After working in the craft-beer industry for five years, writing about it for one and geek-ing out over it with fellow beer nerds for nearly a decade, I can honestly say I've never seen anything like the past year in beer.
The revolution is especially -- and not surprisingly -- evident in the Denver area. From the plethora of new breweries (we're deliciously close to coining the phrase "neighborhood brewery" in this town), to a massively expanded fan base that now includes a large number of hot and single women (definitely not the case six years ago, trust me), this city truly embodies pride and passion in one's beer of choice.
And there are so many wonderful selections to choose from. I can barely keep track of all the local beers I've fallen in love with, but when I reminisce over the past twelve months, I can't help but remember Bligh's Barleywine from Dry Dock Brewing Co.
I recall it not for its price tag ($20, and worth every penny) nor its association -- or, I should say, it's disassociation with Stranahan's whiskey barrels -- but for its beauty, complexity, strength and balance. A beer this perfectly executed is only achievable through meticulous brewing and a long time in a dark, whiskey-soaked space.
In a sea of barrel-aged beers, though, it's no surprise that Dry Dock's stands out the most. The brewery's modest digs are quite characteristic of owner Kevin DeLange and crew. They've been quietly kicking ass since the day they opened in 2005, smartly concerning themselves with quality over everything else: a business model that's quintessential to what craft beer represents, and one that works as well as, if not better than, any other form of commerce.
"It's been an amazing year." says DeLange, "We experienced 50 percent growth and maxed-out our production capacity. We've also expanded our taproom and really increased our presence in local bars and liquor stores."
One visit to Dry Dock's quaint, Aurora strip-mall facilities certainly suggests that they're bursting at the seams, but DeLange is happily embracing the inevitable. "My wife and I just started looking for a new building to build a bigger brewery," he says, "and we're planning on going statewide after we find it."
Wonderful news, and worth toasting for sure. But be sure you do so with the Bligh's Barleywine, with all its lovely, malty caramel, vanilla, dark, warm and fruity goodness. After all, time is running out.
"Unfortunately, this year's is getting harder and harder to find," DeLange admits. "We only bottled something like 170 cases. Your best bet is to check liquor stores that aren't frequently trafficked. We definitely want to do it again, though; we're getting more barrels and learning about 're-charging' the ones we have, by scraping the insides to unleash the whiskey notes."
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(If you know of a spot with Bligh's on the shelf, please post it below as a holiday gift to your comrades in craft beer.)
Cheers to the year of beer!