Colorado Beercation Part 2 – Boulder County

After spending two nights in Fort Collins we got up on Friday morning and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park for some sightseeing and a bit of hiking.  I highly recommend it making the drive up into the mountains to take in some gorgeous vistas, especially if you are visiting breweries and have time to kill in the morning.  The area around Bear Lake is accessible and offers a variety of hiking options.

We left the park in the early afternoon heading for Boulder, our base of operations for the next two days.  Home to the University of Colorado and literally in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder has a population of roughly 300,000, about twice that of Fort Collins but it felt even larger.  It is home to 15+ breweries and brewpubs, including the state’s oldest craft brewery, Boulder Beer Company (est. 1979). The headquarters of the Brewers Association, the trade group that promotes craft brewing in the US, is also located in Boulder.  In fact there are far too many breweries in Boulder County than a reasonable person can visit in two days.

While there are some concentrated pockets of breweries, most notably on Perle Street, the ones you should visit are more far flung than in Fort Collins.  Public transit/walking is not feasible for places like Avery, Left Hand and Oskar Blues.  Using a combination of our car early in the day, über cabs, and a fair bit of walking we were able to hit four breweries on Friday and a fifth one for dinner on Saturday.

Early afternoon at Bear Lake inside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Early afternoon at Bear Lake inside of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Oskar Blues – Lyons

  • Address: 303 Main Street, Lyons, CO 80540
  • Website: eat.oskarblues.com/oskar-blues/grill-brew/
  • Hours: Mon-Fri 11 am to close; Sat-Sun 10 am to close
  • Pats Pints Pick: G’Knight Imperial Red

On the way down the mountain we stopped at the original Oskar Blues brewpub in the small town of Lyons to get a bite to eat.  The venue is divided into a restaurant in the upper half and a bar in the lower half, both open out onto modest sized outdoor patios.  We arrived at 2:45 pm, not obvious drinking hours for gainfully employed locals, but when you are on a beercation those kinds of rules are suspended.  We opted for the darker downstairs space, which in the early afternoon on a weekday has a vibe straight out of the Cheryl Crow song “All I Want to Do”, minus the car wash of course.  There are a few pool tables, a small stage area where local bands play 4-5 nights of the week, and a side room that contains pinball machines and classic arcade games (Frogger, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Tempest, …).

The downstairs bar at Oskar Blues in Lyons.
The eclectic decor of the downstairs bar at Oskar Blues in Lyons, where you are more likely to see someone doing a shot of tequila than playing a board game.

We decided to split a flight of the entire taplist, 10 four-ounce tasters in all, for $17.  Oskar Blues beers are well known so I don’t need to describe them here.  Four of the ten beers in the flight were taproom only beers (Priscilla Wheat, Rock Candy Red, Juicy Wolf IPA, and a Brown Ale), but none of these were particularly noteworthy in my opinion.  The highlight beer of this stop was undoubtedly the G’Knight Imperial Red. With big caramel malts and even bigger hops, the synergy between the two leads to a taste sensation that is juicy, spicy, citrusy, and piney all in one package. Surprisingly I had never tried this beer before, so discovering it was worth the trip. The Gubna Imperial IPA is not a bad choice either.

The food at Oskar Blues is also well worth your while.  The house smoked Buffalo chicken wings are particularly good. They are coated in sauces and rubs that involve the house beers.  Of the three we tried I would highly recommend the chipotle-Old Chub sauce. They were the best chicken wings I’ve had in a long time.  The happy hour portion of Jambalaya Mac and Cheese was also a good call as I was keen to get some starch in my stomach to soak up the beer that was to still to come.

Note that the main production facility for Oskar Blues is twelve miles away in Longmont.  We didn’t visit there but from what I read there is a tap room, an Oskar Blues food truck, and live music on occasion.  If you want to a tour, see where the technology behind a crowler was developed, or just want something closer to Boulder this would be the better choice.

