The Beer Nut: Great Divide a Herculean beer company

Norman Miller

All you have to do is look at the names of the beers brewed by the Great Divide Brewing Company to get an idea of what it is all about.

Yeti, Hercules, Titan, Old Ruffian. Such tags lend themselves perfectly to the strong, in-your-face beers the Colorado brewery produces.

But what happens when the brewery goes out of its comfort zone? Samurai Ale and Hades Ale happen, that's what.

Samurai, a delicate blond ale, is completely out of the norm, while the Hades Ale, a Belgian-style strong ale, is the first Belgian-style that Great Divide has produced in years.

The Samurai Ale has been popular on a draft-only basis in Colorado, and owner Brian Dunn decided to take it national.

``We didn't have any super-light, easy-going beers,'' said Dunn. ``We wanted to do something like that, but we didn't want to do your typical wheat ale.''

Instead, Samurai Ale is brewed with rice. It has a crisp and clean taste, with slight lemon accent. It is cloudy because it is unfiltered.

It is probably the easiest-drinking new beer that has come out this year. Definitely something to have at poolside on Labor Day.

``It's real approachable,'' Dunn said. ``The reception has been phenomenal.''

The Hades is a beer that will hold up better throughout the winter. At 7.3 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), the beer will provide a nice warming effect.

Full of flavor, Hades shows the mark of a top-notch brew. Despite its high alcohol, it goes down like you could have several.

``This is a very different beer for us because we haven't done a Belgian for years and years,'' Dunn said.

Hades and Samurai were released in July, a strange time to release two new beers, let alone seasonals. Hades, in particular, seems to be a perfect fall or winter release, but Dunn said Great Divide did not want the release to compete with the release of its Hibernation Ale (its winter seasonal, an American strong ale) on Oct. 15.

Also in October, the Fresh Hop Ale, an American pale ale brewed with freshly picked hops, is released.

``We do things goofy sometimes by releasing beers at the same time,'' Dunn said.

Great Divide is one of the breweries that should always come up when discussing America's best beer producers. Several of its beers are perfect examples of its style.

Great Divide produces two versions of a Russian imperial stout -- Yeti and Oak Aged Yeti.  Both are phenomenal beers, and full of alcohol at more than 9 percent ABV. Creamy, smooth, full-bodied -- all can be used to describe either one. A chocolate flavor mixes with the taste of

roasted coffee.

The Oak Aged Yeti adds a slight oak flavor to bring out even more complexity.

The Hercules Double India pale ale, clocking in at 9.1 percent ABV, is full of hop flavors -- piney and citric. But, despite the hops, the malt flavor is not overrun and provides a balance that makes Hercules Double IPA a winner.

The Old Ruffian barley wine, coming in at a strong 10.2 percent ABV, is a sipping beer. Sweet from the malty, caramel flavors, this barley wine has more hop bitterness than a typical barley wine, but it works.

The top-selling Great Divide beer is the Denver Pale Ale, an exemplary example of a classic American pale ale. Not as hoppy as the Titan IPA or the Hercules, it has an oily flavor from the hops, matched with the grainy, fruity malts.

Great Divide proves a brewery can use sometimes obscene amounts of hops but still produce drinkable, balanced beers, sometimes forgotten by some brewers when creating extreme beers.

``We like hops quite a bit,'' Dunn said. ``We also believe beers should have a lot of balance. We don't want one-dimensional beers -- just a lot of hop juice. I like them all. If I didn't like them, we wouldn't make them.''

The brewery has grown significantly since they began 13 years ago. Then, it produced 300 barrels of beer -- now it is up to 8,000 barrels. One barrel is equal to about 31 gallons.

``We were munchkins, and we are still very small,'' Dunn said. ``It gives us some ability to be creative to put some beers out there to educate people. That's the whole reason we started the brewery.''

Great Divide beers are widely available locally, including Hickey's Liquors in Milford; the Malt Shop in Ashland; Palumbo's in Waltham; Liquor World in Franklin, Medway and Milford; Warehouse Wine & Spirits in Framingham; and Julio's Liquors in Westborough.

Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, contact or 508-626-3823.