Small Town Exploration North of Denver

If you have a long afternoon and want to get out of Denver – but not too far – there are loads of breweries in the small towns just north of the city that make for a nice driving/walking tour.

We started at The Post Brewing Company in Lafayette, primarily because they opened the earliest and have food. The feel is upscale old west – kind of like a pretty saloon, although on a nice day try to sit in the atrium beer garden. Unfortunately the food and beer didn’t match the skill of the decor. The beer was solidly average and the food not even that good. I tried the saison, which had typical barnyard flavors and smells, the maltier-than-expected ESB, and a rather bland red. According the waiter their fried chicken was a point of pride, but that day they seemed to have been a little overly-proud of the fryer and it came out dark, burned, and tough. Although I’ve included it in this tour as an option, you could realistically do better at dozens of other breweries.

Moving on from Post we headed to Liquid Mechanics Brewing Co., about a 5-minute drive or 20-minute walk, and that’s when the fun really started. Although located in a typical liquid-mechanicsstrip mall, Liquid Mechanics has a cave-like barrel room with games side-by-side with barrels and also an outdoor patio. The real stars are the adventurous beers. The chilly day lead me to favor darks which were all very complex and warming. My sampler featured a stout, three porters including coconut and peanut butter versions, and a red wine saison.  All of them had great depth and balanced flavors but the red-wine saison was the clear stand-out. The typical yeasty and bready saison flavors were balanced by rich red wine flavors. If we hadn’t needed to keep moving I absolutely could have had  another pour.

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Beer Of The Week – Halfpenny Brewing Company Cranberry Wheat

In time for Thanksgiving, Halfpenny Brewing Company has released a Cranberry Wheat. Its solid underlying wheat-beer structure supports a very forward tart taste. The beer primarily captures the tart part of the berries, leaving only a fainthp-2 fruit/berry flavor. In a blind taste test I might guess it as a sour with a slight bitter edge to it. In appearance, the Cranberry Wheat looks like a dark wheat beer, with the common wheat beer cloudiness. It’s definitely an interesting beer and certainly worth a try if you like sours or fruit beers, and even worth getting a small pour if you just want to shake things up.

Wynkoop Brewing – Day of The Darks

Yesterday Wynkoop Brewing Co. sponsored their annual Day of the Darks in support of Movember and for dark-beer lovers it was Thanksgiving come early! About 30 breweries poured some of their finest in support of men’s health charities, while Wynkoop provided snacks and cholcolate for pairing. If you’re into darks, some of the highlights I’d recommend checking out if you find yourself by the brewery or at a liquor  store are:

  • Boggy Draw Groundhog Mountain Milk Stout – Not overly sweet like some at the Fest. The light sweetness provides balance to the slight bitterness of the roast malt
  • Boggy Draw Wee Stout – Combines English hops flavors (primaly tea) with roast malt
  • Strange & Epic Strangely Epic Imperial Cherry Stout – Collaboration using Strange’s Cherry Kriek and Epic’s Big Bad Baptist. The Baptist definitely won out with the rich malty flavors taking center stage and only a hint of cherrydarks
  • Strange Pumpkin Porter – Strange used 25 lb of pumpkin per barrel to make a beer that’s not overwhelming on the pumkin spice and carries notes of vanilla and honey too
  • Dry Dock Peaunut Butter Porter – Crazy-good beer that tasted like a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup
  • Dry Dock Quad – Also a crazy-good beer with complex flavors of raisin, malt, carmel, and vanilla. Unlike lots of quads it doesn’t have the sharp alcohol flavor
  • Left Hand Smoke Jumper – A nice dark beer with a hickory BBQ type of smokiness that almost makes the beer savory.It reminded me of a good smoked cheddar
  • Liquid Mechanics  Cascadian Dark – An unusual black IPA that does a great balancing act between the up-front floral/citrus hops and the subtle dark-roast malt flavors
  • Briar Common American Porter – Dark-roast malt combined with robust coffee flavors

