By: Courtney Messenbaugh

Learning about brewing and food from the masters themselves

In the hour and a half before I began actively sipping and tasting my way through the celebration that was BrüFrou, I sat in a dark room and did some learning. TastyTalks, a series of mini-conversations with some of the event’s featured brewmasters and chefs about everything from the latest food and beer trends to barrel aging was nothing short of riveting. Truly.

During the Talks, I learned that session and sour beers are more popular than ever, something that you’ve likely already discovered; form the tasting I did after the Talks, I learned that these beers are more complex and delicious than ever. Think layers of flavors like flaked maize, lychee, and honey going into these highly quaffable brews. While you’re at it, think about nano- and microbreweries as the coffee shops of the 21st century. With these smaller breweries beginning to proliferate at growth rates only seen by Starbuck’s in the late 20th century (hyperbole perhaps, but you get the point), these are the cool new hang-out spots.

Collaboration was deemed not just trendy, but absolutely necessary. A conversation between Paul Reilly, of Beast + Bottle, Kyle Mendenhall, of The Kitchen, and Sara Brito from the Chefs Collaborative discussed the expanding power of culinary professionals to educate the public through their menus. With their peers across the country, they’ve started a revolution that places sourcing, cooking, and serving food with integrity at the forefront of their menus. Bottom line is it’s better tasting and just plain better for all of us.

Water is also good for us (8 glasses a day!) and is a key ingredient in beer. Duh. But did you know that different styles of beers originated in certain regions thanks in large part to those regions’ H2O compositions? pH levels and ions matter, so before you start brewing, get your water tested so you intimately know that with which you’re working. Colorado water happens to have a low ion concentration, this allows it to be manipulated with brewers’ salts more easily. Ergo, the proliferation of breweries.

With this low-ion water, Colorado brewers are getting wildly creative. Barrel aging has become all the rage because size does matter as does wood, and what’s been in there before. Before your mind trails off into the gutter, let me be clear. Different sizes and shapes of aging vessels create different biomass for the batch, ergo different flavors; wood allows the beer to breathe and different types of wood produce different flavors; and, a whiskey barrel will produce a different beer than a chardonnay barrel. Of course, forging a relationship helps. Josh Grenz from Verboten Brewing has the luxury of brewing across the street from Dancing Pines, a rum and bourbon distillery, and they’ve developed a sweet relationship whereby barrels move back and forth between their two facilities, thereby producing a symphony of flavors.

The rhythm of that relationship, the collaboration and creativity, the rhythm of the local bounty, that’s what’s fueling Colorado’s craft beer and food scene. There are no rigid guidelines, for after all, as Jamey Fader of Big Red F and Lola said, this is supposed to be fun. Indeed.