Monday, January 31, 2022


Reviving a dormant Czech hop, Denver style

A great experiment is underway at two Denver Czech-style breweries, and it testifies to the quality of Old-World-style beer that is being made here in this community.

Sugar Creek Malt Co. — a craft malthouse from Lebanon, Indiana — came across a historically dormant Czech malt, Edelweiss, harvested it and replanted it until there was enough to make some serious beer. It then got it into the hands of just three U.S. breweries  — Seedstock Brewery and Cohesion Brewing of Denver, as well as another brewery in North Carolina, according to Seedstock co-owner Jerry McIlvenna (pictured at top) —and gave them a chance to use it.

What came from the offering, in the case of Seedstock, was its Heritage Pilsner, a lager that is similar in every way to its crisp and tasty Czech Pilsner, except for the substitution of this once-forgotten malt. And trying the two pilsners side by side is a fascinating experience.

The Czech Pilsner (on the right in the above photo) is golden and clean, tinged with Saaz hops — smooth, malt-forward and simple in a classical way. But the Heritage Pilsner pops with hop freshness and bitterness in a manner that makes you take notice. The body is a bit murkier, but this is no hazy. It's straightforward in its approach to letting traditional ingredients shine, and it ranks with the crispest Colorado beers made in the past year.

McIlvenna, who bought Seedstock in early September from its original, successful owners, said he thinks the hop zing came forward in the way the brewery chose to use the under-modified malt, which made for a slower and more deliberate brew day. It undertook a quadruple concoction, stepping the temperature up each time to bring more character to the malt. And it worked — very well.

"We love brewing lagers, and it's actually a challenge," McIlvenna said last week as he guided a tasting of the two beers.

Either beer is a joy to sip, though trying the Heritage Pilsner and Czech Pilsner side-by-side and contrasting them borders on an art form in enjoying Czech-style beer. And it's a reminder just how fresh and new a beer can taste, even if its recipe comes largely down from centuries of tradition. 

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Sunday, January 02, 2022


Top 10 Colorado Beers of 2021

Maybe it was something that Covid did to the tastebuds, or maybe to the collective thinking of Colorado's brewers. But as the world started to segue back to some sense of normalcy this year, the craft-brewing community provided what seemed a soft landing for the state's beer connoisseurs, offering simple pleasures from well-made pale ales to hazies that concentrated on the hops to the best single-year collection of pilsners in memory.

Oh, for sure, there were bulked-up imperial stouts and the occasional multi-fruit sour that were worthy of adulation. But as 2021 passes into memory, what is clearest about the year is that the beers that are most memorable aren't the ones that challenged you so much as those you enjoyed after the long hikes or when gathering with small groups in backyards and talking about each other as much as you discussed the beers. And in many ways, nothing could have been more needed than the gems of this year's class.

So, once again, here is one beer writer's takes on the best new or newly relevant beers of this year, served with a toast to those folks who just kept working while the world worried - and gave us all one more thing about which we could be unequivocally thankful.

10) The Earl — Woods Boss Brewing/Fermly

Of all the beers lost in recent years to brewery closings, few if any had as unique a place in the beer ecosystem as the dearly departed Caution Brewing's The Earl, an English mild ale made with Earl Grey tea that was smooth and eye-opening and as good a session beer as one could imagine. So, when Denver's Woods Boss announced it was bringing it back in collaboration with Caution founder Danny Wang's beer-testing lab Fermly, true fans sounded at least a mild note of trepidation, wondering if the remake could possibly be in the same class as the original. But the multi-faceted brewery nailed the recipe and added a dash of sweet orange peel that kicked up the flavor in a new way. And a true pioneer was reborn, reimagined and enjoyed again in a new atmosphere.

9) Synthetic Substitution - Casey Brewing & Blending/Weldwerks

Ask yourself what kind of beer two of Colorado's best breweries might make, and the "no shit" answer would be: Something very good. And that answer was right. Synthetic Substitution, an 11.5% ABV imperial stout made with coconut and cacao was both as simple as its ingredients suggested and a masterfully smooth big beer, one that was perfectly aligned for sipping on Casey's Glenwood Springs patio. Casey may be known best for its fruited sours, but its showed once again that when it goes big with a handful of ingredients — and in this case, works with another master — it can transform what might just be a "big beer" in some hands into an explosion of flavors.

