Leuven from Funkwerks Brewery

Fort Collins, Colorado is one heck of a beer town. The official population as of 2011 is just 146, 762. Yet there are currently something like 12 breweries in the city. There are breweries of all shapes and sizes; Anhueser-Busch and New Belgium on the big end, Odell and Fort Collins Brewery in the middle, and places like Funkwerks on the small side. And to top it all off, in addition to being beer heaven Fort Collins is just a great place to be.

If you ever find yourself in Fort Collins, Funkwerks Brewery is a must-visit. This tiny operation took over the space once occupied by Fort Collins Brewery when that beer-maker expanded. Funkwerks specializes in saison. That’s all you will find there. They make several varieties of saison, from straight-up, old-fashioned DuPont-like versions to ones made with green tea or Brettanomyces. Tasting your way through the rather generous sampler flight is an adventurous treat.

On my last visit there after the 2012 GABF in October, they had two “experimental” beers on tap that proved to be the best of the bunch. Nit Wit was a cross-style mashup of Belgian witbier and saison. Lueven fell somewhere between saison and Berliner Weiss. Both were good enough to convince me to shell out $25 a bottle and check my bag for another $20. Nit wit I just drank. I do that sometimes. I took notes on Leuven.

Here’s my notes:

Funkwerks Brewery, Fort Collins, Colorado
Style: Saison/Berliner Weiss
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Wheaty sharpness and lightly sweet. Hints of cotton-candy Belgian yeast phenolics and esters. Herbs. Apple cider.

Appearance: Light straw colored with a slight haze. Great big, fluffy, long-lasting, white head.

Flavor: Cracker wheat with a touch of sweetness. A bit of lactic tartness that brings a pucker in the finish. Green apples. Herbs – oregano and thyme. White pepper. Finishes dry and crisp.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Thin but with a wheaty fullness. Spritzy carbonation.

Overall Impression: So pleasant. So refreshing. Just the right balance of everything – sweetness, acidity, yeasty phenolics, herbal notes. Perfect for a summer afternoon. But then it was pretty perfect on a snowy winter night in Minnesota, as well.

2012 GABF Interview with the New Beer Geeks TV Host Michael Ferguson

Beer Geeks TV debuted last year. Using a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives format, the Beer Geeks team visited local breweries,beer bars, and other brew-related venues to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the local beer scene. The show won rave reviews and a couple of local Emmys. But big changes are in the works.

This year producers Matt Sandell and Ed Bremer announced that the show had been picked up by the producers of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to go national. Resulting shake-ups of personnel raised controversy on the interwebs. Perhaps the biggest dust-up came from the replacement of Emmy-winning host Jeff Angell with master brewer Michael Ferguson. While the transition has no doubt caused some painful personal rifts, I believe it is a good move for the show.

Ferguson is the Director of Brewing Operations and Beer Training for the BJ’s chain of brewpubs. He might be known to fans of the Brewing Network where he raised some listener hackles by suggesting that extract homebrewers weren’t actually brewing. Ferguson has been in the business for decades and knows brewing and the brewing industry inside and out. This gives him an advantage as the host of a show that attempts to get inside the heads of brewers as they ply their craft. He knows what questions to ask. As an educator, he also knows how to bring the mysteries of beer making down to an easily understandable level. Ferguson is also a natural in front of a camera.

You can watch a trailer for the first episode here. In the meantime, enjoy this interview that I did with Ferguson at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

2012 GABF Interview with Tim Nelson of Fitger’s Brewhouse

Shortly after interviewing Dave Hoops in the Fitger’s booth at the GABF, I ran into the ebullient brewer again on the festival floor. This time he had Brewhouse co-owner Tim Nelson in tow. They confided that they had information to share about new doings at the Duluth brewpub. How could I pass up this opportunity?

The first bit of news was that Fitger’s had purchased an historic building in Canal Park. The plan is to renovate the old train depot and open a third “tied house” like Burrito Union and Tycoon’s Ale House, which the brewery already operates. This news has since been reported in other places.

The more exciting news is the possibility of a second Fitger’s brewery. The brewhouse has been in possession of a large warehouse building for a number of years. The plan is to eventually build a larger and more efficient brewery in the space to increase capacity. If you have ever been to the Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, you know that the brewery is crammed into tiny spaces on multiple floors. Having followed Hoops through a brew day, I can tell you that it is not an efficient system.

A warning; toward the end of the interview there is some confusion about exactly which new operation is being discussed. I ask about a timeline for the new brewery. Nelson answers with a timeline for the Canal Park pub.

2012 GABF Interview with Matt Potts of DESTIHL

With locations in Normal and Champaign, Illinois, the Destihl restaurants take the brewpub idea and step it up a notch, adding a casual fine-dining flare to the familiar concept. From the food to the décor it feels familiar, but just a little bit higher class. The fish tacos aren’t just whitefish, they’re swordfish. The pizzas are wood-fired and feature unique combinations like asparagus, bacon, and herbed goat cheese with a balsamic vinegar glaze. House beers are served alongside high-end wines and spirits. The dining room has the brewpub-standard motifs, stone veneers and dark wood, but given a contemporary, industrial-arts twist.

Destihl beers have pulled in multiple awards in national and international competition. Brewmaster Matt Potts has received some high praise from beer-lovers and fellow brewers for his barrel-aged, sour beers. I had the opportunity to sample several at the Normal location and the congratulations are well deserved. Except for a fantastic Flanders Red Ale, most of these tart treats are soured versions of the brewery’s regular offerings, like Blond or Dead Head Red. They are all unblended, single-barrel vintages. The sour beer du jour is listed on the menu as St. Dekkara Reserve.

Business has been so brisk that the company is building a production brewery in Bloomington, Illinois in order to meet demand. The new brewery will handle most of the core beers for both brewpub locations as well as packaged beer for off-sale. The brewpubs will continue to produce the specialty beers, one-offs, and sours.

2012 GABF Interview with Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, Illinois

In the race to open the most breweries in the shortest time, Chicago is giving Minnesota a hard run for its money. I count something like 13 breweries that have opened in the Chicago Metro alone since the beginning of June. And there is a whole gaggle of them just weeks away from making beer. When I moved from there in 2002 there wasn’t much going on beer-wise in the city, but in the intervening years Chicago has become a sort of beer-brewing Mecca.

One of the more interesting Chicagoland newcomers is Solemn Oath Brewery. Solemn Oath is located about 45-minutes west of the Chicago “Loop” in the town of Naperville. Tucked into a non-descript, industrial strip on the west side of town, the brewery is unassuming on approach. When you enter the taproom you find yourself practically in the center of the brewery. As owner/brewer Joe Barley told me, “If someone holds your chair you can reach out and touch our hot liquor tank.”

Solemn Oath is making beers with some interesting flavor profiles. My favorite when I visited was Sweet Sweet Whisper Kisses, a 9% saison brewed with honey. One of their flagship beers is called Khlörost, a Belgian witbier infused with coffee of different origins. A witbier with coffee sounds like a bad idea, but it works. If you’re in the Chicago Metro, a visit to Solemn Oath is worth the trip out to Naperville.