The longer I let this trip get away from me, the more fuzzy the beers become and the less likely I am to care about documenting them, so I'll do my best to sketch out another day. Luckily, I have my notes, but I've found that I'm pretty bad about consciously taking them when I should be. It took me until day 5 before I really started gathering observations about ambiance and setting; people and conversations. I get so caught up in the beers I'm tasting I almost forget I'm on vacation and should be soaking in every aspect of the moment.
With that said, I wouldn't give Estes Park Brewery high marks for ambiance in the first place. Most breweries, no matter how great their beers are, are not picturesque or elegant. They are warehouses, in strip malls, or in this case, a giant white barn complete with red football jersey lettering across the top. Classy.
Actually, the building pretty much sums up what we'd taste inside: blandness. I don't fault the brewers for assembling a lineup of cookie-cutter craft beers. In fact, that's probably their intention. Estes Park is a resort town, one that attracts thousands of people from all corners, and I imagine the brewmasters at EP Brewery would rather create boring beers with mass appeal than attempt amped-up craft mastery.
They did have a free tasting bar. With stale pretzels.
I decided to sample all ends of the spectrum (passing on the raspberry wheat), and started with the Stinger Honey Wheat. The wheat was simply overpowered by the honey, and while I enjoyed the departure from the classic wheat ale trap, I wasn't exactly looking for a sticky swallow of honey. This is all the analysis I can give nine days removed from a 4 ounce sample.
In fact, let's dispense with the analysis altogether. From there, I tried the Trail Ridge Red, Staggering Elk Lager and Samson Stout. Each one was more average than the previous. I could see these as being gateway beers for people interested in trying different styles, but why go to Estes Park to do it? Go to New Ulm.
The second night was similar to the first: slug as many new beers as possible while maintaining beer-rating integrity. This evening I started with the second can of the week, Upslope Pale Ale. I knew this brewery was young, but wow--they first started brewing just last October. This beer bragged of its "Patagonian hops," which I hadn't come across before in my tastings. Someone help me out--Patagonian hops? Either way, the flavor was light, like a subtle Centennial. A pretty easy drinker, one you could convince your macro friends to try, if not only because it comes in cans. Not going to overpower any experienced craft drinker, and not as pungent as a European Pale Ale, but drinkable. It is a nice looking can, too.
Next was the Uinta XVI Anniversary Barleywine, my first ever beer from Utah. What a surprise! A 10.4% beer from Utah?!?! How'd they get the permit? Who cares, because this was a delicious beer. Dark fruits and roasted coffee everywhere; reminded me of a mincemeat pie on a cold December night in London. Though it has been a while. Regardless, this one is in the mix for the best of the first two days with the SKA Modus Hoperandi.
From there, I had solid style representations in Deschutes Black Butte Porter and Odell 90 Shilling Ale (a Scottish Ale). I've run out of steam, though, and can't find the keys to describe them in any more length than that.
After two days: 13 new beers (6 bottles, 2 cans, 2 pints, 3 samples).
Best beer: tie--SKA Modus Hoperandi and Uinta XVI Anniversary Barleywine (both 4 stars)
Worst beer: Left Hand Polestar Pilsner