Tag Archives: Colorado

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Imperceptibly but steadily the arid ranchland terrain of dry gullies and crevices rises to meet the horizon as I leave behind a limitless expanse stretching eastward as far as the eye can see. A few hours pass before I crest a small hill, and there, spread out before me in the distance is the spine of the continent soaring to majestic heights.Albert Bierstadt - SurveyorsWagonRockies (1859-WikiCommons) Tucked up against the Front Range palisades that form the entry to the Rockies, Denver and other erstwhile frontier settlements beckon with a cosmopolitan flair that belies their one-time reputation as a collection of cow towns.

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Home to hikers, cyclists, and other fitness-conscious denizens of Whole Foods and similar paycheque-depleting grocery stores, Colorado boasts the second-highest number of gallons of beer consumed per capita in the United States. Beards abound, but there’s hardly a beer belly in sight.

  • 175 craft breweries (4th in the U.S.)
  • 4.7 breweries per 100,000 adults 21 years of age or older (4th in the U.S.)
  • 1,413,242 barrels produced (2nd in the U.S.) *One barrel = 31 U.S. gallons
  • 11.7 gallons of beer per adult 21 years of age or older (2nd in the U.S.)

~Brewers’ Association data current as of 2013~

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Arapaho and Cheyenne buffalo hunters once occupied the land that rumours of riches transformed. Gold drew the tide of white pioneers and adventurers to the Front Range in the middle of the nineteenth century, establishing Denver as a major supply point at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

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Over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I’d be seeing old Denver at last. […] Before I knew it we were going over the wholesale fruitmarkets outside Denver; there were smokestacks, smoke, railyards, red-brick buildings, and the distant downtown gray-stone buildings, and here I was in Denver. He let me off at Larimer Street. I stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world, among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street.  (Jack Kerouac, On the Road)

Just as Denver once attracted luminaries of the postwar counter-cultural efflorescence, the city has also played a central role in a more recent “revolution” that is leaving an indelible imprint on the recent cultural history of North America.Kerouac - On the Road Even if Kerouac’s beat prose pulses more faintly in Denver today than it did in the late 1940s, a host of Denver breweries and brewpubs have channeled the ethos of this earlier generation in challenging taste preferences for massed-produced beer. Though we may debate the merits of gentrification, establishments like Wynkoop and Great Divide have shaped the urban revitalization of Denver.

Wynkoop Brewing Company

With its three-story brewpub with its sea of pool tables on the second floor and convivial downstairs bar and dining area, Wynkoop is a Denver institution with deep roots in the community.

Back when it opened in 1988, there was nary a brewpub in sight between California and Chicago. And not only that: The historic building in which John Hickenlooper and his partners chose to establish their brewpub––the J.S. Brown Mercantile Building (1899)––was in an area of town that had long since fallen on hard times. The partners had to lobby the state legislature to change the laws governing the production and sale of beer at a single site. The work paid off. With one cut of the ribbon on opening day, Wynkoop became Colorado’s first brewpub and Denver’s first microbrewery. (It seems the experience with the political process paid off for Hickenlooper. If you’re not from Colorado but were wondering why the name sounds familiar, Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver fifteen years after Wynkoop opened, and was elected governor twenty-two years after the first pint was raised.)

Wynkoop - RockyMtnOysterStout (www-wynkoop-com)Rather than settling on a pint, try a sampler flight of three 5-oz pours. Two beers in particular stood out among the two flights I ordered. The Cherry Sour is a relatively complex barrel-aged beer with pleasant oak and vanilla aromatics stitched together with a playful sour cherry and hay-like Brett character. If you like darker beers, try the B3K Black Lager––plenty of sweet cocoa and caramel together with toast and roast aromas complementing spicy-herbal noble hops and a bitter-sweet chocolate nuttiness on the palate. Should you happen upon Wynkoop around April Fools’ Day, try the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout if you dare.