The Elvira pinball machine in the game room at Oskar Blues in Lyons. An arcade straight out of the early 1980s.
The Elvira pinball machine in the game room at Oskar Blues in Lyons. An arcade straight out of the 1980s.

Left Hand Brewing

  • Address: 1265 Boston Ave., Longmont, CO 80025
  • Website: http://www.lefthandbrewing.com
  • Hours: Mon-Thur 3-8; Fri-Sat 12-9; Sun 1-8
  • Pats Pints Pick: Milk Stout on nitro

From Lyons you can follow the meandering St. Vrain creek all the way to Left Hand Brewing in Longmont.  Although it would have been more fun to travel by kayak or maybe inner tube, we followed a more conventional route in our car, which takes about 20 minutes, and unfortunately bypasses the curiously named town of Hygiene. When you enter the taproom you immediately walk by an area for buying Left Hand merchandise, medals from the GABF hang on a wall opposite the bar, and the bartender’s Certified Beer Server certificates are on display above the bar.  Although those things are similar to the taprooms at New Belgium and Odell, the scene here is definitely more locals than beer tourists and wedding rehearsal parties.  We arrived a little after 4 pm to find a decent crowd getting an early start to their weekend.  By the time we left at 5 pm the indoor tables and outdoor patio were rapidly filling up.

There were 11 beers on tap, most of which are available anywhere Left Hand beers are distributed.  There were two beer engines pouring Left Hand beers on cask, and on Friday one house beer is poured through a Randall.  Given the lack of taproom special beers the choice of beer was an easy one for me, the Milk Stout on nitro.  This is their signature beer and I’m a sucker for beers poured on nitro.  With waves of delicious milk chocolate, and the creaminess that only comes from a nitro tap, it did not disappoint.  When ordering at a brewery or a restaurant it’s always a good policy to order what that place does best, and in my opinion this is the jewel of the Left Hand lineup.

The creamy, chocolaty goodness of Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro.
The creamy, chocolaty goodness of Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro.

 Avery Brewing

  • Address: 4910 Nautilaus Ct., Boulder, CO 80301
  • Website: http://www.averybrewing.com
  • Hours: Mon 3-11; Tue-Sun 11-11
  • Pats Pints Pick: So hard to choose, but I’ll have to go with either 22 or Collaboration not Litigation

After checking into our hotel in Boulder we parked the car for the night, jumped in an über cab and headed out to Avery Brewing.  Every now and again you visit the right brewery, at the right time, in the right mood, with the right people, and something special happens.  The past and future melt away and you can’t help but revel in the present.  When we arrived at Avery a around 6:30 pm on a warm Friday evening in July it was one of those moments.  The day was giving way to evening and the sun’s rays were reflecting off the four 720 barrel fermentation tanks that tower above the new brewery.  A crowd of people were relaxing on the patio drinking beer and soaking up the magic of the summer evening.

The patio at Avery on a Friday evening in July.
The patio at Avery on a Friday evening in July.

If you’ve visited Avery in years past the first thing to know is that they’ve moved to a new location. The massive, state of the art brewery is located 7-8 miles northeast of downtown Boulder.  To say the new digs, which cost $30 million and can produce 500,000 barrels of beer per year, are impressive is an understatement.  There is a three tank hop dosing system for hop-forward beers like Maharja, a negative pressure room that stores hundreds of oak barrels, and a 1000 square foot laboratory that employs seven full time people for analyzing beer, propagating yeast, etc.  There is a taproom on the ground floor and a full restaurant on the second floor.  We were too late for a tour, and didn’t realize until after we had left that you could do a self-guided tour anytime, but I’m sure it would be worthwhile (if you can’t get out to Boulder anytime soon you can see a tour online by clicking here).

