Friday, August 08, 2014

Chain Reaction Puts a Spark into Denver Brewing Scene

One of the common refrains in conversations between area beer writers goes like this: There are some good breweries opening along the Front Range this year, but not that one great brewery that has stood out as in years past.

Chain Reaction Brewing isn't that towering standout yet. But the month-and-a-half-old brewery in southwest Denver is showing some signs that it has the potential to be the next big thing.

The first thing you notice about the effort from homebrewing cousins Zack and Chad Christofferson is the pure number of beers on tap for a start-up. There are six flagship beers, four seasonals on at all times and six more open taps for whatever experiments the guys want to unleash on the public.

The next thing that catches your eye is the overwhelming presence of beetle-killed wood throughout the brewery at 902 S. Lipan St. It's in the boxes holding your flights, it's in the bar, it's even in a giant Colorado flag on one wall that is made completely out of the wood. It's cool.

Zack and Chad do what they are supposed to do with the high number of taps ā€” they reserve some for the more standard beers and leave others for slight or sometimes wild experimentation; these, after all, are brewers who already have served styles such as a Cilantro Serrano Lime Wheat and a Watermelon Ginger Hefeweizen. And the impressive thing is that both the normal and cutting-edge efforts work very well.

On the more standard side, the Pale Ale is a standout. Made with belma hops, which bring a character of honeydew and melon, it presents a slight bit more bitterly than is typical for the style but then settles in with a sweetness that will leave you remembering it.

The IPA is bitter, but in a way that spreads the bite throughout your mouth and leaves it taste-laden without being overwhelming. The Porter has a good chocolate punch without being cloying. And the Orange Cream is simply a nice beer - not overwhelming in the orange attributes but perfectly pleasant as a summer sipper.

On the more experimental side, the big winner is the Pink Peppercorn Saison, a beer that supplies the perfect amount of sweetness with just a hint of pepper to balance it. The Belgian Rye Stout cuts a very fine malty, sharp blend on the back of the tongue and will be a wonderful winter warmer. And the Lemon IPA, while decidedly bitter from its single-hopping with sorachi ace hops, does not lack for ambition.

Chain Reaction is still going through some growing pains, mind you. On a recent weeknight, three separate tasters ā€” the seasonal/experimental Blonde, Pale Wheat and Chai Wit beers ā€” all had a plastic residue taste, one that Zack apologetically attributed to the lines. And the Red Ale, a flagship beer, felt like an unchallenging version of the style ripped from the late 1990s.

But between the variety of offerings, the experimental touch and the clever hopping, Chain Reaction stands out as a place that is going to take chances and, clearly, is going to succeed a lot. And that makes it an exciting brewery to watch as it grows.

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