Friday, January 06, 2017

A Lost Opportunity for Capitol Hill

After more than two years on East Colfax Avenue, Lost Highway Brewing will be moving to Centennial this spring, joining the growing craft beer scene in that southern Denver suburb. That's good in many ways for owners Sir James and Tina Pachorek, who sold their Capitol Hill property and shut down their Cheeky Monk restaurant last year to focus on the brewery and now will have room to can and distribute their beer finally.

It's bad news, though, for the stretch of East Colfax avenue in Capitol Hill that was just on the verge of becoming a beer destination. Once a beer wasteland, the area had seen Lost Highway make significant strides in its quality in 2016 and had witnessed the same growth from Alpine Dog Brewery, which will remain in place.

In the past year-plus, the Pachoreks and brewer T.J. Compton diversified and intensified their lineup, moving away from more traditional beers and toward fresher takes on styles. Yes, staples like the bland District 6 Pils remain. But they are vastly overshadowed by the likes of Grave Robber Fraud Quad, a 9% ABV Belgian-style quadruple that is cherry, plummy and unique in its easiness to drink. Or Almond Coconut Porter, a medium-bodied beer bursting with both flavors that is particularly smooth. Or Fourth Estate, a sweet and full-bodied Belgian chocolate stout made for Collaboration Fest 2016 in conjunction with a bunch of us beer bloggers (whose contribution was to suggest the style and let Compton do all the work).

Progress can involve pain. The Colfax location is so small, Sir James said, that delivery trucks would drop palettes of malt and Compton would have to carry them inside one at a time because there wasn't a way to deposit them en masse in the brewing area. The Pachoreks also were looking at the option of installing a mobile canning line that they'd have to use in the taproom before it opened to the public and then clear out the equipment to make room for customers. Those problems won't exist in the new location. And along with the likes of Resolute Brewing, Dad and Dudes Breweria and Two Twenty Two Brewing, they can grow a new craft community in the Centennial/Aurora area.

But it leaves a hole in a slowly revitalizing neighborhood that seems like it would be an ideal location for locally owned small businesses like breweries. And it puts pressure on the similarly two-year-old Alpine Dog to continue to try to draw beer aficionados to the neighborhood until someone else steps up to the plate.

Set in a bare-brick-walled location in a gritty area of East Colfax where the brewing equipment is visible to all patrons, Alpine Dog exudes the feel of the neighborhood. And its 14 taps of beer show the ambition of the venture, even as the beers themselves sometimes feel as gritty and still-maturing as the surrounding area.

Its Wild Peach Saison that was on tap this fall, for example, was imbued with a funk that made the peach taste jump out in a relatively wild way but felt a little granulated. And its Notorious M.O.N.K. Belgian-style dubbel has a mild hop character that makes it stand out from the style, though it feels slightly medicinal on the taste buds.

That's not to say Alpine Dog isn't doing some exceptional beers too. Its Electric Thunder Hop Double IPA sports a full-mouthed flavor profile that is both woody and bright, and it's exceptionally smooth for a 100-IBU beer. And its Howl at the Moon Imperial Red Ale has a rich caramel and toasted-malt backbone that balances well with its extremely bold hopping.

Drinking at Alpine Dog, you feel the brewery will grow into its big ambitions as it matures and perfects its recipes. But you want to hope too that it finds a fellow brewery or two to liven up the neighborhood with it and bring Capitol Hill the beer culture it deserves.

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