"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!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Conquering Boulder (For Now)

Short lived victories are victories nonetheless.  When A-Basin blows enough snow for Fourth of July skiing, that’s a victory even if the slopes are slush by the fifth.  When the Colorado Rockies hit a homer in the first inning, they’ll celebrate the run even when a routing in the ninth is imminent.  And, when beer geeks like me and Nicole “conquer” a city—visit every brewery within city limits—we’ll cheers to that even as new breweries are under construction, ready themselves for opening and nullify our accomplishment.  That’s the situation in which Nicole and I find ourselves; after recently stopping by The Kettle & Stone Brewing Co., Sanitas Brewing Co., and J. Wells Brewery, we’ve drank at every brewery in Boulder.  For now.  In fact, this is the second time we’ve been able to claim such a feat; Boulder just won’t stay down. 

Kettle & Stone
First up, Kettle & Stone, located well north of central Boulder in the grasslands off Diagonal Highway and tucked deep into a business park complex.  It’s far from the hustle and bustle of college kids and the panhandling hippies of Pearl Street; it’s a quiet nook surrounded by suburban homes, prairie dogs, and the occasional passing freight train.  It is place that’s found only if sought; one doesn’t simply stumble upon Kettle & Stone.

Aside from a catalog-bought beer flag staked into the front lawn, there’s not much signage indicating there’s a brewery waiting within.  Kettle & Stone writes their name on the front door and on the sign at the parking lot entrance but neither really pop out to the passing driver; at a glance, the sign for Kettle & Stone might as well be for a tech company or a welding service.

The interior is a bit comfier.  A corner lounge with leather couch, butcher block-thick slabs of wood acting as high-top tables (as well as the bar top), and metal/wood/chalkboard accents behind the bar makes Kettle & Stone a welcoming little oasis of creativity in a gray, faceless setting. 

Nicole ordered the house ginger ale and I had tasters of Momentum IPA (5.7% ABV), American Bold Ale (7.2% ABV), and American Bold’s bigger brother, Bolder (11.7% ABV).

Left to right: Momentum, American Bold Ale, Bolder 
Technically not sessionable (but, in practice, sessionable), Momentum is a brassy orange color.  It’s not entirely opaque but it’s not entirely see-through, either.  The aroma is quite faint and one could almost say this IPA is bready, more yeast-forward than hop-forward.  The flavor, likewise, is light on hops and very mild on bitterness.  There’s a little lingering bitter in the aftertaste but nothing significant.  Overall, the flavor is akin to orange citrus with the tamest touch of hops.  It’s an intro-level IPA, a great beer to introduce to the hop adverse.     

American Bold Ale is essentially clear and boasts a deep ruby/amber color.  Scents of caramel and toffee abound.  Upon first sip, this beer reveals itself as a thick and creamy elixir resplendent with caramel flavors and aggressive hops. 

The ‘roided up version of American Bold Ale, Bolder looks like its weaker brethren except a shade darker.  There’s both a big hop and big malt nose to this monster and complex malt flavors of raisin and leather and underlying sweetness make Bolder an experts-only beer.  The 11.7% ABV makes itself know with an alcohol burn that continues to build with each swallow.

Leaving Kettle & Stone—that beer sanctuary in the steppes—we headed south, followed the tracks of the aforementioned freight train, and came across yet another complex, this one a bit grittier, more industrial than the white-collar surroundings of Kettle & Stone.  Metal siding, raised loading dock doors, and one, simple, owl-bedecked white sign reading “Sanitas Brewing Co.,” greeted us as we parked our car.  It seemed like a good setting to off a stoolie or conduct a covert meeting with the CIA.  Then we saw a sign for the taproom pointing us around the corner and, oh, what a difference a corner makes!

A pergola of weathered wood sporting a large, rusted cut-out of the Sanitas owl waited on the other side of the warehouse, beckoning us, welcoming us.  The rustic warmth of Sanitas’ entrance stands in stark contrast to the monochromatic box that is the rest of the building. 

Once inside, I was blown away by the hip and artistic ambiance.  The Sanitas taproom may not be the most beautiful taproom I’ve ever seen but its right up there (it certainly features the largest disproportion between exterior and interior beauty).  Natural wood drop-down panels mask the gaping maw of the vast, black ceiling, floor-to-ceiling glass walls partition the brew room and a small conference room from the taproom, bright, white tiling behind the bar recalls the architecture of an old-timey train depot, and the spacious patio runs alongside an active railroad; in Denver, it’s fun to raise a glass to the Light Rail as it passes Strange Brewing Company’s biergarten; it’s the same principle at Sanitas—it’s just that the train is on a much, much larger scale.

We ordered a flight of three:  Winter Saison (9% ABV), Boulder Common Hoppy Pale Lager (6.6% ABV), and Train 3 American Rye Mild (4.2% ABV).