8) Curator's Kolsch - Coda Brewing

The year's biggest beer surprise came at the Golden History Museum's Autumn Fest, when the simple act of taking a break to grab a beer turned into an eye-popping introduction into one of the crispest yet smoothest kolsches made in Colorado, courtesy of a Golden brewery that is off the beaten track and too often overlooked. It greets you with a snap on the front of your palate that hints at sweetness but quickly envelops your tongue in almost sparkling traditional hops and malts. This is refreshing and simultaneously full of flavor. And it's great year-round.

7) Maple Pecan Yeti - Great Divide Brewing

The variations of one of Colorado's best imperial stouts have been coming at a ramped-up rate in recent years, some memorable and some that one politely might call "experimental." But this year's Maple Pecan Yeti stood out because it took flavors that both blended effortlessly with the big beer and seemed to give it a bit of a new personality. The addition of Vermont maple syrup and candied pecans — ingredients that can crash a beer if used poorly — were welcoming and comforting and made this 9.5% ABV beer possibly a little dangerously approachable. There was no burn at all here, leaving it almost like an aperitif in its personality. Let's hope this makes it into regular rotation.

6) I Just Ryed in Your Arms Tonight — Cannonball Creek Brewing

Revived after a several-year absence, this beer was the embodiment in many ways of the best that 2021 offered in Colorado: A beer that was subtle in its nature — a 5.7% rye pale ale — but packed so full of flavor in that body that it clings to memory nearly a year after it was first consumed. The rye is incorporated perfectly, sweetening the beer just slightly but really backing off and letting the pale hops work their magic. Both tasty and approachable, it serves as another example of why the Golden brewery has the longest-running streak of Great American Beer Festival medals among all Colorado breweries, a streak that isn't likely to die any time soon.

5) Anniversary 9 — River North Brewery

River North has continued to push boundaries as it has aged, even as it also has pushed out a variety of even more approachable beers. But it celebrated the last birthday of its first decade with one of its best experiments, a whiskey-barrel-aged coconut imperial stout that tasted nothing like its foreboding 12.5% ABV label might suggest and picked up in its flavor between its March release and the six-month point of its cellaring. River North often pushes boozier, usually with good results, but rarely does it pull out this much complexity. Hell, the brewery also made a Birthday Cake-flavored beer that showed how talented it is at drawing out flavors. But this beer truly something special.

4)  Redwood Grand - Bruz Beers/Cuvée des Jacobins

Bruz truly burst out of its shell in 2019 when it opened its second location on East Colfax Avenue, growing out from its well-attended home in unincorporated Adams County. But for those who hadn't noticed its maturity before, it sent a huge shot this year with a multi-part collaboration series with Belgium's Cuvée des Jacobins, capped by its jaw-dropping blend of sour beer and its barrel-aged quadrupel. Tart yet fully packed with a deep body enhanced by the huge beer and barrel, this was an eye-opener at its successful Belgian Brew Festival this summer and a reminder of how much the brewery has grown every year. Belgian history courses through the veins of this beer, but its extra bite is a signal that American artistry can blend impressively with centuries-old tradition.

3) In the Steep DDH with Nelson — Outer Range Brewing

This is not the first time that the Frisco auteur has double-dry-hopped Colorado's best hazy IPA with Nelson hops. But something felt more perfectly assimilated, more natural, more ... simply drinkable and admirable about this year's version than maybe anything the brewery has done before. Bursting with tropical flavors tempered enough by the hopping to pull this back into an IPA form lovable by all fans of the style, then tinged with enough hints of white wine to remind you how complex even the most quaffable hoppy beers can be. To sit in Outer Range's taproom and choose beers off the menu to pick up the subtle variations in them is an art. This, however, is maybe the brewery's most artistic work yet.

