Beer 101: Microbrewery Review: Boulder Beer/Rockies Brewery, Boulder Colorado
The longest running craft brewery in the United States
Craft Brewery in America : The Boulder Beer Heritage
When the founders of Boulder Beer started brewing craft beer for the first time back in 1979, few if any of the people involved could have had the foresight to see that it would be the first craft brewery in the United States to celebrate it's 30th anniversary. Sure, others were around before, but they are gone now, unable to withstand the intense competition that has sprung up in the craft brew market. And certainly newcomers have come to dominate the scene, but the fact remains: the longest running craft microbrewery in the U.S. is Boulder's Rockie's Brewery, the home of Boulder Beer.
Located at 2880 Wilderness Place in Boulder Co, the brewery is still one of the most vital and creative breweries in Colorado. Colorado has experienced a renaissance of brewing over the past few decades with literally dozens if not hundreds of craft microbreweries springing up all over the front-range. Despite the influx of competition, Boulder Beer has continually found inventive and unique ways to stay relevant to a changing market, an important skill for any business in today's unstable market.
One of their most successful "brainchildren," introduced in 2001, the Looking Glass series of beers has brought a fresh look and attitude to a heritage of excellence that has stood the test of time. The success of the Looking Glass series has revitalized not only the company, but its selection of beers in a way the requires a closer examination.
Look for this Logo on your Beer:
2001: A Beer Odyssey (...Through the Looking Glass, That Is)
The year was 2001 and Boulder Beer was known for its flagship ales like Singletrack and Buffalo Gold all across the front range. But, because these guys brew beer first and foremost for themselves, a keg was made for the employees using a "dry-hopping" method perfected, on their own, by the brewers there. Named for one of the brewer's favorite bands, Led Zeppelin, who wrote a song called "Dazed and Confused," the beer was dubbed "Hazed and Infused." This beer was created with a new approach to the brewing process. The guys at Boulder Beer loved it and decided to share it with their customers.
Despite it's completely different and bold flavor by comparison to Boulder Beer's heritage brews, it was so successful that the company decided to launch a whole new series of beers where they let the brewers loose to develop unique and bold new brews just like Hazed. This series of beers, which would prove a fertile ground again and again for ingenuity in beer and company image, would come to be known as the Looking Glass Series. The name comes from the Lewis Carroll novel "Through the Looking Glass" where Alice discovers a whole new world by looking at the backwards reflection in her mirror. The name symbolizes for the company a new way of looking at the brewing process, seeing each part as something new filled with wonder and potential. The name might seem idyllic, for one is hard pressed to find another brewery with such literary artistic understandings of the brewing process, even in Boulder, Co, a city famous for its detachment from reality in its own right. But the end result is a dynamic and successful business model that garnished prestige and recognition that speaks for itself in a market traditionally considered a luxury at best.
The ultimate test, however, is the beer itself. And it their success at this level that has lead me to love their beers most of all. Since I can't pour you the beers, lets just take a brief look instead.
Buffalo Gold Golden Ale 4.95% ABV
Buffalo Gold is one of Boulder Beer's heritage beers, meaning it has been around before the Looking Glass series. It is best known as the beer all of Boulder drinks when the Colorado Golden Buffaloes play football since it was first introduced in 1989. Named for the Buffs, another Boulder native, the beer is a drinkable golden ale with a mild malt and a mild hop flavor that is balanced by a lively carbonation. It is refreshing and is ideal for session drinking, like during the football game. It has a light body and is less filling than many darker and heavier microbrews making it a great place for drinkers of domestic favorites such as Coors and Budweiser to start.
It has an alcohol content of 4.95% by volume, which is about average for not only Boulder Beer, but most of the microbrew industry.
Hazed and Infused Dry Hopped Pale Ale 4.85% ABV
I have to be honest, this beer is one of the best beers I have ever had. It is the sole reason I grew to love everything about Boulder Beer, so if I sound like a school boy, it's because I love the beer that much.
The beer itself is an American style pale, which is more vigorously hopped than European counterparts. It derives its name from the fact that it is "infused" with dry hops during the fermenting cycle (not during the boiling of the wort) so that the hops are never cooked and remain "green." This brings the citrus notes, on the sides of the tongue, and the floral like aroma of the hops to the forefront of the flavor pallet. The beer is also "hazed" because, like a hefe-weizen, it is presented in its natural state, or unfiltered. this creates a complexity to the beer which enhances its presence on the tongue by giving lingering qualities across the pallet in contrast to typical "hoppy" brews which tend to linger solely on the back of the tongue.
The beer is powerful enough to cleanse your pallet and color it for the rest of your drinking experience, much like a strong ale or IPA, but you may not notice its predominance as quickly as those brews. Because of this I recommend you do not have it as your first brew of the evening, otherwise the more subtle qualities of less bold beers, like the heritage line of Boulder Beer, will be lost upon your tongue.
The beer is so "bold" in style and flavor that Boulder Beer devised a new artistic style and name for the series of beers of which this would become the flag-ship ale. It is now available in over 20 states. I know for a fact you can find it on draft at Side Street Tavern off of Belmont in SE Portland, which is where I drink it most often, even though I am a time zone away from Boulder and in the heart of one of the most competitive and prolific microbrew scenes in the country. This must say something about it's widespread appeal.
IPA or Double IPA?
Mojo IPA 6.8% ABV
A Looking Glass Series beer, Mojo is Boulder Beer's IPA. In the modern western U.S. microbrew market, you have to have at least one IPA. This aggressive style has become emblematic of the the northwest brewing philosophy, so much so that even Colorado breweries are aware of the market available for such brews.
