Hop to It, Boulder

November 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Through this project I’m always finding interesting places in Boulder. I’ve driven by this little shopping center a hundred times and never noticed there was a full service home brewing store just waiting for me to discover. It’s a good thing it was there since I would have been in trouble otherwise. I had bought a kit a friend suggested and unfortunately it arrived with 4 components missing from it. I may have uttered a few choice swear words when I discovered that.
For about $55 (including shipping) I bought the Chocolate Maple Porter kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop. It seemed like it would have been a great starter kit from the directions. It makes about 10 bottles of beer.

Unfortunately without all the proper tools I had to come up with something else. Maybe the person inspecting it had been sampling a little too much of their own product at the time?

They have a number of seasonal kits available that looked good. You just have to take your chances on the full kit showing up.

I ended up visiting my local store, Hop to It, which is even handier.
One of my new friends, Matt, from the Boulder Wine Merchant met me there since he is an avid home brewer. He offered to help me figure out what I needed to get started which was a huge help. He also came over and helped us along with our first home brew which I will write more about later. Many thanks to Matt!

I decided to make a little bit more of an investment in a 5 gallon equipment kit that cost about $160. I also purchased a 5 gallon Fat Tire Amber Ale clone kit for $35 plus the activation yeast. They have a lot of clone kits of popular craft beers. My husband was showing interest in brewing as well, so I figure it will be a good investment and it will fuel many fun poker nights with friends.

Hop to It offers brewing classes which I will look into, including an all grain brewing class which I will have to graduate to. For me, just figuring out the basics was enough for now using a kit. It was a similar feeling to being at my mechanics and not really having a clue what I would need to do with them.

In talking with one of the guys who worked there, I was asking him about their clientele and whether they get a lot of women. He said they get a ton of college students because there is no legal age limit to buying brewing equipment. You have to love American ingenuity in getting around the law.

Now that I have my first brew behind me, it will be interesting to explore what they have to offer further. It’s a great little store to have in your neighborhood.

Upslope Brewing Company: where snowmelt meets neighborhood microbrewery

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Colorado produces more beer than any other state in the US. In Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd refers to Aspen as a “place where the beer flows like wine”. We can thank some of the bigger operations like Coors but it also has to do with over a hundred microbreweries and brew pubs that have grown up since Boulder Beer got started in 1979.  You can’t get much better after a long day at work than pulling up a stool at your neighborhood microbrewery. You not only get higher quality hand crafted beer, you also get to know the people making it (and you can bike or walk home). Today I checked out Upslope Brewing Company located in North Boulder.

Like other microbrewers I’ve talked with they are quickly outgrowing themselves. It seems like anyone who is willing to put the time & effort into making quality, hand crafted beer would find a pretty great market for it. They’ve expanded their operations a few times now and still can’t keep up with demand.

Upslope came to the market with a Pale Ale and an India Pale ale. In 2010 their Pale Ale was awarded best Pale Ale and one of the 25 best new beers in America by Maxim magazine.

They brew their beer with Patagonian hops, high quality Rahr malts, snowmelt and yeast. Yes, snowmelt. That is technically where most our water comes from around here.  They also have a tap room that adjoins the brewery with a number of seasonal beers on tap. I plan to bring my friends in town over there tomorrow when they get in to get properly hydrated for their Colorado visit. I’m keen to try some of their darker beers, like the Imperial Stout.
One of the most interesting things they’re doing, that makes them truly local, is canning instead of bottling. You may or may not know that Boulder is a pretty active place. To see themselves as a true local brewery, they made their beer as portable as possible as well as recyclable as possible (another Boulder passion). I got to check out their custom made canner. There aren’t industrial canners for craft beers so these guys are tinkering with engineers to make their own.

I bought a little sample to bring home with me to help inspire me in my own beer making. When I asked them what someone new to brewing should look out for they said to “Be careful. It is addictive.” That seems to be the consensus with brewing your own beer.

I can’t wait to get started. The kit is in the mail and I’ve also found a great local supplier I am going to check out tomorrow.

I Heart Crystal Springs Brewing Company

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tom Horst has what can only be described as a twinkle in his eye when he talks about brewing beer. He is a full time teacher of instrumental music at the local high school but on the weekends he is brew master of some highly sought after beer. As one of the smallest licensed brewers in the country, if not the world, he says he does have trouble keeping up with the demand. I was turned onto his beer through Cured, a special local grocery that also carries wonderful charcuterie and cheeses. I’m pretty sure it was by drinking his beer that my husband won our neighborhood Poker game last week.

Tom got into brewing back in the late 80s when his son, in college at the time, suggested they brew together. He’s been brewing ever since and as of last year officially started the Crystal Springs Brewing Company out of a converted garage on his property. He is already quickly growing out of that space.

He let me stop by this weekend to observe him at work, along with his brother-in-law who helps from time to time. They were in the process of mixing the mash for their upcoming holiday beer.

I asked him what he would say his style was and he replied “weird”. He makes beer that fits within a classic category, like porter or lager, but he also adds his own element to it to make it definitively his own. He said that’s one of the things he likes most about brewing in the US because there are not the same restrictions you find in other countries. You can not only make great beer but add your personality as well. He suggested the US is making some of the best beer out there right now (that’s right, you German readers). You can read more about his beers here. He gave us a taste of the uncut Russian Imperial Stout and it was pretty incredible. That is one to buy and age.

When I started out with this project there were a couple of goals I had in mind. I wanted to see what was happening in my community and I also wanted to learn from people who were fostering a craft of some sort. Crystal Springs is one of those special places you find when you stop being too busy and start looking around your community at the interesting things people are doing around you.