2) German-Style Pilsner — Upslope Brewing

This limited-edition release was an absolute triumph of beer-making, showcasing the increasingly impressive Boulder brewery's ability to take a subtle style and excite in ways that even barrel-aged beers can't do by combining Old World crispness with new-world crush-ability. The Loral and Tettnanger hops emerge slowly as the spring-runoff-like smoothness runs over your tongue. But when they do emerge, they do so with a boldness that lets you know they truly are the star of this show, maybe more than expected. This is crisp, surprisingly bitter and quite stealthy with its translucent body. It's the product of a mature brewery that knows it doesn't have to shock to be memorable.

1) Double-Dry-Hopped East Coast Transplant with Idaho 7 — New Image Brewing

In a year in which bold flavor burst forth from pale ales and hazy IPAs alike, what stood out about this version of the Arvada brewery's signature beer, double-dry-hopped with Idaho 7, was how much you wanted to drink it, plain and simple. Taking arguably the best hop right now to juice up a beer with, New Image made this all about the tropical richness of the flavor, letting hops gather 100% of the love and creating something that flowed across your taste buds while exciting them in every step of the journey. It absolutely didn't seem like a double IPA so much as a reachable IPA packed with melon and occasional pineapple bursts, yet neither thick or fruity. Describing this version of East Coast Transplant, in fact, takes a back seat to sitting on the brewery's back patio on a summer night, sharing conversation with friend and occasionally stopping to say "Wow, this is good." This is where beer is now: It is refreshing, it is comforting, it is not subtle but not tearing at your taste buds. And the next time you have a chance to order this beer, you won't hesitate for even a second.

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Monday, September 20, 2021


 Great Mexican Beer Fiesta Offers Unique Tastes

If you are reading this, there's a decent chance you've already laid out your list of Great American Beer Festival winners and begun looking for ways to try them, as you should. But there's a shorter list of entrants to a different festival that's very worthy of your time as well.

Denver Beer Co. on Sept. 11 held its Great American Beer Fiesta once again, offering up three beers made in collaboration between the Denver brewery and three Mexican breweries. It was a tradition launched by Jason Buehler, the late Denver Beer brewmaster whose repeated trips to Mexico led not only to a deep connection to the budding beer makers in that country but to the launching of Cerveceria Colorado, the Mexican-style brewery housed in the former barrel room of Denver Beer Co's Platte Street taproom.

This year's three beers show a range of styles, each with a unique ingredient.

The best of the trio is Chipotle Amber Ale, made in collaboration with Cerveza Caserio in the Gulf Coast town of Tampico. Made with meco chipotle chiles, this was a fascinating experiment between two breweries that had never used chipotle in a beer before but kept adding it a little bit at a time until they reached the point where the burn was apparent but not overwhelming, Denver Beer director of innovation Andy Parker said.

What's impressive here is that the heat rises gradually — a little bit at first on the aroma, and then a little bit more on the tongue and a little bit more on the backbite, until you are entranced with the smoky zing and what it can do to a mild beer. Cerveza Caserio brewer Humberto Saldivar said he wanted to use something more balanced than the habaneros and poblano peppers that he's put into his beer before, and he clearly seems to have nailed it.

Also impressive is the Café de Olla Stout made in collaboration with Cerveceria San Pascual Baylon in the city of Cholula. Brewery co-founder Nico Capasso wanted to make something akin to the the traditional Mexican coffee made in earthen clay pots, and he and the Denver Beer team created a beer that tastes both exotic and familiar and leaves you swirling it around on your taste buds to see how many flavors you can pick up.

There is star anise, clove and orange peel in here, but what sets this apart is piloncillo, a caramelized sugar added to the kettle in just the right amount to give this a cushioning sweetness without making a dark and properly spiced beer into something that actually is sweet. It will remind you of some of the bigger-bodied stout experiments popular with Colorado breweries now, but there's nothing that tastes quite like this.

Finally, there is the Blood Orange Gose (pictured at top of blog), made in collaboration with Mexico City's Cerveza Cru Cru, a brewery known for its drinkable beers and the lauded beer competitions that it organizes. Head brewer Luis Enrique de la Reguera said he wanted to use a kind of fruit that can't be found in Mexico but add it to this classic style in a way that calls to mind a michelada, the traditional Mexican drink made with beer, lime juice, tomato juice and spices.

