For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people in Colorado bitch about the snow. For one, this is Colorado and this sort of meteorological phenomenon ought to be expected; if we were living in Key West during a blizzard then I’d understand the surprise—not so startling when we’re situated at the base of the Rockies. Secondly, snow brings to the state a ton of tourist ski dollars and, when the white stuff melts, it moistens our trees and bushes thus lessening the impact of wildfires. Plus, if you’re reading this article, it should be noted that more melted snow equals more water for the breweries to convert into beer. So, if you wish to see a weak economy, more forest fires, and less suds then, by all means, keep belly-aching. Otherwise, zip it! You can’t control the weather, there’s no point complaining about something that can’t be changed, you might as well make the best of it. I, for one, take advantage of the chilly weather by indulging in decadent, belly-warming dark beers and I certainly got my fill this past weekend at Wynkoop Brewing Co.’s Parade of Darks.
The weather, though maligned by Colorado’s weaker citizens, was perfect for a festival focused on beers amber-colored or darker. The short jaunt from the Union Station light rail to Denver’s iconic brewpub was bitingly cold, cutting through the flesh, icing the bones, and freezing the marrow. My fingertips were turning white and it felt as if a claw of icicles was clutching at my heart. What kept me going, however, was the promise of an aggressive, core-heating Russian imperial stout.
I burst through the main entrance, a flurry of frigid air swirling behind me like a shaved ice tornado as I took my place in line near the rear staircase, keeping to the side as brewery reps plodded up and down the steps with festival draft systems, logo schwag, and pints of beer in hand, preparing for the grandest spectacle in opaque ale. The wintry nip that had so inundated my body just minutes before melted from anticipation.
Once I reached the top, when I stepped into the English-pub-inspired top floor of Wynkoop, I grabbed my taster glass and stood in awe of the rows of booths pouring black beer. Sure, this was my third time at Parade of Darks but a year’s hiatus between each event can give you amnesia; you forget just how impressive it all is until you return and are reminded of its grandeur. Here are a few highlights from the event:
- The AC Golden Brewing Company has long been for me a philosophical conundrum. I am a great supporter of independent craft breweries and have always spoken out against “crafty beer” even before it became a hot topic with the Brewers Association. On the other hand, I’m also a proponent of quality beer regardless of its source; luckily, 99% of the time that source is indeed an independent brewery, saving me from making a hypocrite of myself. The Coors-owned AC Golden, however, produces both “crafty beer” and delicious beer thus I find myself at an impasse. To squirm my way out the corner I’ve painted myself into, I say that the brewers of AC Golden are at the top of their game, leaders in their industry—they just play for the wrong team (although, at least one of them is using his talents and going into business for himself). The point I’m trying to make, I suppose, is that the Framboise Noir they brought to Parade of Darks is excellent—a very puckering fruit sour ale. If you, like me, have a hyper-inflated beer conscience, turn off the part of your brain that tells you the beer is technically owned by a mega-corporation and turn on the part that says, “Hot damn, that’s a fine beer!”
- Twisted Pine Brewing Company was getting creative with some of their offerings; they served up a beer cocktail called Hot Shot—a near-full pour of Big Shot Espresso Stout with a splash of Ghost Face Killah. The resulting concoction wasn’t unlike Copper Kettle Brewing Co.’s Mexican Chocolate Stout: a rich, dark beer with a peppery finish. Interesting side note: the coffee beans in Big Shot come from Boulder’s Unseen Bean and they’re roasted by Gerry Leary who’s blind from birth. Apparently, he can tell when the beans are ready by sound and scent.
- Just because most breweries at festivals pour out of a Rubbermaid cooler doesn’t mean their draft system needs to be primitive. Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, for example, served their Zebulon’s Peated Porter on cask and Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew had their Winter Warmer randalled with vanilla beans and oak chips. Don’t let the cooler hold back your creativity, breweries; with enough ingenuity, you can fancy up your taps for any situation.
- Man, I thought those 19.2 ounce “royal pint” cans from Oskar Blues Brewery and Upslope Brewing Company were pretty gnarly until I saw Mission Brewery’s 32 ounce monsters. Honestly, I would never buy a single beer of that size; I have a promiscuous palate and I feel I’d get bored drinking that much of one beer (I guess they’re probably intended to be shared but whatever). Nonetheless, I can still marvel at the sheer immensity of those glorious mini-kegs. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef, and now I can say I’ve seen a beer the size of a motor oil can.
- I don’t care what the beers taste like at Verboten Brewing (for the record, I think they taste pretty good), I’ll always order from them if only because of their clever, pop culture-referencing names. “What Hump?” isn’t just an iconic quote from one of Mel Brooks’ most classic films, it’s also a mighty tasty sour porter.
- The host brewery wasn’t sitting on its laurels, no sir. Wynkoop came well prepared with Brewjolais Nouveau, a purple, wine-like beer with a bunch of ingredients you probably can’t pronounce e.g. marash chili peppers, cuit la coche, and foch grapes. It’s a funky intermingling of components and it all comes together in something that challenges our perceptions of what it means to be a beer. It’s a good brew, just be prepared for something unusual.
- Of course, Parade of Darks isn’t all about beer, it’s also about raising money for those in need. $14,734 were raised for Metro CareRing based on ticket prices alone. At the time of my writing, the money raised through the silent auction hadn’t yet been calculated (my crew contributed; my girlfriend won the Grimm Brothers Brewhouse package with a growler, a neoprene growler holder, and two shirts). Last year, Parade of Darks raised approximately $14,000 so it looks like they’re on pace to breeze past the record!
Fully fortified, I left Parade of Darks and embraced the glacial winds that whipped past, futilely attempting to make me shiver and curse my supposed misfortune for living in such a frigid city and state. Nuts to that! With numbed nose, foggy sunglasses, and a snifter of barleywine, I laugh in the face of the elements and I count my blessings because, while dark beers are wonderful, they’re impossible to enjoy in balmy weather. Who ever thought a porter would hit the spot on a sweaty day on a California beach and who ever had the notion that a quadrupel would pair well with a sweltering Fourth of July BBQ? Nobody, that’s who. Wintertime is black beer time and, by God, I’m going to enjoy it!