Back in July I took a five day trip out to Colorado with the sole purpose of visiting breweries. I met my friend Ralph Wolfe at the Denver airport, and the two of us set out to find the best beers and most interesting breweries Northern Colorado has to offer. The first two posts in this series, Part 1 on Fort Collins and Part 2 on Boulder, were published over a month ago. Motivated in part by the vicarious pleasure of reading reports from last week’s GABF I finally sat down to finish the third and final installment of the series, detailing our adventures in metropolitan Denver.
On an earlier trip to Denver I was able to hit several breweries and bars in the LoDo and RiNo districts near Coors Field (Crooked Stave, Epic, Great Divide, Wynkoop, Falling Rock Taphouse, Euclid Hall). An earlier post that focuses mostly on Crooked Stave describes those spots. This time around I was intent on visiting different breweries, and with a couple of exceptions we succeeded in that goal. While it’s definitely convenient to explore the beer spots located near Coors Field, the breweries we visited in the outlying areas are putting out some seriously good beer and are worthy of a closer look.
Dry Dock Brewing (South Dock)
- Address: 15120 E. Hampden Ave, Aurora, CO 80014
- Website: drydockbrewing.com
- Hours: Mon-Tue 12-9; Wed 12-9:30; Thur 12-10; Fri 12-11; Sat 11-11; Sun 11-9
- Pats Pints Pick: Apricot Blonde
I landed at the Denver Airport around 10:30 am on a sunny Wednesday morning in mid-July. Ralph, who had already been in Colorado for nearly a week, picked me up and we were on our way. Before leaving Denver for Fort Collins, we decided to make one stop at a locale not often featured in beer magazines, the eastern suburb of Aurora. Our first destination, Dry Dock Brewing, has taken home a lot hardware from prestigious festivals like the GABF and World Beer Cup (27 medals over the last 8 years to be exact), and its location is closer to the airport than it is to downtown Denver, so it made sense to serve as the kicking off point of the entire five day odyssey. Thirty minutes after leaving the airport we pulled into the non-descript strip mall where Dry Dock is located, twenty minutes later they opened and our beercation was officially underway. After all what kind of beer adventure is it really if you don’t start at midday in a suburban strip mall.
Cindy Grote, who and slings beer at the Daily Growler back in Central Ohio, also happened to be visiting Denver and joined us as Dry Dock’s first customers of the day. We all ordered flights ($8 for six beers). The beers were excellent, especially some of the lighter summer type offerings. The Hefeweizen (GABF gold medal 2011, silver medal 2010 & 2009) was very authentic with big notes of banana. The Apricot Blonde was superb, with a big bouquet of apricots that carries through to the taste—not too sweet, very fruity, and highly drinkable. It’s easy to see why this beer has won so many awards (GABF bronze medal in 2014 & 2015, GABF gold medal in 2012). Finally at 100+ IBUs the Hop Abomination is chock full of hop goodness.
The inside space is large, with front windows that look out on the parking lot and busy Hampden Avenue. There is an open archway door that connects the brewery to an affiliated homebrew supply store. The ambiance was what you might expect for a brewery located in a strip mall on a Wednesday afternoon.
- Address: 393 N. Washington Ave, Golden, CO 80403
- Website: http://www.cannonballcreekbrewing.com
- Hours: Mon-Wed 3-10; Thur 3-11; Fri-Sat 12-11; Sun 12-10
- Pats Pints Pick: Featherweight Pale Ale
After spending two nights in Fort Collins and another in Boulder, we returned to Denver on Saturday morning. Ralph volunteered to take it easy on the beer and do the driving, which was much appreciated because it allowed us to hit some spots not easily accessible by mass transit. When we were talking to the guys from Fathead’s who we met at Funkwerks two days earlier (see part 1 of this series) they told us that Cannonball Creek was worth checking out. Since it’s located up in Golden pretty far from everything else (well not that far from Coors I suppose) it seemed like a good place to start the day. So for the second time on the trip we found ourselves parked in a strip mall waiting for the high noon opening of a brewery. At least today it was a Saturday, which made it seem less socially deviant. Even though we were the first customers it wasn’t long before people starting showing up—beer geeks wearing Crooked Stave baseball caps talking about seasonal releases from Bell’s, couples with young children stopping in a break from shopping, and people who had been doing who knows what asking for something not too hoppy. In fact the atmosphere seemed downright wholesome.
