Phases of Flavor
For Melvin Brewing Cofounder Jeremy Tofte, Belgian-style beers played a formative role in his early life, but you’ll only find one of them in his dream 6-pack that leans heavily toward IPAS and imperial stouts. By Jamie Bogner
“I STARTED WORKING IN
a beer distributorship in high school, and I soon discovered that I could steal all the dust-covered Chimay bottles from the dark recesses of the warehouse, and absolutely nobody noticed,” says Melvin Brewing Cofounder Jeremy Tofte.
“I was young, drinking Chimay, not even knowing what I had. I was just thinking, ‘This is my jam right here.’ ” Then a couple of extended trips to Belgium in my twenties and thirties made it sink in even deeper.”
Tofte doesn’t pull punches, and as a self-proclaimed “recovering bartender,” he doesn’t order samplers. But this fan of the Wu-tang Clan who lives to surf, mountain bike, and snowboard is introspective about how his own taste in beer has developed over time. Despite the formative role Belgian beers played in his (very) early life, today he’s drawn more to other flavors.
“We brew a lot of Belgian-style beers on the pilot system at Melvin, and we have for a while. I find myself not necessarily phasing out of Belgians but experiencing a palate change along with everyone else’s. We’re going through these phases of flavor, and right now my favorite flavors have been a lot of IPAS and a lot of imperial stouts.”
With that said, here are the six beers that Tofte would put in his 6-pack today.
Together Belgian Dubbel
Wander Brewing (Bellingham, Washington) One of my favorite Belgian-style beers right now is from Wander Brewing. It’s moist and raisiny, with just a bit of nuttiness to it. They popped up on my radar when we started to distribute into Bellingham a few years ago, and they have a great selection of barrel-aged beers and a stable of Belgians in 750s, so I’m always able to get it when I’m up that way. The first time I ever tried their dubbel, I called them up, introduced myself, and said, “You have to enter this beer in the NABA (North American Beer Awards).” They did, and sure enough, they got silver. So I felt pretty special, and that makes me think that maybe I have some kind of gift and people should send me beer. I’ll tell them whether or not they’ll medal.
Poor Man’s Double IPA
Pizza Port Brewing Company (Carlsbad, California) The first time I tried Poor Man’s, it blew me away. My friend Hubert was living down in Carlsbad, and I just happened upon the Pizza Port Carlsbad facility. I’ve been going to breweries my whole life, so I was just like, “Oh, it’s a brewery—i’ll just go by.” That had to be what…early 2000s? And when I first had Poor Man’s, I knew it would forever have a place in my beer belly’s heart. So much fruit, so much going on in that beer. It’s so deceivingly light, you could think it’s a [regular] IPA, but it’s 10 percent alcohol. At that time there was nothing else in the world like it. It ended up winning back-to-back Alpha King awards, which only a couple breweries have done. When Kirk and I
“All these IPAS that I’m trying these days—these guys just don’t realize they’re making nineties IPAS because they haven’t been in the game that long and they think they’ve come out with a new style, but they’re really just nineties IPAS.”
opened up our three-barrel system, Poor Man’s was the kind of beer we wanted to drink at the time. We just wanted to keep on making these West Coast IPAS that people didn’t understand in Wyoming. I’m in San Diego now for 2×4 Day, and I’ll be stopping by Pizza Port today for a Poor Man’s—hopefully, it’s on tap!
Odell Brewing Co (Fort Collins, Colorado) When I started what is probably Wyoming’s first beer bar, I wanted only the special beers. We needed beers that would blow the minds of the four beer nerds in Jackson Hole and set us apart from the other bars that were all serving the same six beers. And now, looking back, I was that guy who would go to my rep and say, “Give me the stuff—i’ve got to have the special stuff.” Finally, my Odell rep broke it down to me after I didn’t get a keg of Tree Shaker [peach DIPA] one year. He said, “We can’t. You’re just not supporting the brand consistently. That goes to the people who support us.” And so I started getting Odell IPA on tap as a permanent handle, and lo and behold, what do you know? It’s the best IPA in the Rockies. It’s still my go-to beer. You know exactly what you’re getting when you order. It’s got the classic pine and citrus mix, a little hint of caramel malt, and of course, since the Odell brewers are total pros, they remember the fifth ingredient—the CO2. I learned my lesson—something that you think isn’t super special could be right in front of you the whole time. The beer is not brand new, and so many of today’s drinkers just want that new thing, but I have no regrets buying a six-pack of it every time I go to the store.
Mai Tai P.A.
Alvarado Street (Monterey, California) This bad boy has been on my list for a few years now. It’s just got so much of that mad floral aroma and fruity tropical taste. It’s one of those beers where people would assume that fruit has been added, too. It’s somewhat hazy in appearance, and says, “Yeah, I’ve got a chill haze, and I’m proud of it, but I’m not going to cross the line.” I used to only be able to get it at the brewery, but now I can get it in cans. The best thing about that beer is the balance—they’ve figured it out. That’s become increasingly hard to find in this ever-expanding IPA market. All these IPAS that I’m trying these days—these guys just don’t realize they’re making nineties IPAS because they haven’t been in the game that long and they think they’ve come out with a new style, but they’re really just nineties IPAS. But Alvarado Street just gets it—it’s a big, fruity hops bomb, and just what I’m looking for. If you’re under 60, there are not really a lot of reasons to go to Monterrey, but Alvarado Street is one of them.
Big Bad Baptist
Epic Brewing Company (Salt Lake City, Utah) I’ve been grooving on Epic’s imperial stouts for years, and now I have a bunch of Big Bad Baptist sitting in my fridge and also in the cellar to see how they hold up over the years. It’s got those coffee and chocolate flavors to start you out, then the sweet, yummy residual sugar starts to coat your tongue and really gives you something to ponder. You’re sitting there with the delicious flavors of the Big Bad Baptist asking, “Who am I? Why are we here? How the hell could this beer come from Utah?”
I always like to say that Utah is a state filled with Death Cab For Cutie breweries. Then Epic strove for greatness outside their state, like Melvin did, and asked, “Why do we have to limit ourselves to our borders? It’s a big world out there.” Salt Lake City is the closest big city to Jackson Hole—it’s only 4½ hours—so we used to go down there all the time and grab 22s from the cooler on our way to Snowbird or Moab. It was part of the pilgrimage.
Barrel Aged Chocolate Yeti
Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver, Colorado) I don’t know whether Great Divide makes Barrel Aged Chocolate Yeti anymore. [Ed Note: only one barrel of Stranahan Barrel Aged Chocolate Yeti was made and released in 2012]. I like it because the flavors aren’t subtle at all, but they’re also not in your face, not wrestling to dominate. It has everything you want in an ageable standalone beer. It has the balance. The oakiness becomes almost smokiness. I believe they put it in Stranahan barrels, but I’ve never had Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, so that’s interesting to make it seem like a pairing that should happen. I don’t know how long they barrel age it, but I haven’t been able to find a way to get our barrel-aged beer to taste like that. If I were to guess, I’d say it must be more than a year. A lot of brewers say that after three to six months the barrels aren’t going to impart any more flavor, but Great Divide is doing something that they’re not telling the rest of the world.