"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, November 22, 2014

The SoBo Brew Quest

Denver has a tendency for two-syllable neighborhood nicknames.  There’s LoHi (Lower Highlands) known for its upscale, yuppie population, there’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) attracting youthful partygoers, and there’s RiNo (River North) boasting a stronghold of starving artists and hipsters.  Then, perhaps because of its relative distance from the heart of the city, the lesser-mentioned SoBo (South Broadway, although it should really be SoBro but I guess that sounds too “frat-y”) famous for dispensaries, antique shops, and, as Nicole and I found out, a high concentration of breweries.

With friends Robin and Justin in tow, we began our SoBo brewery conquest at Grandma’s House, the craft craft brewery.  That’s no typo, I mean to say it’s a craft brewery that, like Nana herself, enjoys a little arts and crafts.  The matriarch’s presence is felt everywhere in the taproom.  The tap handles are wrapped in hand-knitted sleeves.  The bar top is an actual quilt hardened by polyurethane.  50’s-style, folding, aluminum-edged tables are the base for antique vases, jars of hard candy, and tacky bric-a-brac like animatronic singing fish and dancing hamsters.  The old TV box is hooked up to an original NES, the walls are adorned with curios including, but not limited to, Bobbleheads, Elvis paraphernalia, and folksy art.  The theme is even carried into the restroom where, behind the mirror, you’ll find bunion cushions, shoe powder, constipation meds, and an admonishment from Grandma telling you not to peek behind other people’s medicine cabinets.

Yes, Grandma’s House is quite kitschy but that’s entirely the point.  It’s tongue-in-cheek and I applaud their originality.  Too often, brewery taproom themes are repeated ad infinitum.  The industrial, factory look?  Seen it.  The sleek and modern look?  Been done.  The outdoorsy, rustic look?  Join the club.  Hell, Denver alone features two breweries themed to heavy metal!  I’m not knocking these breweries; in fact, I rather enjoy those archetypal taproom designs.  But, being archetypes, they are a bit lacking in imagination.  Grandma’s House, on the other hand, got a bit nutty with their motif and the pay-off is a completely novel taproom design.  Find another geriatric-themed brewery and I’ll give you a dollar. 

Inside Grandma's House
Inside Grandma's House
Inside Grandma's House
Initially outdated though the decor might be, the beers of Grandma’s House, well, they’re not you’re grandma’s beer (although they’re served in your grandma’s glassware, emblazoned as they are with Hamm’s logos and Looney Tunes characters).  Session IPAs with peach added, oatmeal stouts with hatch green chilis, along with classic styles such as ESBs and Scottish-style ales means there’s plenty of “cough medicine” from which Grandma can choose.

Scottish Red at Grandma's House
Our next stop was a few blocks off Broadway on Pearl Street.  Platt Park Brewing Co. née Denver Pearl Brewing Company is a recent GABF silver medalist and the victim of a two-pronged litigious attack from both Pabst and an unnamed (but obvious) local brewery that took umbrage with the word “Denver” (golly, who could that be?).  I felt Denver Pearl’s pain when I heard the news; there’s too many nasty cease-and-desist letters floating around the industry.  That said, I always thought “Denver Pearl” was a lame name.  I can’t pinpoint exactly why.  Maybe it just didn’t have that snap, y’know?  Platt Park’s a good name—it’s alliterative, both words are monosyllabic, and both end with a hard, definitive consonant.  Denver Pearl had none of that.  No alliteration, no uniformity of syllables, and there’s not a clean finish to either word—the word “Pearl” extends into a slur making it sound sloppy and guttural.

I didn’t like the formula for the name, either i.e. the city + the street.  It’s an awkward way to name a brewery.  What if everybody did that?  Care to visit Wheat Ridge Wadsworth Brewery? Fort Collins Linden Brewing CompanyColorado Springs Garden of the Gods Beer Co.?  It’s plain weird. 

