I love Breckenridge Brewing’s Avalanche Amber Ale: A rant against snobbery

I love Breckenridge Brewing’s Avalanche Amber Ale.

I haven’t had a sip of the stuff in a few years and really don’t enjoy the taste, but I love that beer. Fat Tire too. These beers are two of my favorite made in the state. And I don’t plan on paying for or drinking one ever again.

People like to shit on these beers, among many others. Mentioning Breckenridge will cause many beer drinking residents of Colorado to sneer. To scoff. To raise their noses and say “oh Breckenridge? They don’t make good beer.” If you don’t do this, good on you.

We’re spoiled. Extremely spoiled. In Denver alone, we have almost two dozen breweries. With Denver addresses. Not Aurora or Englewood or Longmont or Boulder. Denver. We have running clubs that will visit five breweries in a 5k loop. It’s amazing.  But relax your pinkies, bring your noses back to nose level, and calm your shit down.

Here’s the thing. Two things, really. These breweries are responsible for that crazy weird chocolate vanilla raspberry barrel aged brett stout you just tried from your new neighborhood brewery, and they actually make that stuff as well. Let’s start with the first point.

Breckenridge, Wynkoop, and their combined holdings cover a lot of taps and a lot of history in Denver. To name a few: Breckenridge Brewery, Breckenridge Ballpark Brewery, Wynkoop, Ale House at Amato’s, Wazee Supper Club, Ghost Tap, Gaetano’s, Cherry Cricket, and Pearl Street Grill. Combined, and I like to call their new formation “Breckenkoop”, they have a lot of money and a lot of real estate. Ya, Avalanche is a pretty boring example of a beer. But it’s a gateway beer. A bridge. It carries people from Coors or Bud into the idea of craft beer. And beyond that, all that money pushes people across that bridge. Advertising and marketing and event sponsorships, these guys are out there. Sidenote: that money stays in Colorado, too.

Meanwhile, Wynkoop is a landmark, and visitors to Denver, as well as people without bias go there, have an amazing time and get an introduction to something new, like a Light Rail Ale or Rail Yard. Nothing crazy, no hop bombs or horse blankets. But the service, the servers, and the overall experience will convince someone to try a craft beer again. And again. And again.

And so these newly initiated into the world of craft beer are open to more. They’re willing to try that beer on happy hour, or the server’s suggestion, or even some colorful six-pack at their local liquor store. Hopefully, it’s a good brew and nothing too out there, and the foundation for good beer is more strongly solidified. They see a necklace with an Oskar Blues can, or recognize the big red Left Hand logo, and the big local and regional breweries start to seep in. “Oh Great Divide, that sounds familiar, I’ll try that.” Suddenly, they find themselves at the Great Divide tap room, sipping on a Collette and chowing down some Basic Kneads, and someone hands over a taster of Espresso Yeti. Welcome to the bigs. Have a Wild Wild Brett Indigo. Try some Meph Addict, err, Tweak. How about a double Colorado Whiskey Sour made with La Folie and two local spirits?

It’s a journey most of us have followed. But look back to where it started.

My first craft beer was a Fat Angel from Magic Hat in Vermont, followed closely – like, that night – by a #9 and then a Long Trail Ale. #9 isn’t known for being the world’s craziest brew, but it’s pretty fucking stellar when you’ve been stealing your dad’s Miller High Life.

So here’s my point. Breckenridge makes an amber so Great Divide doesn’t have to. Breckenridge and the like support this industry in bigger ways than people give them credit for. No, their beer isn’t the craziest or best beer on the block. But it’s damn good, it’s exactly what they intend to make, and it supplies new, eager, thirsty consumers to the other 150+ breweries in this state.

Oh, and they do make some crazy beer. The other day, I tried a beer without seeing the tap. It was dark, rich in flavor and aroma, and tasted familiar. I guessed that it came from The Bruery. Someone else thought Cigar City. Many questioned if it was a new Russian River, or perhaps an Avery collaboration. It was Breck’s Well Built ESB, aged in Stranahan’s barrels. Meanwhile, Wynkoop collaborated with New Belgium and Infinite Monkey Theorem to produce Brewjolais Noveau, a sour brown brewed with 1200 pounds of cabernet grapes, aged in wine barrels for 10 months. It’s 9.6% ABV. And soon they’ll have a Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. Seriously.

This rant doesn’t apply to everyone, and I’m not saying you’ll see me at 471 Kalamath on any sort of regular basis. Obviously a lot of people love Breckenridge, or the company wouldn’t be expanding and dealing with local legal issues on their size. Wynkoop just added a new fermenter. Things are going pretty well. But at the same time, beer geekery verges on beer snobbery, and it’s sad. As long as a brewery makes a solid product, focusing on both the quality of every brew and the experience of every guest, they help the rest of the industry and their local community. A rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes. Or as a saying I just made up goes, a pitcher goes down faster with the help of your friends.

What do you think? Are you hooked, a hater, or confused by why I’m so ranty?

About PJ Hoberman

PJ likes beer. A lot. And whiskey. Gin. Wine. Cocktails. Um.. what were we talking about?