It is a mildly malted and heavily hopped ale with a full spectrum of early and late hops. The bite of the beer is balanced by heavy citrus hops and a crisp, dry finish that leaves the tongue refreshingly clean and ready to taste other bold flavors. This makes it an ideal companion to spicy foods with bold flavors that normally overpower any accompanying beverage. Spicy smoked ribs and intense curries both come to mind as foods that could hold their own compared to such a hop assault.
At 6.8% ABV it is alcoholic enough to warrant balancing it with food or water if the delicate interplay of intense flavors didn't already warrant such a pairing.
Mojo Risin Double IPA 10% ABV
The big brother of Mojo IPA, Mojo Risin is one of the newer members of the Looking Glass beers. Believe it or not, it has twice the hops in Mojo and, according to the brewers, more than a half ton more malt. This fortifies the beer as the heavier, stronger, even more intensely flavorful Mojo.
Only for the brave! This beer has a 10% ABV and is nearly as strong as some barley wines. It should be sipped and enjoyed for its powerful concentration of flavors in environments where it is safe to indulge.
A short commercial for Boulder Beer
Tis the season...
Seasonals: Winter - Never Summer Strong Ale 5.94% ABV
The Looking Glass Winter Selection is one of the most drinkable winter ales I have ever encountered. It is my second favorite Boulder Beer and has warmed my ears more than expected on many a winter night.
A darkly roasted and generously malted ale, Never Summer is hard to classify. It has won awards in the strong ale category, and while this category is probably the most appropriate, it has a unique spice that leaves me feeling like it has a little more to offer than the bold malt and intense hops most strong ales are known for. Ruby in color with a heavy body, the beer crosses the tongue with vigor and power.
At an ABV of 5.94% it can warm you on even the coldest winter nights even if, as the beer suggests, you find yourself in "a drinking town with a skiing problem."
Seasonals: Summer - Sweaty Betty 5.9% ABV
Opposite the Never Summer, Sweaty Betty, a Bavarian style blonde ale, represents the Looking Glass approach to beat the heat. It is an unfiltered wheat beer that hints at clove and banana from its special yeasts.
Unlike other Colorado wheat beers, such as Blue Moon, Sweaty Betty actually tastes like the European counterparts upon which it is modeled. The flavors have been intensified, not watered down, and the presentation even more complex, instead of carbonated and confused like Blue Moon. The result is a bold beer that redefines expectations of what a wheat beer can be in a microbrew market overpopulated by mediocre at best hefe-weizens.
At 5.9% alcohol, it is strong enough to remind you that heat is the source of all life, and help you make the most of endless summer nights.
Pass Time Pale Ale 4.96% ABV
A member of Boulder Beer's heritage line, Pass Time Pale Ale is an English Style Pale Ale. It is known for its soft, smooth presentation which resembles more subtle brews in its delicacy. The color is lighter than an amber with a slightly brighter finish as well that lends the beer a refreshing characteristic.
It is not as bold as the Looking Glass and therefore makes a better starting place for those unfamiliar with the aggressive directions of the microbrew market in the last decade. At an ABV of 4.96% it is not too alcoholic, while still pleasantly being able to cheer your spirits with just a glass or two.
Planet Porter 5.51% ABV
Planet Porter is one of the darkest brews available from Boulder Beer. It is a heritage beer, but its reputation for having such a big flavor is where it gets its name: a taste as big as the planet. It uses black malts which add dark roasted flavors that remind one of coffee. Despite the bigness of the malt flavor the brewers perfected a smooth presentation so that the beer flows perfectly from start to finish.
It won Boulder Beer a Gold Medal at the 1992 GABF, or Great American Beer Festival, one of the biggest beer conventions in the country. At an ABV of 5.51% it is the perfect beer to compliment rich dinners and deserts.
Singletrack Copper Ale 4.97% ABV
Singletrack is one of Boulder Beer's flagship ales. It is a Copper Ale which is slightly bolder, nuttier, and darker than its more ubiquitous amber cousin. The brewers of Singletrack even use mix rye with the barley to create a distinct drinking experience.
It is a medium bodied ale that finds its strength in balance being neither too light or dark to turn off picky drinkers. It balances this smoothness with a distinct nuttiness and crisp finish. Despite all this, it is a very full-flavored beer that gives the thoughtful drinker lots to think about.
At 4.97% alcohol it is as drinkable as its taste says it should be. Perfect for autumn afternoons or spring evenings, it matches any mood and has been recognized in beer circles for years as a premium craft brew.
Ambers are all about balance
Sundance Amber 4.85% ABV
Boulder Beer's amber ale is a mildly hopped, well balanced, slightly tamer brew in comparison to Hazed and Singletrack. It emphasizes balance over bite without sacrificing the delicate qualities of nuttiness and caramel accents that make ambers so popular.
It is the perfect session beer and at 4.85% ABV will fortify you for any meal or social undertaking, no matter what the season or fare.
Boulder Beer will continue to be one of the oldest and most inventive breweries on the market as long as it continues to encourage the creative and unique approach that has not just been the hallmark of brewing in Boulder, but also that of the lifestyle and passions of all of Boulder.
Hopefully the future will bring forth more and more exciting new brews like the newer brews, "Cold Hop" and "Obovoid." One thing is for sure, as long as people love beer, we the people, will benefit from the ingenuity and diligence of breweries like Boulder Beer.