Denver 2012

Sometimes life throws us a bone. I had always wanted to tour the breweries and pubs of Denver. Well, Claudinne's company sent her there on a business trip, putting her up in a hotel downtown, walking distance to more than a dozen beer places. She invited me to partake of her employer's generosity and check off one of the items on my bucket list.

Wednesday April 4th. We fly in on a sunny, cool day. Downtown Denver is crowded and polluted like any other big city. We check in, Claudinne goes to work, and I go to play. My first stop is Great Divide Brewing Company.

Apparently Colorado laws differ from those of Maryland because breweries in Colorado are allowed to sell beer for consumption on premises. There were 16 taps and several customers. I got a tour. They started in 1994 on a single-barrel system. They have expanded to 50 bbls and also have a 7-bbl pilot system. Their beers ferment for 21-35 days. They brew 5 days a week, 24 hours a day. They produced 29,500 bbls in the past year.

They have a nice bottling line. They don't can any of their beer because the air pressure in Denver, which is a mile above sea level, is lower than it is at sea level, and cans don't handle the pressure change as well as bottles do. They donate any low-filled bottles to charity. Below are a few photos of the bottling line, but to get the full effect you need to see it in action. You can do so here.

They have several large fermentation tanks outside, and plan to add 5 more.

After the tour I tried several of their beers. Their samples are 3 for $3, but you can only order 3 at a time. The ones I tried were:

  1. Hades - Nice, estery and alcoholic.
  2. Colette - Cloudy. Good spicy aroma. Good earthy flavor.
  3. Hercules - Copper color. A bit cloudy. Somewhat sweet aroma. Good hoppy, somewhat malty flavor.
  4. Belgian-style Yeti - Good, roasty and sweet. Didn't taste Belgian - tasted like their regular Yeti.
  5. 18th Anniversary Wood-Aged Double IPA - Somewhat malty, woody aroma. Good woody, somewhat hoppy flavor.
  6. Old Ruffian - Reddish. Not much aroma. Nice smooth, malty/hoppy flavor.

Next it was on to Breckenridge Ball Park Pub. The beers are not actually brewed here. Breckenridge owns several pubs, and this one had the sort of big, generic atmosphere that did not make me want to drink there.

The same was true about the Blake Street Tavern, which is on the same street. I stopped there only because the place was listed in the Beer Mapping Project. They are not affiliated with any brewery, just a beer bar. The place is big and has a decent beer selection but nothing to write about.

A little further down the street is the River North Brewery. The place had just opened on February 18th, and occupies the space that had previously been occupied by the Flying Dog Brewery, now located in Frederick MD. The Beer Mapping Project had said that this place was open only Thursdays through Saturdays, but I stopped by because I was already in the area. Well, the beer gods smiled on me because this was the first time they had ever opened on a Wednesday (they were extending their business hours now that baseball season had begun).

They had 5 beers on tap, all of which were fermented with Belgian yeasts.

  1. River North White - Nice spicy aroma. Good estery, spicy flavor. Light body.
  2. Belgian-Style Pale Red Ale - Malty/Belgiany aroma. Good estery, hoppy flavor. Ample hops.
  3. J. Marie Saison - Good and estery.
  4. Hypothesis (a 9% ABV, 130-IBU double IPA) - Good hoppy aroma. Great mega-hoppy flavor without being too bitter.
  5. Hello Darkness (black IPA) - Smooth, clean, porter-like flavor.
At the time they bottled only one of their beers, which of course I bought some of.

Claudinne showed up with a work colleague, Peter, and we all got a brewery tour. They use a 15-bbl system. The large space is mostly empty, with several tanks and a very small bottling line. The spent grain is picked up by a rancher for his cattle. Saison was aging in several barrels.

Afterward Claudinne and I went to the Falling Rock Tap House. They have about 70 taps and 3 hand pumps. Unfortunately they do not sell samplers but the bartender let us try several beers in order to help us decide what to order.

  1. Funkwerks Saison was okay.
  2. Odell Myrcenary was nice.
  3. Boulevard Tank 7 was okay.
  4. Green Flash Le Freak was good, Belgiany and funky.
  5. Port Brewing Wipeout IPA was good, smooth and hoppy.

We got pints of Myrcenary and Wipeout, and also 4 dinners because were hungry.

Afterward we went back to the hotel and crashed. Beer + jet lag = alseep by 8 PM.

