Dave Thibodeau is skeptical. The co-founder of Ska Brewing in Durango has been drinking beer and helping to create unusual beer recipes for a long time. He's tried everything from barrel-aged barleywines to sours to milk stouts and double IPAs, but there's a certain style that has never really worked for him: barrel-aged IPAs.
The reason is because the most important component of an IPA, the fresh hoppy flavors and aromas, tends to fade or get lost as time goes by, especially inside a barrel, where other flavors can interfere with or overwhelm the hops. And that's why a blended, barrel-aged fruited IPA, which has the working name of Skeptic-Ale, is the perfect challenge, Thibodeau says. “I'm really looking forward to it.”
On Monday, a team from Ska gathered at Epic Brewing in Denver to collaborate on a barrel-aged IPA that they plan to serve as the official welcome beer for the third annual Collaboration Fest, which takes place on March 19 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The fest, which will feature 85 collaborative beers, has quickly become one of Colorado's signature events and a showplace for the Colorado Brewers Guild, which represents the majority of the state's breweries.
John Turk is less skeptical of the beer. A sales rep for Epic, Turk has known Thibodeau for many years, back to his college days in Durango when Ska was just getting started. Over the years, Turk has always wanted to use the term skeptical, or Skeptic-Ale, in a beer. So when Thibodeau called him late last year and said Ska was going to be making the welcome beer for Collaboration Fest, Turk jumped at the chance to work together. “I was pretty excited to get that phone call,” Turk says. “We jumped right in.”
The idea for the beer was developed among the brewers, reps and owners of the two breweries, who landed on the recipe based on a couple of factors. “Ska works well with hops and make some great IPAs. We are known for our barrel-aged beers and our fruited beers, like the Brainless series,” Turk says. So they played to those strengths.
Here's how the beer will be made. On Monday, Ska's representatives went to Epic to brew forty barrels of an IPA, using Nelson Sauvin and Horizon hops. That beer will then be aged with peach concentrate in both chardonnay barrels and Peach Street Distillers brandy barrels; Peach Street, in Palisade, is also co-owned by Thibodeau. Then, in late February or early March, the breweries will get together again to brew a second batch of the IPA. This one will be dry-hopped, though, giving it an extra dose of the floral and stone-fruit-like flavors that come from the two hops varieties.
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Thibodeau and Ska head brewer Thomas Larsen believe that the flavors and aromas from those two varieties will work well with the chardonnay barrels, rather than the citrusy, piney aromas that are more commonly associated with American IPA hops.
Then, all of the beer, at about 8 percent ABV, will be blended together. It will be served on draft at the fest and then bottled in 22-ounce bombers for sale in Colorado. The goal of this complicated process is to get both the fresh hoppy flavors, from the second batch, into the beer, along with the barrel-aged characteristics and the fruit.
The Brewers Guild is expecting about 3,000 people at Collaboration Fest (see photos from last year's even in this Collaboration Fest 2015 slide show). There will be more than 85 collaborations between hundreds of breweries, mostly from Colorado, but also from out of state and even from other countries.
Some of those include: Avery and Call To Arms Brewing; Big Choice and Black Bottle Brewing; Crazy Mountain and Stillwater Artisan Ales; Denver Beer Co and Spangalang Brewery; Diebolt Brewing and River North Brewery; Funkwerks and Wicked Weed Brewing; Liquid Mechanics and Bagby Beer; Little Machine and Joyride Brewing; Living The Dream Brewing and Grist Brewing; Oskar Blues Brewery, 3 Floyds and Horse & Dragon Brewing; Our Mutual Friend and Cerebral Brewing; The Post Brewing and Prost Brewing; Sanitas Brewing and SixPoint; Station 26, Cannonball Creek and Comrade; Telluride Brewing and Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri in Sweden; TRVE Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales; and Twisted Pine and Pizza Port Solana Beach.