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Thursday, March 21,2013

Go east, young beer drinker

Left Hand kicks off our three-week Longmont brewery jaunt

By Steve Weishampel
Photo by Steve Weishampel

I’ve talked for long enough about the various extremes we’ve seen on our tour of Boulder County’s beer.

But pulling up to Longmont’s Left Hand Brewing, where orange cones caution drivers to slow down for pedestrians crossing the street from the additional parking to the taphouse, I couldn’t help but recall our previous stop, tiny J Wells brewery, where half our staff had to steal parking spots from the brewery’s neighbors in a Pearl Parkway industrial area.

That’s right: In the beer world, Longmont is the big time.

The beer tour launched its Longmont leg last week, heading up the Diagonal to longtime standout Left Hand. For the next two weeks East County is our home, as we hit Oskar Blues this week and the Pumphouse the next.

That little whirlwind tour could pretty well encapsulate this whole project. You’ve got two of Boulder County’s biggest along with a self-contained brewpub that just serves its community. You’ve got Left Hand’s malt, Oskar’s hops and the ever-rotating taps of the Pumphouse.

At Left Hand, Jeff turns first to his favorite, Sawtooth, as the rest of us grab taproom-only styles.

Unfortunately, the tap list in Left Hand’s tasting room is pretty similar to what you’d see behind the glass at the liquor store. As Left Hand’s gregarious, outspoken Boulder County sales manager — who goes by Bubba Love — acknowledges, much of the company’s brewing capacity is dedicated to keeping up with demand for Milk Stout, Stranger and the other bottled products.

But there are still several limited specials. The Ambidextrous Ale series — a collection of 12 beers united by little more than Left Hand brewers’ flights of fancy — is on its third offering, an imperial version of the ginger concoction Good Juju. The Great Juju shines its spotlight squarely on the spicy root, packing a solid, flavorful ginger punch. Meanwhile, the Twin Sisters double IPA did its part to work hops into my black, malty heart.

But the show-stealer was Beer Week Sauce, hands down. Like my last visit to Left Hand, when the pro-amateur collaboration Vietnamese coffee stout was on tap, Beer Week Sauce ranks among the best — and strongest — coffee beers I’ve ever had. It’s a good sign when you wish that the product itself tasted more like the beer that’s imitating it.

The Week Sauce — named for beer weeks that happen across the country, like Colorado Craft Beer Week, happening through March 23 — joins a list of dark beers that rivals any in the county. The Milk Stout tops that list, representing a big portion of Left Hand’s sales and routinely bringing in awards in sweet stout categories. Then there’s Wake Up Dead, the imperial Russian sister with a heavy, alcoholic body; Black Jack Porter; and Fade to Black, Left Hand’s black IPA series.

As Bubba tells us, “We’re not the biggest fans of hops.” When you do dark so damn well, we think Boulder County will forgive you. And anyway, Oskar Blues is right around the corner.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Next stops: Oskar Blues, 303 Main St., Lyons, 4 p.m. March 22 (moving to the Longmont locations after a beer); Pumphouse Brewery, 540 Main St., Longmont, 4 p.m. March 28. Members of the public are welcome.

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