Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Taylor Donner departs Cerberus Brewing Company, heads to Belgium

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 7:14 PM

Taylor Donner, off to adventure abroad. - KAITLYN BOWERS
  • Kaitlyn Bowers
  • Taylor Donner, off to adventure abroad.
Local wunderkind Taylor Donner, who holds a rare advanced-level Cicerone certification and has held the assistant brewer position at Cerberus Brewing Company since its launch a few years ago, departs for Belgium next week for at least three months of personal study abroad.

The bad news for the Springs: He may stay gone much longer in the pursuit of more hands-on education and experience, depending on where his travel and connections take him.

Donner, who's also been the beer buyer for Brewer's Republic, probably knows more about beer (at least on paper, to be fair) than anyone in the city — at age 26. "Getting out of the Springs and Colorado is the next biggest step for me," he says, noting "...Cerberus laid the groundwork for who I am now and who I'll be moving forward."

The young brewer has his sights set on three breweries in particular in Belgium, places that have produced "beers that mean a lot to me." They are: De Struise Brouwers and Fantôme (both confirmed), and Cantillon (if he's lucky). The goal is to volunteer and do work apprenticeships at each: "I want to see how [their brewers] approach the creative process, and how I can bring that forward as a brewer."

De Struise is known for high-gravity beers, he says, "big and strong with a lot of character but also nuanced and subtle." They do a lot of blending and barrel aging he hopes to study in particular. While Fantôme is "a really solid example of what a farmhouse brewery is ... wild and funky saisons... more consideration of artistry and flavor ... they don't worry about what the market demands because they're so small." And Cantillon leads with widely celebrated lambics.
Donner adding his magic touch. - KAITLYN BOWERS
  • Kaitlyn Bowers
  • Donner adding his magic touch.
 The three-month plan relates to a 90-day visa, unless he can find a way to get sponsored to stay longer, he says. He'll bring his chef knives with him — he's a trained cook as well — and do some restaurant stages by evenings if that helps open any doors. If he can't stay in Belgium longer, he says he can land with some family in Vienna and possibly glean some valuable brewing experience there as well. "My family is in the Springs, so I'll always come back," he says, but he's also clearly focusing on his growth as a brewer, which will likely lead him to larger markets, and possibly larger brewhouses if opportunities present, though he'd prefer to stay in smaller operations on the scale of Cerberus or a little larger.

"So much goes into being a brewer even at this small scale," he says. "Everything I know as far as professional brewing is built around what I learned here."

Stylistically, he says Cerberus is obviously hop-forward, and that he and head head brewer Josh Adamski built their portfolio of beers around styles they cared about that, that perhaps many customers hadn't tried. They sought to spin things, often using Belgian beers as a base from which to play with other flavors (for example a golden strong brewed with honey and apples and spiced with cardamom and pink peppercorns).

He believes they were the first locally to brew now-super-popular New England-style IPAs and hazy IPAs. "When we had free space, we wanted to push the envelope as much as we could."
Adamski (left) and Donner bringing home a bronze award in 2018 from the World Beer cup for their NBD Kolsch. - NO CREDIT
  • No credit
  • Adamski (left) and Donner bringing home a bronze award in 2018 from the World Beer cup for their NBD Kolsch.
Adamski credits Donner for a big part of Cerberus' direction and success (they won 12 Indy Best Of awards in 2017, including Best New Brewery), saying the two "complemented each others' styles."

"I was the brewer who knew the ins and outs of hops and grains and how they worked and basic styles," explains Adamski. "He had the experimental thing going, playing with Brett beers and lactose and stuff, doing things I hadn't been as involved in, that was starting to blow up." The two brewers would play together on Adamski's small homebrew system and Adamski says "he had ideas I'd never thought about ... it's his out-of-bounds thinking I enjoyed the most, that kept us going, when we were [otherwise] brewing the same beers week after week, it gets monotonous ... we'd talk, about 'let's do this or change that' ... it was fun to BS about beer, that relationship was the best part of being in the brewhouse."
Adamski (covering his face) credits Donner with much of Cerberus' style and success, as a co-conspirator. - KAITLYN BOWERS
  • Kaitlyn Bowers
  • Adamski (covering his face) credits Donner with much of Cerberus' style and success, as a co-conspirator.
Donner will be replaced at Cerberus by André Blyth, formerly of Triple S and JAKs, and both brewers will continue to get support from cellarman Matt Driscoll. Despite the mixed emotions around seeing Donner leave, there's so much excitement around Cerberus' expansion plans.

On July 29, new equipment arrives that will effectively double the outfit's brewing capacity. They're going from a 7-barrel to 15-barrel brewhouse, to include a canning line and new production facility across the street (east) in the Colorado Springs Bike Shop space, eventually. "We'll be able to brew some fun stuff we haven't had time to do," says Adamski. In the existing space, he says he'll likely place a small one-barrel system for experimentation as well as place a lot of barrels up for aging, for "sours and off-the-wall" beers.

