"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 22, 2014

Pick a Theme, Stick to the Theme: Kokopelli and Lowdown

Born c. 750-850 AD, the fertility god of the Hopi, Zuni, and other southwestern tribes shook off the desert dust, packed up his flute, traveled to the Colorado front range, and set up shop in a Westminster strip mall.  Welcome to Kokopelli Beer Company.

A far cry from the ancient cliff dwellings whence he came, the shopping center setting of Kokopelli’s namesake brewery fills an important niche in a fairly large Denver suburb; with Westminster Brewing Co.—only a few months old—as the only other brewery in town, Westminster is the opposite of a beer oasis.  It’s a patch of barren sand surrounded by oases, a sandbox in Eden.  As the municipalities around Westminster undergo their own brewery renaissances, Westminster itself seems immune to progress.  The people running Kokopelli were wise to open in this ‘burb; there was an obvious demand needing to be supplied.

Inside Kokopelli
When driving up to Kokopelli, be watchful for brewery signs.  The outside appearance is anything but descript, nothing save for the words “Beer Company” indicate there’s a brewery inside this shopping center.  No open garage door revealing happy revelers.  No grain silo sitting outside.  No hop vines crawling up the fa├žade.  Indeed, everyday, non-drinking patrons at the shopping center probably drive by assuming it’s another massage parlor or Chinese restaurant.  Only beer geeks know what truly lies inside.

Kokopelli’s interior design is less cookie-cutter than the exterior but it’s still rather Plain Jane—a few pieces of art on the drywall, a chalkboard sign behind the bar.  The space isn’t bare but it isn’t flashy, either.

Nicole and I ordered a flight of three: Hopenstein Cascadian Dark (6.9% ABV), Pale Face Ale (5.5% ABV), and O.T.O.G.O.B. Irish Dry Stout (4.3% ABV).

Left to right: Hopenstein, Pale Face, & O.T.O.G.O.B.
A deep, dark, mahogany red, Hopenstein has a mocha-colored head and a milk chocolate nose.  Pine and citrus hops make an appearance but they’re quite mild.  There’s a touch of lingering bitterness but it seems less like the bitterness from a hop and more like that of a cocoa nib.

Pale Face is a cloudy, darkish yellow with lacey, white foam.  It features an aroma of clementine and that orange citrus taste follows through in the flavor followed by a bread-y aftertaste.  It’s more fruity than bitter but I wouldn’t call it a “fruit beer” per se.

Word on the street is only a select few people know what O.T.O.G.O.B. means.  I don’t know that acronym but I know this beer looks like a darker version of Hopenstein and it smells and tastes like dark chocolate with a light roast.  The flavor, too, is akin to Hopenstein except higher on roasted flavors, lower on bitterness.  As the style “Irish dry stout” suggests, O.T.O.G.O.B. finishes dry. 

Can't argue with that
Overall impression of Kokopelli: it’s pretty good.  Like I said earlier, Westminster is in dire need of local beer-slingers and Kokopelli fits the bill.  I don’t, however, like the theme.

Westminster is not the Southwest.  Granted, parts of Colorado are considered the Southwest but not Westminster.  Westminster is on the plains.  To put a brewery on the prairie and call it “Kokopelli” is a cultural misplacement.  One might say breweries like Prost Brewing and Hogshead Brewery are also juxtapositions to their surroundings (Colorado isn’t in Germany or the U.K., of course) but the difference there is that those two breweries continue their themes beyond the name; Hogshead brews traditional English ales and Prost brews traditional German beers.  They become islands of Europe in Denver, a quick, passport-less vacation abroad.

The ancient, native god of back rubs
Kokopelli, however, is like an egg in a carton: the carton is Westminster, the shell is American Southwest, but the inside of the egg goes right back to Westminster.  It’s a very thin theme at Kokopelli.  It’s too late to change the name but it’s not too late to commit to the name.  Give the interior a Southwest make-over.  Let’s see some red rock accents and Ancestral Puebloan artifacts. 

Even changing the names of the beer could help.  The name of the Cascadian dark ale is a pun on the title of a Gothic novel and nobody but two or three people knows what the hell the name of the Irish dry stout is supposed to mean--they just don’t fit the theme.  Give the beers appellations that evoke the grandeur of Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, or Canyon de Chelly.  If the brewers at Kokopelli are really clever, they’ll figure out how to make their beers taste like the theme, too.  Brew with cactus or other desert flora, perhaps.  Maybe a steinbier made with actual rocks gathered from the Southwest?  Let the imagination run wild!

After Kokopelli, Nicole and I grabbed lunch at LowDown Brewery + Kitchen which is as urban as Kokopelli is suburban: sleek concrete floors, brick, warehouse-style walls, exposed, vaulted, wood ceilings, and giant HVAC ducts coiling overhead.  If it weren’t a brewery, this space would be a hipster’s art gallery.  It’s a piece of Santa Fe Art District on Lincoln.  I also dig the words written on the floor—different ways to make a toast from around the world.

I ordered a Cuban sandwich and Sinister (8.5% ABV), a French saison brewed with wildflower honey and Szechuan peppers.  This cloudy orange concoction smells mostly of honey with some Belgian yeast spice swirling about.  The flavor is akin to ginger with perhaps an aftertaste of the Szechuan pepper.  I would have preferred more pepper as it was that odd-ball ingredient that first lured me into ordering Sinister.  Still, it was a pretty good beer with a tasty sandwich in a neat space.  The food will definitely bring me back and, when that happens, I look forward to trying more of their beer.

Inside LowDown

As it says on the floor at LowDown:


Tanks at LowDown
Inside LowDown
The floors of LowDown
The floors of LowDown

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