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Thursday, January 10,2013

Starting strong with a strong ale

Asher Brewing kicks off our Boulder County Beer Tour

By Steve Weishampel
Photo by Steve Weishampel
Asher Brewing Company

A strong ale will solve it.

That was the mantra as I more or less fled the Boulder Weekly office for Asher Brewing Company in Gunbarrel the afternoon of Jan. 3.

It’s not the healthiest mentality for heading to a brewery, maybe, but it is what it is, as pro athletes say.

First, though, I had to track down Asher’s taproom.

I was going to the all-organic brewery, at the top of Boulder County’s brewery alphabet, for a very low-key kickoff. Boulder Weekly’s editorial staff has set a goal to visit every one of the 24 breweries operating taprooms in Boulder County — including three that are expected to start serving by the time it’s their turn alphabetically. (And that’s assuming, rather naively, that no new taprooms will pop up as we go. When they do, they’ll be tacked onto the list.)

Once a week, we’re jetting up to Very Nice in Ned, across the county to Longmont’s Pumphouse or up to the Lyons home of Oskar Blues. And once a week we’ll tell you about the people, the atmosphere and, of course, the beer that makes Boulder County’s microbrewery scene the greatest that has ever existed anywhere. Call it the Boulder County Beer Tour.

Asher occupies an industrial park spot somewhere along the Diagonal — I still couldn’t tell you where — with all the twisting streets and reused names you could ever want.

But once inside, it feels like happy hour at some downtown Denver bar, not a small town’s only brewery. Three guys in baseball caps joke with the bartender. Over the speakers, MF DOOM tears through another brutal two minutes of hard-hitting indie rap in a mix that bounces from hip-hop to blues to pop.

Two sips of Green Monstah Strong Ale later, it’s not feeling like just any bar. The beer is liquid gold, and it turns out the dudes in baseball caps just happen to run the place. Along with Jules Masters behind the bar, they comprise four-fifths of Asher’s crew, “which is really nice, because we’re quite the family,” says brewstributor Andrew Ferguson.

At the head of that family is Chris Asher, the founder, owner and brewer of Asher Brewing. The metaphor works because Asher is about as soft-spoken as Don Vito Corleone, though way less intimidating. With a little prying, he opens up about the company as I get a taste of the perfectly smooth and slightly tart Funbarrel Cherry, Asher’s Green Bullet IPA oak-aged with cherries.

Asher, a Boston native, proudly notes that his brewery is still the only all-organic operation in Colorado.

“Everything we use has to be certified,” he says. “That includes cleaning and everything.”

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Green Monstah Strong Ale | Photo by Steve Weishampel

That also now includes hops, a product previously exempted from organic regulations. The federal government recently decided that for products to bear the “organic” label, hops had to be grown organically. Asher’s made the shift to all-organic hops easily, Ferguson says.

Asher, Masters and I chat about the ecological footprint of the little cones, which occupy a lot of the brewer’s time.

Asher says he has “called every single farm that makes organic hops” in the Pacific Northwest, searching for every variety he can find. He tells me the hunt for hops often dictates what beers he can produce, as some hops are better suited to IPAs and others to darker beers. He drops two claims on me that I can’t confirm: He says Coors discovered that organic hops make beer last longer than conventional hops treated with pesticides, and he says New Belgium found that the carbon footprint of hops from the Northwest was greater than those coming from New Zealand, because overseas shipping is more efficient than trucking.

Speaking of driving long, flat, boring distances: Why Gunbarrel?

“I like the low rent here,” Asher says. “There’s not much else going on in Gunbarrel.”

Ferguson also tells BW’s staff that Asher is the only brewery in town and draws in lots of locals.

So, I decide to check out what — besides the beer — keeps the Gunbarrelites coming. Amber ale in hand, I meet the rest of the BW staff in the back room of Asher.

It’s a large, warehouse-type garage with every game that distracted you from Keystone Light back in college: cornhole, darts, foosball, pinball machines and a video arcade game. There’s a small bar in the corner and a flat screen TV.

“It’s like being in the garage of someone who has a lot of good beers,” David says.

A small portable shelter covers the foosball table, pinball machines and arcade game, prompting Joel to quip, “It is a warehouse, but there is a place to go if it rains.” Yes, it’s a tent, indoors.

So the staff gets wrapped up in a fairly competitive game of darts, and I get reviews of Asher’s other brews.

David says the Greenade Double IPA is hoppy and spicy but not too overpowering. His friend Andy calls it “crisp,” adding, “It’s a light-tasting, dry 9 percent that doesn’t overwhelm the stomach with a sugary feeling.”

The SuperFly Oatmeal Stout is “portery,” Joel says, and not particularly heavy. Andy offers a similar review for a very different beer, calling the Green Bullet IPA “light” as well as floral.

Lastly, Asher’s Green Lantern Kolsch has a very slight floral taste, which Joel says he likes, even though he usually doesn’t like floral tones.

But the center of the Asher universe, for me at least, is Green Monstah. Boulder Weekly staff had earlier gotten a sample of the beer, a version that had been aged in port-zinfandel barrels that clocked in at — well, who knows? Eleven percent alcohol was Masters’ best guess. At any rate, that Monstah knocked me off my feet; the standard 10 percent strong ale merely knocks my socks off.

Complex and massive-yet-drinkable, it’s not easy to pin down Green Monstah. Joel’s review — “That taste, going down, is probably about what it would taste like coming back up” — might say more about him than the beer. Andy skips description and starts plotting to include the beer in a pork chop recipe. I embark on a battle with myself, trying to resist getting another.

And I stop Asher to ask, where do they go from here? It’s an easy question for a brewery with organic cred.

“Whole Foods wants us bad,” Asher tells me. He says the brewery plans to start canning, not bottling, beer by spring or summer. It’s a logical next step for the three-year-old company, and one anticipated by anyone who, like me, is hooked on the Monstah.

Up next on the tour is a Boulder standby, Avery Brewing Company, which has tapped its Liebenweizen, a malty, chewy, banana-toned Dunkelweizen brewed for an Avery brewer’s wedding.

And if they’re out of that very limited release, well, Boulder County’s next badass beer is always just around the corner.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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