Although light, pale lagers — the kind of beer most Americans associate with brands such as Coors and Budweiser — is a relatively straightforward style that uses only a handful of ingredients, it's a tricky beer to get right since any flaws will be evident.
Brewer Alex Violette says that it was a point of pride when he made an exceptionally good batch when he worked at the Smoky Mountain Brewery brewpub in his hometown, Knoxville, Tenn.
"I always enjoyed making that one because it was the trickiest one to brew," he said. "You really knew that you had your process down when you'd mastered it."
Violette moved to Boulder in 2008 to find a job in the booming craft-beer industry, where he's now head brewer at Upslope Brewing Co.
While the scene today is filled with super-hopped IPAs, barrel-aged beers and other highly flavorful brews, Violette noticed there aren't a lot of lighter, more approachable options. Inspired by his days at Smoky Mountain Brewery, he capitalized on the opportunity to brew a pilot batch of Upslope American light lager, which is currently on tap in Upslope's Flatiron Park taproom.
"It's something I've been thinking about for quite a while, because it is the most popular style of beer — even in Colorado — but there aren't a lot of craft breweries making it," Violette said. "I think there's a big hole in that market for people who just want a lighter beer, and I thought it would be nice to have a local, craft-brewed option."
Upslope Craft Lager is already the brewery's top-selling canned beer. Violette's American light lager — brewed with 100 percent malted barley and Czech Saaz hops — is even paler in color with a clean, crisp flavor that will be immediately recognizable to most beer drinkers.
Violette brewed the beer on Upslope's 200-gallon system at its original brew house on Lee Hill Road. Since Upslope expanded its operations and moved the bulk of its production into a new, 17,000-square-foot brewery at its Flatiron Park location last spring, the Lee Hill location is used mostly for developing new beers. Violette estimates his team has brewed at least 50 different styles of beer so far this year alone at Lee Hill.
"That beer would not exist if we hadn't kept Lee Hill as an experimental brewery," Upslope founder Matt Cutter, said of the light lager. "We've been brewing a tremendous variety of beers there."
Upslope launched in late 2008 with just two canned offerings and brewed about 200 gallons of beer every other week, which it self-distributed along the Front Range. Today, Upslope brews about 16,000 gallons each week, Violette said, and distributes its beer in four states — Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Wyoming.
Retaining the pilot system and experimenting with a variety of taproom-only beers such as Upslope American light lager not only keeps the brewers' creative juices flowing, it's a great way to get instant feedback on what people like and which beers are selling.
Sometimes the customer response drives the decision to more broadly distribute a beer, as is the case with Upslope Thai Style White IPA — the brewery's newest Limited Release can currently available in its mixed 12-packs.
"We looked at the taproom sales records and asked people what they liked, and the Thai beer was right at the top every time," Cutter said. "This model has really become what I'd hoped Upslope would be all along."
Contact Tom Wilmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.