Who knows ... maybe all the fun will lure Donner back around again in the future. For now, beer fans in the Springs wish him a fond farewell as he sets off for far horizons.

Go get knowledge. Bring us back some beer, of course. 
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Friday, July 19, 2019

A Grazing Life dinners stylishly celebrate local farms and fine food and drink

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 12:56 PM


There are only four A Grazing Life dinners left this season at Frost Livestock Ranch that aren't already sold out, as of this writing. Eight dinners total were planned and two have already come and gone. The second of which, on Sunday, July 14, I attended on a comped media ticket as a guest of event facilitator Dionne Roberts (also editor of Indy partner Rocky Mountain Food Report and an Indy contributor).

That night's featured chef was Jacob Cheatham of Loyal Coffee, joined for drink service by Brass Brewing Co., Montana Horsfall of Craft Cocktail Inc., and Black Forest's Sette Dolori Winery. (Each event hosts a different chef and beverage makers, plus musical guest.) A respectably long list of local producers were represented, whose ingredients informed an awesome four-course family-style meal (read: feast) and a greeting spread of fine cheeses, meats and locally-baked bread. (See the above slideshow for a tour through who's who and what your money buys and supports.)


Read the above-linked article in this past week's Indy by Colorado Springs Business Journal Associate Editor Helen Robinson for an extensive look behind the scenes and missions of both A Grazing Life and Frost Livestock Ranch. Robinson speaks with AGL founder Mike Preisler about his mission to "reconnect consumers to their local farms and ranches" and rancher Jay Frost regarding challenges facing food producers today. On a positive note, Frost says, "We used to have this connection way back when. We’re coming back to the future.”

Rancher Jay Frost of Frost Livestock Ranch; 5 percent of A Grazing Life ticket sales also benefit the Palmer Land Trust. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Rancher Jay Frost of Frost Livestock Ranch; 5 percent of A Grazing Life ticket sales also benefit the Palmer Land Trust.

For my part as a guest who partook in all the bounty offered — yes I damn near overindulged, enchanted by the evening glow out in farm country as thunderstorms popped on the horizon all around us — I can vouch for A Grazing Life dinners feeling like a truly special occasion.

At $135 per ticket, they'd have to be to continue selling out, no?

So much of that money goes back into our local economy, direct to growers, ranchers and producers of all kinds; plus the Palmer Land Trust is the beneficiary of 5 percent of what's collected.

And there's of course the intangible part of the experience you can't quite hold a price tag to, but it's safe to say guests otherwise recoup a lot of their own costs with the abundance of food and drink offerings. The point isn't to pig-out, but good luck getting through hors d’oeuvres and all four courses plus just about as many adult beverages you wish to consume (responsibly, folks ... consider taking The Local Motive party bus down, operated by Preisler's wife Lacie) without feeling like a happy glutton.

Horsfall, for her part, designed lovely fruit-forward and/or herbaceous cocktails (a basil gimlet, whiskey cherry smash, and apricot brandy old fashioned); Sette Dolori Winery's samplings easily complemented the food courses (their Lora red table wine blend being my favorite) and Brass Brewing Co. brought some roundly bangin' beers.

Chef Cheatham showed that serving more than 100 guests in-style falls well within his and his crew's capabilities. It was the small culinary touches (that I overhead many other guests at the long community commenting on) that partly illustrate Cheatham's talent at letting the night's ingredients speak for themselves: light seasoning on the root vegetables, honey butter for the bread, hearty Bolognese with an initial pork punch, followed by a beautifully tender mojo-spiced Larga Vista Ranch pork loin, and grilled apricots and brandy compote on a concluding pound cake.

All in all, I experienced a pretty magical night. Just ask the dog driving the truck below — he gets it.
A night so special that even a dog drove the truck around for a farm tour. (Ok, not really.) - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A night so special that even a dog drove the truck around for a farm tour. (Ok, not really.)
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Armadillo Ranch replaces Ancient Mariner in Manitou Springs

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2019 at 4:17 PM

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The longtime Ancient Mariner spot at 962 Manitou Ave. in Manitou Springs has become a new restaurant, bar and music space called Armadillo Ranch as of the Fourth of July.

Former Manitou Springs City Administrator from 2014 until early 2018, Jason Wells, is the owner-operator, and it’s his first foray into restaurant life. He calls the move a “total left hand turn” personally, which he couldn’t have taken without the help of several others, including his girlfriend Jenna Gallas, who’s the special events coordinator for Visit Manitou Springs, in charge of the big town events like Carnivale. But Wells quickly credits bar manager Willis Gray, formerly of the Townhouse Lounge and Stagecoach Inn for bringing “valuable Manitou experience to the team,” and he rests most of the venture’s weight on the shoulders of Chef Lyn Ettinger-Harwell, formerly of Seeds Community Cafe and most recently with Border Burger Bar.

