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Wednesday, July 3,2013

Going hopless

Nederland's two breweries prompt a dictionary consultation

By Steve Weishampel
Photo by Elizabeth Miller

Even on the last leg of our Boulder County beer tour — a trip up to Nederland to visit both Wild Mountain and Very Nice breweries — we’re learning something new, courtesy of Very Nice co-owner Susan Green.

But we’ve got to check a dictionary first. Green tells us the rotating tap at Very Nice, Greener’s Gruit, is “a beer with no hops.” Instead, it’s brewed with herbs — yarrow, rose petals and lemon balm, in this case.

It’s very interesting, with greater depth of flavor than beer with hops and a tempered sweetness that, David says, seems like “something hobbits would drink.” In a good way, of course.

But slow down. Is this beer? Is beer not four ingredients, water, malt, yeast and hops? We’ve been flexible on where we go, even stopping by Redstone Meadery because, what the heck, mead is delicious, but we never called that beer.

And we aren’t calling gruit beer, either, until we hit the books, or the Internet. Dictionary.com and the World English Dictionary both say beer’s made with hops, but they also give the option of any fermented drink, alcoholic or not. So gruit is spice beer, just like fermented sassafras root is root beer. The Internet does tell us, and Very Nice confirms, that gruit predates hopped beer, as hops gradually took the place of spice mixtures in beer.

But don’t think Very Nice doesn’t know its way around hops. The brewery’s imperial IPA is very hoppy, bitter and almost overbearing. “You wouldn’t want it for a mother-in-law,” Elizabeth says. Another attention-grabber was the Logical Fallacy, somewhere between stout and India Black Ale with a strong coffee scent and a short, bitter aftertaste like dark chocolate.

Sadly, it’s just samplers today, because a patio across Boulder Creek is calling our names. At Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, we debate the wisdom of making your logo the animal you’re serving as we sip the three house-made beers, the Big Ned Red, Otis Pale Ale and Hop Diggity IPA.

The pale is a surprise for its depth, maltiness and amber color. There’s little in common with Dale’s Pale or Mountain Sun’s XXX. The body is amber-like, and the hoppy finish is more in line with a pale, leaving the beer somewhere between different styles. The red is similarly balanced, presenting hops and malt together with a relatively high alcohol content, while the IPA is hoppy and direct. All would be suitable fluids for washing down Wild Mountain’s barbecue and sandwich menu.

At the outset of this tour in January, we’d scheduled the Nederland trip to be the end of the tour, but with craft beer in this county, there’s always more. As Boulder Weekly first reported on Twitter, Twelve Degree Brewing in Louisville and Front Range Brewing in Lafayette opened their doors over the weekend, which means we’re headed east. But there’s good reason to wait: Each brewery is only using half the taps on its wall, and both plan to fill the taps as soon as possible. The goodness is just getting started.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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