Former titles put to the side, Platt Park’s taproom is best defined as modern bucolic.  Although the tables and doors are wooden and although “Platt Park’s” been spelled out in rusty metal squares, there’s still a sense of consistency.  It’s not a hodge-podge, everything matches, and the overall feel is that of a city-slicker attempting to emulate a countrified abode.  The massive windows looking into the brew room and walk-in cooler are also nice touches of contemporaneousness.

Inside Platt Park
Inside Platt Park
Platt Park’s beer, like its interior design, walks a line, a line between standard and experimental.  Nothing at Platt Park is totally off-the-wall but many place a foot or two off the beaten path.  Nadare, for example, is a classic Japanese-style rice lager.  Typically, such beers are brewed with rice and Nadare is no exception—except it’s brewed with jasmine rice.  It’s those minor deviations that make a beer special.  It could have been a boring old Sapporo but, instead, leaned closer to a CAUTION: Brewing Co. Lao Wang Lager.  A pumpkin beer on nitro, a Berliner Weisse with choice of syrups (as I mentioned in an earlier post, an option sorely lacking in the American market), and several others completed the laudable tap menu.  

Our third stop, FERMÆNTRA, was the furthest from Broadway and is more accurately attributed to the Denver University neighborhood.  But, it was in the vicinity of Platt Park so it felt as if it belonged with the other breweries we hit that day.

We were at FERMÆNTRA for their grand opening so it was a crowded room.  We muscled our way to the bar and glanced over the list of beers.  The list was intimidating, a lot of the beer names were technical and it took some effort to pronounce them correctly e.g. Terrarum, Canticle, Aphion.  Tricky words should be expected, though, from a brewery that spells its name with the none-too-common æsc grapheme.

After practicing the word “Meristem” a few times, I ordered the Russian imperial stout of that name.  It was everything I needed on a snowy, chilly day—robust, roasted, and high in alcohol.  We all enjoyed our respective beers huddled in the corner of the taproom, handsome and cultured with its brick walls and solid-colored splashes of vibrancy, attempting, with not much success, to keep out of the path of the hordes.  We downed our brews, placed our empty glasses where the servers could easily retrieve them, and, with shoulders tucked in, waddled through the masses, out the door, and on to our next brewery.


Former Future Brewing Company is a brewery Nicole and I had visited previously but a) we didn’t blog about it at the time, b) Robin and Justin hadn’t been there, and c) Nicole and I had a coupon we wanted to use.

Squeezed into a tight row of brick storefronts, Former Future has a kind of steampunk/hipster vibe.  With airplane wings as bar tops, masculine dark wood tables, black-and-white photos, globular, metalwork light fixtures, and antiquated terrarium jars housing sundry plants, the interior of Former Future might be mistaken as the den of Professor Phineas Barleyhop, the bygone, mustachioed man on the brewery’s prior logo.  I only mention that because Former Future, before they opened, held a naming contest for that man and I was responsible for one-third of the total appellation i.e. I contributed the “Phineas” part.  I got a free shirt out of it.  Now, they don’t even use that logo and I can no longer point it out and brag to anybody who will listen.  I’ve resorted to regaling blog readers with my former glories.  Soothing my troubled mind was Brettly So…, a rye ESB with brettanomyces; the taste of that expertly-crafted beer lessened the sting of my great accomplishment being lost to the sands of time.

That's actually Justin's good side--at Former Future
Then, finally, we visited our fifth and final SoBo brewery and Nicole and I’s 139th Colorado brewery, Bære Brewing Co. (another damn æsc!), so named for the Old English word for “barley” and the precursor to the modern word “beer.”  When we started this brewery mission about five years ago, our 139th brewery would have meant we were in the home stretch, only a few isolated places left to visit before we’d been to all Colorado breweries.  Because of craft beer’s exponential growth, though, Nicole and I are hardly closer to our goal than that day in 2009 when we saw the Beer Drinker’s Guide to Colorado map hanging in the Odell taproom and decided to embark on this impossible journey.  In truth, I’m glad we’ve fallen behind because the sooner our quest ends, the sooner our fun ends.  And nobody wants that.

