As a college student backpacking around Europe in the late 1990s, Ryan Evans found himself in Belgium, drinking beer. He remembers being blown away by the Belgian brews he tasted, a memory that stuck with him as he returned to the United States, finished college, earned an MBA, and helped run his family’s security company. And while Evans got his hands on whatever imported Belgian beers he could find, he wanted more. So, in 2016, Bruz Beers was born. Evans—along with co-founder and award-winning home brewer Charlie Gottenkieny—opened the north Denver craft brewery of their dreams, specializing in Belgian and Belgian-inspired beer styles, and debuted a Cheesman Park tasting room in 2019.
Now, Evans is living out another sudsy dream: Collaborating with a traditional Belgian brewery. In late January, Bruz Beers released the first beer in a limited collaboration series with Omer Vander Ghinste, a fifth-generation family-owned brewery that’s been making beer since 1892.
The collaboration brew is called Bière de Mars: a blend of Bruz Beer’s petite saison and Omer Vander Ghinste’s Cuvée des Jacobins Prestige Flanders red ale. The resulting hybrid brew is a light amber sour ale with delicate flavor notes. “We feel like it best represents both beers—their base, which is very strong, tart, ruby red in color, and has got a great sour base to it—and then the petite saison, which adds a little more earthiness and lightness,” says Evans, a Colorado native.
But like many things in 2020, the collaboration was nearly derailed by the coronavirus. Before COVID-19, Evans and the Bruz team organized an annual tasting trip to Belgian for members of the public. Last year, that trip was supposed to coincide with a visit to Omer Vander Ghinste to sample and pick out a single foeder—basically, an oversized barrel—of Flanders red ale for the collaboration. When the trip was canceled because of the pandemic, the two breweries decided to proceed with the project by communicating across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Bruz team tracked down and bought an entire Omer Vander Ghinste shipment that was already in the U.S., then got to work experimenting with different blends made with their own beer. All told, they made 25 different variations before landing on the final Bière de Mars, which is now available at both tasting rooms. “We still made it happen,” says Evans. “It’s pretty exciting, the whole concept of getting beer from the motherland and then putting the Colorado twist on it.”
Meanwhile, in Buena Vista, another beautiful collaboration has come to fruition: Deerhammer Distilling Co. has partnered with Sunnyside’s Crooked Stave brewery to produce the Cask Savant, an incredibly delicious beer-whiskey hybrid. Deerhammer’s founder and head distiller Lenny Eckstein distilled a batch of Crooked Stave’s Hop Savant beer—which is made with a type of wild yeast called Brettanomyces (aka “Brett”)—in July 2015, then aged it in American oak barrels for five years. The 50-percent ABV spirit is surprising, with notes of blackberry jam, sage, orange peel, hazelnut, toasted bread crusts, and hops. Eckstein believes it is the first of its kind. “Other people have distilled beer, but I don’t know that anyone’s ever distilled anything made with 100 percent Brett yeast, which just contributes so much unique flavor,” says Eckstein, a graphic-designer-turned-distiller who hails from Philadelphia.
Cask Savant is the second release in Deerhammer’s Progeny Series, which features collaborations with other Colorado makers and producers. The first small-batch spirit in the series was a cacao-seasoned American single malt made in partnership with Westwood’s Cultura Craft Chocolate. “Deerhammer is all about trying to look at styles and flip them on their heads a little bit,” Eckstein says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to challenge the standards. It’s a really fun space to be in.”
While the Deerhammer Buena Vista tasting room is sold out of Cask Savant, there are about 250 bottles on sale at select liquor stores around Colorado; we recommend calling in advance to check if it’s available.
Bruz Beers: 1675 West 67th Ave., #100 and 1495 York St., #101, Denver
Deerhammer Distilling Co.: 321 East Main St., Buena Vista