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Just When You Thought You Knew Beer

In the Sixties, my dad used to drive from Northern Michigan all the way to Denver, Colorado to fill up the back of an old station wagon with cases of Coors beer. He said back then, there was Coors and there was everything else—but you had to travel all the way to the Rockies to get it. These days, beer is bigger than ever. Many great beers still come from Colorado—arguably, most come from microbreweries. Comparing beers by region is sort of like comparing which region makes the best barbeque. Some places in Texas, Tennesse, Florida and North Carolina make great barbeque, but for volume, variety and quality, nothing compares to Kansas City. Same is true with beer. Some great beers like Sam Adams come from Boston. Some great beers come from the west coast like Sierra Nevada and Full Sail (Oregon is certainly a strong contender when it comes to beer). The Midwest is king for production. But for volume, variety and quality, the best small brewery beers still come from Colorado. Colorado is number one in the nation in beer production per capita, and second in the number of breweries. Sure, California has a handful more breweries (over 100)—it also has over 34 million people. It is less than evident that since the onslaught of specialty coffees took over the American beverage market, beer has come on just as strongly. For every fu-fu nutmeg latte machiado available at every “in-crowd” coffee shop, there is a cinnamon peach ale counter part waiting for you at every package liquor store. There are some alien concepts like Anheuser-Busch’s Tequiza tequila and lime flavored beer, and Cave Creek’s Chile Beer; some pleasant detours such as New Belgium Brewing’s Two Cherry Ale (from Colorado); and several incredible imports such as Negra Modelo, and the exquisite Belgian trappist-style ale, Chimay, with a champagne cork. Few people realize there are actually only two kinds of beer: lagers and ales. Lagers are brewed with yeasts which sink to the bottom; this requires more time and tends to yield crisper flavors. Ales are brewed with yeasts that float to the top; these beers can brew in five to seven days, and tend to have fruitier aromas and flavors. Ales tend to have heavier bodies, more alcohol and a cloudier appearance. Although ales tend to work better for salon-type beers with fruity add-ins, ales such as the age-old India Pale Ales (IPA) are no less classic than their lager cousins. Examples of other classic ales are English bitter, Scottish strong ale, porters, stouts and the various wheat beers. Lagers on the other hand are more typical of what Americans have been drinking for the last 50 years. Lagers are maltier, have a cleaner taste and appearance, and generally have a lighter body. Bocks, pilsners, and many of the Anheuser-Busch beers are lagers. If you haven’t spent a long stint in Colorado or even at a bar serving hundreds of different beers, go out and try them all. Here in the Rockies, many neophytes love the taste of New Belgium’s Fat Tire. When I first moved to Colorado, I loved it too, and I couldn’t get it anywhere else. In the last couple years, Fat Tire has popped up all over the county. It tastes good; it’s sweet and has a nice finish. But after you drink 10,000 Fat Tires, year after year, you’ll eventually get sick of it. Same goes with blueberry ale, and black and tans, exotic porters and whateverthehells. A couple years ago we started putting drops of a chili pepper tincture into any beer just to drink something new. Even that got old. Now I’m back to the domestics. I like Michelob. I’ll buy Budweiser, Miller, Lite Beer from Miller, and Coors. Actually, most any clean-finish lager such as Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, Sapporo or even a good ole’ Busch would be my first choice before a “new age” beer. A number of my friends in the Rocky Mountains are the same way. Many of the sophisticated beer drinkers I know have experimented with hundreds and hundreds of beers and malt beverages (you can only drink so many Skyy Blue’s or Captain Morgan Gold’s). They’ve tasted everything under the sun, and now prefer nice fresh, born-on dated Budweiser to most anything “fruity” or “dark” or “special.” Hell, if we need lots of beer, we buy whatever’s on sale. And then there’s the Utah microbrews. Before I drop the hatchet, I’ll offer that I believe these breweries have their hands tied by only being able to produce beers with 3.2 percent alcohol by weight; this could be the real handicap. But there aren’t any beers made in the sovereign state of Utah that I can honestly say are good. The only ones I can tolerate are King’s Peak Porter and an occasional Eddie McStiff’s (only because Eddie and I go way back). Wasatch Beer? Great marketing, seriously mediocre beer. And don’t even get me started on Cutthroat…

The greatest hits of Wild Utah is available in book form. Click on the Utah or Bust image for the link.
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