Craft beer snobs often turn their nose up at breweries associated with non-craft brewers and I have to say walking into the MillerCoors owned Blue Moon Brewery I was a little sceptical. However, the mood changed instantly as I was approached with a smiling face and a tall glass of ice cold Blue Moon wit, nothing can appease scepticism like a tasty beer. Immediately the group was whisked away by none other than head brewmaster John Legnard for a quick tour around the new brewing facility. Now I’ve been on more then my fair share of brewery tours, so I will spare you the details of the brewing process, but what became apparent during this tour was that Blue Moon had a brewer behind it that possessed the passion and knowledge to overcome some of that big brewery stigma.
John Legnard got his start in craft brewing working around some of the now craft brewing giants of Fort Collins, Colorado. As a student at Colorado State University, John decided to brew beer for his chemistry final on fermentation. While his fellow students first eyed him warily as he brought this beat up jug of brown liquid into the room and told them to drink it, their eyes lit up as they tasted John’s first craft beer and from then he was hooked. Working in brewing for 10 years up in Fort Collins, when John heard of the opportunity to work for a small brewery attached to Coors Field he lept at the chance. From there the “Sandlot Brewery” as it was originally called created what we now know as Blue Moon Belgian White. After 10 years in the small facility it was time for an expansion and the ability to have a brewery that could focus on experimenting not just with beer, but with a good menu as well, thus the new Blue Moon Brewery RiNo was conceived.
We were ushered into a beautiful serving room, enclosed by glass so we could look upon the brewing equipment. John began leading us through the food and beer pairing. Legnard provided a brief description of both the beer and the food, stating that brevity was his prerogative because he wanted us, the tasters, to be able to form our own opinions. One thing he did highlight was the three “C”s of beer pairing, compliment, contrast, and cut and continued with that concept over the course of the evening. Here was the menu for the evening and my thoughts on it.
Course 1 - Polentina Paired with Saison
This spicey and banana-clove heavy saison was considered a “compliment” to the polentina. A polentina, if you aren’t familiar, is a corn porridge that incorporates thin slices of polenta to thicken the texture. While not bursting with flavor, the polentina brought out spicey, fruit notes of the saison and was consistent with the texture of the soup since it is an unfiltered beer.
Course 2 - Harissa Shrimp with Israeli Couscous Paired with Mango Wheat
The Mango Wheat was hands down my favorite beer of the night. I am definitely a fan of fruit beer, but it can often be difficult to find one that isn’t going to sucker punch you with a sugary bite. When John discussed the brewing process for this it beer it included over 8 pounds of mango puree in every keg. Yum! This beer has a very powerful mango aroma and taste, but with an IBU count of 18 it finished with a balanced hop flavor. This beer helped cut the spiciness of the harissa shrimp. The harissa sauce had a smokey chile flavor with hints of garlic and cumin. The shrimp, on a bed of couscous captured the full essence of a Mediterranean meal.
Course 3 - Roast Tenderloin with Smoky Sauce Paired with Smoked Porter
This beer was the only barrel aged beers that we tried over the course of the evening and I have to say I am looking forward to drinking more of their barrel aged line. John discussed how smokiness, which used to be prevalent in brewing in the past because of the use of wood burning stoves, has been somewhat lost in the age of steel and natural gas. This beer was brewed with the thought of returning to those smokey roots. The porter was pretty complimentary to the perfectly cooked roast tenderloin. Every tender bite was more unbelievable then the next. Hard to describe something that was so good, so I suggest to just go and try it for yourself!
Course 4 - Burnt Caramel Pudding Paired with Hogshead Collaboration Foreign Stout
Hogshead Brewery is known for their cask style beer, or a beer that is unfiltered and served without any additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. While this collaboration stout was not a cask ale, it was very apparent that Hogshead had a hand in making this one. Smooth and drinkable this stout had a balanced flavor profile not often found in stouts. Like creme brûlée but was better, the caramel pudding was topped with dark chocolate shaves, whip creme, and a churro and was indulgent. The burnt quality to the pudding complimented the stout. This dessert was the perfect end to a perfect beer paired dinner.
While it may be personally difficult to give a MillerCoors owned brewery a nod of recognition, it is clear that under the brewing leadership of John Legnard creativity, uniqueness, and flavorful beers are going to continue to flow from Blue Moon Brewing’s tap handles.