As we near 30 breweries in the Pikes Peak vicinity, we're reaching a saturation point where even aficionados are having a hard time keeping track of all the release parties, running clubs, trivia nights and other social-drinking-facets turned fad. Only slight deviations separate so many familiar flagship lineups of the most popular beer styles. If you aren't Paradox or Trinity you're pretty much part of the pack, though anyone who's sampled them all could with ease throw together a top five, or 10, for best executions and overall quality.
With only a couple months in business, Cogstone Brewing Co. enters the race around middle of the mix, judging by the commendably large nine-house-beer selection we sample, coaxed from two one-barrel brew systems. Were we rating them on their current cucumber cream ale alone, they might rise to our hot-spot of the moment. It's springtime incarnate, fermented with 20 pounds of fresh fruit that lead the aroma and flavor, finishing light, clean and just lovely. Cogstone's kölsch, too, deserves celebration for the style, dry, crisp and holding honey essence.
Owner/brewers Robert Hemphill and Marc Malenfant, both certified beer judges, demonstrate some playfulness too, with beers like a chai brown ale and maple bacon porter. Neither is perfect but both are interesting, at least. The former channels horchata in the sugary nose and drinks cinnamon-forward with faint cardamom and clove notes, but no ginger bite. The latter, reminiscent of Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut monstrosity, inspires visions of an emptied breakfast plate, wherein generic syrup runoff and bacon grease form a sickly sweet patina — a strong roasted element to the porter acting as a coffee swig. It horrifies as it humors, but in fairness, it drinks well next to Cogstone's sole dessert option of beignets. Those, by the way, aren't Cafe Du Monde-style fat, fluffy and doughy, but dense and egg-sized with the exterior texture of a fried egg roll; still pleasant and donut-like.
Away from the bling, Malenfant and Hemphill manage a textbook oatmeal stout and Irish red, but they stumble on a trio of Belgians: a witbier, dubbel and dark strong. None are outwardly bad, but they're just not as expressive as their yeasts tend to make them, lacking the complexities inherent to the esters; our theory is they need higher fermentation temperatures. The latter two hit boozy, 7.2- and 10-percent ABV and the former leads with a little citrus fading into a momentary marijuana funk, then just wheat.
For foodstuffs, the house-cut duck-fat fries don't deliver as much crisp as advertised, or anything that screams "quack," but they're wholly enjoyable french fries. A decent balsamic-glazed burrata isn't the bleeding sort and finishes a bit like cream cheese on olive-oiled toast rounds. And Cogstone's pizza, from a gas-fired Wood Stone oven, rises much fluffier than a Neapolitan pie, almost undercooked at its doughy core, but still bearing some char blisters on the crust. The BBQ's stout sauce isn't beery, but tangy and piquant; a mango reduction highlights the Hawaii 5.0; and the linguiça gifts the Karni nice kick.
It would diminish the outfit to call it just another cog in the (beer) wheel, because they've put some nice flavors in motion. But most machines need a little tuning every now and again to fire on all cylinders.