up and then chatting amongst these great local titans of beer. There were stories being shared, jokes being told, and even a sneak of each other’s handcrafted flavors going on in the hall. As an organized event goes, this behind the scenes look let me see how well the Denver Brew Fest was run. The event staff, and brewers as well, were all orderly and organized but still ready to have a great time. Some events I’ve attended have been on either the militant side of orderly or the shambolic free for all side but the Denver Brew Fest organizers did a great job of balancing with such a large crowd and large number of vendors.

Following a quick rundown of events with the brewers, it was time for the doors to open and for me to sample some of Colorado’s finest. I obviously didn’t have time to try everything and though most everything I tasted was very good there were some clear standouts that deserved recognition and a drink if you can find them.
In no particular order, here were my Denver Brew Fest favorites:
More smores please!
Denver Beer Co Graham Cracker Porter- This creation from Denver Beer Co tasted like smores, real damn smores. Not just a thought of “well maybe I can taste the cracker”, but more like “did they just blend up some smores and add hops?” I love a good porter and the cracker addition to porter was genius. Find Denver Beer Co brews wherever you can (speaking of cans they just started canning as well) and leave the smores at home.
A steady stream of Beryl's fans
Beryl’s Beer Co. NO. One (On Brandy)Beryl’s Beer Co is new to the Denver beer scene, but with their NO. One (On Brandy) they will be around for a good long time. The NO. One original is an ESB that is just a little lighter on the hops than a bitter from England. By itself it was a very solid craft creation, but by adding brandy barrel aging for months to the original and this beer was at the top of my list. A great apricot note balanced out the original bitter and made for a great brew. Barrel aging is always awesome, but brandy barrel aging is as good as it gets for me.
Verboten and bratwurst, Sehr Gut!!
Verboten Brewing Company In Love with Summer- Verboten Brewing Company is also pretty new to the Colorado brewing scene as they have only been open for about a year and a half. They’re located in Loveland, Co (in between Denver and craft brewing giant Fort Collins) and describe themselves as a boutique brewing company able to switch out tap handles in weeks. The In Love with Summer is a traditional American wheat with a twist of fresh strawberry and rhubarb. This great brew brought me back to my childhood eating rhubarb crunch that my mom used to make (no she didn’t use beer in the recipe). Unlike some berry infused beers where the fruit is distant and only adds a little aroma, this beer had strong notes of both fruits used. These ingredients may be “verboten” in Munich, but in Loveland they were used to make a great beer.
Still some of the best in the biz
As I said, most everything I had was great but these 3 really stood out for a couple of reasons. First off the flavors were unique to the style that they came from. That creativity on top of the fine craftsmanship made for real standout flavor. The other thing about these breweries was that I’m unable to find them at home. That’s nothing against some of the great beers from Avery, Great Divide, or Oskar Blues that I had because those are all wonderful breweries worth a visit as well. These 3 brews were new to me and had great flavor that really stuck in my head which was really part of the beauty of the Denver Brew Fest experience.

My January is wide open!
If you put all of these ingredients together (awesome mountain views, cosmopolitan city, outdoor adventures, nearly unrivaled craft beer goodness) you get a recipe for the ultimate beer festival experience. Once you add in the wonderful organization behind it, the Denver Brew Fest is a must stop for locals and those traveling in from out of town. One of the bonuses is if you missed the weekend event this summer, you still have a chance to attend the Winter Brew Fest! That’s right, it’s a twice a year event which is perfect for all of the winter sports fanatics that travel through the area when the snow starts falling on the peaks. Hopefully in a few months I get an invite to Denver so I can throw on my stocking cap and drink some more of Colorado’s great local flavors.

