Cultivate Festival to showcase local beer this Saturday

This Saturday, October 6th, the Chipotle Cultivate Festival, an event specially-made for socially-conscious foodies, will be held in City Park from 10am to 6pm.  The festival is a celebration of food, farmers, artists, freethinkers, and musicians in an effort to bring “awareness about food’s impact on society,” and best of all, entrance is absolutely free!

I know get it.  You’re thinking, “Chris, I’m about fresh, locally-grown food as much as the next person but the last time I checked my address bar it said I was at Denver off the Wagon; what the heck does Cultivate have to do with alcohol?”  Plenty, as it turns out.  Cultivate will feature a Brewer’s Hall pouring suds from Colorado breweries Avery Brewing, Boulder Beer, Breckenridge Brewery, Del Norte Brewing Co., Great Divide Brewing Co., Left Hand Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewing, Odell Brewing Co., Oskar Blues Brewery, and Ska Brewing along with additional booze-slingers Churchkey Can Co., Colorado Cider Company, The Infinite Monkey Theorem, and SHFT.  100% of the Brewer’s Hall profits will benefit the Food Family Farmers Foundation which, in turn, benefits The Lunch Box program.

The Brewer’s Hall isn’t just an add-on, though; it’s more than a ploy to keep people in good spirits.  Indeed, the Brewer’s Hall represents everything Cultivate stands for: local companies and quality ingredients.  To prove the point, Cultivate sent me on a three-brewery excursion to further exemplify the connection between craft beer and the festival’s noble philosophy.

Curving around Haystack Mountain in the isolated countryside, I arrived at my first location: Oskar Blues’ Hops & Heifers Farm—a parcel of farmland with a mission that’s simultaneously about being the poster child of raising organic food as well as about having a damn good time.  Sure, the folks at Oskar Blues feed their 20-some 100% Black Angus cows a healthy diet of grass, alfalfa, and spent grains, but they’re also constructing a mountain bike course with an eventual back-flip ramp into a pond.  Geoffrey Hess, the man in charge of the agricultural side of Hops & Heifers, is as excited about managing a showcase farm for All Natural beef as he is for the proposed zipline that, like the mountain bike course, is to end with a big splash.  2,500 vines of Centennial, Columbus, Nugget, Chinook, Willamette, Mt. Hood, Sterling, and Cascade hops on a 2-acre drip irrigation system is an impressive sight but so, too, is the annual Gospel Brunch wherein a busload of beer geeks enjoy a hearty meal while being serenaded by live, soul-lifting spirituals.  Even though they’re raising “the hardest steak you’ll ever make,” the Oskar Blues crew still finds time to make Hops & Heifers a recreational mecca.

Friendly goats roamed about Hops & Heifers looking for hand-outs and the odd scratch behind the ears.

Depleted hop fields at Hops & Heifers.

Although the harvest was over, there was still some resin in the leftover hops.

By the time I had arrived, most of the year’s harvest had been concluded: the hops picked, the cow population depleted, and the farm dormant and waiting for the next growing season.  Yet, despite visiting during the least impressive times of the year, Hops & Heifers still possessed an aura of inspiration because of the ideals it represents.  Knowing that every beef product served at an Oskar Blues restaurant is raised at this farm or its sister farm in Wellington (also All Natural and 100% Black Angus) and knowing that many an Oskar Blues experimental or wet-hopped beer came from the hops of these trellises is to know the origins of greatness.  That’s enough to make any visit to Hops & Heifers a memorable experience.

After leaving the farm I visited the Tasty Weasel Tap Room where I received a brief tour of Oskar Blues’ main brewing facility and canning line.  I was also privy to samples of a few one-off, experimental beers such as British G’Knight, a typical G’Knight but dry-hopped with English Fuggle hops thus imparting a completely new (and delicious) aroma and flavor.

Tasty Weasel brew area with overactive air lock.

Avery Brewing was my next stop and, while they don’t have their own farm, they nonetheless embody the Cultivate spirit by being bold, against-the-grain, and striving for high-quality consumables.  In fact, it was this rebellious philosophy that saved the brewery in its start-up phase.  According to Avery rep Joe Osborne, the brewery’s first beers were the epitome of conventional–hardly anything to write home about and, indeed, the customers were underwhelmed.  The business was looking at almost inevitable failure.  With nothing left to lose, the brewers dispensed with caution and began making big, gnarly, complex beers as a kind of last hoorah, but much to their surprise, those outside-the-box brews were exactly what Avery needed to be noticed by the beer geek community.  Like Avery beer?  Thank Hog Heaven; without it, Avery would no longer be with us.

Working hard at Avery.

Nowadays, Avery is defined by its status quo-challenging beers as evidenced by their barrel room annex; rows upon rows of whiskey, rum, and wine barrels housing slumbering beers that, according to Osborne, may or may not produce a drinkable beer.  The goal of the barrel room isn’t to create 100% output, it’s to experiment with different beers and different barrels and find the perfect combination.  The failed experiments go down the drain and the eye-lolling, euphoria-inducing successes are put on tap and served to customers.  I was treated to snifters of Rumpkin and Oud Floris—both exceptional examples of barrel-aged beers.  To think these elixirs wouldn’t exist if Avery hadn’t adopted the defiant attitude it now has towards commonality!  If Cultivate is a festival for freethinkers, then methinks Avery fits right in.

Beers aging in Avery’s barrel room.

The last stop was Boulder Beer which was celebrating its 33rd birthday at the time of my arrival.  To commemorate the event, Boulder Beer sponsored a beer festival and invited several fellow breweries to set up tents and join in on the fun.  The unconventional theme of Cultivate incarnated itself in the numerous off-kilter beers being served such as Coriander-Chamomile Belgian Wit from Upslope Brewing Company, Rum Barrel Porter from Crystal Springs Brewing Company, and Merlot Barrel Brown from Bootstrap Brewing.  Boulder Beer was no slouch in innovation, either, serving up a Bourbon-barrel aged double black IPA, a pineapple and champagne yeast golden ale, and a rum barrel-aged mild ale among others.  And if Paddy O’Hopped Beer—100% wet-hopped from vines growing on Boulder Beer’s patio—doesn’t scream “drink local,” then I don’t know what does.

Boulder Beer festivities.

With three breweries under my belt, I headed back home to Denver sated with great, local beer and even more excited for the upcoming Cultivate Festival; that was only three breweries, what might the rest be pouring this Saturday?  I won’t be left in the dark much longer; I’m sold—I’ll be at City Park at 10am enjoying as many fine ales and lagers as possible.  I’m sure I’ll indulge in some high-quality grub, too, since that’s the impetus for the occasion.

See you there, beer geeks.

These Black Angus cows are already good enough to eat.

About Chris Bruns


Chris Bruns is a self-professed beer geek living in Denver. Chris spends much of his time brewing beer at home with friends and family, attempting to visit every brewery in Colorado, attending special beer events and festivals, purchasing and assessing the latest releases from local breweries, and blogging about his adventures in the world of craft beer. He is also the Denver Craft Beer Examiner on Examiner.com. Contact Chris by e-mail at chrisdbruns@gmail.com or through his blog at www.beerincolorado.blogspot.com.