When Lisa and I first moved to Boulder we realized that, when we lived in New York, choosing a beer was more about the brand than the type of beer. However, when you are in a brewery in Boulder that only serves one brand, their brand, you have to choose your pint based on the style. Lisa and I relied on the brand of beer in New York because we didn’t know anything about beer or how it was made. I might have had a Sam Adams with dinner, but I didn’t realize that their main beer is a lager and their summer seasonal is an ale. Often times when a person who is unfamiliar with craft beer looks at the options they have available, they realize that the way they have always traditionally chosen their beer isn’t going to work at many breweries. And when you find yourself sitting in Avery’s taproom for the first time and realize that they have 30 beers on tap and that none of them are called Bud Light or Guinness, you realize very quickly that if you are going to find a beer that you are going to truly enjoy and that fits your taste, you are going to have to up your game with your beer knowledge. In this series of articles, we will explore a different craft beer brewed here in Boulder County with the goal of educating beer drinkers to better understand what they are consuming.
In this first article, I’ll be discussing Upslope Brewery’s craft lager, which is a Premium American Lager. I chose this beer for two reasons. The first is because Upslope is great brewery that has been producing beer commercially since 2008 and, with two taprooms in Boulder, it is a name that many people know. The second reason is because, as people begin to explore everything that craft beer offers, you’ll find that the lager is a type of beer that holds a unique position in the minds of beer drinkers. On the one hand chances are that a lager was the first type of beer you drank while sneaking one of your dad’s beers in your garage growing up, as Coors and Bud Lights are lager beers. But because of the mass market success and the never ending commercials that you see for these commercial breweries, many craft brewers choose not to add lagers to their selection. There are some other reasons why craft brewers might choose to not brew a lager which come from the production process, but that is something that we will hit on in a future article.
I chose a lager for our first article in this series because of something I noticed about new craft beer drinkers when they first look at a brewery’s beer menu. That all leads me to say that the reason we are starting with the Upslope Craft Lager is because we can start by finding familiarity to something you may have had in your pre-craft beer life. Bud Light, Coors Light and Sam Adam’s Boston Lager, they are all types lagers, making this beer a perfect choice to explain what you can expect when ordering a lager from the menu. So as we start to take a look at this beer, one of the first things to note is that the Upslope Craft Lager is brewed entirely of malted barley.
If you don’t know what this means or why that is important to comment on, let me take a step back. One of the first steps of the brewing process is when barley is soaked in water. On a much smaller scale, this is just like you steeping a tea bag in a cup of hot water. And as you watch the color of the water change as the tea bag is soaked longer and longer, this process is what gives tea many of the final characteristics that you notice in the cup. The same way that the ingredients within the tea bag are going to give that cup of tea its flavor, the type of ingredients that get soaked in the water is one of the first decisions that a brewer has to make. When you look at the biggest commercial beers, Bud Light and Coors Light, what you will find is that they mix ingredients like corn or rice in with the barley to give their beer a lighter flavor and also makes the beer a little cheaper to produce. By going to the lowest common denominator in terms of taste, the recipe is truly designed for the mass market.
So when I mention that this craft lager uses only malted barley during this step of the process, it is an indicator of the quality of ingredients they are brewing with and is going to have a different taste than what you might expect with your big brewery light lagers. As we do begin to break down this particular beer, my goal for discussing the taste is to help shape your expectations when you choose this from a beer menu.
Before you start drinking the Upslope Craft Lager, let’s start by taking a look at it. While you can’t completely judge a book by its cover, the way a beer looks can begin to shape the way you will perceive its taste as soon as it hits your mouth. This beer has a light straw color to it and its is very clear. There might be a little bit of a haze here, but it is very minor. The head of the beer has a white foam and stays for quite a while. When you look at this beer, you also note a lot of fast-rising bubbles. All of these are characteristics of lager beers.
The other thing that you might want to do before you you finally let this beer hit your tongue is to think about the aroma of the beer as, again, this all builds up to the way it will ultimately taste. While I don’t have the best sense of smell in the world, I do pick up on the aroma of fruity malts when I drink this beer.
Now when you finally get to the taste, you realize how it really follows what you pick up on with the smell, which is one of the other reasons you want to consider smelling the beer before tasting it. It is a mild flavor, and I pick up on little citrus when I drink it, mostly a lemon flavor. But again, it’s mild. The hops that they brewed this beer with provide a bit of spice as well. The beer has a light body to it and is moderately carbonated, which is worth mentioning because the carbonation leads to a dry finish to the beer. It reminds me a bit of drinking champagne, but that might also be because it was just New Year’s Eve.
Overall this is a refreshing, thirst-quenching beer and, although it is more filling than a standard light beer, it is really very good. Typically strong flavors are a fault of an American lager, but this premium lager has more flavor than the light beers you see on TV, making it a good transition beer for those looking to dip their toe into craft beer. This is a session beer and it is very drinkable, so you don’t have to worry about buying too many and having to store them in your fridge for too long. This particular beer has a 4.8 % ABV whereas your Bud Light will have 4.2%, but it is still a great deal less than some of the other options you will find in the craft beer taproom.
Upslope also cans their beer, making it an easy one to take with you to tailgates, hiking, or anywhere else where breaking a bottle might be a concern for you. It is also worth noting that Upslope donates 1% of all revenues from the sale of this beer to local chapters of Trout Unlimited. This money goes to protecting watersheds and the snow melt that not only helps trout, but also helps beer in Colorado. So if you want to crack one of these open so that you can say you are supporting your environment, who am I to judge?
Until the next flight. Cheers.