The kettle sour may be on the traditional side, but it's decidedly not sour, with any mild tartness overshadowed by a big dose of orange that renders it overly subtle. Still, if there was a Mexican/Denverite collaboration equivalent of a lawnmower beer, this may just be it, giving you refreshment without the lasting imprint that the other two beers will leave upon you.

The Great Mexican Beer Fiesta offerings are on tap until they run out at Cerveceria Colorado, but brewery co-owner Patrick Crawford said he expects they may last a month or longer.

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Sunday, August 29, 2021


The Shocking and Fascinating Beers of This Year    

Anyone who expected a return to normalcy by Colorado brewers in 2021 should be surprised and, frankly, a little pleased by what this year has produced so far.

From Czech breweries making Baltic porters to lagers that sing more than the style seems it should to an international brewery intentionally making a "bad" beer, there's been a lot to remember. And as we head into the final third of the year, with (maybe) more beer festivals offering a chance for even more exposure to creative offerings, these trends offer hope that this long last 17 months is giving way to even more creativity.

That said, here then is a few beers that are worth remembering, for a host of reasons:

Seedstock Baltic Porter

Seedstock is a Czech-style brewery that makes old-world beers, and it does that very well - so well, in fact, that it draws you to drink styles that normally might not interest you. But when it put out a baltic porter this spring that was big and bold and yet sublimely drinkable, it showed a versatility of European styles that the Denver brewery hadn't displayed before. And now, quite frankly, it's become a can't-miss brewery, one where you want to head for any new release just to see exactly what it can do with it.

New Terrain North Star Doubly Hazy

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise to fans of New Terrain's award-winning Suntrip Belgian Wit, but most people who've walked into a local liquor store and asked for a hop-bomb recommendation have rarely heard an answer that began with the name of the Golden brewery. That's why this edition in its North Star series — a hazy double IPA with Barbe Rouge and Azacca hops — was a mind-blower, deeply tropical and yet bursting with vibrant hops that brought this to life as well as any IPA made this year.

Dead Styles Come Back to Life

Locavore Beer Works of Littleton set time back 10 years with a black IPA that made you wonder why the style was so short-lived. Blending true malt roast with a cutting but not overwhelming Northwest IPA bitterness, it felt like a breath of fresh air in the IPA genre, even it was more of a blast from the past.

Cannonball Creek incorporated an ingredient that's lost favor among many brewers — rye — into a hop-heavy 5.7% ABV ale in such an expertly blended way that Ryed in Your Arms made you ask why more people can't do that. The answer, of course, is that the Golden brewery is one of Colorado's masters at taking subtle styles and jolting them to life, and in this case the rye sweetened the beer only slightly, letting the pale hops work the palate to be softened just briefly by this excellent addition.

"Dull" Styles Produce the Most Interesting Beers of the Year

Yes, brewers themselves have been drinking pilsners and lagers for years, but they've had a hard time convincing the craft-beer drinking public to put down their hazies and their stouts to pay attention to the old-world style. If any beers will do that, however, they are two limited releases from Upslope Brewing that may well be the best beers made this year.

The Boulder brewery's Mexican Style Dark Lager is delicious and lasting from the first sip, offering a deeply roasted malt with no burn to it and an underlying sweet-biscuit taste that is tempered with enough hops to give it a slight bite and a lucid finish. Then, last month Upslope may have outdone itself with a German-style pilsner that combines Old World crispness with New World crushability, ending with a bold bitterness on its backbite that seems to put a truly Colorado stamp on a European style.

New Belgium's "Bad" Beer

This spring, New Belgium released Fat Tire Torched Earth, using smoked malt, non-barley grains like millet and dandelions in place of hop extract to approximate what it believes beer will taste like in the event of continued global warming. While it seemed like a gimmick affordable only to a brewery now owned by the ninth-largest brewing company in the world (and delivered in a package with end-of-the-world gear)— and one that it said was meant to send a message to big businesses — the truth was that it actually wasn't awful for a smoked beer and was more enjoyable than some of its efforts in recent years such as the cloying, hideous Juicy Mandarina IPA it rolled out a few years back.