  • http://twitter.com/dulcedementia Kelly Tidd

    *most appreciative motherfucking slow clap I will ever give*

  • Robert

    I really enjoyed the Breck Well Built ESB. It was a nice surprise to run into that beer last week.

  • http://bendandbrew.com/ D.T. Pennington

    I often wonder the same thing myself. Would folks be so quick to hate if brews were served blind? I was recently turned off by a local brewery just because of the copy they used to describe their beers on their website.

    I know what I like, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I will also try anything one or two times (you never know when you’ll run into a bad batch or a shitty pour).

    Every brewery tends to dump a lot of cash and effort into marketing just so their beer seems delicious before it ever leaves the keg. Maybe a lot of people just don’t know how to drink beer?

  • http://twitter.com/alexelisabeth0o alex elisabeth

    where is this 5 brewery 5K and where do i sign up?

    and if you were being hyperbolic, i really hope someone invents it.

    and hooray ALL colorado beer!

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  • http://twitter.com/alex_karklins Alex Karklins

    I’m with you. Also, No Fat Tire = No La Folie or any other Lips of Faith awesomeness.

  • http://twitter.com/HiroProt Martin May

    Loved Breckenridge’s Well-Built ESB! And I like their Vanilla Porter and 72 Imperial Stout. They produce good beers, and every once in a while something that’s great (but those are usually one-offs).

    Some breweries DO however produce below-par beer, on a pretty consistent basis. Of course this is fairly subjective, and I’m not going to name names (you mentioned one in your write-up), and maybe, just maybe, I am a beer snob (okay, guilty), but I sometimes question whether those “craft” breweries are a good thing for the craft beer scene overall. Why? Because they give newcomers the impression that this is the quality that they can expect from craft beer.

  • Beer Chin

    Great words, the beer industry as a whole – brewers, suppliers, bars & restaurants, and certainly drinkers, would not be where it is now without those seemingly uninspired products. Next time at your local grab something shockingly familiar from Breckenridge, Wynkoop, New Belgium, Odell, Great Divide, or Boulder – they started it all, and say Thank You! Every cart needs a horse to pull it, there can not be a next without support of the present.


    “Crazy beer” or stunt beer?

  • http://twitter.com/mchristo Chris Lindsay

    I like your beer style, sir

  • http://twitter.com/BrewTrek Brew Trek

    Avalanche, Fat Tire, Railyard, and DPA got me through the Nineties whenever I would go out with friends and family to places not known for craft beer. I don’t particularly like any of them, but it was far better than having to drink Bud.
    But each brewery, especially Great Divide, has beers that I do like, and I’m sure even the most discerning beer lover can also. I agree with everyone about the Well Built, incredible. And I agree about the blind taste tests. I mentioned this in my post on GD in regards to their Hercules DIPA; in a blind taste test, I think it would hold its own with Pliny the Younger on any given day.
    Only those with something to prove would put down a beer out of hand, rather than say that they personally just don’t care for a specific beer.

  • http://twitter.com/ChipperDave Dave Butler

    I admire what Breck is doing with their beer, but like you, I don’t drink it on a regular basis. Probably because I have been on a several year trek to try as many different beers as possible and I rarely have the same beer twice. But that’s just me. I have had their bridge beers and have attended a tasting at Kalamath on occasion. I try to figure out what a beer is trying to say and appreciate that. Doesn’t matter whether I will have them again anytime soon. It’s obvious that enough people enjoy their beer to keep them growing.

  • Meghan

    What if you just don’t LIKE those beers? Are you supposed to hold your tongue and nose and drink them anyway just because if you don’t, someone is going to call you a snob? I don’t get this whole backlash against beery opinions. “Respect Beer” doesn’t translate to “Never voice disdain for a product.” I don’t drink Fat Tire because I don’t LIKE it. It upsets my stomach. I will also say that today’s Fat Tire is NOT the same as the Fat Tire of yore–even the brewery will tell you that. It’s what makes craft beer CRAFT.
    I feel the same about Breck beers, save for the occasional 471. And yes, if you put a Breck beer in front of me (not one that’s barrel aged as it masks the base notes) I could call it. Breck beers taste the same. They have similar body, similar noses, similar finishes. The world isn’t full of supertasters but still…if you have the palate, there’s no reason why you can’t voice your opinion. Being an ass about it is different. A refined palate is no license to be a beer bully. Bridge beers *are* important, and spreading the beer love is one of the things that makes Colorado great.
    I will also say this–both Wynkoop and Breck have operations (Amato’s in particular) wherein the ‘tenders don’t like to talk beer. On numerous occasions I have either been directly or indirectly surprised by the lax attitudes of employees who may as well be working at Pizza Hut. Starting gravity? (um…) What’s the hoppiest beer you have on tap? (“How about a Dale’s?” Wait, THAT’S considered a pale, bub.) Can you tell me the hop varieties in this beer? (Blank stare.) I don’t get it. Why work at a brew-centric establishment if you don’t like to talk beer?
    So yes, we’re lucky here in Denver, Colorado. We live in a place where beer is flowing at all times and folks are at the top of their brewing game. I happen to think the trailblazers could use a freshening up, however. Newbies like Wit’s End and Crooked Stave are smokin’ the venerated veterans.

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