Inside Baere
Bære, located in a former martial arts dojo in the middle of a commercial strip, is a pastoral cabin oasis on busy, urban Broadway.  The walls are absolutely covered with weathered, reclaimed planks and the bar top is a nice, solid piece of butcher block.  Walking off the street and into Bære is an abrupt transition from gritty streets to faux mountain lodge.  I enjoyed the Bære-liner Weisse, a pleasantly tart beer so brightly yellow it almost looks like somebody soaked a highlighter in a glass of water.
Baere-liner Weisse

We’ve come to a point where we can’t talk about Denver breweries anymore—it’s too broad a term.  Each Mile High neighborhood has its own beer-y reputation, separate from the rest.  Denver is, in practice, a conglomeration of several smaller beer cities, each component part boasting an enviable quantity and quality of beer.  As such, when out-of-towners ask me for suggestions in regards to great Denver breweries, I always tell them to pick a section of town lest my list of recommendations be lengthier than The Bible.  Shall we discuss the RiNo breweries?  The LoDo breweries?  The Colfax breweries (a brew crawl I hope to complete soon)?  Whatever section of town you may choose, as of now, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed with the SoBo package. 



Dino bike rack outside FERMÆNTRA

Friday, November 14, 2014

River North's newest additions: Mockery and Beryl's

I didn’t grow up on the mean streets of East St. Louis or in the ghettos of Compton but my hometown wasn’t exactly The Hamptons, either.  A burg of nearly 30,000 people in north-central Indiana, one might not imagine Marion as a bastion of criminal activity.  Indeed, it’s home to a private Christian university and it’s an island in a sea of cornfields—two things not associated with the thug life. 

I think Mockery's facade is pretty rad

At the same time, it’s a factory graveyard.  Poverty rates are high and with them the crime rates.  Marion’s a stopping-off point for drug runners en route to Chicago and Detroit.  Murders and shootings aren’t everyday but neither are they uncommon.  Gang activity is ever-present.  There’re more dangerous places in America than Marion but significantly more places are safer. 

I bring this up to elucidate a point—Denver’s not that treacherous.  Bigger, yes (604,626 more people than Marion, in fact), and not without its fair share of shady characters but, all told, there’s not a neighborhood in Denver I’d deem too sketchy.  The worst of Denver is Marion’s average.  It’s all a matter of perspective, though.

That said, some parts of Denver are still—shall we say—“rougher” than other parts.  The neighborhood colloquially referred to as River North (there is no official “River North”; it’s comprised of pieces from Five Points, Cole, Globeville, and perhaps a touch of Elyria-Swansea) being one such neighborhood.  A gritty, industrial area that seems like a nice place to conduct a mob hit or receive a shipment of primo Colombian coke. 
Change is not on the horizon for River North, either.  That’s because the metamorphosis is already happening.  What was once no-man’s land is currently transforming into the hippest hangout in the metro.  Denver can thank local artists for getting the ball rolling, for taking loading docks and turning them into studios, for converting factories into galleries, and for lifting the neighborhood from skid row status to a haven of creative types.  Yes, the artists certainly got the ball rolling.  But, it’s the breweries that are accelerating that ball, rolling it at supersonic speeds.  Two of the newest establishments helping to thrust River North upward: Mockery Brewing and Beryl’s Beer Co.

You can tell from the outside the business of Mockery 
To the uninitiated, the walk up to Mockery seems a harrowing experience, especially at night.  Industrial lots of rusted equipment, chain link fences with barb-wire tops, and the absence of streetlights imparts a sense of foreboding; one expects a hooded assailant to appear at any moment.  But the attacker never comes.  The trained eye notices an underlying benignity.  That creepy looking garage across the street?  That’s actually where the police service their vehicles.  The two buildings adjacent to Mockery?  A doggy daycare and what looks to be a small but expensive condo unit.  Perhaps the shadiest business on the block is Mockery itself, those moonshinin’ ne’er-do-wells!

