Tuesday, October 01, 2019
Denver has its breweries and it has its beer bars, as the world knows while it descends upon the Great American Beer Festival this week. But an under-appreciated part of the scene the Mile High City is developing is its beer-themed restaurants - and few represent it as well as Former Saint.
Former Saint Craft Kitchen and Taps is located on the first floor of the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, not exactly a place where you might think beer culture might flourish. But the restaurant - named not for its latent soul but for its being the site of St. Mary's Academy, the first all-girls school in Colorado - was developed over a number of years with the theme of Colorado being front and center the entire time.
That's evident in the menu, heavy on state-produced meats and vegetables, from its bison burger to its buffalo steak. And it's evident in the 16-tap, all-Colorado beer list, which Dane Fiscella, the hotel's assistant food and beverage manager, works closely with his beverage guru to for the largely conventioneers' crowd that stays there.
Here you will find a range from local lagers to Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout. More importantly, you will find beers ranging from those produced by the state's largest craft brewer, New Belgium Brewing, to only-distributed-in-Denver artisans like Goldspot Brewing.
Fiscella, a veteran of the venerable Philadelphia beer scene, goes out on scouting trips often for local beers, and he thinks not of what will appeal to the masses but what will genuinely provoke customers' interests. The biggest seller the space has seen is not a light lager but Station 26 Brewing Juicy Banger, which Coloradans know as one of the best IPAs made in the Centennial State.
And when the beer isn't flowing through the copper pipes from the glass-walled taproom (pictured above) that draw so many questions, it is taking a supporting role on the menu. The restaurant's popular quail and waffles (pictured below) is slathered with a syrup made from Denver Beer Co's Graham Cracker Porter.
Certainly, there are places around downtown Denver that serve a larger and riskier portfolio of Colorado craft beers than Former Saint. But the eatery - which is hosting a Sierra Nevada pairing dinner on Wednesday and a number of tap takeovers throughout this week - is a prime example of how the Denver beer scene is starting to imbue itself in places well beyond the beer-geek haunts of yore, and it is well worth a stop on the way into or out of the Colorado Convention Center to see how craft beer and fine food have become allies rather than opposites , even in a corporate hotel setting.
"Our Colorado themed hyper-focus, it sets us apart from our competitors," Fiscella said recently. "When you're staying at a hotel, you're going on a trip. "If we can give you that sense in downtown Denver of adventure and of out-of-the-ordinary, that's what we want to do."
Sunday, September 29, 2019
As always, I've tried to throw together a high-level list of the events happening around the country's biggest gathering of brewers - not a complete list of every tapping, dinner and mini festival, but a highlight reel of what is scheduled around the Oct. 3-5 festival. Get to one, get to many - but whatever you do, get out of your house, because all that craft beer has to offer will never be as much at your fingertips as it is this week.
11 a.m.: First Draft Taproom + Kitchen, Denver's leading pour-yourself-and-pay-by-the-ounce bar, has a stacked lineup all week. But today's kickoff with Western Distributing - featuring lesser-known Colorado gems like Pikes Peak, Bonfire and Lone Tree - is a good way to sample the far-flung scene.
4-9 p.m.: Beginning on the hour each hour, a rambling tour will descend upon FlyteCo, The Emporium, DeSteeg, The Grateful Gnome and Call to Arms - the Tennyson neighborhood breweries participating in the Tennysinners Brewery Crawl. There's no charge except for your beers.
5ish: Falling Rock Tap House, Denver's lauded beer bar, kicks off every GABF week with 20 or so special beers on tap from auteurs both locally and nationwide. This year will be no exception. And, no, you don't even need to know the breweries pouring to justify making this trip.
6-8 p.m.: You'll be drinking a lot of barrel-aged beers this week. Want to really geek out on the art of aging before you start? Strange Craft Beer and Wit's End Brewing present a "Barrel Talk" that will feature samples of some of their aged creations.