We headed into the taproom, which was predictably full.  Fortunately as we approached the bar two seats opened up and we grabbed them.  The hardest part about visiting Avery is deciding what beers to order. On the day we visited there were over 30 beers on tap, 11 of which were made just for the taproom.  Stylistically they run the gamut—easy drinking wit beers, hoppy IPAs, sours, brett beers, pumpkin ales aged in bourbon barrels, brown ales spiced with chai, decadent malty behemoths with enough alcohol and residual sugar to last through a Colorado winter.  If you can’t find something that suits your fancy at Avery you don’t like beer.  Fortunately, nearly all of them can be purchased in various sizes which allows you to sample a variety of beer styles and still leave on your feet.

Nirvana found, the selections at Avery.
Nirvana found, the selections at Avery.

For my part I started with 22, a dry hopped ale fermented entirely with Brettanomyces that really showcases the fruity side of Brett.  I then moved to a small pour of Collaboration Not Litigation, a blend of Avery’s Salvation Golden Strong and Russian River’s beer of nearly the same name.  Normally collaboration beers are bit of a letdown but this beer was brimming with apricots, peaches, spicy phenols from the yeast, and a hint of chocolate, all delivered in a thick, sweetish golden malt package. Next came a glass of Raspberry Sour, which delivered balsamic vinegar notes on the nose, tart raspberries on the tongue, and a mouth puckeringly dry finish.  I tried a sip of the Carlos Caliente, which is the Reverend mixed with some Raspberry sour and chipotle peppers, but I thought there was too much going on in that beer. Ralph was seriously impressed with big malt backbone and even bigger hop presence in the Maharaja Imperial IPA.  (Editors Note: My friend Cindy Grote, who had visited a few days before us and told me that the III Dolia might be the best sour she’s ever tasted.  Another friend, Zaftig owner/brewer Brent Halsey told me that Uncle Jacob’s Stout was the highlight of his trip to Colorado.  So if either of those beers is available don’t be put off by the high price.)

The background music was a good mix of classic and alternative rock played at the right volume. Despite the fact that it was very busy the bartenders seemed to be having fun.  Every once in a while one of them would break into karaoke style accompaniment to the house music. Whenever there was a lull in the action one of them would ask us if could answer any questions.  They were also generous in giving us complimentary tastes of different beers each time we were trying to decide what to order next.

Avery excelled at every aspect of what I look for in a brewery taproom—great atmosphere, great service, and more than anything else great, innovative beer.  It’s a bold statement but I would go so far as to say that if you only visit one brewery in Colorado this is the one.

All good things come to an end, finishing our stop at Avery with a snifter of 22.
All good things come to an end, finishing our stop at Avery with a snifter of 22.

West Flanders

  • Address: 1125 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO 80302
  • Website: http://www.wfbrews.com
  • Hours: Mon-Sun 11-close
  • Pats Pints Pick: No real standouts but the Trippel Lutz has the best name

It was so difficult to leave Avery but with the dazzling variety of high gravity barrel aged beers I knew if we stayed too long Ralph would have to carry me out of there, so with some regret we decided to head for West Flanders Brewing in the heart of downtown Boulder.  We set off in an über as the sun was setting behind the Rockies.

West Flanders’s is located on the four block long section of Pearl Street that has been converted into a pedestrian mall. On a weekend night Pearl Street is a scene in and of itself—full of people out on the town, street performers on every block, carts selling food.  It’s the place to be on a Friday night, and West Flanders is located right in the middle of this scene.  As we approached the brewery we stopped for a few minutes to watch a man play a Willie Nelson song on the piano while hanging upside down from a pair of furry boots.  Not something you see in Columbus ever.

At this point I was mostly hoping the performers shirt wouldn't come untucked in the front.
At this point I was mostly hoping the performers shirt wouldn’t come untucked in the front.

West Flanders is a brewpub with a sleek modern design and an emphasis on the restaurant side of the operation.  The front half is full of tables that spill out onto Pearl Street, while the bar and brewing equipment are located in the back half.  Servers pour beer from taps that connect directly to a row of shiny steel fermentation/brite tanks that line the wall behind the bar.  The aesthetics of the place are very pleasing.

