"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beer Gets Beastly at Brew at the Zoo

When one hears the words “wild animal” and “alcohol involved” the mind flashes through all the possible scenarios where those two things might coexist.  Few of these scenarios have positive outcomes.  Either a couple of whiskey-infused hunters thought it would be a good idea to play keep-away with a baby grizzly or Shamu took out another late-night skinny dipper who wandered into the park after a raging bender.  Common sense states that the one does not mix drinking with undomesticated animals—history shows that’s just asking for trouble.  Apparently, Denver Zoo never got that memo because they’ve been stuffing man-eating beasts and drunken revelers into the same area for fourteen years.  It isn’t a modern day interpretation of feeding Christians to the lions—it’s Brew at the Zoo.

I have been to a number of different brew festivals from the leviathan that is the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) to the hippie-soaked Telluride Blues & Brews Festival but I’ve never before been to Brew at the Zoo.  I have been missing out.  Imagine, if you will, a gigantic party complete with flowing beer, catered snacks, live entertainment, dancing, lights, and conversations concerning non-family friendly subject matter.  Already, that’s a damn good time.  Now, imagine that instead of being bumped into by a blonde-headed, collar-popping toolbox singing Gin and Juice because he’s so “gangsta,” you run into a zookeeper with a giant, blue parrot perched on his arm.  Instead of hanging out on the host’s deck and gazing out upon a manicured lawn and a few squirrels, you see giraffes, elephants, and zebras.  Instead of a golden retriever doing stupid tricks to its owner’s exaggerated delight, there’s a hippopotamus that rears itself out of the water to catch apples in its gaping maw.  Can you honestly tell me that this party hasn’t multiplied in awesomeness by at least a hundredfold?  I’ve been missing out on this for thirteen years but on Friday, September 9th, I finally got a taste of what it’s like to drink craft beer while standing five feet away from something that could disembowel me in two seconds. 
Hungry, hungry hippo at Brew at the Zoo

Sometimes, when you take two unrelated things and mash them together, you get an amalgam wherein each part is dependent on the other component.  It’s like teaching a dog to surf.  A dog on its own is pretty boring and, let’s face it, his surfing skills aren’t really that impressive, either; neither part can stand alone but, when put together, magic happens.  This, however, is not the case with Brew at the Zoo.  It is “brew” enough to stand alone as a decent beer festival even if it wasn’t at the zoo.  It is “zoo” enough that even without beer it is still interesting to see all the wildlife.  Putting two already high-quality components together results in a mash-up of the highest caliber. 

An elephant tries to ignore its noisy neighbors

Nicole and I had a great time rubbing shoulders with the giants of small brewing.  We talked to Steve Houck from Oskar Blues whom we met during Oskar Blues night on the Denver Patio Ride.  I doubt, of course, that he remembered us but it was still neat to reconnect.  We chatted a bit with the folks at Del Norte who told us that they finally have a tasting room.  Del Norte has caused a lot of frustration for us in our mission to visit every brewery in Colorado.  Sure, it’s located right here in Denver but, without a tasting room, it just sat there, out of reach, and tantalized us for years.  Now, we will be able to rectify that situation in short order.  Caution: Brewing Company, a brewery very new to the Denver scene, also told us they’d be opening up a tasting room soon.  It was a lot of fun making contacts with people who are so important to the business that I love.

In addition to the copious amounts of beer, Brew at the Zoo also offered partygoers the opportunity to make complete asses of themselves at the Silent Disco.  Basically, dancers don wireless headphones which pick up a signal from the DJ’s booth.  To participants, it’s a rave.  To spectators, it’s an undulating mass of people dancing to silence.  When the animals see such a spectacle, I’m sure they wonder how it is that humans are at the top of the food chain.
Silent Disco

We left the zoo sated from craft beer and smiling from our animal encounters.  Of all the beer festivals I’ve been to, it is hard to rank Brew at the Zoo.  It doesn’t have GABF’s enormity or Telluride’s majestic scenery but, being held at the zoo, it definitely brings something unique to the table.  Besides, you can drink happy knowing that much of the proceeds go to the Red Apple Fund for Lifelong Learning, a program that helps disadvantaged kids learn about and experience the wonders of the Denver Zoo.

This grease-powered tuk tuk was zipping around all night

For another take on Brew at the Zoo, visit this link.


I am a kid at heart. I never get tired of going to the zoo. This year alone I visited the San Diego Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, and Sydney Wildlife World.  It is especially fun to visit the Denver Zoo when they have special events like Brew at the Zoo. The event hosted 35 breweries (some local, some not), a couple of cider places, and about 20 restaurants. It was overwhelming trying to decide where to go first but it was fun chatting with people from the breweries and learning about new beers and changes to the brewery. The people-watching was equally fun. Chris and I watched the Silent Disco dancers and tried to figure out which song they were dancing to. In addition to the Silent Disco, there was another dance floor where DJ RIPM mixed songs from the last 50 years to please the diverse crowd. When we first walked past the dance floor there was one guy getting his groove on and, by the end of the night, the dance floor was packed and that same guy was still showing off his moves.  

Of course the night would not be complete without watching the elephants, Mimi and Dolly, nosh on hay, the young giraffe, Nitro, strip leaves off branches, and the hippopotamus, Bert, splash around while waiting for his dinner.  Parts of the zoo were closed off so only a limited number of animals were on display. We did, however, get to check out a treehouse that is part of the new Asian Tropics exhibit. The last time we visited the zoo the exhibit was hidden away from public view. Now, the fences have been taken down and we were able to get a glimpse of what the new habitats are going to look like.

We were able to score some bottle caps for our art projects including several from Alaskan Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Co. We were able to add some new Odell bottle caps since they changed the color of the Easy Street Wheat caps from maroon to yellow. I felt awkward asking for bottle caps but they were headed for the trash anyway. The people from Alaskan were more than willing to donate caps toward the cause since they are bottle cap artists themselves. They had an American flag made from bottle caps on display at their booth.
Alaskan's cap art

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