"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!

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Sesquicentennial in the Centennial State

It’s scarcely a month old yet it’s been a busy year in beer for me and Nicole.  We’ve hit multiple breweries over the past few weekends and, by doing so, reached a milestone in our mission to imbibe in every brewery in the state.  We’ve reached our Centennial State sesquicentennial: 150 Colorado breweries visited! 

Mu Brewery
Our path to that landmark number began with an eastward jaunt to Aurora’s Mu Brewery.  Now, I’ve been to breweries in the factory district, I’ve been to breweries tucked away in alleys, and I’ve been to breweries in the backwoods of North Carolina where I’d hardly be surprised if the locals complimented my “purdy mouth” but Mu may well take top honors in the sketchy location contest. 

Left to right: Cranberry Pilsner, Blumpkin, Aurora Town Brown, Boone's Maple Cream Porter, & Da Bomb Black IPA

Near the corner of infamous Colfax Avenue and less-than-notable Dayton Street, I was warned about Mu’s neighborhood by my brother and sister-in-law who live in the general area.  In short, they said don’t go there at night.  Intriguing.  Is there actually an area in the Denver metro that’s truly intimidating?  Up until this point, I’ve certainly noticed that certain places around Denver seem rougher than others but none that appeared simply rough.  Not dangerous enough for me to think twice about walking down the street, at any rate.
Inside Mu

Having now been to Mu’s neck of the woods, I’ll say that I would have no qualms in returning—day or night.  But, I’ll stick to the main road.  When Nicole and I turned a corner to park on Dayton, we drove out of the relative safety of commercial Colfax and directly into the mean street: disgruntled and suspicious stares following us as we rolled by, folks drinking mystery liquids from brown paper bags, loiterers propped against chain link fences—it was Clark Griswold’s St. Louis odyssey in real-life (Roll ‘em up!).  To be fair, this particular ‘hood was, like, one block long; once we got to 16th Street things got back to normal.

Mu's bar 
After circling the block and leaving the car in a spot less likely to result in the tires being replaced by cinder blocks, we entered Mu’s storefront taproom.  In stark contrast to its urban surroundings, Mu possesses a sort of old-timey, rustic saloon vibe albeit with a few modern twists such as the metal-cut mountain profile with rotating backlights.  Of course, no amount of homey ambiance will prevent already-drunk patrons from stumbling in and boisterously ordering Bud Light.

The beers at Mu are decent enough.  Many of their offerings leave some room for improvement but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the cranberry pilsner and, despite the disgusting name, the Blumpkin pumpkin beer wasn’t too shabby, either.  Don’t know what “blumpkin” means?  Go to UrbanDictionary.com because I’m not going to explain it to you.  Apparently, the assistant brewer jokingly scrawled the name on the recipe sheets and the head brewer, not understanding that it was a joke, went ahead and made “Blumpkin” the beer’s official appellation.  Also, they offer a blend that’s Blumpkin mixed with one of their darker beers.  They call it the Dirty Blumpkin (as if there were any other kind).


Since we were on that side of town, Nicole and I also dropped into Coda Brewing Co.—only 2.5 miles away but in an entirely different and gentrified world.  At the foot of a condominium near a golf course, Coda’s suburban surroundings stand in stark contrast to Mu’s gritty, down-trodden locale. 

Sleepyhead, a Kolsch 
As unexciting as Coda’s neighborhood might be, the taproom is hip enough to compensate: chalkboard pillars, drinks served in Mason jars and chem lab beakers, stringed festival lights, weathered wood furniture, and, being as it is a music-themed brewery, a stage.  I only had one beer at Coda plus two tasters but that's all I needed to have a high opinion of the brewery.  A spine-shivering Scotch barrel-aged Scotch ale, a nitro American red, and a Kӧlsch brewed with passion fruit were the sometimes-unconventional yet delicious treats that swayed me to Coda’s side.

Left to right: Dogcatcher American Red & McDrums Scotch Ale
With the eastern metro-area wrapped up, the following weekend we set our sights north to Broomfield and our 150th Colorado brewery: Four Noses Brewing Co. and Wonderland Brewing Co.

We rode the desolate prairie of Broomfield’s outskirts, rolling over brown knolls of tallgrass and treeless steppes, finally coming across a commercial strip as featureless as the landscape.  Like Coda, Four Noses doesn’t have much in the way of outward personality.  Also like Coda, though, it’s what’s inside that counts.

Inside Coda
Inside Coda
Cavernous ceilings, like an industrial cathedral, greet drinkers as they walk through Four Noses’ doors.  A looming logo, stretching from floor to ceiling, is painted on the far wall much like the enormous “E” which hangs in Dr. Evil’s lair; lest you forget where you’re drinking, the wall will gladly remind you.  Breaking up the steel structure is an overhang of wooden planks which envelope the center of the room like a rustic cocoon.  The brewing equipment, seemingly too massive for a brewery as young as Four Noses, sits soundly behind glass in the back of the building.  I enjoyed the Anarchy Ale III, a strong English-style IPA; a double English IPA, if you will.  It’s a clever if subtle twist to the style to intensify the usually mild-mannered English IPA or British-ify the American-born double IPA (depends on which way you look at it).

