Colorado Springs has no classic beer tour.
In Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, you can walk or ride your bike from brewery to brewery. While I will put our beers up against anything the northern Front Range has to offer, our breweries are so spread out a car is a must.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys multiple beer tastings and driving, maybe you’re reading this column in the big tent at the county jail.
So I decided to create my beer tour. Since beer is best enjoyed with company, I offered three spots to readers who won an essay contest about why they love beer. Then I persuaded my friends at Bristol Brewing and Trinity Brewing companies to give us free beer and the good folks at Yellow Cab Co. to provide free transportation.
And Thursday night, we told the driver to set the controls for the heart of the suds.
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These “chocolate” grains taste more like carob-flavored dirt than beer.
To accurately describe how they become delicious Scottish ale is beyond the scope of this column. So I’ll talk about the product, Laughing Lab, the best-selling beer at Colorado Springs’ largest brewery and winner of nine medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
“On the nose, you get that malt, chocolate, a little bit of biscuit,” said Bristol brewer Troy Johnson, our tour guide. “It’s real mellow. It’s not real assertive on the hops. It’s a balanced, malty beer.”
Mike Bristol launched the brewery in 1994, and today his beers are the most well-known local brews, available in most liquor stores.
The brewery has been so successful it will move from its South Nevada Avenue location to the former Ivywild Elementary building, a big expansion.
Brewing them certainly seems fun — constant sampling is a job requirement — and beer doesn’t get much fresher than straight from the fermentation tank. But it’s a lot of work.
We didn’t get to witness the bottling, but I was told it’s a frenzy of activity, and when something goes wrong, “you can hear bottles exploding back there,” said server and “hoptimist” Lauren Olson.
We tried all of their flagship beers, including the recently released Yellow Kite, a crisp seasonal pilsner, and Winter Warlock, the rich winter warmer still hanging around like the winter weather. Everyone agreed there wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch.
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If Bristol is the mainstay of the local beer scene, Trinity is what the scene created.
Founder Jason Yester spent 12 years at Bristol before launching the brew pub on Garden of the Gods Road in 2008. It has been such a success that he tripled brewing capacity last year and recently finished expanding into the space next door, a room with 80 barrels for aging complex beers.
“This is where the true heart and soul of Trinity lies,” head brewer Tom Brown said of the barrel room.
Trinity’s offerings push the limits of what a beer can do. Nothing personified it more than the Three Flowers Saison, seasoned with a secret recipe of, you guessed it, flowers.
“It’s a very light, easy, balanced recipe to kind of showcase the flowers. You get a small reminiscence of sweetness at the end of it and a floral bouquet,” Brown said. “You can smell it, you can taste it, you can run through it, without the pollen or runny nose.”
Paired with lavender cheesecake, contest winner Karen Adkins said, “This is my favorite pairing yet.”
She said that many times, as we enjoyed a saison with gyro bites and another saison with falafel, three beers with three kinds of sliders and, my favorite local beer, the amazingly hoppy Slap Your Mammy Double IPA with some amazingly hot seitan.
Said Adkins, “Life should always be this fun.”
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Bellies full, taste buds exhausted and numb from sampling 17 beers, we rode into the night, and I asked what my companions thought of the two breweries.
“I thought everything we had was great. In one way or another, I can appreciate it all,” contest winner Andrew de Naray said.
He talked about the niches that each brewery served: Bristol, the large-batch maker of 6-packs that sell for $8.99, and Trinity, the more specialized brewery with 25.3-ounce champagne bottles that go for $16.99. Trinity has a large menu; Bristol serves pretzels.
Large or small operation, we gained an appreciation of the work that goes into our favorite beverage.
“There’s definitely an art and a science to it,” contest winner Steve Carlander said.
Rappold writes about the local beer scene every other week in Food.