Peaches and peppers tend to get the most play when it comes to Colorado crops. For craft breweries, many of whom have developed close relationships with growers over the past few years, particularly on the Western Slope, grapes, cherries and apricots, not to mention fresh hops, are also highly sought after.
But melons are also a mainstay, and for the past two years, Hirakata Farms has teamed up with a Denver brewery to make a beer using cantaloupes or Crenshaws, which are related to cantaloupes. Last year, it was Co-Brew, which made a gose-style beer; this year, Banded Oak Brewing created Crenshaw Melon IPA.
"The Crenshaw melon is kind of the ugly duckling of the varieties we grow, but it's also one of the sweetest,” says Michael Hirakata, co-owner of Hirakata Farms, a fifth-generation family farm that grows 900 acres of honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and Crenshaw melons every year. Hirakata will be at Banded Oak on September 30 for an end-of-the-harvest-season party and bottle sale.
Crenshaws have a great flavor profile for pairing with the CTZ and Chinook hops used for this West Coast-style IPA, says Banded Oak co-founder Will Curtin, noting that fruited IPAs are popular right now, with breweries using everything from blood oranges, lemons, tangerines and grapefruit to tropical ingredients like pineapple, coconut and passion fruit. “We tested honeydews, cantaloupes and Crenshaws, and the Crenshaws really came out the best," Curtin adds.
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Using local produce appeals to small breweries like Banded Oak because they can work with small businesses and create a sense of Colorado place in their beers. Locally grown produce also tastes different, Curtin notes. “I remember when I moved to Colorado and tasted a farmers' market tomato for the first time. There was so much flavor. Melons are the same way. When you have a good one, it’s so much more memorable.”
Banded Oak wasn’t new to the fruit. Last year, head brewer Chris Kirk made a small amount of a cantaloupe beer by juicing the melons himself with a French press, a time-consuming and rudimentary process. This time around, he found a company that could process twelve liters of juice for him.
A very limited number of 750 ml bottles will be available for purchase at Banded Oak, 470 Broadway, on September 30 at 6 p.m., when Michael Hirakata will talk about farming and beer.