Eclipse, Eclipse, Eclipse. That's all anyone ever seems to say when FiftyFifty Brewing Company is mentioned. Sure its delicious, well awarded, damn expensive and some versions sell out before the beer is even in bottles. Variants abound trigger that deep seeded sense in our generation to collect them all. A kaleidoscope of colored wax topped bottles, sealing contents too precious for their own good, charm the eyes in a genius display of marketing.
Like many fans of craft beer when I hear the phrase "fifty fifty," only one thing comes to mind. Eclipse and the beautiful rainbow of variants released each year. Fifty Fifty Brewing Company in Truckee, Ca has become famous for its barrel aged stout that is released once a year. But guess what beer fans—Fifty Fifty actually makes other beers as well!
Ask any beer nerd what the best state in the country is for craft beer and you will usually get some combination of California, Oregon and some votes for Vermont. For the most part I agree with that but, there is one state that is not mentioned enough in my opinion and that is Colorado.
In one of my recent reviews I mentioned how Colorado does not get enough love in the “best beer state in America” discussions.
Well, for the second time this month I have another fine example of what Colorado has to offer the beer world. Old Ruffian is an American style barleywine from Great Divide in Denver Colo. Old Ruffian was first bottled and released back in 2004 where it quickly gained notoriety by winning a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2005. It followed that up with gold in 2006 and a second bronze medal in 2009.
The arrival of Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County series is one of the most anticipated and hyped beer releases of the year. For the last couple of years the lineup for the release has been the standard stout, a coffee version of the stout and a barleywine that all see pretty wide national distribution. There are also two much harder to get variants that change from year to year as well. This year’s stout variants were vanilla rye and Proprietor’s, which was a cinnamon chocolate stout this year. The beers are simultaneously released across the country on Black Friday. This massive release throws the beer nerd universe into temporary chaos with people waiting in line for hours to get their hands on the elusive bottles.
My introduction to bourbon barrel aged beers began much like my introduction to sour beers, with a brewery considered to be among the best in the world at the style: Firestone Walker. In this case that formative beer was Parabola, an impeccable bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout and I've been a Firestone Walker fan from that day since. Since that experience, I've made it a point to get my hands on and try as many of Firestone's annual bourbon barrel releases as possible.
The craft beer scene is a far different animal today than it was in the late 1970s. That might seem like an obvious statement, but think about how much different things were when Ken Grossman started Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. There were no labs to buy yeast from, no catalogs of different hop verities to choose from and no other craft breweries to buy used equipment from. All of the equipment they used to start Sierra Nevada was made from scrap metal and old dairy farm equipment. Fast forward thirty-five years later and Sierra Nevada is one the largest craft breweries in the country and producing over a million barrels of beer each year.
A few hours ago I thought it was a perfect time to crack open a bottle of one of the biggest, baddest English barleywines I had in my cellar. Now, close to midnight on a Monday I sit starring at an empty bottle and a sad glass that once held the sweet bourbon-infused nectar that was Mother of all Storms.
Craft beer lovers in California are well aware of the fantastic products Jesse Fridman and Damian Fagan have been putting out over the last few years. While those names might not sound familiar to most, the San Francisco-based Almanac Beer Company they started in 2010 has garnished quite a reputation for putting out unique beers using locally-sourced ingredients from family owned farms. Their farm to barrel approach has turned out a long line of highly-rated brews all without the use their own brewing equipment.