Barley Wines That Stand Out
- Feb 23 '16
The owner of the family-run Avery Brewing Company, Adam Avery is a legend in the industry, a creative brewer, and a longtime friend of Beer Geeks’ Michael Ferguson. When Michael made his way to the brewery’s hometown of Boulder, he found a booming business, popular for producing not only some of the best beers in the state of Colorado but some of Michael’s all-time favorite beers as well. Avery’s “eccentric ales and lagers” are brewed with the scientific precision and careful craft.
During Michael’s visit, the two friends watched as Avery Brewers created a batch of the Maharaja, an imperial IPA. They used Victory and Caramel 120 malts, the former to add a biscuit or bready flavor and the latter to add additional support and bitterness. After the grain was milled, it was transported directly to the mash tun via an auger. Adam explained that the short distance between the two prevented the grain from getting damaged; in fact, the brewers take great care of their grain in order to lower the astringency levels in their beer.
Since they had time to spare before the first hop addition, Michael followed Adam to his favorite part of the brewery, Avery’s lab, where they run tests on their brews in order to guarantee the quality and consistency of their batches. Adam explained that they run at least twenty tests “from grain to glass.”
Upon arriving at the lab, they found two employees hard at work. Sarah was busy checking bottled beer for dissolved oxygen. She explained that their bottles are required to have O2 levels under 50pbb (that’s parts per billion, not peanut butter and banana!). It’s important for packaged beer to have low oxygen levels; oxidation affects the isomerized hops within the beer, causing “off” flavors like skunkiness and cattiness. The lower the oxygen level, the less oxidation occurs.
On the other side of the small room, Mel was working with yeast strains, testing for both vitality and viability. Avery is one of the few craft breweries to own a salometer, a unique piece of machinery that allows them to perfect their beer by perfecting their yeast. The device works to determine how enzymatically active their yeast cells are as well as how many of those cells are dead or mutated. From the information it provides, Mel and her co-workers are able to decide if the yeast is “worthy” of being used. Adamtold Michael that device changed the way Avery makes beer.
After bidding Sarah and Mel goodbye, Adam and Michael made it back in time for the last hop addition. To give the beer intense notes of pine and fruit, the brewers loaded the brew up with Simcoe, Centennial, and Chinook hops. Adam explained that the combination provided a lot of different and delicious flavors.
When the hops had been added, Adam and Michael headed to the packaging hall to watch the bottling process (and sneak a taste). They watched as the system packaged beer at a rate of 100 bottles per minute. After watching the bottles go through the process—rinsed, filled, crowned, foiled, labeled, and inspected—Michael and Adam snagged one to taste. Michael said that the brew was “as close to perfection as you can get” with its rich maltiness and a lot of hop flavor (from pine and dank weed to citrus and tropical fruit). As it has been one of Michael’s favorite beers for quite some time, he shared how impressed he was with how consistent the beer has always been.
Heading to OAK at Fourteenth, a restaurant that both serves and cooks with Avery beer, Michael and owner Steven Redzikowski put their heads together to create braised short ribs. Using Avery’s Hog Heaven (a dry-hopped barleywine), the duo made a simmering marinade with beef stock, red wine, thyme, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and other veggies. After quickly grilling a few seasoned short ribs on the restaurant’s wood-burning grill, they added the meat to the sauce and then left it to cook in the oven. After cooking, it was seasoned and grilled again, allowing the meat to caramelize. The resulting ribs were tender, nearly falling apart before Michael could take a bite. He explained how the two different textures—a bit of crunch from the grill-charred outside and a softness from the juicy inside—perfectly complemented the hops and the seasoning.
Then, Michael and Steven sat down with Adam and with Steven’s business partner Bryan Dayton, to enjoy a collection of pairings together. First on the docket was a clam dish. Having been steamed in Avery’s White Rascal, the clams (and added chorizo) were paired with Joe’s Premium American Pilsner. With its light and clean profile as well as floral notes, the pilsner worked to refresh the palate and support the flavor of the clams.
The Rocky Jr. Chicken, served with a wild mushroom gravy, Brussels sprouts, and roasted potatoes, was paired with the Maharaja. The imperial IPA, which boasted of grapefruit and pine aromas, made a wonderful match. According to the group, the combination of all-around flavor went perfectly with the charcoal from the grilling process. The hops also worked to bring out the char and cut through the Brussels sprouts.
Next, the four tried a roasted pork loin dish with Ellie’s Brown Ale (an ale with chocolate, vanilla, and roasted nut flavors). Topped with figs and sweet potato, the dish already had a hint of sweetness. When paired with the beer, the malty rich character came through even more, and the sweetness from both the garnish and the beer supported each other instead of overwhelming.
To finish up, the gang enjoyed the braised short ribs. The meat was served with cheddar grits and roasted beets. When paired with the Czar (an imperial stout with mocha, molasses, and toffee flavors), the results were phenomenal. Michael described how the nice fatty meat was supported perfectly by the big, malty beer. With the char on the ribs, the sweetness of the beer was really brought out, and the table unanimously agreed that it was the best pairing of the night.
From day-to-day brewing to the Annual Boulder Strong Ale Fest (a gathering hosted at the brewery to celebrate craft ales), Avery Brewing Company is one of the roots of Colorado’s craft brewing community. Enjoying his time with his old friend and plenty of delicious beer, Michael’s mission in Boulder was undeniably a success.