I’m not much of a beer drinker, and really don’t know that much about beer. When I heard about Saison, I thought they meant the artist (Cezanne). In case you don’t know, either, Saison is a pale ale brewed in cooler, less active months in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, and stored for drinking in the summer months. It’s highly carbonated, fruity and spicy.
I do know that IPA stands for India pale ale; and that I don’t like bitter, hoppy beers — often the case with IPAs — and I prefer Belgian Style wheat beers. I’ve enjoyed real Guinness on tap in Ireland, which seemed like a kind of beer milkshake with its rich, creamy quality.
But my beer education reached new heights recently – along with great autumn aspen-viewing — at the Breckenridge Brewery in that mountain town.
I already knew that “hoppy” doesn’t have to mean bitter, but learned that there are East Coast and West Coast styles of IPAs, and the East Coast style is not so bitter.
“Now You Know,” a one-off, small batch BB beer proved this point. This East Coast style IPA was my favorite with its wonderfully exotic herbal-floral aroma like nothing I’ve experienced in a beer or otherwise, and not at all bitter.
BB head brewer Jimmy Walker says it’s made from Eureka, Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic hops with lupulin powder, “the resinous part of the hop flower,” Walker adds. Walker and lead brewer Blake Schwalls are part chemist, botanist, artist and mad scientist.
For lunch, along with a delicious chipotle black bean soup and Caesar salad at BB’s pub, I tried the Hawaiian Sunset beer, made with passion fruit and guava – a tangy treat. Fruit beers are a challenge, Walker says, because the acidity reduces head retention. The same is true of chili beers – and coffee beers.
BB’s latest showstopper, Nitro Pumpkin Spice Latte, spawned a collaboration with Cabin Coffee, Breckenridge’s only coffee roaster, to combine cold-press coffee and a touch of dairy lactose with this arresting autumn stout. It’s like a slightly coffee-tanged Guinness, with its creamy, rich quality, which, I learned, comes from the nitro process.
Nitro, as the name implies, comes from nitrogen forced into the beer, giving it smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide – the other method of carbonation. “Nitro has a very dense head – a tight head like Guinness,” Walker says. “It’s a different mouth feel with CO2. For example, with soda water, CO2 gives a prickly bite, instead of a tight creamy head with nitro.” Most beer is force carbonated, meaning that CO2 is forced into the beer.
For a historic view of beer-making, Walker recommends the documentary “How Beer Saved the World.” Among other things, it recounts how more than 60 percent of all the grain in ancient Egypt was used for beer. In addition to the boiled water, beer has an acidity around 4.2 pH, which also kills bacterial growth. So, drinking beer, rather than water, was a much safer, life-prolonging choice in ancient times when the water might kill you.
FYI: As of 2016, according to the Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers, Colorado ranked second in the U.S. (tied with Washington state) for the most craft breweries — 334 with 8.4 breweries per capita* (*per 100,000 21+ adults). California was No. 1 with 623 craft breweries.