Brewery Snapshot: Dos Luces Brewery

Born out a lifelong connection to Latin America and the traditional beer styles of Chicha and Pulque, Dos Luces Brewery on South Broadway aims to change the way that people think about beer, according to owner Judd Belstock. The brews are created from corn and maguey (in the agave family), ingredients20190118_174407_hdr.jpg available to indigenous peoples in the Americas, but brewed with modern methods. The result is a much different flavor profile and experience than your standard barley-based beer. Judd and his staff are happy to educate visitors on the history and production of their products, as well as to make the argument that these are just a different style of beer. It seems to me that these styles are pretty much love/hate types of brews, but it’s certainly worth it to stop by and experience them in person.

BEER LINEUP: First off, this is not a traditional brewery. The two flagship beers, chicha and pulque, are made with corn and maguey syrup, respectively, and use spices like cinnamon and clove in place of hops. As a result, their flavors have little in common  with barley-based brews and it’s worth describing them in more detail than usual. Both are served in opaque, eight-ounce ceramic vessels. The chicha is medium-bodied with a slightly sweet and un-complex flavor and a bit of cinnamon. The pulque is, as Belstock describes it “a reverse sour.” The initial taste of the frothy brew is mildly sour, fading off into a light sweetness with numerous spice notes along the way; in general, a very complex beverage. Dos Luces also constantly experiments on these flagships by adding spices, flowers and fruits to create completely different-tasting brews (see below). They serve several guest taps for the less-adventurous and chicha morada, a sweet, non-alcoholic traditional beverage made from blue corn. Note: Some people find the smaller pours a little pricey compared to other breweries.

ATMOSPHERE: The taproom feels like the courtyard of a hacienda in Costa Rica, with rich, vibrant paintings, tropical plants and patio-style furniture. The crowd seemed a little older and more subdued than many South Broadway drinking establishments, with a mix of people hanging out to converse over drinks and those who stopped in to get a sampler of the unique beers. Overall the taproom had a more sophisticated vibe of discerning and/or curious drinkers.

SERVICE: On the night I visited there were an abundance of servers (bar service only) who were happy to discuss and educate customers on the unique chichas and pulques on offer.

NEIGHBORHOOD: The brewery is located at the edge of historic South Broadway and offers many options for walking to food, other breweries & bars, and even a little bit of shopping. Arrival by car or public transit is relatively easy, as it is near I25 & Broadway, and you can generally find metered parking within a few blocks. It would be a great inclusion on a brewery crawl.

STANDOUT BEER: The Azteca pulque is the result of one of the continual experiments that Dos Luces undertakes to combine ingredients in unique ways. In this case the inspiration was Mexican hot chocolate and the beer includes three kinds of chocolate plus cayenne peppers. The result is a light, frothy beverage with notes of rich, real chocolate kicked up with a hint of heat from the cayenne. It reminded me very much of some of the best hot chocolate I had in Oaxaca, Mexico. Beer? Perhaps. Tasty? You bet!

 

Brewery Snapshot: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Denver’s premier sour beer purveyor Crooked 20190112_165407_hdr.jpgStave Artisan Beer Project occupies a corner of The Source on Brighton Boulevard in Rino. The mixed-use development features a collection of artisan shops, food stores, restaurants and even a hotel in a former old factory, so visiting is somewhat of an immersive experience. On the beer side, Crooked Stave has expanded from typical sours and now serves several traditional styles for non-sour-drinkers along with even more experimental sour options.

BEER LINEUP: Crooked Stave now offers a lot of options going in all different directions. Originally the brewery featured only a small lineup of sours and bottle-aged beers, most which were made with Brettanomyces. Crooked Stave has gradually expanded those offerings with more experimental beers and the addition of spices and other flavors, but has also added non-sour  beers for less-adventurous drinkers. In summary, you’ll find standard beers here but Crooked Stave is really a place to get your sour on.20190112_164821_hdr-1.jpg

ATMOSPHERE: Sharing a building with The Source creates an interesting traffic flow where people wander out with beers, bring in prepared food or even put together a little picnic from the gourmet food shops in the building. The old brick factory lined with stores and restaurants creates an intimate and dynamic atmosphere where you can leave the taproom to stroll around or lounge in the common area. On a weekend afternoon the taproom was full of a wide range of people just hanging out, from beer geeks to hipsters and even a few families. The sliding doors at the back of the taproom hide a huge stash of bottles and we noticed many people taking bombers to enjoy later.