The menu at West Flanders is more ambitious that your typical brewpub.  Appetizers include dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in bacon, caramel curry chicken wings, poutine, edamame, and of course steamed mussels.  Four different types of mac’n’cheese are on the menu, including one with roasted mushrooms, which is what I ordered.  Ralph opted for the flatbread pizza with prosciutto, duck and sweet potatoes.  On the night we visited, the beers at West Flanders could largely be sorted into one of two camps, either Belgian-style or IPAs. I liked the IPAs a little better than the Belgians, but to be honest after leaving Avery nothing here made much of an impression on me.

A visit to Boulder wouldn’t be complete without spending some time on Pearl Street and West Flanders is a good stop to check that box.  The menu is ambitious but I wasn’t blown away by the food.  The beer was fine but not particularly remarkable.

The bar at West Flanders.
The bar at West Flanders.

Fate Brewing

After leaving West Flanders we decided to call it a night and walked back to our hotel, checking out the scene on Pearl Street along the way.  On Saturday we headed into Denver which is the subject of tomorrow’s post, but we finished the day with dinner at one of the Boulder’s newest breweries, Fate Brewing.

Located roughly two miles east of downtown, Fate is surrounded by tree-filled residential/commercial neighborhoods. The décor at Fate is contemporary and stylish, with a large number of tables and booths that radiate out from a U-shaped bar that sports 30 tap handles on each side.  Like West Flanders the vibe here tends more toward restaurant than bar, but the beer at Fate is so much more interesting and varied.  We sat on a large multilevel outdoor patio shaded by a tent like awning.  Hop vines growing up trellises rim the patio and provide some privacy from the surrounding neighborhood.

With close to 20 house beers on tap and another 10 guest taps there are plenty of options to choose from. Both Ralph and I ordered different flights.  The Laimas Kölsch, a 2014 GABF gold medalist, features bready malts and a clean finish.  The Watermelon variant of the Kölsch was refreshing and better than expected.  Golden coffee ales are style I usually enjoy and the Fate Coffee IPA is no exception.  It delivers fresh green coffee flavors without the roastiness of a dark beer.  The Norns Roggenbier  had a spicy note that paired well with the reuben sandwich I had for dinner.  Speaking of dinner the reuben was first rate.  In fact I found the food here less pretentious and superior to West Flanders.  The Morai IPA and Sudice American Stout were solid beers, but not standouts for me.  I finished with a pour from one of the guest taps.  Odell’s Myrcenario is a tequila barrel aged version of their DIPA Myrcenary.  Very unique and extremely tasty, it was the perfect way to end our next to last day in Colorado.

While I would stop short of calling Fate a must stop destination, it is a great place to get some lunch or dinner while sampling some tasty and interesting beers.

No shortage of choices at Fate Brewing.
No shortage of choices at Fate Brewing.

That wraps up leg two of the trip.  Look for the third and final installment in this series next week when the focus turns to the Denver metropolitan area.  If you missed yesterday’s post on the breweries of Fort Collins click here to get the lowdown on that mecca of craft beer.

A map of our stops in Boulder. For a sense of scale the distance from Left Hand to West Flanders is 13 miles.
A map of our stops in Boulder. For a sense of scale the distance from Left Hand to West Flanders is 13 miles.

5 thoughts on “Colorado Beercation Part 2 – Boulder County

Add yours

  1. Crooked Stave is a must for Denver, if you haven’t been already. Great Divide usually has several Yeti beers on tap with different additions, so that is usually amazing. I am going to say Joyride Brewing, because they are great and have a really cool location. Then there are the other millions of breweries all around the area.

  2. keep it up — i will hang on every word of the Denver review, as that is my stomping ground; i “semi-beercate” myself, but don’t keep quite such detailed notes

    you have made me even more want to visit Avery, which is thankfully only 7 miles from downtown Boulder

    1. Thanks for the feedback, glad to hear that you liked the post. Good call correcting my distance estimate to Avery, I’ll correct that.

      I expect to finish the Denver review sometime next week.

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