Great Divide

No frills here. Just a wrap-around bar, a room with a view (to the brewhouse), and the occasional food truck parked out front. Located in a serviceable early-vintage brick building a few steps off the beaten path in a part of town that still retains a Kerouacian feel, Great Divide’s tasting room is all about what’s in the glass.IMG_9399 Even if you live in a place that sees plenty of Great Divide distribution, this is one taproom and brewery where your well-spent time won’t cost you more than a happy song to sample the richly warming offerings that don’t make it far beyond the Denver city limits. The prices for samples of their various Yeti iterations (Espresso Oak-Aged, Chocolate Oak-Aged, Belgian-Style, you name it) are eye-popping, but in a good way. With the proliferating rivers of excellent imperial stouts available these days, it still pays to rediscover the craft beer “classics” from time to time.

If you’re not as much a fan of the heavy hitters as I am––or if you entertain any hope of partaking of Denver’s rich cultural scene in addition to your beer explorations––the taproom’s sixteen handles also include Great Divide’s widely available lighter fare like Heyday Belgian-Style White Ale and Lasso IPA.

Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

Just off Larimer Street, Euclid Hall occupies a stately brick building once home to a Masonic Lodge and the Colorado Women’s Relief Corps. A small selection of mainly Colorado breweries such as Elevation, Telluride, Epic, Odell, Avery, and Left Hand flow from the twelve taps, and the roughly fifty bottles and cans come reasonably priced.Euclid Hall Exterior (FB page) Choose from the Arithmetic or Algebra list for lighter beers, or try your luck with Trigonometry or Calculus at the higher ABV/IBU/sour quotient end of the list.

You may well find a larger selection of beers at several of the taprooms within a stone’s throw of Euclid Hall, but you’d be harder pressed to find food that matched the caliber of this gastropub’s dishes: house-made sausages, hand-ground mustards, and P.E.I. mussels steamed in New Belgium Tripel are just a few of the beer-friendly dishes you’ll find here. I had a rich and silky Duck Poutine that had me thinking for a moment that I was at the legendary Au Pièd de Cochon in Montreal. My dinner companion, who’s vegetarian, had no objections about the Asparagus Gribiche.

Colorado Liquor Mart

Colorado Liquor Mart features knowledgeable service if you’re lucky enough to get “the beer guy.” Colorado craft beer is well represented, and the store has an inconspicuous walk-in behind the showcase coolers where you can search for rarer beers from the U.S. and beyond. Be sure to ask about it; staff members were more than happy to take me back for a look. Easily accessible from I-25, Colorado Liquor Mart makes a perfect pit-stop for loading up on the way out of town. Mr. B.’s Wine & Spirits and Mondo Vino get good press, but I haven’t been. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Endnote:

Thanks for reading the first part of Tempest’s series on Colorado’s Northern Front Range. The compendium of articles I’ll be rolling out over the coming weeks is eons from exhaustive––who among us can conceivably visit every establishment in the Denver, Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins areas within the space of a week, especially while taking in two sessions of the Great American Beer Festival? Feel most free to chime in with a comment about your own favourite brewery and taproom gems beyond the justifiably famous ones that saturate the Front Range.

Related Tempest Articles

Striking Gold: Boulder Breweries Further Afield (Northern Front Range Series)

Boulder: Craft Beer at the Foot of the Mountain (Northern Front Range Series)

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Images

Albert Bierstadt. Surveyor’s Wagon in the Rockies (1859). Two-dimensional public-domain reproduction of the original housed in the St. Louis Art Museum.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, www.wynkoop.com, photo gallery.

Great Divide taproom, F.D. Hofer.

Euclid Hall exterior, Euclid Hall Facebook page.

Useful Further Reading

Ed Sealover. Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado’s Breweries (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011).

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Tempest Hits the Open Road: Dispatches from the Beerways of North America

Stillwater dawned blue-skied, the late spring heat held in check by a gentle southerly breeze. One last sweep of the house to make sure we had everything for our trip.IMG_5863 Warm clothes for the mountains. Coolers for the beer and wine we planned to haul back. And passports. Vancouver beckoned, far away.

After dispatching a set of keys to a friend and fellow homebrewer who had agreed to tend the Kölsch and Scotch ale I had fermenting in the garage fridge, we set off on our road trip to celebrate an important anniversary with family and friends. In between lay some twenty-five hundred miles of asphalt joining high plains, mountain passes, desolate wasteland, and verdant farmland. That, and a few breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, and taprooms.