Inside Mockery
It was Mockery’s opening night when Nicole and I (along with cohorts Robin and Justin) visited and, like our last brewery grand opening, patrons were pressed together like Terrance Knighton and Chris Katechis in a Smart car.  Despite the sardine-like conditions, we plowed our way to the bar where I noticed a sight most pleasing: a full tap menu of solid and innovative beers.  Usually, a grand opening is epitomized by two or three beers (because the brewers haven’t had time to make more) that, while probably tasty, are pretty basic e.g. an IPA or a stout or some other prosaic style.  One doesn’t typically see a salted Scotch ale, a sessionable red IPA, a rye saison, a peach blonde ale, or a vanilla Bourbon porter until at least a few weeks into operation but Mockery put forth these astounding beers right from the start.  For that, I tip my proverbial hat.

Mockery's beer garden
Fortunately for us, the beer garden featured several space heaters; the taproom constrictiveness would have crushed us like Garbage Compactor 3263827.  For such a traditionally unappealing neighborhood, the outdoor seating at Mockery is actually quite posh.  It’s sunken in among three buildings which provide privacy and big, bulbous festival lights strung overhead offer a welcoming ambiance, an oasis of hospitality in an otherwise utilitarian locale.

Justin toasts to America and Mockery's game room
Speaking of the three buildings enclosing the beer garden, the taproom is one, the neighboring condo is another, and the “Game Room” is the third.  I guess sticking a shuffleboard table against the wall is enough to constitute a game room but it’s more accurately described as “The Homebrewers Clubhouse” because this garage—with an American flag draped on one wall, an around-the-room collection of growlers, and bottle cap art—is the space a group of homebrewers would hang out in as they wait for wort to boil.  It’s a stark, functional room save for the few splashes of incongruent decorations and I really liked it; it suggests a suburban, neighborly charm in the heart of the city.

Mockery was tout-worthy but I needed to escape the hordes.  So, we gave the crowd the slip and headed for a place not hosting a grand opening and River North’s second-youngest brewery—Beryl’s.

I’m usually pretty quick on the uptake but I can admit when I’m confused; I didn’t immediately get the name “Beryl’s.”  I assumed it was a cutesy way of phonetically spelling “barrels” since they specialize in barrel-aged beers.  I was at least half right in that assumption.  Then there was the matter of their logo, this thing that looks like jagged mountains of bluish green.  It’s cool but, until Nicole explained it to me, I didn’t realize the secondary (primary?) meaning.  Apparently, beryl (or beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate) is a mineral, oftentimes teal, found in Colorado (most notably Mt. Antero) and that’s the depiction in the logo.  I hope this wasn’t obvious to everybody except me.

Barrels at Beryl's
Beryl’s, like many River North breweries, sits on an unadorned, no-frills plot of land.  There’s a fenced-in lot in front that serves as outdoor seating with the brewery itself lying within a nondescript, metal-sheeted building.  The interior, however, is a bit cozier with repurposed, antique tables and chairs around which guests can congregate, vertical log stumps where one may sit their glass or their butt, interpretations of the state flag in the medium of rustic wood, and the barrels themselves all lend to the make-yourself-at-home atmosphere.

The design of the taproom is nice but the beers at Beryl’s are certainly worth mentioning as well.  Riga Doms, a Baltic porter aged in brandy barrels?  Elsie Mae, a saison aged in white wine barrels?  Man, their aint nothing’ wrong with that!  It’s a general rule of mine but it’s held up thus far: a good beer is made great through barrel-aging.  Beryl’s got the message and delivered expertly. 

Inside Beryl's
If you haven’t been to River North, you haven’t experienced the Denver beer scene.  This statement’s all the more true after the addition of Mockery and Beryl’s and, truly, the neighborhood’s become so much more than it’s intimidating façade.  It’s a place of creativity, of imbibing, and of socializing and quite frankly, as crowded as the beer market may be in River North, I’d welcome, say, five or six more.  Because the beer geeks will keep a-comin’.



Bar at Beryl's
Barrels upon barrels at Beryl's
The whole gang (besides me) at Beryl's