And then it happened.  After leaving Four Noses and jetting across Broomfield, we arrived at what appeared to be a former rec center; the general layout and construction of the building as well as the multi-hoop basketball court by the parking lot seem to suggest that notion, at least.  A rather immense, metal-sheeted building with spacious outdoor seating and open-concept taproom, Wonderland was fittingly grandiose to mark our 150th Colorado brewery visit. 

Spacious patio at Wonderland
Large room for rent at Wonderland
Walking into Wonderland, one notices a gymnasium-sized room for private event to the left and a near-equally expansive taproom to the right.  Granted, half the taproom is devoted to ping-pong tables but, even then, the seating is ample. 

Inside Wonderland
It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere of Wonderland.  In some regards, it feels like a dive bar with its several arcade games, aforementioned table tennis section, diner-style chairs, and vinyl booths.  On the other hand, it exudes the mountain lifestyle with snowboard accent pieces and wood-cut alpine profile behind the bar—a timber version of Mu’s metallic mountains, almost.  On the other other hand, a black ceiling, black tiling, and a stage in one corner make the place feel like a Las Vegas lounge.  It’s a real hodge-podge at Wonderland, nothing seems to be cohesive.  Then again, as it’s themed to the fantastical and ethereal world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, perhaps the whimsically mix-matched décor is appropriate.

Inside Wonderland
After downing a Vaderade Irish Stout (Vaderade?  Is this the Sith lord’s post-exercise electrolyte replenishment?), Nicole and I left Wonderland satisfied with our accomplishment.  There was a time not long ago where, if we’d visited 150 Colorado breweries, it meant we had visited them all.  It’s a testament to the growing popularity of small and independent brewers that we’re no closer to meeting our goal today than we were when we first set out on this quest.  It’s a Sisyphean task that Nicole and I are on; for every brewery we visit it seems two more pop up.  But that’s okay with me.  I never want this adventure to end.




Tuesday, January 6, 2015

1.1 Miles Away and Worlds Apart

With a new year comes new beer!  Fresh off our temporary conquest of Denver, Nicole and I decided to begin 2015 the best we know how: visiting new breweries.  Since we’d recently ran through all the Mile High City has to offer, we set our sights south, rode C-470 to the ‘burbs, and checked out Living The Dream Brewing Brewing Company (LTD) and Grist Brewing Company.

Living the Dream
Separated by only 1.1 miles, LTD and Grist are in different cities (Littleton and Highlands Ranch, respectively) and worlds apart.  LTD’s in as gritty a locale as one could hope for in an otherwise affluent suburb; it’s off the main road, behind a Murdoch’s ranch supply store, surrounded by landscape company yards, auto body shops, firearms and archery stores, fence post suppliers, and a multitude of other blue collar, rough-neck businesses.  Drive north on Santa Fe Dr. a short distance, turn right, and, suddenly, you’re in the land of Starbucks, national banking firms, chain restaurants, and, shoved into the middle of a blank, corporate-looking building, Grist. 

It looks like a Wal-Mart but, thankfully, Grist has more soul than that

Despite the discrepancy in surroundings, LTD and Grist fit their environments splendidly; once there, you can’t imagine the space without a brewery and, before walking through the door, you get a pretty good idea of the ambiance that awaits in the taproom.

Inside LTD
Inside LTD
For example, when driving up to LTD, one turns into a parking lot and is faced with a metal-sheeted building and a parking lot landmined with pallets of stone pavers, bricks, rock, and other construction material.  A posh, Belgian abbey-inspired ambiance would be inappropriate for such a setting so LTD doesn’t even try to be fancy.  Instead, they play the hand they were dealt and go for more of a secret hangout atmosphere, sort of like a speakeasy; decorative walls only go halfway up, leaving metallic columns and rafters exposed, the table tops are rustic wood, appearing as though they were scavenged for use in a treehouse, and—oh, yes—skis.  Lots and lots of late model skis and snowboards.  The place is covered with them: the beer menu, the bar face, the tap handles, the shelving…etc.  Living The Dream for LTD apparently means brewing beer and hitting the slopes—a fitting dream for any Coloradoan, really.

Inside Grist
Triangular peninsula attached to Grist's bar 
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Grist.  The laidback, no-frills approach won’t fly when the other occupants of the building are design studios and science labs.  The flight of the approach becomes even more like a cinder block when, in the vicinity, there are golf courses, soccer stadiums, and an equestrian jumping park—the trifecta of WASP sports.  Grist acted accordingly with a rather chic taproom.  First, the brew room is massive and the tanks butt right up to the customer space.  The enormous fermenters tower over the customers, benevolent deities rewarding loyal subjects with the nectar of their bodies.  The bar is a jagged island in the center of the room with catwalk-style storage hanging from the ceiling.  A clever touch at the bar: triangular peninsulas that add extra seating and allow customers to actually look at each other instead of being forced to face the same direction.  A bold, yellow feature wall with a light-up sign, large, windowed garage doors, and worn-wood accent pieces make Grist a lively but clean-cut place to quaff.