But as tempting as it might be after that to just write off the brewery, a simple visit to its Denver outpost reminds you how much talent it still has. Of particular note this summer was its Strawberry Guava Sour, a beer that blends two strong fruit flavors in a way that allows both to bring distinguishable characteristics and presents them in a tart but surprisingly pleasing and eye-opening fashion.

Sanitas' New Path

For much of the past eight years, Sanitas Brewing has been a bit of a nondescript brewery — one of a significant number of Boulder beer makers that produces a range of good offerings but nothing that slapped you across the face and defined the brewery for you. This year, however, it may have hit on a new path forward, defined by fresh and drinkable sour beers that you want on a hot summer day.

Raspberry Sour, which came out early this summer, was subtly delicious but unchallenging in a way that made you want to down a six-pack on a camping trip or on a porch, offering hints of tart that didn't burn the palate and could extend the genre to a wider audience. Then, this month it reintroduced Deluge, a more traditionally sour ale that had both a bold underlying palate and a feel of pixie-dust sugar that was fascinating without being overly aggressive — a niche that could be welcomed.

Rediscovering a Forgotten Classic

Lastly, I admit that I'm years late to the bandwagon — if one even exists — for Steve's Snappin' Ale, but I just never thought that a chili ale made by a hot-dog restaurant screamed of being a must-try beer. Then a friend bought one on a lark this summer, and what I discovered was a golden ale, bottled by Bull & Bush Brewery, that provides just enough base to temper the hot, hot red and green chili peppers and allow them to shine in the flavor in a way that proved quite tasty.

Don't assume this is an every-day beer; it isn't. But, even if it's a few years older than most everything else mentioned in this column, it's yet another reminder that some of the most notable beer on the market right now may look like it doesn't belong to a certain brewery or even a certain decade but lights up your taste buds when given a chance.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021


Anatomy of a Beer Festival, Post-Covid

About 45 minutes into the Vail Craft Beer Classic on Saturday, a feeling wafted over the event that was, well, strangely normal. Beer geeks discussed the early finds of the day. A local brewery circulated word of a special tapping. Taster glasses jutted out from hands, subsequently filled with suds.

What no one talked about was coronavirus, except in terms of "hasn't it sucked that the pandemic has knocked out events like these for 17 months?" Glasses were cleaned well, but not excessively so. Hugs and pats on the back marked the day. Masks were nonexistent.

If there was an impact of the pandemic seen on the first specialty festival to come back - for a second straight year - since the world shut down, maybe it was the crowd limit self-imposed by Team Player Productions, which made the event all the more free-flowing and celebratory. Lines never exceeded about eight people for the 40 tents of booze purveyors, and that lent to an atmosphere where you stopped and chatted and even planted yourself in front of the band for a few minutes rather than rushed to the hot brewers to beat everyone else there. (Note the below picture of the lineless Weldwerks tent, which happened several times during the event.)

There was just a hell of a lot of smiles. Heck, this open-air festival even took on rain, but people ducked under tents or under their own umbrellas (see bottom of article), too eager to take part in the communal enjoyment of beer again to bother seeking more permanent shelter when the skies opened. And the Vail Craft Beer Classic offered a lot more reasons to stay than to overthink what might be purely the safest course, which frankly seemed an appropriate theme for a day when no one felt they were taking an undue risk.

Lagers ruled the roost at this summer gathering. Both the 4 Noses Jasmine Rice Lager - incredibly smooth with just a wanted hint of non-Rheinheitsgebot addition - and the perfectly crisp and clean FlyteCo Chinese Rice Lager just felt right to be consumed in an open green field. Wibby Brewing's Volksbier Vienna reminded you why the Longmont German beer specialist is one of the most underrated brewers in Colorado. And if Wild Blue Yonder Brewing's Oak-Barrel-Aged Lager added only a hint of vanilla to the backtaste of the creation, it was enough to let you know it still was something special.