North Americans have long maintained an infatuation with the open road stretched across limitless horizons and punctuated, occasionally, by saw-toothed mountain ranges – a fascination with the long-distance journey that predates both the automobile and the transcontinental railway.IMG_9879 With naught but two weeks for our entire trek, though, we had to roll. Plenty of distance, but a dearth of time. Time trumped our desire to tarry with the wind-hewn mesas of Utah, or the trout streams, woods and sequestered mountain valleys of Montana and nearby Yellowstone. Distance – this broad expanse of a continent telescoped somewhat by Eisenhower’s postwar Interstate system – remained absolute, as if to spite a modernity countersigned by the automobile. Massive slabs of granite thrust at angles a mile into the sky remain impressive, even at seventy miles per hour.

Beer Travel on a Shoestring Temporal Budget

Time and distance also had a predictable effect on how I approached the beerscape of the various regions we traversed. Several thousand miles took precedence over carefully-orchestrated beer travel. The result? Brewery and brewpub drop-ins that were pleasantly haphazard – a welcome change from the (albeit enjoyable) brewery visits I’ve arranged since starting work on A Tempest in a Tankard. This time around, the absence of advance planning allowed me a bit more freedom as a critic – an interesting issue I’ll address at length in a future piece. And it left the door open to serendipitous discoveries unclouded by the prejudices and pre-selections that invariably accompany the planning of itineraries.

What happens when you leave town on a long road trip without having done much research on the various brew scenes dotting your route? After a week of exploration around the time of 2013’s GABF, I have a good sense of what flows from the taps in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. The same goes for Oregon and Washington, mainly because a fair number of their beers enjoy wide distribution. But what about places like Idaho? Sure, I can name a few breweries, but their beers rarely find their way into my stein.IMG_9826 What would we find if we were to just roll into a town like Cheyenne, Wyoming, without knowing what the city or region had to offer? And British Columbia? I grew up in Vancouver’s shadow, but haven’t spent much time in that rainy city since its beer scene began to burgeon.

A Beer at the End of the Line: Cheyenne

Oklahoma and Kansas blended together, the horizon interrupted only by farmhouses, small towns, cattle, and bluffs planted to slow down the wind.

And the wind. Relentless and virtually unhindered, save for the ant-train of cars and eighteen-wheelers snaking their way westward along the I-70, the wind was a constant wall scouring the land, bending trees in an eternal northward bow.

Arrow-straight the I-70 unfolds until, near the state line separating Kansas from Colorado, the road curves back and forth to form a wry smile and a wink. An ironic commentary: still several leagues to travel before any obstacle other than critters or wayward livestock will block your path. But the terrain starts to rise, imperceptibly. And imperceptibly, the landscape takes on a more rugged countenance, scored by gorges and canyons delineating the ubiquitous and lonesome ranch lands.

The wind has abated and we pull off the road, like so many before us, to rest under an afternoon sun that has baked the ground beneath us golden.Oregon Trail - 1907 (Wiki) But unlike those intrepid wagon-train travelers who passed to the north of us a century-and-a-half ago along the Oregon Trail, we doze off serenaded not by the susurrus of the prairie grassland. No, great-great-grand children of the Industrial Revolution and contemporaries of the Information Age, we catch snippets of sleep laced with the pre-recorded National Weather Service forecast broadcasting itself in its strangely-intonated digital monotone, mingling with the purr of engines and the hushed whisper of tires flowing along the asphalt stream yonder.

Just as the fog in that poem, dusk comes on little cat feet. Less so the Front Range of the Rockies, looming up in the distance beyond the glass and steel spires of Denver, shrouded in a veil of cloudy twilight. After hours of westward travel, we thread our way along the seam that separates the foothills from the plains spreading all the way to the Great Lakes, destination Cheyenne. IMG_9861

But where’s the damn beer?

~ Stay tuned ~

Images:

Vancouver’s English Bay: F.D. Hofer

Western Idaho portion of the Oregon Trail: F.D. Hofer

Storefront, Cheyenne, WY: F.D. Hofer

Oregon Trail Map (1907), from Ezra Meeker, The Ox Team, or the Old Oregon Trail, 1852-1906: Wikipedia

Wyoming Welcome: F.D. Hofer