Noon: When Great Divide Brewing boasts of releasing a new beer with an "otherworldly amount of hops," you would be wise to listen. Hopnaut Double Juicy IPA follows on the huge success of its Hazy IPA launch last year, and it will be on tap at both locations.
4-7 p.m.: Thirst Colorado puts together an annual Tour of Colorado event at Tap Fourteen's Ballpark location highlighting breweries from throughout the state making unique beers. This year's event showcases Boulder Beer, Bruz Beers, Wiley Roots, Fossil Craft and Bristol, among others.
5-10 p.m.: Barrels and Bottles Brewery in Golden is showing off Crooked Stave Artisans Distribution beers as well as its own. Tonight's tap list of CSA beers includes gems from Half Acre, Perennial, Cascade, 3 Floyds and Societe.
6-11 p.m.: Are sessionable beers really "Dad Beers"? Ratio posits the question at The Occidental, where it will tap lower-ABV beers from it, 3 Floyds, Modern Times, Stone, Ska and Cannonball Creek as part of its "Punk Is Dad Beers" celebration.
6:30-10 p.m.: Odell Brewing really turned 30 this year. To celebrate the milestone, gastropub Euclid Hall is serving up a six-course dinner for $70 that includes a special Odell/Euclid Hall collaboration you won't find anywhere else.
Noon to 6 p.m.: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project will take the rare step of opening its barrel room to the public daily through Saturday. Visitors can just pop in for a taster for the first time in five years and also can get tours of the beautiful-bug-laden facility.
1-10 p.m.: Westfax Brewing has become one of the subtle stars of the Denver area scene, but because they are located in Lakewood, a lot of Denverites may not make it out. Today's the right time to cruise down Colfax, as the brewery is tapping both a hazy double IPA and a pastry stout.
4 p.m.: Finn's Manor once again will be a place worth visiting, as it pours beers from "Weldwerks and Friends" - friends that include Casey Brewing and Blending, Forbidden Root, Great Notion, Outer Range and Mikerphone.
6 p.m.: Speaking of breweries that are off the beaten path but well worth the drive, Burns Family Artisan Ales has been punching out envelope-pushing high-ABV experiments in the former Wit's End location for a year. Today it taps a pomegranate IIIPA.
6 p.m.: Former Saint Craft Kitchen & Taps will put on an Oktoberfest-themed beer dinner, but the beer it will pair throughout will be Sierra Nevada, likely outpacing most O-fest celebrations' selection. The dinner is $50; if you miss it, there will be a Sierra Nevada tap takeover on Thursday.
6-10 p.m.: Feeling like three days of GABF is not enough? Tivoli Brewing will lengthen the celebration with a Mini American Beer Festival, for $25, featuring ticketed pours from 4 Noses, Alpine, Destihl, Green Flash and Surly, among others.
11:30 a.m.: Boulder County is a drive from Denver, but it's worth it when Avery Brewing re-releases its rum-soaked, double espresso Mephistopheles Stout for the first time in ages at its Gunbarrel location.
Noon: Boulevard Brewing also turns 30 this year. To celebrate, both Falling Rock and Smok, a Kansas City BBQ restaurant in the Source Hotel, will tap its Changeling dark sour, its Chill Vibes cucumber sour and its 30th Anniversary Ale that is a blend of barrel-aged treats.
Noon: Austin Beer Garden is an annual big winner at GABF, but you can't find its beers in Denver very often. So, today, Our Mutual Friend is hosting a tap takeover for the rising Texas star.
Noon to 9: There is considerable debate over the aftertaste of the first GABF session should feature light or huge beers. If you tend toward the latter answer, Freshcraft will be pouring double hazies and blistering sours from the likes of Lawson's Finest Liquids, Creature Comforts and The Rare Barrel.
7-10 p.m.: If, however, you believe in giving your taste buds a break after a day of drinking, First Draft will have a Lager Party featuring creations from Wiseacre, Sun King, Chuckanut, Rhinegeist … and Creature Comforts.
