If you want to win the craft brewery game, do one thing and do it well.
That’s one lesson to be learned from Colorado’s biggest craft brewers. New Belgium has ridden its Fat Tire to distribution in 29 states, and you can grab a Dale’s Pale Ale in 30 states. In short, the formula for growth is: Get a flagship beer and ride it across the country.
Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company has its flagship in the Avery IPA, but that beer isn’t nearly as well-known as Dale’s or Fat Tire. Still, Avery has gotten by — and grown immensely, selling to 23 states.
Instead of riding one beer, Avery thrives on variety and experimentation. Twenty-some beers fill Avery’s menu, shifting all the time and generally crowding around the two extremes of off-the-chart IPAs and pitch-black stouts.
That includes the 3Point7, a milk stout that takes its name from its low alcohol content. Elizabeth’s taster glass is nearly empty by the time the rest of the BW staff gets to the East Boulder taproom, and she says she’s ready for something more substantial.
“I don’t know why you’d want a 3.7 [ABV beer],” she says, “unless you’re concerned about falling off your chair before your co-workers arrive.”
So we dive into the more serious stuff, like the Maharaja, an Imperial IPA that David says is one of his favorite beers. While I’m not a hophead by any means, Maharaja’s depth and balance of flavors is very appealing, and while the hops are powerful, they don’t overwhelm everything else going on.
The same could be said of Avery’s Belgians, particularly the Reverend Quadrupel, which is smooth and fruity. At yet another extreme, the Bolder Weisse is deeply and unapologetically sour.
The New World Porter, meanwhile, isn’t very portery. The menu and Joel both cite “black IPA” as the main flavor at work, and while NWP offers some smokiness, it’s not a traditional porter.
So let’s go back to the extremes: Avery’s 15 percent to 17 percent ABV Mephistopheles Stout. The Meph, as they call it, is the most serious stout I’ve ever had. It’s thick, creamy, heavy, complex, intense — and pretty damn alcoholic. It finishes with liquor-like tones and a distinctive solid texture. It’s sweet but far from sugary.
If you like the sound of that but aren’t interested in “creamy” or “sweet,” well, don’t get a stout. But if you must, there’s the Chili Czar Imperial Stout, Avery’s Czar infused with chipotles.
I took the following notes on the Chili Czar: “Challenge. Unpleasant.”
But that’s no condemnation. For Avery, a brewery defined by experimentation, it might well be a badge of honor.
Ordering the Chili Czar underscored one big difference among Boulder’s breweries. Last week at the five-person operation at Asher Brewing Company, the staff knew everything about the beer. At Avery, everything’s on a bigger scale. They employ seven times more people than Asher — and that’s just on the brewing end, not including taproom servers.
So when Jeff asked about the types of peppers in the Chili Czar Imperial Stout, our server wasn’t sure. It’s not a big deal, but it does highlight the necessary trade-off Boulder’s bigger breweries make. You can’t grow without losing something at some point along the way. But to be fair, on a return trip the server knew exactly what went into everything.
Next week we’re going corporate. BJ’s Brewhouse on Boulder’s 28th Street is up, and before you vault onto your Boulder-certified High Horse of Brewery Judgment, keep in mind that BJ’s is actually a lot less widespread, available in only 13 states, than some breweries on our list. And BJ’s in Boulder brought home a gold at the Great American Beer Festival for its indigenous ale Got Beer.
But beyond those reasons: If they’re pouring their own beer in Boulder County, we’re there.