Sunday, September 29, 2013
In a week-and-a-half, beer geeks from across America will stream into Denver. They will flock to well-known breweries like Great Divide and Dry Dock and Crooked Stave that are worthy of their admiration.
A few - though not nearly as many - will make the trip to Wit's End Brewing, tucked away as it is in a space near 2nd and Bryant streets that easily could be mistaken for an oversized storage locker. And those hoards that don't rush there will be the lesser for it, as the 2-year-old brewery has become the hidden gem in Denver's often flashier brewery collection.
It's unlikely owner/brewer Scott Witsoe (pictured above) will win a lot of awards at the coming Great American Beer Festival, for a simple reason: Little that he makes fits a standard definition. Visitors noticed that when Wit's End opened with a collection of tasty core beers like Wilford (a Belgian oatmeal IPA) and Kitchen Sink Porter, a dark beer with so many malts it could actually be called complex.
But what makes Wit's End special - aside from the fact that Witsoe brews on a one-barrel system that makes his beers hard to find outside the taproom and increasingly in demand - is that he's ramped up his game significantly. That was on display vividly last weekend at the brewery's second anniversary bash (pictured below).
The overtones running through his initial beers - from a sly Belgian presence to an attitude of pushing the envelope one step further without going too far - have found new partners. Now, he's doing it with unique ingredients and, at times, just taking old styles of beer and making them better than most anyone else - an undervalued skill.
Take, for example, the brewery's Dubbel Impact, a Belgian dubbel that easily could have fallen into the "Nice beer, what's next?" category so many others of that style do. For this, however, Wit's End caramelizes some sugar in the boil, moving the taste from the traditional amaretto overtones to one that has an almost chocolaty note added to its smooth, surprisingly easy and satisfying body.
Or there's the Green Goliath, an imperial version of the brewery's Green Goliath IPA/red ale hybrid that goes beyond just bigger hops. With a method Witsoe described as "wort hopping," he imbues a fuller taste without any of the high-alcohol or overly sweet characteristics sometimes present in such an amping of ingredients.
And then there's the Mick Jaggery, an ESB with Indian jaggery sugar that I named one of the state's 10 best beers of 2012. It's still that good.
There's no frills in Wit's End, and lines don't form around the corner to wait for a new barrel-aged release. But it's a small brewery doing big, bold beers in unique ways. And you have to appreciate that.