Thursday April 5th, 2:30 AM. Note to self: Lots of greasy food + jet lag = a trip to the porcelain convenience at a very inconvenient time. My insides reminded me of my first trip to Mexico. Anyway, several hours and several flushes later I met my homebrewing friend Kevin, who had recently moved to Denver from Baltimore, for breakfast at Illegal Pete's. We got some great breakfast burritos and tried some Upslope Brown Ale.

We walked to Denver's oldest brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing Company. We got there before they opened so we snooped around the place and snapped some photos.

We were joined at the bar by Kevin's friend Gerik, another homebrewer. Wynkoop sells 5-ounce samples for a dollar each, which is ridiculously cheap, so we tried everything they had.

  1. Light Rail Ale - Light.
  2. Cottonwood Organic White - Good fruity/spicy aroma and flavor.
  3. Patty's Chile Beer - Good chile aroma and flavor without burning.
  4. Breckenridge Agave Wheat, their one guest beer, was kind of fruity with lots of body.
  5. St. Charles ESB (cask) - Not suitable for my palate.
  6. London Calling IPA - Some hops but not to my liking.
  7. Malt Madness (on nitrogen) - Good toffee/smoky aroma but not much flavor.
  8. B3K Black Lager - Good semi-roasty aroma and flavor.
  9. Rail Yard Ale - Not much aroma or flavor.
  10. Splatz Porter (cask) - Decent somewhat malty/roasty aroma and flavor.
  11. Mile HIPA - Good hoppy aroma. Nice hoppy flavor.
  12. Cowtown Milk Stout (nitrogen/CO2 mixture) - Good somewhat roasty aroma. Sweet flavor.
  13. Sleggehammeren Barleywine (aged in oak) - Good malty/hoppy aroma. Wonderful hoppy, malty, plummy flavor. My favorite beer of the entire trip.

Next we walked to the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery. The brewer was busy but I got him to give us a brief tour. He brews 14 barrels at a time. Boiling is done for 90 minutes, with flavor hops thrown in 20 minutes before the end and aroma hops near the end. The ChopHouse is a chain, with locations in Denver, Boulder, Cleveland and Washington D.C., and due to its corporate nature, the brewer is not allowed a lot of personal creativity.

We sampled all of their beers.

  1. Pilsner - Light.
  2. Dark Munich Lager - Low aroma. Fairly good caramelly/roasty flavor.
  3. Wheat Ale - Good spicy aroma. Nice spicy flavor.
  4. Dortmonder - Little aroma or flavor.
  5. ESB - Little aroma. Fairly good semi-hoppy flavor.
  6. Red Ale - Little aroma or flavor.
  7. Pale Ale - Slightly hoppy aroma. Pretty good somewhat hoppy flavor.
  8. Dry Stout - Pretty good roasty aroma. Fairly good unique flavor.
  9. Wild Turkey Barrel Conditioned Stout - Little aroma. Good woody flavor.

We briefly visited Old Chicago, which had a good beer selection but the sampler flights were fixed, meaning that you couldn't choose the beers, and the beers slated for the flights were not the best ones. We also stopped at Euclid Hall, which had a marginal beer selection and no samplers.

Next stop: Ale House at Amato's, which opened as a partnership between Breckenridge Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing Company. It was a beautiful day, and the open-air venue made the place refreshing. There were 4 different fixed flights, each with 6 beers. Two of the flights looked pretty good so we ordered them.

  1. Great Divide Colette was nice and Belgiany.
  2. Yak and Yeti Abominale Mild was fairly good.
  3. Left Hand Milk Stout (nitrogen/CO2 mixture) wasn't bad.
  4. Ska Nefarious Ten Pin Porter was good, fruity and roasty.
  5. Avery Salvation had a good aroma and a good malty, somewhat hoppy flavor.
  6. Breckenridge Avalanche Amber Ale was okay.
  7. Grand Teton Bitch Creek had a good toffee aroma and flavor.
  8. Firestone Walker Double Jack (102 IBUs) had a nice strong hoppy/tangerine/grapefruit aroma and flavor.
  9. Schmaltz Brewing Coney Island Human Blockhead had a good very malty, smooth, clean, slightly estery aroma and flavor.
  10. Boulevard Tank 7 had a nice estery aroma and a good but thin estery flavor.
  11. Lagunitas IPA had a good hoppy flavor.
  12. Breckenridge 471 IPA was good, hoppy and clean.

We then ambled over to Denver Beer Company, a brewery and biergarten housed in an old automotive garage. Hydraulic posts support the bar and at least one of the tables. They opened at 3 PM, and at 3:20 there were already 30 people there.

