Park lands and cycling trails, winter sports, an interesting mix of people, a college town vibe, the Flatirons, three hundred days of sunshine a year, and, of course, world-class craft beer. What’s not to like about Boulder, Colorado? Last time, I checked out a few breweries and brewpubs (such as Twisted Pine and the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery) within walking distance of one another. This set of impressionistic musings picks up where the last one left off, and explores some of Boulder’s breweries reachable by bicycle or car.
Avery Brewing Co.
Innovation is alive, well, and thriving in the shadow of the Rockies. Not far from the place where rivers of generic beer brewed with pure Rocky Mountain water and High Country Barley rise, veteran Front Range craft breweries like Avery continue to challenge our conception of beer. Avery first opened its doors way back in 1993, and demand for its stable of year-round offerings like Ellie’s Brown Ale, White Rascal Wit, and Out of Bounds Stout continues to grow –– so much so that Avery just celebrated its Grand Opening at its new 96,000 square-foot facility in the Gunbarrel district of northeastern Boulder.
But those solid year-rounds and more limited hefty offerings like The Reverend, Rumpkin, and The Beast aren’t the main reason to head straight to the source. No, a journey to Boulder gives you the chance to try beers that don’t make it beyond the taproom walls, beers like IPAs dry-hopped in accordance with the season, caffeinated variations on the stout theme, and one-and-done beers from the Avery Ermita barrel-aged sour series. As with any brewery that is constantly experimenting, what I tasted when I visited might not be what you get to taste.
The rich and full-bodied Fall Day IPA came infused with Colorado spruce tips, adding a beguiling fir needle aroma to the tangerine-grapefruit hop signature. A supple wall of clean but caramel-toasty malt supported a subtle coniferous character well integrated with citrus zest and mango. A compelling IPA, to be sure. Out of Mind Stout blends in Ozo’s Organic Coffee Toddy for a café au lait-style stout that showcases roasted malts and various shades of chocolate and dried fruit (prune-fig). Baking spice (clove-cinnamon) mingles with a warming, Kahlua-like alcohol presence, and the beer finishes dry and bitter –– a tad to bitter, perhaps. I really enjoyed this stout, but found myself wanting just a bit more roundness and smoothness on the palate.
If you like American brown ales, chai, and autumnal spice mixes, the rich and russet-coloured Bhakti Chai Brown will be right up your alley. The initial aromas and flavours of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in this unique and satisfyingly off-dry beer yield gently to toasted malts and just a hint of citrus. For something heading in a completely different direction from Avery’s chai brown, try a glass from the Ermita series, which has now stretched over eight editions. When I visited, the Ermita I tasted was a blond Brettanomyces-fermented ale aged in neutral wine barrels and infused with key limes. Hazy orange-gold like liquid caramel, this whimsical yet complex sour layered a restrained tropical fruit Brett character and citric-sour aromas over a bed of fresh grain and light brown sugar scented with clove. Key lime bursts forth on the palate, a touch of oak fills out the waifish body, and a coconut-mango sweetness tames the citrus-sour character before the key lime reasserts itself in the pleasant bitter-lime finish. A playful drink with plenty of surprises.
Servers at Avery are extremely knowledgeable. Samplers served in elegant flutes go for between $1.50 and $6. And the new location offers a food menu –– a nice improvement over the previous location on Arapahoe. Cider-brined rabbit and waffles, anyone?
Asher Brewing Company
In a town with as progressive a flair as Boulder, you’d almost expect to find a handful all-organic breweries. Not so. In fact, Asher Brewing Company was the only one-hundred percent organic brewery in the entire state of Colorado when it opened in late 2009. If environmental awareness forms the bedrock of Chris Asher’s brewery, Asher is just as concerned that you walk out of his taproom satisfied with the beers you’ve just drunk. Asher’s Kölsch-style beer, the Green Lantern, is clean and crisp, hitting the sweet spot of hoppiness for the style. Hopheads will enjoy the floral-citrus explosion of the weightier Greenade Double IPA. Asher also sees to it that a steady stream of seasonals run through the taps. Asher Brewing Company is tucked into a cul-de-sac in the Twin Lakes Tech Park located in the Gunbarrel area of northeast Boulder. Even if the area is off the beaten path, the views of the mountains at sunset more than compensate for the trip out. (See my “Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company” for a longer article on this environmentally-conscious brewery.)
Upslope Brewing Company
Like many breweries in the Front Range area, Upslope is located in an industrial park a short remove from the center of town. And like all these breweries located in seemingly out-of-the-way warehouse units, Upslope draws in the crowds. Upslope shares other elective affinities with its Front Range neighbours as well: a healthy concern for the environment. Matt Cutter, Upslope’s co-founder, uses a compressed-natural-gas van for deliveries, and recaptures as much of the water he uses from the Arapahoe Glacier as he can. (Indeed, “snowmelt” is listed as the first ingredient on all of Upslope’s packaged products.) Upslope is also near a busy bike path, so you can park your car and get some exercise before you tuck into their beer.