But the creativity was big too. The aforementioned Weldwerks brought its Rockets Red Glare Berliner that was nothing short of the alcoholic version of a Bomb Pop. Bakers' Brewery's higher-alcohol In Bloom Saison served as a reminder of the creativity of brewers whose products don't make it to the Front Range - as did Ramblebine Brewing's incredibly drinkable Demberries, a slightly tart and fruity ale that doesn't forget that it's a beer first and foremost. And if you didn't get a sip of Launch Pad Brewery's Peacemaker Porter, the term "smoked session porter" may not light up a smile for you the way it does for me.

All in all, the event was a reminder why beer festivals remain both relevant and extremely doable. Conversations with folks you know and folks you don't make the beer-tasting experience a more elevated one because of thoughts shared in a collegial way. Good gatherings are ones where the brewers pour and then discuss their offerings. You leave wanting to seek out more adventures for your palate, both from the creators who just lit it up and others you hope to find.

Beer festivals are back, and they can be done safely and in a less crowded way than maybe we knew before. And events like Vail Craft Beer Classic show that it's time that more come back too.

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Saturday, June 12, 2021


Beer Festivals Are Back. Here is How One is Pulling That Off.

The Vail Craft Beer Classic is coming back for its second straight year of socially distanced drinking with limited crowds in just two weeks. But the moves it's making to stay safe and relevant this year may impact the way that it and a whole lot of other beer festivals change permanently.

Unless you were one of the 700 people spread across four sessions who attended the event in 2020, you may not realize there was actually one beer festival last summer. Organizers cut capacity crowds by 82%, eliminated lines at booths for the sake of keeping groups of attendees apart and reported zero transmissions of coronavirus at a time when most people still were hunkering down in their homes.

They expected to put the same safety measures in place this year but have been pleased to see a loosening on everything from mask requirements to crowd constraints. Still, Team Player Productions is limiting each of the four sessions on June 25 and 26 to 250 people, even in a park that holds about 1,000, and it believes it may have hit on the sweet spot of attendee comfort and crowd optimization.

Kristen Slater, event director for the Denver-based organization, noted that while many festivals run on a ratio of one brewery for every 50 people, the Vail Craft Beer Classic will offer one beverage provider for every eight to 12 attendees. While guests this year will be able to sample the beers at the booths where they're poured — something they couldn't do last year, when they had to remain masked and take them back to designated areas for each cadre of attendees — she expects lines won't grow more than two to three people long, and the vibe will be very relaxed.

"That's really a decision we made early on that we didn't want that environment," Slater said of the typical throngs converging on the most sought-after booths. "And people loved it and they loved not having the pressure of having to get your beer and move to the next line."

This year, to meet all guests where they are on their public-mingling comfort levels, the festival will offer reusable taster cups if they want to take them from booth to booth or will offer compostable single-use cups and frisbee trays that attendees can use to gather the cups and bring them back to their stations. The festival will take place in Ford Park and Sculpture Garden, and there will be the usual trappings of a beer festival as well, including music.

And, yes, there will be 40 breweries, with a mix of Colorado star players (WeldWerks, Odell, Great Divide, 4 Noses) and local finds that would make you want to travel into the mountains for the weekend (Vail Brewing Co., Ramblebine, Cabin Creek, Baker's Brewery). And the pour list is not, well, poor, offering treats from WeldWerks' Pop-Rocks-inspired Rockets Red Glare Sour to Cheluna Brewing's Rojo Tamarindo Gose to a Chardonnay-barrel-aged saison from Cabin Creek.

By keeping ticket prices relatively close to 2019 levels — $64, with tickets available still to the 2 and 5 p.m. Friday sessions and a small wait list building for the noon and 3 p.m. Saturday sessions — and crowds small, Slater believes the whole festival will feel like the uncrowded but higher-priced VIP sessions of other events. Plus it will have a special touch — West Vail Liquor Mart will have QR codes at the booths of each of the breweries whose products it has in stock (about two-thirds of them), and attendees can order those beers for post-festival pickup or delivery if they would like.

Organizers certainly look forward to welcoming in more guests in future years. But Slater, for one, doesn't think that the elbow-to-elbow festivals of pre-pandemic times will return fully at any point. And these less crowded, more experiential gatherings that are taking place this summer may just offer a peek into how beer events will be redefined in future years.