Left to right: Winter Saison, Boulder Common, Train 3
The Winter Saison is a clear amber color with an exceptionally fruity nose—like fruit juice, apricot, cherry, or plum (or perhaps all of those things at once).  There’s a tingly zip on the tip of the tongue and it finishes a touch sour.  Winter Saison feels thicker than most saisons but, then again, it is a winter saison so a little extra heft would make sense. 

I found Boulder Common to be quite refreshing and herbaceous.  Golden yellow and crystal clear, this beer features an aroma and flavor of grassy, smoky hops.  There’s also an onion-like quality in the aftertaste.  It’s a woodsy, natural flavor like a forager’s tea.

Golden yellow like Boulder Common but with more opacity, Train 3 wafts a lemony scent that carries over into the flavor.  Also noticeable in the flavor is the rye which imparts a touch of its recognizable spice. 

While sipping our brews, Nicole and I had a nice chat with Sanitas’ co-founder and brewer, Chris Coyne, who told us an interesting anecdote about the passing trains.  Apparently, since Sanitas is so close to the tracks and because they usually have a food vendor on-site, the conductors have turned Sanitas into the locomotive equivalent of a drive-through.  Planning miles in advance (because it takes a few minutes to bring a train to a full and complete stop), the railway workers park their engine in front of the brewery, jump out, and grab a bite to eat before continuing on.  Coyne was quick to assure us they never came in for beer, though, so don’t call your local railroad union to complain about drunk conductors. 

Our last stop of the day—the last brewery we’ve yet to visit in Boulder—was J. Wells Brewery.  If we thought finding Kettle & Stone was akin to searching for a contact lens in a house of mirrors and if the first impression of Sanitas was that of the loading docks scene in any gangster movie then J. Wells is the even extreme version of both.  A few doors down in a row of narrow garages, there’s nothing save for a nondescript, red sign indicating the space is a taproom, not a chop shop.  That theme of no-theme carries into the interior which is a practice in minimalism, the essence of function over form.  Have you ever seen the Simpsons episode of “Homer the Moe” in which Homer opens a bar in his own garage?  That’s pretty much all J. Wells is—a bar in a garage.  And that’s all it needs to be; let the beer speak for itself and let your company be your entertainment. 

It makes me wonder exactly what type of taproom is most attractive to me.  I certainly enjoy the hipster artistry of places like BRU Handbuilt Ales and Black Shirt Brewing Co. and I also enjoy the clubhouse/speakeasy feel of breweries like J. Wells and Wit’s End Brewing Company.  I like the spacious grandeur of the big guys, Odell Brewing Co. and New Belgium Brewing, and I get a kick out of the coziness that defines Saint Patrick’s Brewing Company and Golden City Brewery.  In the end, I like a wide array of taprooms.  I just don’t like the ones that look like a T.G.I. Friday’s: leather booth seating, stupid, faux-antique crap hanging off the walls, and *shudder* placemats.  Just be authentic and you’ll be a taproom I can get behind.

Getting back to J. Wells, we ordered four tasters including Chocolate Milk Stout (5% ABV), Defiance (3.9% ABV), Niad (4.5% ABV), and Lisa (6% ABV).

From near to far: Chocolate Milk Stout, Defiance, Niad, Lisa, Nicole's face

Chocolate Milk Stout is exactly what you’d think: chocolate-y and milky.  It’s a dark, black beer with red highlights, a mild roasted flavor, and a creamy, silky-smooth finish.
Table at J. Wells

An English bitter on cask, Defiance sports a cloudy brown-red body and gives off aromas and flavors that are very caramel-forward.

Niad, an English brown ale, is actually a deep mahogany color with hints of toffee and chocolate on both the nose and palate.

Lisa is an Irish red that is, indeed, red in color—blood red, one might say.  There’s a mild hop aroma mixed in with notes of biscuit and it tastes a bit bitter but with a strong malt backbone keeping the hops in check.   

With the visit to J. Wells, Nicole and I once again brought out our inner Genghis Khan, conquering whole swathes of land in the name of beer.  Alas, even as kingdoms fall, they amass new armies to taunt us, lure us back to their shores.  Boulder may be under our rule now but I know, somewhere in a quiet corner of Boulder, there’re plans to open yet another brewery.  And when that day comes, we’ll be there.  We’ll see you soon, Boulder. 



Since I’m the designated driver on most of our sudsy adventures, I only allow myself a few sips of beer.  However, I can still quench my thirst with homebrewed ginger ale or root beer.  Kettle & Stone, for example, has a delicious ginger ale packed with lemon, ginger, and pineapple—perfect for a sunny summer day playing cornhole or hanging out at the park.


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