We tried all of their beers.

  1. Sunnyside Hefeweizen - Fairly good aroma. Nice bubblegum/banana flavor.
  2. Inhale Pale Ale - Slightly malty/hoppy aroma. Good somewhat hoppy flavor.
  3. Hallertau IPA - Little aroma. Good smooth flavor.
  4. Graham Cracker Porter - Nice toffee/chocolate aroma. Good semi-roasty flavor.
  5. Bullpen Brown Ale - A basic brown ale.
  6. Maewyn's Dry Irish Stout - Fairly good roasty aroma. Flavor didn't agree with me.

We then went to Strange Brewing Company, where Claudinne and Peter met us. We got a sampler rack of all the beers.

  1. Gluten-Free Pale - Light and a bit tart.
  2. Maibock - Fairly sweet aroma. Good somewhat sweet flavor.
  3. Strange Pale Ale - Fairly good, hoppy and clean.
  4. Ipaphany - Good but not much different from the pale ale.
  5. Saffron Saison - Just okay.
  6. Farmhouse Ale - Good Belgiany aroma and flavor with adequate hops.
  7. Zora Pale Ale - Just okay.
  8. Paint it Black Stout - Fairly good roasty aroma and flavor.
  9. Cherry Bomb Stout - Bready aroma. Interesting flavor.
  10. Cherry Kriek - Good cherry aroma. Nice cherry flavor. Not sour; tasted like a "normal" beer with cherry flavor added.
Since breweries are not considered eating establishments, people are allowed to bring pets.

Claudinne, Kevin and I then went to Freshcraft, where Kevin's wife Loren met us for dinner. Things got rather hazy for me as I was feeling the effects of a full day of beer. In addition to food we got Victory Headwaters Pale Ale, which had a good hoppy aroma and flavor; and Dry Dock Triple, which had a good estery aroma and a pretty good sweet, semi-estery flavor. Afterward it was another early bedtime.

Friday April 6th. A beautiful sunny day. I walked to East Denver to meet Kevin for breakfast at Spices Café. The food was good and not greasy. Then we walked to Argonaut Wine & Liquor where I bought a couple of beers that I can't find back East to take home.

Our first pub stop of the day was the Vine Street Pub & Brewery. It is an affiliate of a couple of places in Boulder, called Mountain Sun and Southern Sun, which opened in 1993 and 2002, respectively. Vine Street had just gotten the paperwork squared away to begin brewing the day before. The beers they had were actually brewed at Southern Sun. We sampled most of their beers, and since all but one were 6-ounce samples, we sure could have used some help.

  1. Bombshell Blonde - Good Belgiany aroma. Good smooth Belgiany flavor.
  2. Paradise City Pale Ale - Good light aroma and flavor with decent hops.
  3. St. Amos (witbier) - Good spicy aroma. Good crisp, clean, spicy/floral flavor.
  4. Annapurna Amber - Good somewhat caramelly aroma and flavor.
  5. Resinous Rye IPA - Nice hoppy/fruity aroma. Nice hoppy/citrusy flavor.
  6. Colorado Kind Ale - Not much aroma. Good somewhat caramelly/hoppy flavor.
  7. XXX Pale Ale - Good, hoppy, clean and crisp.
  8. FYIPA - Nice hoppy, somewhat malty aroma. Good hoppy, fairly malty flavor.
  9. Java Quarter - Good coffee/roasty aroma. Good coffee flavor.
  10. Nitro Old School Dry Irish Stout - Not much aroma. Not very good slightly roasty flavor.
  11. Drop Kick Stout - Fairly good somewhat roasty/hoppy aroma. Good hoppy, roasty flavor.
  12. Nihilist Russian Imperial Stout - Root beer-like aroma and flavor.
  13. Pearl Street Porter - Good chocolaty, slightly hoppy aroma. Just okay slightly chocolaty flavor.
The growlers are one-quart Ball jars.

They gave us a tour of the virgin brewery. It is a 12-bbl system. Mounted above is a New Belgium Brewing bicycle, which the proprietors found in the warehouse when they got there. (Each New Belgium employee receives a free bicycle after one year of employment.)

