How many dam jokes does it take to name a beer?
The answer, it seems, is more than 240, based on the number of entries to name the "Van Gogh" beer recently brewed by Dillon Dam Brewery.
The brewery itself is no stranger to puns, with one of its signature T-shirts featuring one of the artist's self-portraits and proclaiming "I'd Give My Left Ear for a Dam Beer." This caught the eye of the Denver Museum of Art (DAM), which unveiled the Becoming Van Gogh exhibit in October. Previously, the museum had worked with Wynkoop Brewery in Denver to brew an Egyptian-style beer in honor of the King Tut exhibit, and hoped to recreate its success.
"We're the Dam, and they're the DAM, so they contacted us about brewing a special beer for this exhibit," said the brewery's marketing manager, Barbara Richard.
Not to be outdone, Dillon brewmaster Cory Forster threw himself into the project, researching the type of beer that was around during Van Gogh's time. He chose to brew a French farmhouse-style ale known as 'bier de garde.'
"After much studying, I discovered that Vincent himself probably drank many beers very similar to this one while traveling through and painting the French countryside," explained Forster.
The bier de garde is a style not commonly used today, and required Forster to acquire a specific type of Belgian yeast, and re-arrange his usual brewing schedule. Unlike most contemporary beers which are brewed in highly sterilized environments, the farmers brewing bier de garde would expose the barrels to the open air, hoping to catch wild yeast. Forster admits that getting it right took some tinkering.
"For this particular liquid art, we tried to recreate Vincent's favorite brew," Forster said. "We used 11 varieties of mild malts with just a touch of caramel malt sweetness to balance out the funky spice and fruitiness of the farmhouse ale yeast."
Forster added spirals of applewood and French oak in the fermenter to recreate the taste of being brewed in a wooden barrel. A hint of anise is a nod to Van Gogh's purported favorite drink, absinthe.
The bier de garde may be recognizable as a cousin to the better known style of the Belgian saison. The beer is golden to slight copper in color, and has been described as "strawberry blonde" and "red-head."
A little extra carbonation was added in order to draw out the unique individual flavors, and make them more easily distinguishable to the palate. It's easily drinkable, but drinkers be warned, it's also high in alcohol content, clocking in at 7.7 percent ABV.
"Van Gogh looked at the people and settings that surrounded him for inspiration," said Timothy Standring, Becoming Van Gogh curator. "I think he would approve of a fine brew that relates to the working class of Belgium, Holland and France - three countries where the artist worked."
For an additional twist, Facebook fans of the museum and the brewery entered a contest to come up with a name for the beer. The winning name was "Dam Gogh" with 193 votes. The three runners-up were Van Gogh After Glow, Old Gold and Vincent Van Snow.
Three different people entered the "Dam Gogh" name for consideration, and all three were awarded prizes. Brenna Richardson, Paul Laincz and Mike Donlon all received two tickets to the Van Gogh exhibit, gift certificates to the Dillon Dam Brewery and a Dam Brewery Van Gogh T-shirt.
The Dam Gogh will be available on Friday, but it won't be the only new thing at the brewery. During its usual fall closure, the brewery updated its sound system as well as its tap system. The new sound will complement the high-definition movie projector, which is set to start playing snow-sport movies on Nov. 8.
The tap system is also upgrading its technology, as well as adding four new tap lines. Friday will serve 11 different beers, including three other seasonals - the Oktoberfest, the 2020 Beer Goggles Double IPA, and the Breck Whiskey Barrel Aged Coffee Vanilla Stout.
While the stout is only available while limited supplies last, the Dam Gogh plans to be around until January - as long as the Denver exhibit is running.
The beer is also on tap at the Rackhouse Pub, located in the Stranahan's Whiskey Distillery in Denver.
"We were just thrilled that they contacted us to be a part of this," Richard said. "We were more than happy to have taken it on and created something really fun."