After an afternoon wandering around in the mountains west of Boulder, Upslope’s crisp and deftly crafted beers made for a refreshing early evening taproom session. The full-bodied and floral-spicy Czech-style Craft Lager set the tone, and the pepper- and coriander-spiced Wit with citrusy wheat and crisp slate notes added a bit more zing to the lively conversation that was unfolding at the bar. The Original Pale Ale features the Patagonian hop, an Argentinian-grown Cascade that Upslope began using to weather the hop shortage of 2008. Toasty honeyed malt, marmalade, and tropical fruit (papaya) predominate in this effervescent beer, opening out onto traces of marzipan, fresh oats, and a mild citrus-grapefruit spiciness not unlike some white wines. Upslope also brews a slightly smoky and delightfully pecan- and hazelnut-accented Brown Ale that, as I noted in between snippets of conversation at the taproom, was “one of the nicer browns I’ve had.” A half year later, I picked Upslope’s Brown Ale second (behind none other than Sam Smith’s Nut Brown) in a blind tasting of brown ales for my “Brown Beers Get No Luvin’” six-pack.
Since I last visited Upslope, the brewery has opened a second taproom location in Flatiron Park to keep up with demand, and has begun packaging some of its limited edition beers (such as their Thai-Style White IPA, Christmas Ale, and Foreign-Style Stout).
Crystal Springs Brewing Company
Tom Horst and family had been brewing popular beers out of their garage for several years in Sunshine Canyon, a scenic drive into the mountains west of Boulder. It wasn’t until October of 2013, though, that this Boulder High School music teacher with a Ph.D. in percussion moved their nano-sized Crystal Springs operation into a new and larger-capacity facility on the other side of Boulder.
The name of Horst’s brewery pays tribute to an earlier, pre-Prohibition incarnation of Crystal Springs that was first opened by two German brothers on a site overlooking Boulder Creek. Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company did not survive Prohibition, but Horst is bent on assuring that the legacy lives on in his latter-day reiteration of the brewery, even if that legacy no longer involves cutting blocks of ice to keep the Bock cold.
Speaking of Bockbier, alas, Crystal Springs’ Wuerzburger wasn’t yet on tap when I stopped by just before their Grand Opening, but I did get a chance to sample a few of their other flagship beers. Solidly in the American brewing tradition, South Ridge Amber amber derives its fullness from crystal and Munich malts, and features a liberal sprinkling of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Zythos hops. The Summertime Ale started life as a seasonal offering, but quickly became popular enough to merit year-round production. It has all the delicate fruitiness of a German-style Kölsch, with pear and citrus notes combining with a peppery spiciness reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. (“Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer” incorporates some of Boulder’s brewing history and lore.)
Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery
Just seventeen miles into the hills out of Boulder along the winding Highway 119, roughly-hewn Nederland provides one of the more stunning backdrops in the region for a pint of beer. Nestled among a row of frontier-era facades, Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery greets you with the soothing wood smoke scent of barbeque and winter fires long before you’ve found the sign above the door. Purple and green walls and a cathedral ceiling suspended over a fireplace create a laid-back ski lodge vibe. The space is bathed in natural light during the day, with a garage door-style opening bidding you to spend some time on the terrace in warmer months contemplating the dense pine forests rising up the mountain on the other side of town.
When it comes time to sample the wares, the “brew-ski” is your best bet. The brew-ski is just as you’re probably imagining it –– a ski with beers on it–– and comes with four of whichever house brews are on tap at the time of your visit, along with a guest beer. For tasting notes, check out my “Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque,” which includes a brief history of Nederland and its off-beat annual Frozen Dead Guy Days. Wild Mountain’s house brews are hit-and-miss, but the smoked and grilled wings are sublime. And you won’t be disappointed at all by the scenery.
Postscript: If you’re a homebrewer who has just moved to the area, or if you’re into all things fermentable (kvass, yogurt, kombucha, and the like), check out Boulder Fermentation Supply opened up recently by Adam Kandle. I first met Adam at Upslope when he stopped in on his way back from the hills with a backpack full of prickly pears for mead.
Related Tempest Articles
Avery new facility and sampler: Avery Brewing Company
Asher can with mountain: Courtesy of Asher Brewing Co. and Organic Soul Imaging
Upslope interior: F.D. Hofer
Upslope Brown: Upslope Brewing
Crystal Springs logo and bottle: Courtesy of Crystal Springs Brewing Company
Wild Mountain sign: F.D. Hofer
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