Let’s start by squelching some rumors: “Very Nice brewery is proud to be a traditional style pub…we are looking to expand but haven’t made any concrete plans yet.” Co-owner and master brewer Jeff Green of Very Nice Brewing Company has been amazed and perplexed at the creative rumors floating around in our small mountain town. “In the meantime, we continue to support local non-profits, we bring the peace and companionship of a neighborhood pub to our community and brew locally inspired craft beers in small batches.”
Here’s another rumor I’d like to squelch while we’re at it: no, I’m not brewing herbal beers at home….yet….but I’m seriously thinking about it. And, in the meantime I’m learning the tricks of the trade from Master Brewer and fellow herbalist Jeff Green of Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland, Colorado.
Very Nice Brewing Company decided to celebrate their third year in business by offering a free pint of their anniversary brew called “Caribou-YA! Mountain Ale” to everyone over 21 who came for the anniversary party last Saturday night. The Caribou Mountain Collective headlined the evening – and even collaborated with Jeff Green and The Holistic Homestead on the wildcrafted anniversary beer.
“This year we decided to honor a band whom we consider colleagues in our life adventure. Caribou Mountain Collective came in one of the first weekends and started picking and have kept coming back ever since.”
Jeff Green is truly into supporting local businesses and collaboration. What really piqued my interest was Jeff’s passion for herbal beers. Very Nice Brewery has already successfully brewed with yarrow and rose hips, and was looking to expand their palate when they called The Holistic Homestead. They are riding the wave of a national trend of craft brewers going back to the traditional methods of brewing “gruits” which are un-hopped, and using herbs that grow wild and free in your native area. Thorn Lake, right down the street from Jeff’s home in Gilpin County, is abounding with edible and medicinal herbs such as dandelion, rose hips, pineapple weed, wild mint, yellow sweet clover, red clover, yarrow and mugwort.
The Holistic Homestead’s first collaboration with Very Nice and Wild Woods Brewery in Boulder yielded a uniquely sweet Pineapple Weed beer. This time the focus was on a genus of plants that grows wild and plentiful in our backyards: artemesia. There are several varieties of artemesia – the first is commonly mistaken for sage (salvia) when actually it is artemesia ludoviciana, also known as mugwort. The second kind is even more fragrant and grows in soft, silvery green mats: artemesia frigida. The variety Jeff chose for his anniversary beer is perhaps more infamous for inspiring poets and painters of 19th century France: artemesia absynthia or wormwood.
Another rumor Jeff would like to bring into the light: beer made with wormwood is not psychotropic. (Sorry to disappoint!) Making traditional absinthe from wormwood requires distillation and the occasional addition of some not-so-savory ingredients. The Caribou-YA Mountain Ale, however, is after the inspiring medicinal properties of wormwood: relaxant, astringent, and cleansing to the liver because of the intense bitter flavor. In fact, wormwood has been used for centuries in place of hops as the “bitter” finish in beer. Wormwood is also credited with “lifting the spirits, clearing headaches, relieving liver congestion, and stimulating immunity.” (from The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes)
Jeff calls “this very weird beer” made with wormwood and rose hips “a refreshing Pale style with Cascade and Fuggles hops. The delicious floral of rose hips greets your pallet while proceeding into the back of your mouth to a deviant bitterness that lets you know it’s working.” A few locals at the anniversary party compared the lasting flavor to “the inner rind of grapefruit.”
Herbal beer, really? Yes! “Beer is really just fermented herbal tea” as Jeff likes to put it. Fermentation, like tincturing, is an ancient method of preserving and even enhancing the medicinal powers of herbs. Nettle beer, for example, is a tried-and-true remedy for painful, swollen joints. Other notable herbs traditionally used in gruit are dandelion, yarrow and mugwort (part of the same genus as wormwood).
What does Jeff see in his crystal ball for Very Nice? “More wildcrafted beers!” – beers inspired by walking in the vast wilderness of the peak-to-peak region, made with locally wildcrafted ingredients, craft brewed in small batches in Nederland, and always offered in a spirit of love for the mountains and adventure into the unknown.