This weekend, Avery will do his part to boost the profile of two-fisted beers by presenting the first Boulder Strong Ale Fest, featuring some of the most head-spinning beers in the world: forty character-heavy, 8 percent (plus) alcohol-by-volume ales. "This brewfest is all about educating people locally that excessive use of hops is good, that excessive use of malt is a good thing," he explains. "I'm trying to throw a little wrench into some people's drinking choices and say, 'Hey, these beers are good, too; give them a try.'"
Since 1993, Avery Brewing has given demanding drinkers many choices. The company's original lineup consisted of the caramelly sweet Ellie's Brown Ale, the aptly named Out of Bounds Stout, 14'er ESB and what has now become the company's flagship, India Pale Ale. A beer too wonderfully rich with hop bite and aroma for many breweries to consider making, Avery IPA is a world-class beer that's earned drooling praise from professional tasters and consumers alike.
Over the past three years, Avery's thirst for full-strength foam has led him to create even more robust beers, which he calls his "Trinity." The trio includes the insanely hopped Hog Heaven, a 9.2 percent ABV knockout with resinous levels of Columbus hops and a hearty complement of pale malt sugars. Salvation is a dry, complex, deceptively strong ale (9 percent ABV) that blows the hoods off many beers made by Belgian monks. The Reverend is a sweet, religious experience rife with the aroma of rum-soaked apricots and the flavors of Belgian candy sugars and Styrian Golding hops.
Avery's latest mind-melter is Czar Imperial Stout. Like the company's other offerings, the Czar takes an already strong style of beer and amps it up -- in this case, to a black beer with muted flavors of coffee and molasses. While not as deep and complex as its Trinity peers, it's a soothing sipper of 12.2 percent alcohol.
These new beers have helped boost Avery's national profile. In a recent survey, readers at www.ratebeer.com picked Avery Brewing as one of the nation's top 25 breweries -- putting it a notch above New Belgium in Fort Collins, the maker of Fat Tire, whose hugely ambitious La Folie, Abbey Grand Cru and other style-expanding beers rival Avery's out-there bottled offerings. Avery's ranking placed it with such full-on beer makers as Dogfish Head, Lagunitas and top-rated Stone Brewing, the California brewer of Arrogant Bastard Ale and other beers popular with hops-addicted West Coast drinkers.
Those drinkers feel Avery's beers belong out West, too. Says Avery: "They comment on it all the time. 'Dude, your brewery should be in Southern California; you're so misplaced.' Yes, I am, but I know there are so many more drinkers who would enjoy my beer in Colorado."
Avery's "Small brewery, big beers" philosophy has paid off. In the past two years, sales have increased by over 80 percent. The company now makes close to 4,000 barrels annually (a barrel equals 31 gallons) -- a drop in the bucket for Coors and Budweiser, but a nice round number by micro-brew standards. "From day one, all of our beers have been a little bit bigger, a little more aggressive," Avery says proudly. "There are probably a handful of other breweries in the country making beers as big as ours. But there's a niche out there for us, and our sales have proven it."
Much of that growth has come from educated markets in Alaska and Michigan, where the ambitious beers of Larry Bell's Kalamazoo Brewing have hipped drinkers to the pleasures of full-flavored quaffing. Luck has also played a part: At a recent Great American Beer Festival, Avery connected with a Texas distributor who has made Texas Avery's third-biggest market -- despite its reputation as a light-beer, Lonestar state.
Avery's ingredients-heavy, longer-to-age beers would make some brewery bean-counters cringe. But his biggest beers are his highest-margin products, he says, as well as his highest calling. "Everything about them is more difficult," Avery admits, "but that's what we want to do. I'd love to have a 20,000-barrel brewery, but I want to make 10,000 barrels of an aggressive IPA and 10,000 barrels of some crazy-ass Belgian or an Imperial stout."
And those are just the kinds of beers that will be featured at the Strong Ale Festival. The event is patterned after a similar one presented each year by the Pizza Port brewpub in Carlsbad, California, and its legendary brewer, Tomee Arthur. Pizza Port is sending a pair of its massive, genre-bending beers to Boulder; Dogfish Head, Lagunitas and Stone Brewing will also be represented, as will such local breweries as Left Hand/Tabernash, Great Divide, Bull & Bush, Redfish, Wynkoop Brewing Co. and Bristol. Many of the beers will have been brewed specifically for the festival.
Drinking big, Avery notes, is the only way to sip through life. "People will spend a lot of money on a nice bottle of cabernet," he says, "and then I see those same people buy a twelve-pack of Budweiser. I'm like, 'How do those two things mix?'"
He promises that the brave drinker who tries bolder beers will be rewarded. "It's crazy," he says. "I see it happen all the time at tastings. People say, 'I don't really like beer.' Then they taste our beer and say, 'This doesn't taste like beer.' I tell them, 'No, this is what beer should taste like. What you think is beer is actually not beer, as far as we're concerned.'"