Hophead column: How big is too big to be a brewpub? | VailDaily.com

Hophead column: How big is too big to be a brewpub?

Krista Driscoll
VAIL CO, Colorado

Special to the Daily

In Colorado, brewpubs operate under a different set of rules than their big-name manufacturing counterparts. What applies to Miller-Coors does not apply to Twisted Pine and vice versa. But a handful of Colorado’s microbreweries aren’t so micro any more, and they are struggling with legislation that prohibits them from occupying a new niche in the state beer industry.

According to the Denver Business Journal, the Colorado Legislature recently dropped House Bill 12-1347, a proposal that would have increased the production cap for brewpubs. The bill was allowed to die due to opposition from industries along the pipeline, from beer birthing to distribution to retail, all of which complained that increasing the cap would give brewpubs an unfair advantage in the overall beer market.

So pending the passage of some revision of the dead bill, these breweries are faced with a choice: shut down their brewpubs and switch over to manufacturing licenses, thus avoiding the production cap, or build new breweries outside of the state to increase production. These guys don’t want to abandon their freedom to conduct research and development at the consumer level through their brewpubs – they don’t want to eliminate that personal connection between those who brew the beer and those who drink it – so a lot of growing breweries are looking at option No. 2.

Both New Belgium and Oskar Blues in the past few months have announced plans to propagate their operations in North Carolina. But Breckenridge Brewery is the only brewpub currently teetering on the edge of making too much beer for its place in the Colorado rulebooks.

Breck Brewery public relations maven Terry Usry said that brewery is still looking at ways to stay within Colorado, and the option of building out of state is just that – an option. Breck is still dedicated to its Colorado roots and the culture of craft brewing. She said that though Breck beers can now be found in 33 states, the company is still rolling out a small-batch line that allows its brewers to be creative and give consumers options that range from mainstream brews such as Avalanche Ale to its numbered-bottle, barrel-aged series.

So though it’s disappointing that the Colorado legislature failed to enact a provision that would allow our beloved craft brewpubs to grow and prosper right here in the state, brewers are creative, and Breckenridge, and other brewpubs that follow, will figure out new ways to expand and thrive and keep doling out the tasty brews we crave.

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>> From the Fridge: Breckenridge Brewery 471 Small Batch

I have a couple of Breckenridge Brewery beers in my fridge at the moment, but in the vein of celebrating this little-big-time brewpub’s continued dedication to its small-batch roots, I decided to drill brewmaster Todd Usry about his 471 Small Batch IPA.

“We just wanted something that was big and hoppy, high in alcohol but balanced,” Todd Usry said of the beer, which was first released in 2006. “We have a wide variety of styles, but we stay true to balance as much as possible. I was inspired by Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Avery’s Maharajah. I wasn’t necessarily trying to emulate them but create something that had that kind of balance and flavor.”

The big, piney-citrus hop flavor comes from a blend of Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe and Fuggles hops, with an enormous malty wash on the back side that works well with the hoppiness up front, creating a great finish for every sip, Todd Usry said.

“A lot of double IPAs are over the top one way or the other or they’re overly boozy,” Todd Usry said. “You get that alcohol burn on them.”

Breck douses that after-burn with cold conditioning. The beer is held at 34 degrees for five weeks to scrub out the harsh alcohol volatiles found in other imperial or double beers. The result is a potent 9.2 percent alcohol by volume beer that’s still very drinkable.

So what’s next off the line at Breckenridge Brewery? Todd Usry said to look for a rerelease of the 72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout and a new collaboration with Stranahan’s on the heels of the Well Built ESB. This time, Breck will be whiskey barrel-aging and bottling its main line Vanilla Porter.