SERVICE: This is the one area where Crooked Stave fell flat. Despite the three servers behind the bar, we watched a perpetual line of just six or eight people waiting (and waiting) for 15 minutes to get a beer. We tried to work out the cause – perhaps excessive sampling, nitro pours or quirky taps – but nothing seemed to account for the delays except simply massive disorganization from the (friendly) serving staff.

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The Source Common Area

NEIGHBORHOOD: The brewery and The Source sit along the quickly-developing portion of Brighton Boulevard closest to downtown. In addition to exploring the businesses in The Source, several other restaurants/bars are within walking distance and a short drive will bring you to downtown in one direction or to a handful more breweries, restaurants or the Denver Coliseum in the other. Numerous transport options exist, including a nearby light rail stop, bus lines, and easy highway access. The parking lot is posted for 30-minute parking but longer paid street parking and lots are just across the street.

STANDOUT BEER: On this one I’m going to have to push. As someone who is not a sour fan I tried a couple of the traditional beers and while they were solid, at Crooked Stave the sours are going to hit the home runs. I’d encourage you to draw your own conclusions if you’re a sour fan, or want to get into that game.

Brewery Snapshot: Pilot House Brewing Company

20181230_185839_hdr.jpgOnly six months after opening, Pilot House Brewing Company in Aurora features and impressive lineup of beers, both in quantity and quality. Combine that with excellent service and a unique nautically-themed taproom and it makes the drive deep into the ‘burbs worth the effort.

BEER LINEUP: Pilot House brews many of their beers in small batches, which allows for an extensive and diverse selection on their 24 taps along with frequent rotations. All of the beers that I tried were solid and most went above average. The vast majority of the beers represent traditional styles from light kolsch to dark stout including several high-gravity choices. Pilot House also offers a handful of slightly more experimental beers like their Smoked Plum American Porter.

ATMOSPHERE: The coastal New England motif of the taproom offers a refreshing contrast to the typical industrial look of most suburban breweries. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the design, including the large outdoor patio, and the space truly reflects the owner’s New England sailing roots. 20190111_171640_hdr.jpgDepending on the night the taproom atmosphere can range from relaxed and comfortable to busy neighborhood hub with events like trivia or live music. The taproom serves pizzas and a bit of snack food but the surrounding area holds plenty of restaurants where you can order food or do takeaway. The diverse crowd looked like mostly neighborhood folks, with some families, stopping in for a quick pint or two.

SERVICE: The friendly servers had an impressive knowledge of the beers, the brewing process and the brewery’s history, all of which they happily shared. Service was also reasonably fast and the brewery has a unique ordering system; order at the bar and they serve you at the table.20181230_194825_hdr.jpg

NEIGHBORHOOD: The area meets expectations for a brewery deep in the burbs; lots of small businesses in strip malls surrounded by housing. Given that restaurants, stores and service businesses populate all four corners of Pilot House’s Buckley Road & Quincy Avenue location you could definitely get a few errands done in combination with some tasty beers, or just make it a destination. Keeping with the suburban spirit, parking is close and plentiful.

STANDOUT BEER: Everyone in our party agreed that the Chardonnay Creme Ale was a unique and exceptional “wine-beer”. The brewing process starts with a standard Creme Ale then adds Chardonnay grapes, specialized yeast, and oak chips for an additional fermentation. The resulting beer pours dark-golden with relatively full body and a very smooth, balanced flavor. The initial Champagne-style bite and white-wine acidity give way to a light malt sweetness for a complex and pleasant overall experience.

Brewery Snapshot: Landlocked Ales

The west side of Denver seems perpetually underpopulated by breweries, particularly in light of Caution’s 2018 closure. However one bright spot remains in Landlocked Ales, which opened in 2017 near Wadsworth Boulevard and Hampden Avenue. The brewery offers a comprehensive lineup of beers that will likely satisfy most palates, served in a standard suburban taproom. Perhaps not worth a special trip, but not bad if you happen to be in the area or coming back from the mountains on US 285 (Hampden).