11 a.m.: Kegged, delivered and tapped in a span of a few hours, Station 26 Brewing's Same Day Hazy IPA is an experiment that puts the fresh in fresh hopping. Highland Tap & Burger, Lowry Beer Garden and Walter's 303 are just a few of the locations that will be featuring it today.
11:30 a.m to 11 p.m.: Hops & Pie has a big week all week. But today's offering - 11 beers from Casey Brewing and Blending, seven from Toppling Goliath and five from Weldwerks - may be its standout event for Denver Beer Week.
Noon to 1 a.m.: Goed Zuur taps into two of the most renowned farmhouse breweries in America, as it offers eight beers from Jester King and three beers from Rowley Farmouse Ales in New Mexico.
4 p.m.: Is Austin or Ohio more of your beer scene? No matter, Freshcraft will feature libations from both regions simultaneously, with Jester King, Skull Mechanix and Vista Brewing repping Texas and MadTree, Jackie O's and Taft's among the Midwestern stars.
9:30 p.m.: Sure, you can get Bell's Brewery offerings in Denver these days. But how often do you enjoy them with cheese curds and fried fish in an authentic Midwestern joint? Wally's Wisconsin Tavern hosts a tap takeover following the GABF session.
11 a.m.: Like Bell's, Brooklyn Brewery and 21st Amendment can now be found in Colorado liquor-store coolers. Still, a tap takeover like Former Saint is hosting all day is one that can show off why they are American classics.
1-5 p.m.: It's both a curse and a blessing to be celebrating your third anniversary in the midst of the country's biggest beer celebration. But that isn't stopping Briar Common Brewery & Eatery from busting out three new beers to go with its excellent menu.
1-8 p.m.: Is the Great American Beer Festival not international enough for you? Cerveceria Colorado, the Mexican-beer arm of Denver Beer Co., is hosting its Great Mexican Beer Fiesta, rolling out collaborations made with five south-of-the-border brewers - and the brewers themselves.
4-8 p.m.: It's a doubleheader at Rhein Haus, which is offering a Lawson's Finest Liquids tap takeover from 4 to 6, then a takeover of Crooked Stave-distributed beers - including Two Roads, Fremont and La Cumbre - from 6 to 8.
9 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Looking for a wind-down that's not all about big beer? Ratio Beerworks once again is throwing its karaoke contest. If you don't go, you'll never be able to try to guess whether your favorite brewer sings that way because they're hammered or just tone-deaf.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Here, then, is a rundown of the beers of late summer that are still making an impression.
This was not the first year that Denver's seldom-miss Ratio Beerworks cooked up its seasonal carrot elderflower saison, but something just felt fresher and more vibrant this year. The beer popped with a citrus-y, almost juicy feel. The bitterness from the elderflower balanced it perfectly. And the orange-juice-hued doppelganger in your hands just felt like an experiment gone very, very right.
No 10% ABV imperial stout has a right to be this drinkable. But Denver's most underrated brewery managed to concoct a version of its sturdy-bodied dark-as-night treat with 2-1/2 pounds per gallon of organic Colorado sweet cherries that didn't give it an overt cherry taste so much as it smoothed out the bold body and made this tough guy of beers seem almost desert-like, in a still-beer way.
Peanut butter beers work when a brewery goes big and blasts you with flavor. Here, there was both a significant taste of thick peanut and the big, sweet base flavor of this award-winning porter - tastes that both converged harmoniously and stood out in their own right in the same glass.
* Social Fare Griffin Wing
Crazy Mountain Brewing made the house beer for Social Fare, the restaurant inside the JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek, and it made it very well. A pale ale with serious grapefruit overtures, this is a great hanging-on-the-patio-while-poking-at-your-charcuterie-board beer (see photo at top of blog) - or just a fine beer that goes down easily with an extra thrust of citrus to liven it.
The summer's other notable collaboration between a Denver brewery and a hotel eatery, this pale ale from Tivoli and Edge Bar and Restaurant in the Four Seasons starts subtly but picks up in bitterness as it warms. There's really no outstanding taste here, but it flows so easily that you could be two beers in before you realize how you've enjoyed it.
