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Northern Exposure: O’Dell Brewing Co.

O'Dell's btls

When Doug O’Dell first began making beer in the 70s, he found himself in the dark days of homebrewing. There was one homebrew store within a thirty-mile radius of his Hollywood residence. It might as well have been the only homebrew store in the state. Back then, O’Dell explained, you bought a bunch of hops that came in a bag that had a sticker on it, with one word:  “hops.” In those days there was no information and definitely no alpha acid percentage listed. While the beer was beautifully golden and clear, the sparkling yellow suds tasted like a cross between apple cider vinegar and cheap champagne.

Today O’Dell Brewing Company employs 56 men and women dedicated to the manufacture, production and distribution of fine craft beers. On Thursday June 3, 2010, Doug and Wynne O’Dell were on hand to host a tasting at the Brickskeller. This was the first time their beer had been featured in the District.

Running through an impressive lineup of their flagship and more unique offerings, O’Dell Brewing Company prepared 9 beers for sampling, going in specific order from lower IBUs to greater IBUs and then ending with their two 750 ml offerings, both barrel-aged. The tasting featured in order: Levity Ale, 90 Shilling, 5 Barrel Pale, St. Lupulin, IPA, India Barleywine, Cutthroat Porter, Woodcut Series 3 and their Saboteur Brett Barrel Brown.

First up was the Levity ale. From the aroma, my fiancé caught a whiff of cereal and the slightest hint of three day-old rag. It was a malt-bomb. The second was the 90 Shilling. It was along the lines of the Levity. The 90 Shilling is a beer with a fascinating story behind it. Its origin comes from Doug’s honeymoon trip to England. In the UK, excise tax is placed on the amount of alcohol beer contains. 90 shilling ale was the highest Doug could find and it always seemed to come in a bottle. O’Dell started out brewing all draft; it wasn’t until 1996 that O’Dell Brewing Company started to bottle, six years after opening in 1989.

Once the India Barleywine (9.7% ABV) had been passed around, the decibel level jumped. Bob Tupper was now eating his words—he had praised the crowd for its silence at the beginning of the evening. After the India Barleywine was the Cutthroat Porter which Doug O’Dell called a “palate cleanser.” While it is rare to hear a porter referred to as a palate cleanser, the year-round offering was well-placed before the two “single serve series,” the Woodcut Series 3 (11% ABV) and the Saboteur Brett Barrel Brown (10% ABV).

The Woodcut Series is a fascinating concept which O’Dell brews on their pilot brewing system. After the beer is fermented it is chilled and transferred to barrels. Despite the beer being aged in “virgin barrels” –American oak that has never been used before –it still had a distinct bourbon smell. The Saboteur was equally impressive with hints of horseblanket and farmhouse funk which many Brettanomyces enthusiasts have come to love and identify.

Doug and Wynne O’Dell have had an extraordinary run as the second microbrewery to open in the state of Colorado. While they currently offer no organic beers, O’Dell has taken tremendous steps in the last year working towards sustainability. In January, the company installed 384 solar panels to provide the brewery with 39% of its overall electricity usage. The hope is that O’Dell Brewing Company will reap 111,000 kilowatt hours annually. With such grandiose plans for sustainable energy, the future of O’Dell is looking very bright.

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