Sunday, October 07, 2012

River North: Best New Denver-Area Brewery of 2012

As River North Brewery reaches its 8-month birthday and beer geeks nationwide begin to pour into Denver this week, the downtown brewery is deserving of advanced recognition as the best new area brewery of 2012.

Yes, there are plenty of deserving contenders. But the plucky brewery that has produced six of its seven taproom regulars from the same strain of Belgian Yeast has shown a creativity in making new tastes that should make it a must-stop during Great American Beer Festival week.

Start with the Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Belgian-style double IPA formerly known as Hypothesis that is the best new beer made in Colorado this year. A sharply bitter beer (roughly 100 IBUs) that is cushioned by pillowy Belgian yeast flavor, this is the equivalent of huge grass on candy citrus creating a very long-lasting aftertaste.

Then there is Unified Theory, an oak-aged imperial witbier that shocks you with its combination of golden, nearly translucent body and powerful sweet oak flavor. Don't expect this to take home any GABF medals - but only because this breaks ground on its own style, mellow yet eye-opening.

While the rest of the menu doesn't zing you to life in the same way, it's full of consistently well-made offerings. The top-selling River North White is sweet but light-bodied and very approachable. The RN4 is a Belgian strong dark ale that hints at the cherry flavors of a Belgian quad without being overbearing about them. The J. Marie is a heavy-bodied saison with woody and spicy-hinted notes that announces its presences in a non-subtle way.

And then there is the barrel aging, apparent throughout the special tappings of the next week. It is at times almost too subtle - seriously, try hard to pick out the oak in the whiskey-aged BPR - but is a sign that the young brewery is experimenting to find just the right flavor.

There is a lot to recommend in Denver in the upcoming week. But those who pass by River North risk the chance of missing the next on-the-rise star from one of America's great brewing cities.

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