The Near Misses
If you've ever wondered how marzen ages during months inside a rum barrel, the good news is the barrel cuts that medicinal edge that is too common to the style. But this experiment from Lakewood's newest brewery might have mellowed the body just a little too much to where neither the barrel nor the booze nor the malt jumped out. Still, it was good to sip while contemplating around a campfire.
The Longmont brewery's latest spin on its flagship Nitro Milk Stout line was big - an 8.9% ABV concoction made with lactose, coffee and vanilla that even gave off hints of some buried cherry flavor and exuded the feel of a classic cocktail in beer form. But the melange of flavors proved overpowering, and the sweetness buried the coffee. It was a miss, but it was a bold miss.
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Nearly one year after the 35-year-old brewery first began to offer its wares at local bars and liquor stores, there is something that distinguishes it from the other breweries that have crept into our hotbed of a beer market, even as fantastic as some of those breweries (i.e. Bell's) are. And that something is a sense of craft-beer history that continues to waft out of each of its cans and bottles, almost like it would be far more unnatural if Brooklyn's beers were not with us than the fact that a New York-brewed offering is sitting on our shelves beside 90 different Colorado creations.
Brooklyn founder Steve Hindy (pictured above), after all, is a true pioneer of the American scene. A former Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press who discovered homebrewing through envoys that made their own libations in countries where it was illegal to buy them, he started a "microbrewery" at the time when the idea was foreign to American drinkers. He made fans not only in New York but among pilots and oil tycoons from Europe and Asia who insisted he start exporting the beer by 1988. And yet it was only 30 years later that he felt the time was right to distribute in Colorado.
"You do have quite a few breweries here. I think the craft beer movement is largely about local," Hindy told me over a couple of pints last October at Falling Rock Tap House. "But the beer industry is about brands. And brands can transcend local."
One sip of the brewery's Sorachi Ace, a saison with a slightly lemony aroma and bigger-than-it-seems wallop of alcohol in the body, will tell you that. Colorado has some great saison makers — including Funkwerks, the Fort Collins brewery in which Brooklyn bought a minority stake in order to distribute throughout the country — but Sorachi Ace still stands out as one of the cleanest and yet most unique saisons out there.
Or there is its Bel Air Sour, a lighter-bodied Lactobacillus-tinged wild ale that gives off a pre-ripe fruit feel at first blush but settles to a level of tartness that licks the taste buds without burning them up. It's become my go-to beer to introduce to friends who are sour-curious but still not sure how much they want to try the style.
Brooklyn's entry also brought 21st Amendment Brewery into the market, as it has a similar financial relationship to that San Francisco denizen as it has to Funkwerks. And 21st Amendment has brought the state the unique Hell or High Watermelon Wheat and the excellent Brew Free or Die Blood Orange IPA, two beers that also transcend local and make you want to crave a classic.
There is, of course, the Brooklyn Lager, a finely made remnant of 1990s beer culture that reminds you of why people wanted to switch from flavorless light lagers to American takes on the style that imbued a shocking amount of flavor at that time. The beer (thanks, Dustin Hall, for the photo) still represents 50% of Brooklyn's production, and it's the one Hindy will drink all night as he explains how it just seemed the time last year to make Colorado the 30th state in which the brewery is sold.
So, come Great American Beer Festival, I will seek out the new and bold and hip and daring, because that excitement of boundary-pushing continues to define why craft beer is so fresh even after it's become a market go-to for 10 years. But I also will seek out the Brooklyn booth, despite it being embedded in Colorado at this point, because seeking the future without knowing the delicious past of this sector creates a lack of direction, long after Hindy, brewer Garrett Oliver and others pointed the industry to the place where it now sits.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
We've reached the point where the Great American Beer Festival is only three weeks away. This is cause for celebration. But it shouldn't obscure what is right in front of us.
In fact, even as area breweries and beer bars plan their biggest events of the year for Denver Beer Fest week, they also are offering up releases, competitions and unique beer festivals that should not be missed in the latter half of this month. And to that point, here are a few things you may want to put on your beer calendar.