BEER LINEUP: The tap list includes typical representations of most major styles, and the beers I tried were pleasant. Nothing on the list was particularly experimental (the most adventurous beer was a winter warmer), but everyone ought to be able to find something to enjoy.

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ATMOSPHERE: In typical strip-mall setup, the taproom features a bar, some tables and an opening to display the brewing equipment. On our visit the place was quiet, with small groups of young and middle-aged people chatting or watching sports and occasionally grabbing a bite from the food truck. It seemed like most people were one-and-done, with constant turnover. In other words a pleasant, if unremarkable space.

SERVICE: Our servers were friendly, attentive 20190112_181830_hdrand eager to share their beer with us. Service is bar-only.

NEIGHBORHOOD: As you might imagine from the location, the area is saturated with strip malls which are surrounded by suburban houses and apartments. Landlocked is clearly either a neighborhood stop or driving destination and not really walkable. There might be some shops or restaurants in the surrounding area worth stopping in for some shopping or a bite since Landlocked does not have a kitchen, and there’s plenty of parking.

STANDOUT BEER: Ghost Porter. Landlocked takes pains to communicate that this beer in no way involves ghost – or any other – chili and really it’s a straight-up porter, though more robust than many. The mahogany-colored opaque beer has little head but a relatively thick viscosity that yields to deep roasted-malt flavors with noticeable chocolate notes. The overall richness makes it a heavier porter, almost heading into stout territory, and on a cold and snowy winter day it was perfect.

Brewery Snapshot: Cerveceria Colorado

Although it shares a location, owner and brewer with Denver Beer Co (DBC), Cerveceria Colorado offers a night and day experience in both atmosphere and beer. Cerveceria Colorado grew out of the brewer’s experiences in Mexico where he discovered unique ingredients and found personal connections and collaborations. The colorful and festive taproom serves up a tap list that showcases unusual and flavorful Mexican ingredients in inventive beers.

BEER LINEUP: Don’t expect to find a menu full of plain-Jane Mexican lagers, or really traditional styles of any form. You’ll certainly encounter stouts, lagers and IPA’s but they’ve all been enhanced with unique ingredients like pineapple, horchata, fruits, pepper, and even nopales (cactus leaves). Many of the beers on the adventurous menu result from Cerveceria’s collaboration with Mexican brewers.

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ATMOSPHERE: The taproom provides a strong contrast to typical industrial-style craft beer locations, with vibrant, bright colors and decorations reminiscent of a Mexican fiesta, complete with bowls of candy. Slightly larger and calmer than DBC next door, the taproom offers a nice place to relax and the spacious patio looks like a great warm-weather hangout.

SERVICE: Both servers who helped us were friendly, 20190109_182239_hdrattentive, and chill. They seemed to have a reasonable knowledge of the beers they poured, along with an enthusiasm for sharing the history and inspiration for the brewery.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Sitting directly on Platte Street, the brewery stands in the thick of a lively neighborhood with restaurants, bars and shops in case you want to go for a stroll, grab some food (Cerveceria has no kitchen) or do some buzzed shopping. It’s also within walking distance of downtown, close to the Platte River bike trail and easily accessed off the highway and major roads. Parking is so-so but usually a handful of 2-hour metered spots are open, and there’s a pay lot beside DBC.

20190109_182233_hdr.jpgSTANDOUT BEER: In the past year I’ve noticed a distinct upgrade in pineapple beers served at craft breweries (yeah, hard to imagine til you try one) and Cerveceria’s offering is no exception. The slightly-cloudy, honey-orange-colored Señor Piña offers a distinct pineapple aroma with a taste that alternates between pineapple sweetness and a straw-like dryness from the mosaic hops. I found the balance very pleasant and every sip was different; sometimes the pineapple predominated, other times the hops.