The brewery/taproom is a rather large space with ample ambient light pouring in from the windows that act as the south and west walls. There is an outdoor patio with several picnic tables and a food truck was parked outside. A U-shaped bar occupies the space between the seating area and the brewing equipment. We took a seat at the bar and I ordered a flight of five beers. All of the beers were well crafted and a pleasure to drink, but a few stood out. The bread-inspired Rosemary Sourdough Saison smells just as the name implies, it’s thirst quenching, ever so slightly tart from the use of acidulated malts, and finishes crisp and dry. All in all one of the more unique beers I encountered on our five day journey. The Featherweight Pale Ale packages a surprising amount of piney hops and an unexpected resinous mouthfeel for a 5.0% abv APA. It recently won a bronze medal at the 2015 GABF, adding to the silver it took home from the 2013 GABF.
Like Dry Dock Brewing, Cannonball Creek is making first class beers that merit a trip to the burbs to check out. That fact together with its setting in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains puts it firmly in the upper echelon of strip mall breweries on planet earth, and that’s saying something.
- Address: 3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216
- Website: http://www.crookedstave.com/
- Hours: Mon 12-8; Tue-Sat 12-11; Sun 12-8
- Pats Pints Pick: Take your pick of a beer from the St. Bretta series for a rare chance at an all Brett fermented beer
After leaving Cannonball Creek we headed downtown for a stop at one of the darlings of the Denver beer scene, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. Although I’m a man with a fondness for all types of beer, brett beers are at the top of my list, and Crooked Stave has embraced brettanomyces like few breweries in the US. I visited Denver in March and wrote a long piece on Crooked Stave, so I’ll keep my comments here brief. Interested readers are directed to my earlier post for full details.
The first thing to know is that the Crooked Stave taproom is tucked away in an indoor marketplace called The Source. The large brick building that dates to the 1880’s houses a variety of artisan shops with Crooked Stave occupying the back left corner of the market. There is no outdoor signage to indicate that an awesome brewery is housed within, you’ll have to take my word on that. Motivated by both hunger and common sense we took a break from brewery visits for lunch at Comida, a taco truck turned brick and mortar establishment located at the front of the marketplace. It’s a damn good, somewhat upscale version of what you would expect from a taco truck. If you are on a Denver brewery crawl it’s a good option to get some grub.
The second thing to know is that Crooked Stave is all about wild and funky beer made with brettanomyces, souring bacteria, and long fermentation times in wooden foeders and barrels. If that’s your thing this is “the place” to stop in Denver. If that’s not your thing it might still be worth a visit, because they put a funky, sour twist on a number of familiar styles including west coast IPA (Progenitor), black IPA (Progenitor Noir), and barrel aged Imperial Stout (Nightmare on Brett). On this visit they were pouring a tasty Key Lime sour (Key Lime Tau), and I couldn’t resist a sample size pour of the all-Brett fermented St. Bretta, as well as their Flemish Red, Origins, which is both an homage and a worthy competitor to New Belgium’s La Folie. I was also impressed that the bartender recognized me from my visit there in March, and just like last time the level of service was once again superb.
- Address: 227 Broadway #101, Denver, CO 80203
- Website: trvebrewing.com
- Hours: Mon-Thur 3-11; Fri-Sat 12-12; Sun 12-10
- Pats Pints Pick: Tunnel of Trees IPA
Trve Brewing Co. (pronounced True) was on the itinerary as much for what I had read about its metal-themed atmosphere as it was for its beer. Located on Broadway, 1-2 miles south of the Capitol building, the brewery is housed in a long, narrow space that is easy to miss from the street. This is not the kind of brewery with glass walls and light pouring in, The light that comes in from the windows at the front of the bar doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the bar, and the decor is largely monochromatic, black walls adorned with evocative (mostly) black and white photos of abandoned buildings. There is an impressive communal table that must be close to 30 feet long in the front of the bar, and a bar that seats a dozen or so patrons in the back half of the establishment. The brewing equipment is located in the back of the building mostly out of sight, except when you make a trip to the bathroom.
The taps are located immediately below a pentagram and flanked by painted images of lantern holding, robed figures of a dog and a goat. As advertised hard core metal music pulses in the background. You’re not likely to hear 80’s era hair metal here either, instead expect bands with names like Water Torture, Pallbearer, Yob, and Dead Congregation.
Although it sounds like an intimidating vibe, the crowd was not that much different from any other brewery we visited. The volume of the music is low enough that it is easy to talk over. Both genders were represented in comparable proportions, and people wearing shorts and sandals outnumbered those wearing leather by a count of approximately 12 to 0. Our bartender was originally from Dayton, so we talked mostly about Ohio breweries and the Cincinnati beer scene, with hardly a mention of ancient Celtic rituals or embalming fluid.
Given the metal-theme I would have expected to Trve to specialize in high gravity, inky black beers aged over the broken shards of Slayer albums. Surprisingly their niche is session beers. Four of the nine beers on tap were below 5% abv, and the strongest beer maxed out at 7.3%. My four beer flight included a gose (Prehistoric Dog), a table beer brewed with oats and American hops (Hellion), and a grissette (Grey Watcher). My favorite beer was the aptly named Tunnel of Trees IPA, whose aroma evokes a stroll through a pine forest and features a nicely balanced mix of juicy floral hops and sweet malts.