Friday, Sept. 13
* From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., budding amateur brewers from small companies across the area will serve up their wares at Colorado Startup Brews, an event that is part beer festival and part networking-with-a-brew, organized by local startup Ombud. Tickets are $30 for the event at the McNichols Center.
Saturday, Sept. 14
* From noon to 6 p.m., Raices Brewing will host Suave Fest, a first-of-its kind beer festival for Latino-owned breweries. Ten breweries will be pouring beer at Steam on the Platte, and Latin food trucks will be there to highlight the community's culinary enterprises. Tickets are $45.
* From 4 to 7 p.m., Beer Fight Club returns, pitting eight breweries against each other in a tournament-style competition decided by attendees. The latest event, at Pour Tap House in Commerce City, features Alpine Dog, Crystal Springs, Goldspot, Joyride, Mountain Cowboy, Peak to Peak, Something Brewery and Station 26. For the cost of $35, this is an underrated event that not only offers great beer but also brings in knowledgeable crowds and brewers who want to discuss said beer.
Saturday, Sept. 21
* Burns Family Artisan Ales turns 1 year old - with a gusto. It will release Solar Eclipse, an 18.5% ABV Russian imperial stout aged in a Laws Whiskey barrel at midnight. After a short nap, owners Wayne Burns and Laura Worley will roll out seven other new beers after reopening around lunchtime, including a Deerhammer-barrel-aged old ale and a Grand Cru made with local honey. If you haven't visited the big-beer specialist yet, this is a good time to come and see what the hype is about.
Sunday, Sept. 22
* This will be the last day for Denver International Airport's beer flights, an annual event (pictured at top) that's been going on since Sept. 9 at which a $10 ticket will get you up to 20 two-ounce samples of Colorado's finest. Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., beers from the likes of Avery, Great Divide, Left Hand, Odell and Wibby will be poured.
Friday, Sept. 27
Black Shirt Brewing will celebrate its seventh anniversary - yes, RiNo's second-oldest brewery has hit that milestone - in its beer garden with the special tappings, music and pizza that have earned it its reputation as a must-hit stop among Denver breweries.
* Sept. 12: Jagged Mountain Mountain Grouse, a blood orange gose with coriander and pink sea salt
* Sept. 13: Seedstock Brewing taps its first English Special Bitter
* Sept. 13: Bruz Beers taps its Autumn Peach Ale, earning the ire of A-B marketing a-holes
* Sept. 18: Intersect Brewing of Fort Collins taps Seamstress for the Band Munich Helles
* Sept. 20: Strange Craft Beer brings back its annual Pumpkin Porter
Wednesday, September 04, 2019
If the tone of the evening was set by the rows of taster glasses splayed across the bar at the Quandary Grille when guests arrived, the mood was struck by Dave Thibodeau comparing the lifestyle of Durango to that of Nynashamn, Sweden. The Ska Brewing co-founder described outdoor adventures and big beers on the Baltic Sea while pouring five beers that ranged from effervescently sour to dark and pucker-worthy.
The January 2019 Traditional Brewmasters' Dinner was quintessential Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines Festival, combining a dissection of great fermented beverages, the appearance of hard-to-find libations (and the brewmaster from Nynashamns Angbryggeri, who flew in for the occasion) and events that elevate beer. And as tickets for the 2020 festival, scheduled from Jan. 9-11 in Breckenridge, go on sale again this week, it's worth considering why beer-food pairings like these can be so illuminating.
To start with, there is the beer, which is usually pulled from the shelves at the back of cellars where brewers like to keep offerings they open only for special occasions. Nynashamns' contributions included three aged beers and two imperial stouts, one of which it had not served before. Ska rolled out five beers from its sour collection, including its 23rd Anniversary Ale, seemingly showing off what it could do to anyone who dared think of its brewers as "the True Blonde guys."