Brewery Snapshot: The Grateful Gnome Brewery

Located just off popular Tennyson Street in Northwest Denver, The Grateful Gnome Sandwich Shop and Brewery combines a food and beer to create an interesting neighborhood hangout. The New Jersey and West Virginia history of the owners comes through in some of the food offerings, the college football flags, and game-day parties. Because of the emphasis on the food, Grateful Gnome feels like more of a restaurant than a hang-out brewery but they do make quite a long list of beers in a variety of styles.20181220_192947_HDR.jpg

BEER LINEUP: The tap list covers a lot of territory, from a blonde right through a stout, along with a few creative tangents like a gingerbread stout and hibiscus saison. The beers I sampled were solid representations of their style and most beer-drinkers will find something pleasant to accompany their meal.

ATMOSPHERE: The stripped-down industrial taproom has a few quirky decorations but feels a lot like a college sandwich shop. The lively and diverse evening crowd consisted of after-work office groups, families, couples and random 20181220_182108_HDR.jpgfriends getting together. The facility has sit-down table service along with a bar and food takeaway counter. The overall vibe was more restaurant than brewery and it seemed that more people were ordering food than treating it like a beer joint.

SERVICE: Our server was extremely friendly and chatty and seemed to know a lot about the food and less about the beer. Unfortunately all the chattiness got in the way of fast and efficient service and at times we were left waiting for our orders or having to repeat requests. While I wouldn’t count it as bad service, some allowances are required.

NEIGHBORHOOD: The Tennyson Street corridor is rapidly developing, with scrape-offs transforming small houses into packed-in condos. This has accelerated the area’s development with lots of shops, restaurants, and other small businesses moving in. Just across the street from The Grateful Gnome the Oriental Theater remains a neighborhood staple, and two other breweries (De Steeg and Call to Arms) are within a block. The area is great for strolling and with parking at a premium, it’s easiest to find a spot and leave the car for a walk.

STANDOUT BEER: I can’t say that I found one on this visit. All the beers I tried were pleasant but nothing really jumped out as special.

Brewery Snapshot: Iron Mule Brewery

After purchasing Castle Rock Beer Co. over the summer, Iron Mule Brewery held their grand re-opening in late October with a completely redesigned beer menu and totally new taproom vibe. The tap list now features a wider range of styles and the taproom has a completely different energy, both of which encourage checking out Iron Mule if you find yourself in Castle Rock.

20181215_150357_HDRBEER LINEUP: While still a bit limited at six beers, the tap list covers far more territory than the British-style brews of the previous owner. It sounded like beers rotate on and off fairly quickly so it’s hard to make a full assessment of what you’ll encounter at any given time. However between what was on tap and what the owner said they had brewing it appears that Iron Mule will usually have a decent variety of brews: a light, some IPAs, and a dark at least.

ATMOSPHERE: On a Saturday afternoon the small, round taproom was packed and energetic with a diverse crowd including older couples, young families, groups of friends and several dogs. A display of several live birds of prey from a local raptor non-profit rounded out the mix. For food, Iron Mule has some pre-packaged snacks but also hosts frequent food trucks. It appears that the outdoor space is still in flux but perhaps by the time warmer weather arrives this will be fully sorted out.

SERVICE: The bar-only service was enthusiastic and friendly, 20181215_163953_HDR.jpgwith the owner joking with patrons as he poured beer while the brewer roamed the taproom and chatted. Both seemed excited to talk about their beers, the changes that have come with the new brewery, and upcoming plans.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Just a block off Wilcox Street in Castle Rock, Iron Mule provides a pleasant diversion while strolling downtown and visiting restaurants, stores, or one of the many festivals Castle Rock hosts. You could easily double your brewery experience by walking one block to Wild Blue Yonder on Wilcox. There’s also easy highway access for a five-minute detour if you’re heading either direction on I-25. Clearly, Castle Rock is 20181215_151552_HDR.jpga driving destination for most people and fortunately the surrounding area has plenty of free parking.

STANDOUT BEER: The Ears to You Champagne beer stood out as a truly unique beer.  The light-golden, slightly-hazy beer hides a surprisingly full body with lots of biscuit and malt. The beer also exhibits a dry crispness, likely from Belgian and/or Champagne yeast. The overall experience is an interesting contrast to typical craft beers.