Trve is an interesting stop, worth the trip if you want to witness the unusual marriage of death metal and session beers. While the beers were good on their own merits I’m not sure they are interesting enough to warrant hitting this somewhat out of the way stop on the Denver Ale Trail.
Falling Rock Tap House
- Address: 1919 Blake Street, Denver, CO 80202
- Website: fallingrocktaphouse.com
- Hours: Mon-Sun 11 am – 2 pm
- Pats Pints Pick: Choose for yourself, plenty on offer
No visit to Denver would be complete without making a stop at one of the most famous beer bars in the country, the Falling Rock Tap House. Smaller and more homey than you might expect, the atmosphere is pub-casual with a stellar taplist featuring 25+ Colorado beers and a slightly larger number from elsewhere. When I saw they had tapped a keg of Alpine Nelson earlier in the day it made for an easy decision. Some say that the Green Flash brewed versions of Alpine classics like Nelson and Duet aren’t quite as good as the ones coming directly from Alpine, and while that may be true I was not disappointed with my choice. As a late afternoon snack we split an order of the fried mushrooms, and I’ve got to say they were awesome.
- Address: 7667 East Iliff Ave, Denver, CO 80231
- Website: http://www.comradebrewing.com
- Hours: Mon 3-?; Tue: closed; Wed-Sun 12-?
- Pats Pints Pick: Superpower IPA
After we left the Falling Rock Tap House it was time to head back to our base of operations in Boulder. Our brewery visits had been spaced out in time and Ralph had been sticking to small pours of sessionable beers at each stop, but there’s no sense in pushing your luck. After parking the car at the hotel we made one more stop at Fate Brewing (as described in the second post in this series) for dinner and some more beer, before a well-deserved night of sleep.
Our Sunday flight back to Columbus wasn’t until 5 pm which left enough time for one more stop. After being smitten by a pint of Superpower IPA during my last visit to Denver, I was itching to visit Comrade Brewing before leaving town. Located on Illiff Avenue in East Denver, Comrade is closer to Dry Dock Brewing than it is to the Falling Rock Tap House. Like Dry Dock and Cannonball Creek, it occupies a space in a shopping center. The taproom features two bars and big airy room full of picnic style tables, with the big garage doors thrown full open on this hot July Sunday afternoon. The walls are painted crimson red with a logo that channels the image on the old Soviet flag.
Comrade has only been open since April 2014, but their Superpower IPA has already garnered a lot of praise with some calling it the best IPA in Colorado. Their brewmaster, Marks Lanham (and yes it is Marks, not Mark), previously held similar positions at some of my favorite northwest breweries—Grand Teton Brewing in Idaho, Boneyard Beer Co. in Bend, and Barley Brown’s Brewpub in Baker City, Oregon. Maybe all you need to know is that Lanham brewed beers at those three establishments garnered a total of 12 GABF medals between 2007 and 2013, more medals than most breweries can claim during the same time period.
At Comrade we met up with an old friend of mine from high school, Nick Carlson who now lives in Colorado Springs. While reminiscing about the glory days I enjoyed some of the beers Comrade had on offer. I started with a pint of the aforementioned Superpower IPA. Featuring a mix of Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops it has a fruity, tropical leaning nose paired with a fruity, easy drinking palate. Nicely balanced, a smidge dank but at the same time eminently drinkable, It may well be the best IPA brewed in Denver. Nonetheless, I think it’s jumping the gun a bit to say it’s better than the IPAs you can get at Odell or Avery (Editors Note: The fresh hop version of Superpower IPA has garnered silver medals in the fresh/wet hop category at the last two GABFs). I followed that pint with a glass of Yellow Fever, a version of their American blonde ale Yellow Card aged over Jalapenos. It has loads of green chili flavor and a definite hit of capsaicin at the finish. It’s not the kind of beer that you can pound all afternoon, but I’ve got a soft spot for flavorful chili beers.
Non-brewery excursion – Red Rocks Amphitheater
As is often the case on a beercation you have to find something to do in the mornings while waiting for the breweries to open up. While in Denver a visit to Red Rocks Amphitheater is one good option (I’ve heard a tour of the mint is another interesting option). So that is what we did with our Saturday morning, little did we know that our visit coincided with some kind of massive fitness festival. I haven’t seen that much spandex since the Hear’n’Aid video. The spirit of fitness did move me enough to participate in a group challenge to run up the bleachers from the bottom to the top of the amphitheater. Although mostly symbolic it made me feel like I earned the first beer of the day.
That wraps up my Colorado Beercation series, if you missed the earlier installments click on one of the links below for more tales of ales and babbling about breweries.