I'm flying to Durango this morning for a 24-hour adventure in beer.
It will start with a plane that uses propellers to fly over the mountains. It will involve a lot of malt, a lot of hops and perhaps some honey. When it's over, I hope to have helped Ska Brewing create a limited-release beer that will be available in April at Old Chicago.
The fun began a couple of weeks ago when Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau asked if I'd like to help the brewery come up with a recipe for a beer that would be served only on draft at the 27 Old Chicago locations in Colorado. The restaurant chain has teamed up with local breweries over the past six months to create one-off beers as part of an effort to reacquaint itself with the craft-brewing scene. Oskar Blues has its Deviant Dale's on tap there currently. Now it was Ska's turn.
"You're probably the most well-known beer expert in the nation," Thibodeau wrote to me in an e-mail. "I doubt we can go on without your existence."
Okay. What he actually said was:
"I'm not sure if you've ever homebrewed (or brewed professionally), but if not we thought it might be cool to see if you might want to be semi-involved and actually brew this batch with us...considering a number of factors, such as time-of-year...we were thinking of an Imperial Pilsner. Ideally you could be involved with discussions about style and recipe formulation, and ultimately come down here and brew it with us."
He didn't have to ask me twice.
I have been homebrewing on and off since I was seventeen (buying supplies at the long-gone Wine & Hops Shop on East Sixth Avenue). But I've never been very good at it, and I've certainly never participated in brewing a batch of more than five gallons.
Ska, on the other hand, is one of Colorado's top-tier craft brewers. The makers of in-your-face brews like Modus Hoperandi, True Blonde Dubbel, Steel Toe Stout and Euphoria, they routinely make my list of the best of what this state has to offer.
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The fifteen-year-old brewery has also recorded double-digit sales growth in 2010. And in December, Ska (which was the second Colorado craft brewer to begin canning its beers on a wide scale) announced that it had brewed more than 15,000 barrels in 2010, which elevated its designation from "microbrewery" to "regional craft brewery," according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association.
I'm truly looking forward to seeing what goes on behind the scenes -- so much so that I'm paying my own way -- with Thibodeau, brewer Thomas Larsen and the rest of the crew.