Disclosure statement: I was a guest of The Denver Brew Fest to cover this event for free. All thoughts and statements are mine and not from the organizers of the event.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Claudius Viña y Bodega: The Best Winery in Rosarito

Julio Benito Claudius Viña y Bodega Rosarito Baja California Mexico
Julio Benito surrounded by his barrels of wine.
We stand as a group in the barrel room of Claudius Viña y Bodega, listening.  We’ve already walked through the only winery in Rosarito Beach, scrutinizing the shining stainless steel of the de-stemmer and fermenters.  But now we have stopped and all eyes are on Julio Benito Martin as he talks about his wine.  He seems ready to share, but maybe a little uncomfortable in front of his rapt audience.  He describes the entire process, from vine to bottle, pausing occasionally, unsure if he needs to say more.  But then the questions start flying, and as he answers, he relaxes and the passion starts to shine through.  He’s proud of what he’s doing, of what his adopted home of Baja California is doing in fact.  And he can’t wait to share the results of that pride and passion with us.

Claudius Viña y Bodega Rosarito Baja California Mexico
Behind these white walls is a world of wine.
Julio is originally from Segovia in Spain.  His family has been making wine for four or five generations.  He lived in San Diego in the 80s, but has since made Rosarito his home.  He enjoyed stating that Claudius Viña y Bodega is the biggest and best winery in Rosarito.  He isn’t lying, because it is also the only winery in Rosarito.  Claudius Viña y Bodega is located away from the water in an industrial area.  You wouldn’t even guess a nondescript wrought iron door surrounded by white stucco hid a winery just inside.

While there is a Claudius winery, there isn’t a Claudius vineyard.  Julio has purchased 150 acres of land south of Santo Tomas in Baja’s wine region, 100 of which he plans to plant with grape vines, and the rest which will be used to build a hotel and run an agricultural project.  Currently he sources his grapes from multiple vineyards throughout the Valle de Guadalupe.  When his vines are ready, that isn’t going to change.  While many Baja wineries specialize in blends, Claudius Viña y Bodega will always specialize in varietals, but a blend of the same grape from different vineyards.  Julio’s goal in doing so is to craft an expression of the best of that year for each varietal he creates.  Julio has his favorite vineyards that grow grapes that meet his high standards, so he will continue to obtain his grapes from them, but also add his own into the mix.  Claudius Viña y Bodega only started selling wine eight months ago, but Julio has already put in the time, as the first wine was bottled in 2010.  The winery produced 300 cases in 2010, 2,000 cases in 2011, 7,000 cases in 2012, and 9,000 cases in 2013.

On our tour of Rosarito’s only winery we learned what makes Claudius Viña y Bodega unique.  One aspect that is very important is the constant temperature control.  Maintaining a consistent temperature extends the maceration process, keeps the yeast from growing prematurely, and helps deepen the color.  Temperature control also aids barrel time as changes in air pressure can affect wine as it ages.  Claudius wines are fermented longer, for a total of 30 days.  The de-stemmer is special too.  Because it uses a roller instead of a paddle, the grapes are treated more gently.  Only perfectly round grapes make the cut, which is important to avoid early fermentation.  Grapes that have been damaged begin fermenting earlier.  The winery has a separate room where the grapes can be chilled to 20 to 30 degrees in just two hours.  Claudius wine is aged in French oak barrels for 12 months before the wine is moved into steel tanks to temper.

Rosada de Ganacha Claudius Viña y Bodega Rosarito Baja California Mexico
Claudius' Rosada de Garnacha.
After learning about the wine-making process we moved into the tasting room to taste the wine.  We started with the Granache rosé (Rosada de Garnacha).  The rosé is dry and would stand up to meat well.  The 2011 Tempranillo is peppery and stimulates the palate.  Julio’s favorite is the 2011 Merlot.  The Merlot was the most fragrant with a smooth, refined taste.  The Merlot was my second-favorite, but my favorite was the 2011 Cabernet. It was mellow but very flavorful.  Even though it wasn’t ready yet, we also got to taste the 2012 Nebbiolo.  It was only bottled three months ago so it was still rough, but the intense flavor shone through.  The roughness will mellow and Julio believes in five years it will be perfect.

Visitors to Claudius Viña y Bodega can taste wine, take a tour of Rosarito’s only winery, and eat in the restaurant in the back.  Exciting things are happening in the wine world of Baja, and it’s great to see that world expanding outside of the valleys and into the towns.  How many times can you categorically say you visited the best winery in a city?  You can in Rosarito.

Thank you to Claudius Viña y Bodega for hosting our wine tasting and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.