It may have been a hazy IPA that first put Greeley, Colorado’s WeldWerks Brewing on the map, but few breweries have embraced stouts with the same kind of zeal and ardor. That passion radiates from Cofounder Neil Fisher, who was barrel-aging his homebrewed stouts in spirits barrels before making the leap to the pro ranks.
It’s no surprise, then, that his six-pack of favorite and influential beers runs heavy on stouts, with some hops, a palate-cleansing pilsner, and a farmhouse ale for good measure.
Casey Brewing & Blending East Bank
(Glenwood Springs, Colorado)
“East Bank is my favorite desert-island/forever beer. There are quite a few honey mixed-culture saisons, and lots of great ones, but East Bank—especially over the past two years—has been consistently fantastic. I never pass it up, and if I had to buy just one beer to stock my shelves, this would be it.
“It’s a great mix of acidity and funk. Some floral character comes from the honey. The ABV is a bit higher than Casey Saison, but it’s not so high that you can’t pair it with food or have it with a meal and not feel totally full. I can’t imagine a better beer for almost any setting than East Bank.
“I love the approach—it’s on the lower end of acidity for mixed-culture in general, and that lower acidity makes for a brighter experience. It adds a brighter character to both the funk and malt character and works well to make it extremely drinkable.
“I love the effervescence of it—they do a great job with the carbonation. And the funk is a bit different from some of the other stuff they do—it definitely has that characteristic stone-fruit, Drie Brett strain in there. But there are also some white-pepper phenolics that are a really nice complement to the more fruit-forward esters that come from that Brett. I think he’s done a great job dialing in his culture and building the right balance among phenolics, esters, and acidity just to make this all wrapped up into an almost-perfect package.”
Perennial Artisan Ales Maman
(St. Louis, Missouri)
“As far as barrel-aged stouts go, there really isn’t another that is always as good as Maman. It’s perfect—they push the boundaries on everything, and it still works. It’s still balanced. The mouthfeel is incredible; the barrel character is out of this world. So much expression!
“The base stout is exactly dialed in for the barrels they select. Nothing’s in competition. There’s enough roast to balance all the sweet vanilla and caramel that come from the barrel. I’m sure there’s a lot of residual sugar, but that body and mouthfeel are still balanced.
“We were stoked to win in the same year they did, but anyone we’ve talked to who has had our two beers side-by-side has found it hard to pick a favorite. Even I would say it depends on the day of the week. I love Medianoche and what we’ve done with that, and I also love Maman. Until that year, I felt we had so much in common without ever really talking about it. To finally find out just how much we have in common with our processes was fun.”
Side Project Brewing 5 Candles
“At the Firestone Walker Invitational this past year, I tried 5 Candles and thought that beer was perfect. I’m not sure what their plans are, future-wise, with still beer—I know they’re not packaging any of these—but I think that expression is unique, and the decision to not put it in bottles and keep it still for events and on-premise is awesome. It expresses a whole different character from when you have it carbonated and packaged. There’s something more nuanced about it. You get more of the malt since there’s not competing carbonation to take that away, but you also get so much of the barrel, and that’s what makes 5 Candles such a standout.
“The vanilla is nice, but I also enjoy that it isn’t over-the-top vanilla. It wasn’t just brownie batter but amplified the really nice character from the rye barrels.
“Whatever they’re doing in barrels is the most sought-after for a reason—everything they do is great. But I love the still projects and would love to do one with him in the future. Knowing that consumers, or at least a lot of them, aren’t going to be as excited about a still beer as they would be about a bottle they can get is tough, but they don’t seem to care much about that. I love that idea—‘It’s my party, I can do what I want to.
“It was crazy seeing 5 Candles at Firestone Walker—they were pouring it, but nobody was waiting in line for it because they were waiting for the next Derivation, probably. It was the only beer I went back to for a second pour, and it was the most memorable beer of the weekend—totally different and executed perfectly.”
Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils
“I don’t know that there’s a better German-inspired pils made in the United States than Slow Pour Pils. I have a huge bias since I get to drink it fresh from the source, no packaging, no delays, just drinking draft at the Rackhouse Pub.
“If you pop into the brewery during GABF, you’ll find most brewers there staring through the glass in disbelief over how bright it is. And for hazy brewers like us who never make bright beer, it’s especially amazing what they can achieve through just strictly adhering to tradition—not just for the sake of tradition, but because it makes it a better beer. Not everyone is going to go to those lengths to craft something so great and also so approachable.
“They definitely nail the pilsner-malt sweetness. The hops are still very present and balancing. It’s really hard to express pilsner malt, but they do a great job of expressing a pale pilsen toast—not even biscuit, really, as it’s lighter than that. It’s a lighter sweetness that balances the hops and crispness so well and makes it ridiculously drinkable.
“The attenuation is perfect, and they get a lot of malt character without much residual sweetness. It’s hard for a lot of brewers to achieve that level of attenuation while still keeping it malt-driven. The noble-hops character is perfect and just enough to make it really crisp and balanced.
“The glass they chose is amazing and works well for head retention; the aromatics are great. I love the time they take to get a nice tight, pillowy head that looks like meringue on top. If you see a Slow Pour in the glass, with the head on it, and paper cutout on the base—just thinking about the presentation makes my mouth water. I’m ready to order a Slow Pour with a sidecar of Slow Pour because I’m going to be ready for the second one by the time the first one is done.”
Kane Brewing A Night to End All Dawns
(Ocean Township, New Jersey)
“Kane’s barrel-aged stouts were the first I really gravitated toward beyond the Bourbon County beers and all that. They’re a smaller brewery that is really pushing limits, and obviously they’ve proven at GABF that it isn’t a fluke. They’ve proven multiple times that they’re one of the best, and while they’ve gotten into the adjuncts, straight A Night to End All Dawns is one of my favorite beers of all time. The attenuation is what’s most different relative to current trends. It’s not dry by any means, but it’s not cloyingly sweet or huge or thick or heavy like a lot of what we do. I like that bit of restraint. They’re not making 40°Plato wort and leaving it at 20°Plato going into the barrels. It’s definitely more attenuated. As a result, the mouthfeel doesn’t suffer at all, but it’s better to drink in greater quantities.
“They get so much complexity from the barrels, and they get a really great cocoa-powder, baker’s-chocolate character. I don’t know if that’s just from the malt—if they’re using a really awesome chocolate malt—or if some of that comes from the barrels. Their stouts have always bordered on milk chocolate, chocolate syrup, and I haven’t found another beer that expresses stout or barrel character the same way that they do. It’s well-balanced, well-crafted.”
Odell Brewing IPA
(Fort Collins, Colorado)
“Odell’s IPA is still, for me, one of the standards for hoppy beers and one that started blurring the lines between West Coast/East Coast while pulling back on bitterness and pushing the fruity hops character.
“Odell IPA was less of a West Coast IPA than it’s credited with now, and at least in our market, it was one of the first that really pushed hops aroma over bitterness. I think that’s why it dominated the market for so long.
“They’ve adjusted it year after year to keep it from feeling stagnant. They’ve used different varietals; they make sure it tastes contemporary without it seeming like it’s gone way over to the other end. And any time you find it anywhere in Colorado, it’s usually going to be within date code. You can’t pass it up if you’re looking for a really good IPA that’s hoppy and fresh.
“It’s one of the beers that really inspired me to dive into hops more, to understand dry-hop techniques, new varietals, and expression, and to focus less on making bitter beer. Our Steambarrel was inspired more than anything by Odell IPA, and that’s what led us to Juicy Bits, so it’s a big part of our journey through hops.”
Neil Fisher explains process, design, and brewing technique in episode 19 of the Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® podcast. beerandbrewing.com/podcasts