"I think we're kind of going to see a hybrid. I think there is a knee-jerk reaction to big crowds for some people," Slater said. "But we're also seeing that people are willing to pay more for an elevated experience."


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Thursday, April 22, 2021


What's Happening? Denver Beer Is Earning Attention    

Denver Beer Co. has never been a boring brewery. From its inception, it turned its beers over frequently and came up with new flavors, from its lovingly received Graham Cracker Porter to its divisively delicious William Wallace Scottish Ale. And it won a lot of Great American Beer Festival medals on the way, including a Colorado-high three in 2020.

Still, the brewery never seemed to become a trend-setter — even though it was one of the pioneers of the city's taproom scene when it opened a decade ago — or one of the must-visit beer-geek stops, even as the patio of its original Platte Street location always teemed with people. Because of several things that have happened in recent months, however, that may be changing.

The brewery made a splash on St. Patrick's Day when it opened its third location, this one in a former garage (like its first two taprooms) in south Denver's Rosedale neighborhood. Just having another location isn't gutsy in itself, but the brewery restaurant includes a one-barrel pilot system for making offerings exclusive to that spot, and an opening-day selection that included a balanced black currant kettle sour and a bold-but-not-too-big campfire coffee stout showed that its creative juices already were flowing well.

But what happened about a month-and-a-half before that could be even more impactful to Denver Beer's place in the sprawling, spectacular Front Range scene. In an announcement that seemed to fly too far under the radar, the brewery announced that it had hired Andy Parker (shown below with his lab, Pete) to be its director of innovation — the same Andy Parker that played a major role in gaining national experimental-darling status for Avery Brewing in an 18-1/2-year career there where he launched its barrel program and grew it to a collection of some 4,000 barrels.

Beer geeks might see the move as an odd one, going from a brewery that attracted throngs of devotees each year at GABF to one whose reputation is one that is more for its tasty accessible beers and is concentrated on its Front Range fans. But as Parker said in an interview earlier this year, the jump isn't so strange upon further examination.

While Avery was a smaller and more free-flowing brewery when Parker started there, it blew up in recent years, particularly with the 2015 opening of its $28 million brewery/restaurant in Boulder County featuring not one but two 30-tap tasting rooms. It sold part of the independent brewery two years later to Spanish brewer Mahou San Miguel, which now owns the majority of Avery, and moved a lot of its effort in recent years to more universally drinkable, nationally sold beers.

Denver Beer, meanwhile, has put its efforts into side projects that keep the beer local and ramp up its flavor profiles, such as the mid-2018 opening of Cerveceria Colorado, which offered an entirely new take on Mexican beers, based on the travels of then-head-brewer Jason Buehler, who passed away late last year. Denver Beer has captured five GABF medals in the past two years, including three for its often-overlooked barrel offerings, and its improvements haven't been lost on Parker.

"Just being a beer geek who's interested in beer, I've been watching Denver Beer get better and better for a decade," he said. "I love to focus on a local market, on Colorado's creativity and lifestyle."

And yes, Parker does plan to ramp up Denver Beer's barrel program, though he said he won't do it to Avery-like magnitude. But he also wants to make beers that can be fermented and sold fairly quickly, so he gets to enjoy the feedback of drinkers who are finding new tastes.

That may just include lighter efforts. The Love This City pilsner, which Denver Beer released early last month in collaboration with artist Pat Milbery, is a subtly delicious take on the classic style, hopped a little bit more liberally for late-breaking bite but still tremendously easy and an all-night sipper. When I half-jokingly asked Parker what he will bring to Denver Beer's seltzer program, he said that he's looking a potential tequila-barrel-aged seltzer, which might be the first entry into the genre that could generate a double-take.

Denver Beer founders Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford (shown below) said they brought Parker in because of his experience but also because of his seamless fit with the laid-back culture of the brewery. They expect passion, they said, and know that what flows from that will make their beer better.

Drinkers, meanwhile, should frankly recalibrate their expectations of Denver Beer, which may produce another raspberry kolsch or may go off on a route it hasn't traversed previously. But at this point, the brewery deserves recognition for being bold in ways that sometimes are hidden, and here's guessing it's going to get more of that in the coming years.

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