Then there is the truly well-thought-out pairings of beers that you might suspect would be best enjoyed as stand-alone treats on cold evenings. Ska's Cru d'état, a mixed-culture Brett beer aged in a foeder that hasn't been cleaned in six years, accented the candied bacon on the duck cassoulet toasted pasta (pictured at left) in a way that was unexpected. Its Pink Vapor Stew brightened a parnsip, turnip and beet salad (pictured below) — partly because it shared some ingredients with the leafy feast. Nynashamns' three-year-old Botet Barleywine, aged in Portuguese sherry barrels, cut its own head-turning path with the salad.
Beer dinners are not cheap; this year's Traditional Brewmasters' Dinner, hosted on Jan. 9 by Neil Fisher of Weldwerks and Troy Casey of Casey Brewing & Blending, costs $135. You don't go daily to these events, nor do you go lightly. But when they are done correctly — and Big Beers has a long history of doing them correctly — you leave them jsmarter about brewing methods and culinary choices, as well as a little bit more stuffed than you expected.
is a can't-miss event. Great American Beer Festival is lined with special beer dinners in the week heading into the Oct. 3-5 celebration next month, and a number of them will show the same creativity as the Big Beers event.
Wherever you go to blend beer and food under the guidance of brewers and chefs, just go. Then the next thing you know, you'll be hosting your own such dinners at your house and impressing guests with how much they can learn when they let their taste buds wander.
Monday, August 12, 2019
I took that trip in late July and early August this year, and I managed to hit eight breweries in seven days in Fort Collins, Loveland and Cheyenne. What follows, then, is a series of thoughts on what is happening in this elevated scene.
1) Purpose Brewing has become one of Colorado's star beer makers
Tucked into a shopping area on the south side of town, former New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert's now-2-year-old project isn't a natural stop on a brewery-row tour, like his old place is. But the limited range of beers he has on tap at any one time — there were five available on a recent Thursday — are as of high a quality as any in the state, laced with experimentation (and barrel aging) and unable to be defined by style. The Smoeltrekker #13 walked right up to the line of sourness but balanced it with a dark body and somewhat woody fell, making it a complex masterpiece.
2) Equinox Brewing is the overlooked genius in this town
Too often overlooked because of its taproom-focused model, downtown brewery Equinox is, at this point, a can't-miss on a trip to Fort Collins because of its mastery of a wide variety of styles. Nothing was more pleasing on this trip than its Liquid Fuel New England IPA, which brought out the tropical nature of the style with a more subtle smoothness that made you want to drink more and more. But from its classic Space Ghost IPA to its cookie-reminiscent Smorter Porter, everything was accessible and still eye-opening.
3) Intersect Brewing is not a lot of radars — but it should be
We went to this brewery in southwest Fort Collins at a friend's suggestion because of its family-friendliness. (That play area you see my daughter in is in the brewery's taproom.)
4) Do not forget about the excellent work Grimm Brothers Brewhouse is doing
Twenty minutes south of Fort Collins in Loveland, the traditional German brewery has earned a reputation for its spot-on pilsners, dunkels and alt biers, and it deservedly has the longest-running streak of Great American Beer Festival medals of any Colorado brewery. But its experimentation truly puts it in the top segment of Colorado brewers, from its sweet-but-wonderfully-constructed Hare's Bride imperial hefeweizen to Old Brown Shoe, a bourbon-barrel-aged brown ale that soaks up the whiskey flavor in surprising harmony with the big beer. It may have started all-German, but its range now is wide and impressive.
5) Accomplice Beer Co. shows good beer spreads across the border
Located in the Old Cheyenne Depot just 20 minutes across the Colorado-Wyoming border, Accomplice has some distinct merits. Its historic location is just a place that you want to sit and enjoy a beer, and it offers a pour-by-the-ounce system that lets you try whatever you'd like. While none of the beers jumped out as eye-opening, the range from IPAs to pilsners to a Belgium wit offered a variety of decent options, enough for everyone in your party to find something to enjoy.
6) Crooked Stave's Fort Collins taproom is a nice addition to downtown
7) Odell Brewing is best when it spreads its wings to a variety of flavors