Harwell desired to “up the dinner menu game” says Wells, while still building an affordable menu that generally ranges between $9 and $11, topping out with a $14 shrimp scampi dish.
“Having worked here in the city, I saw lots of employees leaving Manitou for lunch — there wasn’t a quick, affordable deli-style lunch in town,” says Wells, noting an absence since Spice of Life closed years ago. “And there’s no Italian downtown, until you get to Savelli’s — and I love Italian food — so we filled two niches.”

The eclectic menu offers common starters like wings and a quesadilla, but also trendy plates like shishito peppers, while sandwiches made with Boar’s Head meats and cheeses include and Italian grinder, a “Manitou Muffaletta”, a BLT and more. Guests will also find burgers and barbecue plus familiar Italian entrées like chicken Parmesan, classic Alfredo and pasta Carbonara. A house signature dish, Braciole Neapolitan, rolls prosciutto, provolone and mozzarella with pine nuts, raisins, garlic, red onions and basil inside Callicrate Beef top round cuts, finished with tomato sauce over cavatappi pasta.

Wells notes late-night food-service hours, with the bar open officially 11 a.m. to close, often 2 a.m. on the weekends. He aims to have live music every Friday and Saturday night, to grow to Thursdays and Sundays too.

As for the name? “Well, there’s a story,” says Wells. “I tell people to come in and find me for a drink ... there’s a song behind it,” he offers, as a clue.
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Lulu's Downstairs grand opens with style in Manitou Springs

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 5:04 PM

Musician, producer and now Lulu's founder and owner, Marc Benning. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Musician, producer and now Lulu's founder and owner, Marc Benning.

Lulu’s Downstairs (107 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs) celebrates its grand opening on Thursday, July 11, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (the hours it plans to be open year-round). The following night, Sasami plays the venue, along with Inaiah Lujan.

The venue already has concerts listed out to October, with more shows surely to be added. But don’t file it in your mind as just a music spot; it’s an earnest bar as well.

Owner Marc Benning — who most recently helped launch The Side Door venue south of downtown as well as co-start Ivywild Music’s program prior to that, and has run Hideaway Studios for the last 25 years and toured as a musician for 15 years — says “I want to have a great bar that even if there’s no show, it’s still a bar people want to go to.”
A revamped stage with new sound dampening in the overhead ceiling, for optimal acoustics. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A revamped stage with new sound dampening in the overhead ceiling, for optimal acoustics.
Benning says he’s seeking more of “events” than trying to pack out his calendar: “I’m opposed to being a place where we put a band in the corner and they play but there’s nobody there to see them, where they’re underpaid and undervalued.”
That said, he envisions some free shows, and he’s strategically walled-off the bar area from the concert area — mind you we’re talking about the former Castaways, most recently Vibes spot — so folks at the bar will be able to socialize without having to scream in each others’ ears.

“I’m focusing on the bar,” he says, “that’s what will keep the lights on.”
Fine spirits are on hand for those seeking a sophisticated cocktail, though there will be well drinks too. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Fine spirits are on hand for those seeking a sophisticated cocktail, though there will be well drinks too.

What that focus looks like, aside from ‘70s lounge inspiration? Firstly, hiring seasoned bartenders to design an original menu. Principal’s Office alumni are well represented; familiar faces like Ashton Longwell (also of the Wild Goose Meeting House, serving as lead bartender here), and Camille Stellar and Brandon Allen, both of Chiba Bar as well. Benning says they’ll create a “nice approachable cocktail bar that’s affordable, with some higher end options.” He clarifies he doesn’t wish for Lulu’s to become a “drinking person’s bar, looking for $2 shots,” and that he’s “not going to serve gut-rot — our well is solid.”

Sexy booths. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Sexy booths.
He envisions drinks averaging $6-$10, featuring “smaller brands and newer companies — Jameson my be our only big-name booze.” And for beers, expect 15 canned offerings at a given time, “just good beers from all over the world — we aren’t focusing on being a Colorado craft brew bar.”
A random, less-typical selection of beers. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A random, less-typical selection of beers.

For eats, since the restaurant space above remains vacant, Benning has planned to serve simple items like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, plus corn dogs and appetizers, with vegan options too, with a blue plate special from 4-6 p.m. at some point soon.
“If you want to have dinner we’ll have options that’ll fill you up,” he promises. “But our motto is: ‘We’re not a restaurant.’”

Here's a few more early looks at Lulu's — named for Benning's daughter — ahead of the opening:
From the opening cocktail menu, the fresh Sunray mixes Four Roses Bourbon with Lustau Vermut Blanco and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, plus OJ. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • From the opening cocktail menu, the fresh Sunray mixes Four Roses Bourbon with Lustau Vermut Blanco and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, plus OJ.

70s decor everywhere. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • 70s decor everywhere.
A wall of oddities. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A wall of oddities.
When there's no show, Benning hopes the bar will still "keep the lights on." - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • When there's no show, Benning hopes the bar will still "keep the lights on."
Cool hand-painted walls. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Cool hand-painted walls.
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