Beer Of The Week – Dry Dock Vanilla Porter

20161105_151452_hdrOne of my go-to beers and all-around cold-weather favorite is Dry Dock Brewing’s Vanilla Porter. In my opinion it has the perfect balance of vanilla and roasted malt and perhaps that simplicity is why it’s a favorite of mine. I suspect that if it was a porter alone it would still be outstanding, with a medium-dark malt, chocolaty flavors, and medium body. Adding the slight sweetness of vanilla – enough to notice but not overpowering – offers a good balance and kicks up the interest level.  Nothing super-complex – just an easy-drinking beer on a chilly fall day. And unlike some Beers of the Week it’s easy to find along the Front Range in cans, on tap, or at one of the two Dry Dock taprooms

Santa Fe Arts District Walk

This walk near the Santa Fe Arts District visits one of the older craft breweries in Denver and one of the newer ones. It also has the option of tacking on a third brewery.
20161104_175636_hdrI started at Renegade Brewing on 9th between Santa Fe and Kalamath, but I’d suggest starting wherever you find a parking spot. Renegade has been around for a number of years and has the standard urban taproom vibe – lots of steel & glass, garage doors, a patio, and an open brewing area. Traditionally I’ve found them to be Pale Ale/IPA-focused but on this visit they had broadened their offerings to include things like Pancakes maple porter and Hummer imperial pumpkin spiced Oktoberfest . I mostly found their beers solid but not exceptional with a couple standouts. Despite being open many years Renegade still draws the crowds and has an energetic and hipster vibe. Like with past experiences, the service was very hit or miss.

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Beer Of The Week – River North Brewery Tripel

Following last week’s beer class – Belgians – it seemed like a good 20161026_200526_hdridea to give River North’s new location a try since they’re known for their Belgian beers. I tried a flight of those since they’re all high-alcohol, and in my opinion they ranged from good to great. I thought the Tripel was one of the more interesting ones because of the interplay between the carbonation, alcohol (9.2%), and slight bitterness. In many ways the flavors and body were reminiscent of champagne. Not to say it didn’t have the typical things you’d expect in a Tripel – primarily the yeasty and estery flavors – but the champagne-like characteristics added a whole new level of complexity. The color was a beautiful deep-golden with just a tiny bit of cloudiness.

Idaho Springs Mountain Brewery Stroll

With the beautiful fall weather,it’s a 20161030_134320_hdrgreat time to take a brewery stroll in Idaho Springs between the new kid in town and an old standby! Earlier this year Westbound and Down Brewery opened up beside The Buffalo Restaurant at the east end of historic Miner Street. While The Buffalo Restaurant is all about old west with exposed timbers and dead animals on the wall, Westbound is sleek and modern with bar and table seating and an open brewing area.

Getting down to what’s really impor20161030_133816_hdrtant, Westbound’s beers cover the spectrum from IPA to tripel to stout so everyone should find a style they like. As far as taste, the ones I tried were pretty good although some deviated from the “official” style that they proclaimed. However I’ll take a tasty beer any day and happily ignore rigid style limitations. The brewery is connected to the restaurant so you can get the beers with food in either location. The Buffalo focuses on hearty southwest/bar food. On the other hand, if you want to wait on food Tommyknocker Brewery is a short walk.

To get there, simply exit The Buffalo or Westbound and turn left (west) on Miner Street and walk about three blocks past loads of shops and boutiques to Tommyknocker Brewery (or shop along the way if that’s your thing). As the elder statesman in Idaho Springs (and one of the older craft breweries in Colorado at 20+ years old) Tommyknocker has the brewpub thing down – a mountain lodge with a pub menu and a wide variety of beers. While Westbound has the range of traditional styles, Tommyknocker leverages its history to expand on traditional beers with more experimental stuff like blood-orange IPA, oaked bock, oaked brown, and more. My recommendation would be a flight since there are so many appealing options. Overall, this brewery walk is short on the exercise/calorie burn, but if you’re already in the mountains for hiking or skiing and want an excuse to kick back with some comfort-food and comfort-beers it’s a great way to go.