Colorado craft breweries experiment with winter beers

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(Photo: CPR/Corey H. Jones)
<p>Denver Beer Company co-founder and brewer <span style="line-height: 1.66667em;">Charlie Berger</span><span style="line-height: 1.66667em;"> pours a glass of &#039;Tis the Saison, a winter seasonal.</span></p>
Photo: Denver Beer Company winter beer
Denver Beer Company co-founder and brewer Charlie Berger pours a glass of 'Tis the Saison, a winter seasonal.

Some Colorado craft breweries are challenging that seasonal tradition, experimenting with styles while using unique ingredients.

"This is an art as much as it is a science," Denver Beer Company co-founder and brewer Charlie Berger says. "The science of beer is the four ingredients and the times and the temperatures and the pressures.”

“But for us, we love to put our own little stamp on it," Berger adds.

This winter, the brewery again created a small batch of its 'Tis the Saison beer, a light, earthy flavored Belgian-style pale ale called a saison which is spiced with peppermint to add the hint of candy cane.

The 217-gallon, 7-barrel batch lasted only three weeks.

Berger says a batch of the Denver Beer Company's year-round beers typically remains on tap for a month.

Other Colorado craft breweries have enjoyed similar success with their offbeat seasonal creations.

The recipe for Lone Tree Brewing Company’s Gingerbread Old Ale incorporates ginger, cinnamon, clove and the leftover yeast from a batch of chili pepper beer.

The brewery produced 155 gallons of the beer and it sold out in 12 days.

Other breweries putting their own spin on winter seasonals include Denver's Crooked Stave with its Vieille Artisanal Saison with cranberries and spices.

Ska Brewing in Durango is home to the Hibernal Vinifera Stout, a winter beer made with Malbec grapes.

New Belgium released its Accumulation white India Pale Ale this winter and Odell Brewing reintroduced its red ale as Runoff Red IPA.

Steve Kurowski of the Colorado Brewers Guild says that there are nearly 3,000 breweries in the United States of which roughly 200 are in Colorado.

"You've got to do something that’s going to be different than other people," Kurowski says.

While experimentation is important, brewers like Jason Wiedmaier of Lone Tree Brewing says you have to balance creativity with mastery.

Like many, certified Cicerone Sayre Piotrkowski, of Oakland, Calif., considers Colorado to be one of the craft beer meccas of the U.S.

The beer expert views the seasonal beer experiments as part of a bigger trend and adds that the imaginative approach of American craft breweries is helping to “change definitions around the world of what beer can taste like.”