Brew equipment at LTD
Brew equipment at Grist
If there’s a common link between LTD and Grist, it’s the beer.  For being a touch removed from the craft beer epicenter that is Denver, both are cranking out some damn decent brews.  At LTD, I enjoyed a flight of Arrogant Hipster Lager, Alt Whitman, C-470 Collaboration Weizenbock, and Helluva Caucasian Cream Stout with peanut butter. 

Left to right: Arrogant Hipster, Alt Whitman, C-470, & Helluva Caucasian 
The Arrogant Hipster is intended to be the craft version of PBR and, based on the taste, I’d say they achieved that goal; everybody should brew something light and easy for when beer geeks drag their craft-adverse friends to the brewery.  Getting non-craft drinkers into the taproom is step one, getting them to drink a gateway beer like Arrogant Hipster is step two.  With a few more steps, our domestic lager-guzzling friends will be downing quadrupels and Russian imperial stouts like a champ.  I only hope a certain southern California brewery doesn't get its panties in a twist over the use of the word "arrogant."  

Beer menu at LTD
Alt Whitman is a typical, malt-forward Altbier although, just to stir things up a bit, the version I enjoyed was brewed with lager yeast rather than ale yeast, making it not a hybrid ale but rather a plain, old lager.  A good beer, to be sure, but hardly memorable.  It’s a middle-ground road for when you want something more complex than Arrogant Hipster but don’t feel like committing to anything extravagant, either. 

Weizenbocks are one of my least favorite beers but I ordered C-470 anyway if only for the story.  In a nutshell, it’s a collaboration beer amongst the breweries along the eponymous highway: LTD, Grist, Blue Spruce Brewing Company, Lone Tree Brewing Company, 38 State Brewing Company, 3 Freaks Brewery, C.B. & Potts, and Rock Bottom.  Can we call the C-470 neighborhood the next Denver-area brewery neighborhood (using the word “neighborhood” loosely, of course; these eight breweries represent four separate and independent towns)?  The resulting beer features a dominant chocolate flavor with banana-like undertones.  For a style I don’t like, I actually did enjoy this one.    
Inside LTD

Helluva Caucasian was by the far the best, though.  A decadent and creamy stout, the addition of peanut butter really helped knock this one out of the park.  I don’t know if LTD has any plans to can or bottle in the future but they should start with this one.  It’s basically liquefied Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

At Grist, I once again had a flight: Winter Saison, American Barleywine, Juniper Berry Belgian Single, and Berliner Weisse.

Left to right: Winter Saison, Juniper Berry Belgian Single, American Barleywine, & Berliner Weisse

If there’s a beer with a more pleasant smell than Winter Saison, I’ve not come across it.  It’s a big whiff of cinnamon sweetness and, while the flavor’s okay, it’s hard to beat that aromatic opening act.

American Barleywine is over 10% ABV but you can’t tell by drinking it, it hides the alcohol well; no burn, no punch, it slips down your throat with ease.  American barleywines and double IPAs are considered close relatives in the beer world and this one definitely straddles the line.  It’s perhaps a bit under-hopped to be a double IPA but only barely.

In the Juniper Berry Belgian Single, the reverse of Winter Saison is true: the flavor outshines the aroma.  Stick your nose in this beer and you’ll shrug your shoulders in a “so what?” manner.  Then, give it a sip and your palate is treated to a medley of Belgian spices and fruits.  Yes, the juniper beery makes a showing, too, but is most apparent near the end of the taste.

I’ve had a lot of Berliner Weisses in my day, they’re among my favorite styles of beer.  Although they’re famously tart, quite a few are lacking in the acidity department.  I don’t like that.  I like a nice, pucker-inducing Berliner Weisse.  Some beer geeks identify themselves as hop heads, I’m a sour head.  That’s why I enjoyed Grist’s version so well; it clenches your lips quicker than a Krazy Glue lollipop.

I’m amazed at how diverse two breweries can be when they’re so close in proximity.  It’s heartening, too, as it supports a personal crusade I’ve been waging in recent years, a crusade against the false notion of brewery oversaturation. I’ve made many points in support of my stance and I won’t repeat them all but I will say that, if two breweries are different enough, they can be located directly next door to each other and still coexist.  In my mind, breweries are no different than restaurants yet nobody’s beating a dead horse over restaurant oversaturation. Why?  Because each restaurant offers something a little different from the next one.  And so do breweries.  So long as there’re not, like, 15 Italian restaurants/Belgian-style breweries in a quarter mile radius, so long as each establishment is at least a little unique when compared to the next one, the market will continue to grow and prosper.



Live that dream, folks!
Grist's massive brew space
Why more Colorado breweries don't do things like this is beyond me; craft beer and quaffing the freshies is what this state does best.