On our way to the next place on our agenda we stumbled upon the Denver Bicycle Café. The concept is neat: they fix your bicycle while you drink and/or hang out. Almost everyone there was using a laptop. It's an open-air venue reminiscent of Denver's breweries, although there is no brewery there. (But what a great place to put one!) We tried three of their draughts and one can:

  1. Copper Kettle Brewery Dreaded Brit ESB didn't have much aroma or flavor.
  2. Great Divide 18th Anniversary Wood-Aged Double IPA had some wood aroma and a nice woody, somewhat malty/hoppy flavor.
  3. River North Hello Darkness Black IPA had a good somewhat roasty aroma and a fairly good flavor.
  4. Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi (in a can) had a nice hoppy, somewhat malty aroma and a nice hoppy flavor with ample malt.

Next we hit the Cheeky Monk, a bar that specializes in Belgian imports. There is a good bottle selection and a fair number of draughts, the latter of which are half price from 11 AM to 2 PM. We got there during that time window so we were in luck. The sampler flights were fixed so we just ordered a few draughts.

  1. Bockor Cuvée de Jacobins Rouge had a nice sour, caramelly aroma and flavor.
  2. Russian River Damnation had a nice estery aroma and a good estery, somewhat sweet flavor.
  3. Russian River Pliny the Elder had a nice hoppy aroma and flavor with ample malt.
  4. Funkwerks Roselle (with rose hips) had a nice fruity aroma and a good fruity flavor.
Gulden Draak tap tower.
Delirium Tremens tap tower.

We then went to the Yard House, a bar located in a Sheraton Hotel. One of the employees said that they have the world's largest selection of draught beer. The list did top 100 but was certainly not the world's largest. However, this chain has dozens of locations throughout the country, so I suppose if you included all the beers at all the locations, you might have the world's largest selection. Anyway, there were several thick pipes leading from the keg area to the taps; I assume these were chilled beer line housings. Oh, and each person was entitled to 2 free samples, so when Claudinne met us after work, that gave us 6 freebies. Oy! Such a deal!

  1. Avery IPA had a good semi-hoppy aroma and a fairly good somewhat hoppy flavor.
  2. Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA had a nice hoppy, slightly roasty aroma and a good hoppy, somewhat roasty flavor.
  3. Tommyknocker Hop Strike Back Rye IPA wasn't to my liking.
  4. Odell Myrcenary had a good somewhat hoppy aroma and a good balanced, fairly hoppy flavor.
  5. Widmer Nelson (formerly Deadlift) Imperial IPA was good, smooth, and well balanced.
  6. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was fairly light.
  7. Weihenstephaner Weiss had a nice clovey aroma and a nice sweet, estery, spicy flavor.
  8. Warsteiner Dunkel had a slightly toffee aroma and a decent somewhat toffee/roasty flavor.
  9. Odell 90 Shilling had little aroma and a good smooth, semi-malty flavor.
  10. Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils had no aroma and a pretty good somewhat hoppy, slightly buttery flavor.
  11. Avery The Reverend had a good malty, semi-hoppy aroma and a good malty, sweet flavor.
  12. New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale had a good slightly roasty aroma and just an okay flavor.

We had dinner at the Paramount Café. At this point I was starting to drift in and out of consciousness, as I am wont to do, but thankfully I recorded our beer selections on my handy little digital recorder.

  1. New Belgium Lips of Faith Cocoa Mole Ale (with cocoa and 3 kinds of peppers) had a nice aroma and a good chocolaty, peppery flavor.
  2. Kona Brewing Koko Brown (with coconut) had a good coconutty aroma and flavor.
  3. Boulder Mojo IPA (on nitrogen) had a good hoppy, fruity flavor.
  4. Avery The Reverend had a good malty aroma and a good malty, estery flavor.
  5. Great Divide 18th Anniversary Wood-Aged Double IPA had a good semi-woody aroma and a nice woody flavor.

After dinner we stumbled (or at least I did) over to River North because Kevin hadn't been there yet. The only evidence I have of that visit is the following photo that Claudinne snapped because I was too out of it to use either my camera or my recorder.

Loren swung by after work to retrieve Kevin, then Claudinne and I made our way over to Great Divide Brewing Company for her first visit there. It was 6 PM and it was crowded. We tried some beer of course.

  1. Hercules - I didn't record notes but you can refer to what I wrote about this beer on my first visit.
  2. Smoked Baltic Porter - Good coffee aroma. Good sweet coffee flavor with some hops and alcohol.
  3. Chocolate Oak-Aged Yeti - Slightly chocolaty aroma. Decent somewhat chocolaty flavor.

I suppose I don't need to tell you that I crashed early that night.