It’s great to see a personal hobby blossom into such a successful venture. Tom shared one of the best moments was when the Kitchen, one of Boulder’s better restaurants, started serving his beer on tap. He also now has calls from all over the country asking how they can get his beer. I have to say I’m happy he’s kept at it because I get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. We’ll see how my own concoction stacks up this week.

One of the things I’ve loved most with this project aside from learning a lot about where I live is getting to meet some talented and fun-loving people. I’ll leave you with some wisdom from the wall in Tom’s brewery: “A good friend will come and bail you out of jail…but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying ‘Damn…that was fun!'”

Ok, midgets can be funny

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Every year the ad agency where my husband works has a costume themed holiday party. Last year it was the 80s. One of the guys decided to go as Fantasy Island and flew in a midget he hired to be Tattoo. He was one of the finalists and as he was standing up there on stage he reaches down and picks this poor guy up for more applause. I’m sure some people thought it was funny. To me, they both just looked uncomfortable and you could see on the guy’s face that he may have crossed a line.

I’ve never thought it was funny to make fun of little people. It just always seems a little tasteless no matter how much the person seems to be into it. I’ve never thought it’s that funny to make fun of people for who they are, unless of course it’s Michelle and Marcus Bachmann. They ask for it.

Last night, I decided to challenge my ban against laughing at little people and went to see Brad Williams perform at Comedy Works in Denver. He refers to himself as a dwarf and likes to “make humorous observations on disability, relationships, sex, and race”.  He also likes giving lap dances as you can see. That is not me, by the way.

He didn’t have to try to be funny because as a little person, he has crazy things happen to him regularly that are legitimately funny from women with smurf fetishes wanting to paint him blue to black kids regularly asking what the hell is wrong with him. Instead of letting it get to him he embraces the wacky world of people, normal or not, and comes back with some funny stories.

One of the funniest aspects of the evening was how he would make fun of other kinds of people…fat people, white people, black people, disabled people. He even argued that black people should give up having a month of the year since everything is going so well for them now and technically February is the shortest month, so it should belong to midgets.

I still won’t be laughing at little people anytime soon but it was fun to laugh with him. He was one funny little guy.

Inspired by Frasca Food & Wine

October 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Earlier in the year I spent a week with the Frasca learning about how to be a Sommelier. This week Bobby Stuckey was gracious enough to let me come back and watch them in their pasta making glory. I spent a few hours with Sean who showed me how to cut pappardelle, how to make ravioli dough and how to make gnocchi (one of my favorites). He made it all look effortless but also confided he’s been doing it awhile so he has it down to a science, or I should say, an art.

Pappardelle is one of my favorite pastas. We’ll actually be trying to make it tonight. It was great to see how Sean handled it & cut it. Getting started with pasta, it can be hard to figure out how to handle it & how dry/wet it should be. He was pretty generous with dusting it with semolina to keep it from sticking. He said it’s important to keep its “toothiness”. The pasta was a beautiful golden color. In a matter of minutes he had cut a gorgeous tray full of pappardelle.
After showing me how to make their ravioli pasta, Sean moved onto the gnocchi. I’ve always heard it can be hard to make and touchy because of the consistency of the potatoes. Sean said his first few attempts weren’t his best but now it’s second hand. One thing about pasta is that it does come from the simplest of ingredients. With gnocchi you start with a good old baked potato. They bake them in a bed of sea salt to help with moisture.

With gnocchi Sean said it’s important to get the right consistency with the potatoes so he uses a food mill to make the potato uniform in size.
He couldn’t share their recipe secrets, but one he did share they include is rosemary infused butter and cream which makes the gnocchi have a rich texture and wonderful fragrance. It smelled amazing.

After adding the remaining ingredients he gently mixed the dough on a well floured board. He didn’t fuss with it too much.

Then the mesmerizing gnocchi production began. He piped out 5 long rolls of gnocchi across a huge cutting board surface which made me contemplate a kitchen remodel. Again it was well floured. I’m glad I got to see this because I would probably have been much more worried about how much flour I was using. Sean then masterfully cut them into perfectly uniform little pillows which would later be hand formed one by one.
 Sean then sifted out a bit of the flour and voila! I was pretty hungry at that point since it was lunchtime and I love gnocchi. The raw dough smelled amazing.

Luckily my parents were in town this weekend so we paid Frasca a visit on Friday night to enjoy their tasting menu. As a surprise they brought us an extra course of their gnocchi which were incredible.

I still have a few pastas to try before I feel brave enough to make gnocchi but I was definitely inspired by watching Sean make some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever had.

Satisfying curiosity

September 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

Let me just start this week off with few clarifications: 1) I will not be joining the NRA anytime soon. 2) I will not be buying a gun and 3) I don’t plan on hunting anything. I don’t even kill bugs if I can help it.  I simply want to see what it’s like to fire a gun.

There are a lot of things I’ve learned over the course of this year that will come in handy for years to come. I know, or at least I hope, shooting a gun won’t be one of them. I’m just curious what it’s like. For good or bad, guns are such a huge part of our culture, and I really have no first hand knowledge of them. The most I’ve ever done is shoot a bb gun at summer camp.

Even if Boulder is not remotely a gun slinging town of the Old West, it is still in Colorado. It seems appropriate that I at least learn how to shoot.

 

Colorado gold

September 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

I thought I could never beat the fall foliage of New England but there is something simple and gorgeous about the golden aspens set against the constant azure sky of Colorado. In the fall they dominate the landscape & I got to enjoy them in full force camping this weekend.

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