Alright here goes an introduction full of school references about homework and how much school sucks and other clichés to set the theme…nevermind, everyone gets an A+ good job!
I have been on a streak of beer events since starting this blog. So when I saw Helton Brewing Co. post their Beer School 3.0 I figured that at the very least I would keep the streak alive and possibly have something to write about. At $25 the cost would cover the beer and anything else would be a nice bonus. A win/win situation with minimal risk. It was a rip off! They should have charged way more than that – if Sunday School was 1% as much fun as this event – I’d have a secure spot in heaven.
So much for building suspense to entice you to read to the end.
We arrived at Helton around noon because the brunch menu looked too good to pass up. Also, our normal routine of hike, coffee, nap then food timed perfectly with brunch and the 2:00 event start. The breakfast burrito with tomatillo sauce paired with the Mexican Cerveza was killer – just enough food to set a good foundation in my belly with a light flaky tortilla so I wasn’t ready for Nap 2.0 instead. Helton’s Mimosa and Bloody Mary looked tempting, but I was there for the beer.
The event had quickly sold out; I believe they even released a few more tickets after the initial batch was gone. A total of 60 tickets were sold and it felt as if everyone appeared all at once. Not a problem though as everyone was separated into three groups and each one was designated a leader. It did feel a little like the first day of school trying to find your class and teacher. Good thing we didn’t have to hold hands in line.
First period at Helton Beer School involved getting everyone checked in, handing out tickets and distributing the first beer. It did take a few minutes for everyone to get their beers but the Helton crew was hustling! They were very aware of the fact that the groups were being assembled on the covered patio and the possibility of a riot due to the heat. Honestly I’ve waited a lot longer in an empty restaurant for far worse beer.
The three groups would each start at one of three “classes”: a quality control presentation by Sierra Nevada, a sour tasting with Grand Canyon Brewery and a brewery tour with Brian Helton himself. Also, now you know where the brewery got its name.
My group started with Ben VanderMeer from Sierra Nevada giving us a Power Point presentation that included an introduction on the company, the history of the brewery and its owners. Then he went on to explain their specific quality control standards like how they code their beer and why the beer you find in stores should not be older than 150 days. It was at this point in the presentation we were handed an ice cold bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As the presentation continued Ben described the characteristics of their Pale Ale and bottling methods.
Then things got bad, in a fun way. After talking about all the ways to ruin beer (such as heat and oxygen) we were given samples of bad beer. One sample was left in the heat, one was exposed to light and the third was exposed to both heat and light. Each one made the beer taste fundamentally different. While it wasn’t complete torture – we did still have our fresh beer to wash our palate with – sadly the “bad” beers had a familiar taste.
I wont mention any names … but, Hey! I’m going to Colorado in a few weeks and that has nothing to do with the previous statement.
The next station for us was the sour tasting with Grand Canyon. This was a little hectic because it took place in the main bar area so there were a fair amount of patrons around and it got a little noisy. I’ve had a few beers from Grand Canyon but never a sour. For this event they brought four of them for us to try: Bill Williams Berliner, Pokemon Gose, Hoppy Sour and DireWolf American Sour.
As the samples were being poured Josh gave a brief introduction and then quickly turned it over to Alex who had a notebook worthy of John Doe in Se7ve. Alex gave a more technical rundown on the beers, barrels and the souring process. If I’m being a little vague its because I was slightly distracted by the noise and heavily distracted by the beer. Also when someone as smart as Alex is speaking, if you’re not paying 100% attention, you’ll get left behind in a swarm of information. I don’t really review beer but here’s a quick run down of the the sours;
Bill Williams Berliner – This one wasn’t very sour it had a clean/soapy taste it was my least favorite.
Pokemon Gose – This was my favorite. Shut up, you’re a nerd! It was a great blend of sweet and sour if you could properly flavor and sweeten pickle juice this would be it.
Hoppy Sour – This was almost as good as the Gose and I could see me switching back and forth on these two depending on the day. This was a great citrus flavor and the best way to describe it is salty lime juice.
DireWolf – Sour blackberries is how I describe this and the dryness from the barrel aging gave it a clean smooth finish.
When I think sour the above is what I’m expecting! I want sour, not fruity and tart. At the end of the tasting we were allowed to top off with a beer of our choice and then we were on to finals. Take note – a total surprise – we were given glassware from Grand Canyon. Extra Credit!
The last class involved a tour of the brewery with Brian Helton. If you ever get a chance to meet and learn from him drop everything you’re doing and go! His matter of fact way of explaining the brewing process and the equipment makes beer seem so simple. Brian makes processes you would never think of sound obvious without being condescending. Also the ability to plan ahead and to be prepared for the future sets him apart from other brewers who simply add space to accommodate growth. For example, he knew at some point the water from the brewing processes may need to be held and treated before going into the waste stream and he already has a holding tank installed under his production floor, that sits empty until it’s needed.
Straightforward, controlled and with purpose is how I would describe Brian and those traits come through in the beers at Helton. As the tour wrapped up we were give one final beer; I chose the Northeast IPA. Our ticket also gave us happy hour pricing for the rest of the night.
Any single one of these classes on its own would have been worth the price of admission. Helton put together a great group of knowledgeable, passionate and intelligent members of the craft beer world. Paired with the staff who helped set up and run this event I would put it up against any event in the state. And, this event wasn’t just for the consumers to learn about craft beer. It was also for Helton to learn about the people and the community it serves. They believe that the more people know about the beer and the brewery the more they will enjoy, and appreciate the art.
I hate to share this, I don’t want to jeopardize my chances of getting tickets, but rumor has it that Beer School 4.0 will be in November. It will be slightly more expensive but there is going to be different guest speakers and more gifts possibly like event specific glassware and stickers. If you’re really lucky you might get to be in the same group as the @azbeerenthusiast, (Tim), @saucysina, (my wife), and Jason from Bottleshop Forty Eight and myself, of course!