Colorado is like Napa Valley for beer lovers. If there is a style of beer that you like then I am sure that there is a brewery somewhere along the Front Range that caters to your desires. After spreading my parents’ ashes somewhere west of the Continental Divide my brother and I headed into Denver for a day of sampling some of what the region’s brewers had to offer.
After filling our bellies with delicious, if odd, hot dogs from Biker Jim’s we set out into the Five Points neighborhood to see what was good on tap. First, no one actually calls this area the Five Points neighborhood anymore from what we could tell. Everyone seemed to call it the Ballpark neighborhood owing to the presence of Coors Field. Second, almost no place was open in the late morning. If you want to feel like a degenerate spend a few minutes on a beautiful Saturday morning trying to find a place to drink a beer. Yeah, I kind of felt like we were trying to bring back the glory days of Denver’s skid row.
NOTE: I am not going to give ratings to all of the beers that I tried because that would not be a fair assessment considering the amount I had consumed toward the end and my general level of inebriation. I will try and pick out some highlights.
Finally, at 11 AM the Breckenridge Brewery’s restaurant pretty much across the street from Coors Field opened and we were saved in our pursuit liquid libation. This location is not the actual brewery of record, so it is also not a traditional taproom. BTW, this location cannot sell growlers because there is no actual brewing taking place on site.
Breckenridge Brewery is not a small craft brewer. The brewery has been in business for almost 25 years and is now distributed in 32 states. I can find Breckenridge Brewery beers on the shelves of my local grocery store here in Iowa. I think that the presence in the middle of the scene—squeezed by the big craft names like New Belgium on the large end and the innovators on the small end of the scale—cause people to forget that this is a brewery that is capable of delivering some excellent beers.
I started with a tasting flight:
The tasting flight included—from left to right—Avalanche Amber, Agave Wheat, Nitro Vanilla Porter, and Lucky U IPA.
Nitro Vanilla Porter had the smoothness we have come to associate with beers dispensed from a nitro tap, but the vanilla flavor was overwhelming in an artificial way. It came across like the scent in a cheap holiday candle.
We followed up the tasting flight with a pint of Trademark Pale Ale:
The bartender interestingly described Trademark Pale Ale as a good entry point into craft beer. Usually, I consider amber ales to be the entry point because of the lack of a super distinctive hop character. However, I would not quibble with is assertion given Trademark Pale Ale’s easy drinking nature.
It was noon and that meant that down the street Great Divide Brewing Company’s taproom on 22nd and Arapahoe was open. To say we went a little gangbusters at Great Divide would be an understatement. This was a brewery that I had wanted to visit for a long time.
It started out with a tasting flight again:
From left to right it was Titan IPA, Hercules Double IPA, and Yeti Imperial Stout. I would love to tell you about Titan IPA, but the taster was pulled back from me by the barkeep. This was a good thing because she felt that the beer did not taste like Titan should and replaced it with a taster of my choice:
This is Lasso IPA. I followed this up with another set of three tasters:
From left to right it was Hoss Rye Lager, Denver Pale Ale, and a beer described only as “hoppy wheat.”
What to say about Great Divide? There was not a bad beer in the bunch, but these beers drank “big.” Each example was big in flavor, big in hops, and pretty big in terms of alcohol. Not an all-day drinking adventure for sure. For example Hercules Double IPA clocks in at ~10% ABV with an aggressive hop profile. My brother was not going the taster route and had a tulip full of Hercules. By the end of that glass he made a point of slowing down for the rest of the day.
Great Divide is an excellent example of a brewery making a lot of beers that orbit a similar style, in this case IPA. So, you get to taste a lot of variation without each beer being such a grand departure that comparison is impossible. I kind of felt like I was in my basement trying the different house pale ale recipes that I have been working on throughout the spring and summer.
We walked out into the searing afternoon sun and walked a few blocks south to a newer player in the craft beer scene, Jagged Mountain Brewery. It’s a comfortable taproom situated at an interesting Denver corner with a brewery on one corner, a yoga studio across the street, a Buddhist temple kittie corner, and a place called the Cannabis Station on the final corner. Only in Denver.
Again I hit up a tasting flight:
From left to right it was Zero Gravity Saison, Spearhead Saison, and Keyhole Session IPA. Can you sense that I was starting to feel it by this point? Yeah, I went for the lower alcohol beers like a moth to a flame. These were again all excellent beers. I feel a little bit like a broken record when I say this, but it is hard to find a bad beer from these craft brewers in Denver. It’s not like the mid-1990s when you would order a beer at a brew pub and be served something akin to bathtub hooch.
The beer that I got really excited about was Imlay American IPA. Somehow in my increasingly drunken stupor I failed to snap a mediocre picture of the beer. I guess this means that I will just have to make a trip to Jagged Mountain again in July.
Although a somewhat “bigger” beer than I normally really dig (~7% ABV and 60 IBU) the beer had a balance to its hoppiness, body, and alcohol that was downright perfect. I really look forward to sitting down with a few of these at a later date and really thinking about what I am drinking.
By this time the pre-game meal at Biker Jim’s had worn off, but the good people at Basic Kneads had parked a truck outside the Jagged Mountain taproom and were dishing out solid wood fired pies. At some point during the day I felt like I had died and gone to my own personal heaven where good beer was everywhere, the sun was shining, and food trucks just parked a few steps away.
Although I am not ranking any of the beers I have commented upon, I can without hesitation or reservation recommend almost all of them—sorry Nitro Vanilla Porter, but you were the lone loser today. If you find yourself in the Ballpark neighborhood sometime Breckenridge Brewery, Great Divide Brewing Company, and Jagged Mountain Brewery can handle your liquid needs.
This story is to be continued with a look at breweries that are a little further afield than downtown Denver…