Saturday April 7th. Another beautiful sunny day. Claudinne and I had a hearty breakfast at Sam's No. 3 Diner, then rented a car and drove to Pikes Peak. When we got there, we were informed that only 13 of the 19 miles of Pikes Peak Highway (the road leading to the top) were open due to snow and ice, so we would not be able to reach the top for the 360-degree view, but they still wanted the $10-per-person entrance fee. On the way up we stopped at Crystal Lake. Note how our cameras produced photos with different shades.


We went up to the Glen Cove area, as far as we could go. There was an obligatory overpriced gift shop and some trails. We walked for a while in the snow to a spot that was beautiful and completely quiet except for the occasional bird. Our photos really don't do the place justice but here they are. Again, our cameras produced different shades (top left photo is from hers; all others are from mine).

After a scenic drive back down, stopping for some nice views, we went to nearby Garden of the Gods. We snapped a few cheesy photos in which we pretended to be holding up rock formations, then walked to and climbed some nice rocks and got some views whose beauty our cameras couldn't fully capture.

Right nearby in Colorado Springs is TRiNiTY Brewing Company, from which you can see Pikes Peak. They had many beers on tap besides their own, and we ordered a sample flight of their brews. Their sample glasses were all being used by other customers, so ours were served in tulip glasses, which resulted in considerably larger samples than we'd expected. Not that we complained.

  1. Sunna Wit (with tangerine, lemon and lime zests; coriander; and rose petals) - Good spicy aroma. Pretty good spicy but light flavor.
  2. Saison Man - Not much aroma. Fairly good light, somewhat phenolic flavor. (The menu said that it had "Drie Bretta" to add barnyard notes. I asked if it meant Brettanymyces. They said yes but did not know which strain.)
  3. Flo IPA (on either nitrogen or nitrogen/CO2 mix) - Good nutty, hoppy aroma. Good hoppy, somewhat fruity flavor.
  4. Farmhouse Saison - Good semi-sweet, slightly roasty aroma. Good sweet, fruity flavor.
  5. Soul Horkey (with 9 types of malt) - Malty aroma. Good smooth, malty, somewhat fruity flavor.
  6. Awaken Stout (with espresso, chicory, and 10 kinds of malt) - Nice complex coffee aroma. Good coffee flavor.

I had heard that they made sour ales. I asked but they didn't have any at the time, so they let us try a little Odell Shenanigans, which had a nice malty, somewhat sour aroma and a good semi-sour, malty flavor.

They happened to be brewing, which was good because the place smelled nice, but bad because the brewer was too busy to give us a tour. The bar top contains bottle shards from all the beers that were consumed during construction. The name TRiNiTY refers to the trio of artisanal beer, slow food, and conscious people.

The bartop

We drove onward to the Colorado Mountain Brewery, a generic-looking place in Colorado Springs that had been open for under 2 years. They let us walk briefly through the brewery before sampling their beers.

  1. Cream Ale - Very light.
  2. Raging Red - No aroma. A little caramel flavor.
  3. UniBräu - Good aroma. Good clovey/spicy flavor. Light body.
  4. 7258 Blonde Ale - Light and clean.
  5. Panther IPA - Little aroma. Good clean, hoppy flavor.
  6. Ole 59er Amber Ale - No aroma. A little caramelly/sweet flavor.
  7. Roller Coaster Red Ale - Very little flavor.
  8. Monumental Stout - Good slightly roasty aroma. Pretty good hoppy flavor.
Reminds me of Brooke Shields

Our last stop before heading back to Denver was Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Company in Castle Rock. It was another generic-looking place but it had a great smell of steaks cooking. Why does burning flesh smell so good? Anyway, they wouldn't let me in the brewery so I snapped one photo through the glass. We tried all of their beers.

  1. Double Eagle Ale - Very light.
  2. Drunken Uncle - Pretty good semi-malty, slightly caramelly aroma. Pretty good semi-malty, slightly sweet flavor.
  3. Red Hawk Ale - Light.
  4. Farmhouse Ale - Slightly malty/caramelly/estery flavor.
  5. Hopyard IPA - Slightly hoppy aroma. Good clean, hoppy flavor.
  6. Lightning Strike Stout - Slightly roasty aroma. Pretty good somewhat roasty flavor.

We had thought about going out that night in Denver but we'd had such a full day that it was all we could do to return the rental car and walk back to the hotel. Plus we had to get up very early the next morning to fly home.

Not a bad trip: 10 breweries/brewpubs, a few bars, 120+ beers, the great outdoors, friends, and memories to last a lifetime, all in less than 4 days. Thanks for reading.