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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don, Bruce, and Mike's Oktoberfest Beer Adventure

Don, Bruce, and Mike took a trip down to Longmont, CO, home of Left Hand Brewing, back in June.

We've enjoyed quite a few Left Hand beers at Shultzy's in the past year: Sawtooth Ale (ESB), Milk Stout, 400-Pound Monkey IPA, Oak-Aged Imperial Stout, and of course, Left Hand's Oktoberfest.  Eric Wallace, Left Hand's founder and president came in to see us, and suggested we come down this year and brew our own Oktoberfest beer.  Never ones to turn down an invitation involving beer, we took him up on it this past June.

It was a whirlwind 24 hour trip to Colorado that saw us waking up early and heading over to the brewery.  Our hosts for the day were Joe Schiraldi, VP Brewing Operations and Ro Guenzel, Head Brewer of Left Hand.  Our day started out with a tour of their old facility and their new, much larger brew house.  Before you knew it, we were starting up our batch of Oktoberfest.

You can't make Oktoberfest beer without Munich malt.

Ro talked to us a little about the history of Oktoberfest beers and Left Hand's in particular.  Ro was an apprentice brewer in Germany, so he definitely knows his stuff.  The origin of Left Hand's Oktoberfest Marzen is from Denver's award-winning Tabernash Brewery that Left Hand acquired back in 1997; Tabernash had built a formidable reputation brewing high quality German-style beers in the USA.  Since then, Ro and the Left Hand team have continued to tweak and improve it to the level it's at today.

How can you make great Oktoberfest beer without being dressed properly?
Ro Guenzel and Don

We climbed up to the brewing platform, added ingredients to the giant brewing vat, and Don started the batch.  Fortunately, since we're not master brewers (or even apprentice brewers), all Don had to do was push the red button.  He did with style and without incident.  What next?  Well, we wait.  So, it was time for Left Hand Breakfast German-Style.  We went over to Left Hand's popular taproom where a feast awaited: Weisswurst, pretzels, German mustards, and Left Hand's delicious German-style Haystack Wheat.  We'd never enjoyed that beer before, but it stood up to Franziskaner and the other top German wheat beers we serve at Shultzy's.  Breakfast was delicious, though it did make some of us feel in need of a short nap.

Breakfast of Beer Champions

After breakfast, it was time to check on the beer and add some hops.  Joe Schiraldi gave us a brief hop seminar including a tour of Left Hand's experimental hops growing out back and the merits of hop flowers vs hop pellets.

Joe and Don wisely did not play horseshoes while discussing hops.

After learning about hops, it was time to add some, and Don stepped up to do the first hop addition.

What happens after the first hop addition?  More waiting.  So, it was the perfect opportunity to drink some more beer.  This time... unfinished beers from giant tanks.

These hieroglyphics tell the brewers what's in the tank, what's been done,
 and what needs to be done going forward.  This is an Oktoberfest tank.

First we got to taste one of the earlier batches of Oktoberfest beer, still lagering, and still unfiltered.  Even in it's raw state, it was delicious!

Don and Mike enjoying Oktoberfest beer in progress; 
note that beer tastes better when you're wearing protective goggles.

Of course, we couldn't leave without trying the latest test batch of 400-Pound Monkey IPA.  We enjoyed a couple of kegs of test batch #2 this past winter at Shultzy's, and test batch #3 was in progress at the brewery during our visit.  It was delicious also, and we're happy that we'll be the only bar in Seattle with test batch #3 when it's finally released.

The beta version of test batch #3 of 400-Pound Monkey IPA.

More brewing, chatting, touring, drinking, lunch, more drinking and before long we were back in our rental car racing to Denver Airport and our flight to Seattle.  We are very grateful to Eric Wallace, VP Operations Chris Lennert, VP Brewing Operations Joe Schiraldi, Head Brewer Ro Guenzel, and all the folks at Left Hand for making such great beer and being wonderfully hospitable hosts.

It's now mid-September, and we just got our first keg of the Oktoberfest beer we brewed yesterday.  We'll have it on tap for Shultzy's Oktoberfest kickoff party on Friday the 18th, and it will be featured prominently through the rest of September and October.  We're also excited to have Ro Guenzel of Left Hand as our guest at the grand Oktoberfest party at Shultzy's on October 3rd.  Don't miss it!