We recently stumbled upon Crystal Springs Brewing Company when we acquired a bottle of the Black Saddle Port Barrel-Aged (PBA) Stout . It blew my socks off and is by far one of the best stouts in the country. Thus, during a recent trip to a local beer store, I had to pick up some other beers from Crystal Springs Brewing Company (in addition to another bottle of the Black Saddle PBA Stout). While Crystal Springs Brewing Company may very well be the smallest brewery in the country, their beers are not small on flavor and uniqueness. The review is no exception as you will find here a review of a kolsch-ale, golden strong ale, and an amber ale brewed with roasted Hatch chiles. Tack on the Black Saddle PBA Stout from a previous review and you have a world of beers in just 4 different cans/bottles. This really sets Crystal Springs apart from mainstream microbrewing.
This tasting was conducted not as a way of rating beers (as was the case in the recent pumpkin beer review). Instead, we wanted to bring an independent look at these creative beers from a small, local brewery. Thus, there is no scoring system for this report, but instead just a wealth of information, comments, compliments, and possible a slight bit of criticism here and there.
While I will not give away any information before the actual review, I will say that if you are in the Front Range of Colorado, you really need to pick up some beers from Crystal Springs. Don’t just sit there and say “I will get them next week”. That will not work. In fact, if you wait that long, I may just buy them all before you get to them. You are not going to find cases and cases of Crystal Springs beer piled up like the Great Pyramids at your local store. In fact, you are likely only to find a handful of bottles. Thus, I think that Crystal Springs’ motto should really be “Quality, Not Quantity”.
There are few things that scream “summer” more than kolsch-style beers. Please, whatever you do, do not confuse kolsch and Grolsch. They are not the same things and other than the previous sentence, should never appear in the same sentence. With that out of the way, kolsch-style beers are still quite rare in the states with just a handful of breweries producing one each year. However, just because the macro-breweries (like Stone, Rogue, Dogfish Head, etc.) are not producing kolsch-style ales, does not mean you should not give them a shot, especially the Summertime Ale from Crystal Springs Brewing Company.
The Summertime Ale is the perfect balance between that crisp, light mouthfeel that you expect from a quality summer beer, and subtle sweetness that keeps you coming back for more. The color is reminiscent of straw with a very white head and the aroma has pineapple and other citrus characteristics. Some may consider the Summertime Ale to be a bit over-carbonated, however, for a summer beer, I find this quite nice since it creates a wonderful dryness on the tongue, similar to that which you would get from a good champagne. One important thing to be aware of here is that unlike many other beers that we review here at Cooking and Beer, the Summertime Ale is not a beer to age in your beer cellar (or closet if you are poor like me). This goes for any kolsch-style beer.
Crystal Springs Brewing Company suggests pairing the Summertime Ale with cheeses like mozzarella or havarti, smoked meats, pulled pork, and sweet desserts. We agree that these are fantastic accompaniments for this wonderful, light, summer ale. I would also suggest pairing the Summertime Ale with light fish dishes (white fish that is, salmon and tuna are likely going to be too powerful for this beer) and light pasta dishes (pasta with white wine sauce in particular).
Crystal Springs Brewing Company takes us from our homes to Belgium in just one beer: Marilyn. Marilyn is a golden strong ale that is quite similar to the quality Belgian strong ales on the market these days. There are two key characteristics of most Belgian ales: Sweetness and Spiciness. The sweetness often comes from using a hug malt bill and adding on some candi sugar. On the other hand, the spiciness comes from the yeast strains. Marilyn hits the nail on the head in both categories. There beer has a wonderful sweetness that is almost fruity with subtle spice overtones that come from the unique Belgian yeast strain used to ferment the beer. As was the case with the Summertime Ale, the beer is very well carbonated and this gives Marilyn and drier mouthfeel that really compliments the sweetness and spiciness. Coming in at 9% alcohol, Marilyn is not the kind of beer you want to drink quickly. Instead, Marilyn is more of a sipping beer that should be shared with friends.
Pairing Marilyn with food is a bit more difficult that most other beers due to its unique flavor profile. However, we would suggest spicy Italian sausage, hard cheeses and sliced dried meats, well-seasoned steak, or even an asian grilled chicken salad.
Last, but certainly not least, we have one of the best chile beers this side of, well, Chile. What sets Solano apart from the rest of the beers in the chile beer category is in the way that Crystal Springs Brewing Company uses the flavors of the roasted hatch chiles. Instead of packing the beer with mounds of burning hot peppers that ultimately lead to your mouth blistering faster than your hand after touching molten lava, Crystal Springs goes for the unique flavors of roasted chiles with only a subtle amount of heat in the end product. In doing so, they have created a top-notch chile ale.
Solano is rather amber in color with little head. If you close your eyes, the aroma of Solano takes you to Hatch, New Mexico during the annual chile festival. The roasted chiles combined with subtle notes of caramel malts makes your taste buds dance around. The taste is exactly what you would expect from the aroma. Solano is exactly what you want in a chile beer, tons of roasted pepper flavor but without the heat. There is a subtle amount of heat that lingers in your throat as you sip this amber ale, but it is by no means overpowering. With that said, Solano is the perfect beer for pairing with spicy Mexican, Spanish, or Southwestern dishes. Crystal Springs recommends cooking with Solano and then pairing the beer with the dish. I could not agree more. In particular, I highly recommend making chili con carne with Solano (instead of stock, broth, or water) and then pairing the chili with Solano. It is a perfect combination!