When you get the urge for some serious Belgian beer, it’s time to head north and catch River North Brewery at their sorta-new location near I25 and 58th. While the neighborhood won’t win any curb-appeal points, the inside of the brewery feels friendly and comfortable despite the minimalist design. The huge stacks of cans and kegs make it apparent that River North focuses primarily on distribution, but fortunately not at the expense of the taproom. River North rewards the journey up there and by providing a great place to hang out for an afternoon or evening – but watch the ABV on some of those delicious Belgian brews!
BEER LINEUP: River North is justifiably known for Belgians and their new facility has allowed them to branch out into IPAs and occasionally other styles. The taplist mixes about 65% Belgians with 30% IPAs and a little bit of “other”. The takeaway: come for Belgians and IPAs.
ATMOSPHERE: Although the taproom is really just a corner of a warehouse, the interaction between the patrons and the bartender makes for a relaxed and comfortable experience and encourages lingering for yet another beer. The back of the taproom opens to the brewery and warehouse and the front features a small patio and often a food truck.
SERVICE: Our bartender was very friendly and helpful in describing and recommending beers. He clearly knew all of their beers in detail and was able to compare and contrast them when providing suggestions based on our previous selections.
LOCATION: Really, seriously, in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by railroad tracks and storage yards there’s little reason why you’d happen upon River North unless it’s your destination. However, as a destination, it’s fairly easy-access from highways and downtown plus easy parking. Be sure to keep an eye out for the building as it is set back from the road with subtle signage.
STANDOUT BEER:White. Combining traditional Wit flavors with the same Belgian yeast used in their Farmhouse, River North created a truly interesting beer that has a lot going on. Ultimately the farmhouse yeast wins and provides the primary flavor, while the Wit provides subtle spicy notes and tones down some of the more intense farmhouse flavors. The medium-bodied White doesn’t provide the same hot-day refreshment that a Wit would, but is still light enough to quench your thirst.
Even with the great diversity in the Denver brewing scene Brewability Lab stands out for its unique mission and concept. Designed to provide job opportunities and work experience for special needs individuals, Brewability also strives to create an inclusive environment for everyone, particularly special-needs patrons. While the location is a bit of a stretch for many, it is well worth checking out both for the tasty beer as well as the super-chill atmosphere and friendly patrons and employees.
BEER LINEUP: Brewability’s supply was a little low when we were there, with only five beers on tap, but normally they feature eight or more. The beers cover the spectrum from a light strawberry wheat to a dark coffee porter and are pleasant and solid examples of their styles – nothing too experimental.
ATMOSPHERE: Brewability is open relative short hours – evenings and weekends – and the evening we were there the taproom filled early with local workers then broadened into a more diverse mix. The small café-like taproom opens to the parking lot and includes all sorts of games, toys, and accessibility features. Tiffany, the owner, goes out of her way to create a welcoming and open space and there was a lot of mixing and friendly chatting amongst random strangers. She also schedules lots of special events like Batchelor-watching nights, fundraisers, and parties so the crowd – and energy level – changes along with the event.
SERVICE: Fast and friendly. Brewability’s unique color-coded ordering system (order green for IPA, purple for Porter) helps the bartenders keep the beer flowing fast. Tiffany constantly circulates throughout the taproom keeping patrons engaged and having fun by suggesting games, bringing out science kits (below), and explaining the brewery’s unique goals and operation.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Brewability replaced Caution Brewing in a hard-to-find storefront in an anonymous industrial park just off I70 and Peoria. While they’ve added signage to make it easier to find, you still have to pay attention. Parking is ample, although food is in short supply since the area is just one industrial building after the other. If you’re hungry, Brewability has snacks or you can BYO. Unless you work up there, there’s nothing going on for miles around!
STANDOUT BEER: The Science Kit, because it can be any beer you concoct. In my opinion this is such a fun and cool idea. Brewability has trays that outfit you with beer samplers and flavor-modifiers like peach and woodruff so you can experiment and create your own favorite flavor profile. Our group had loads of fun and put together some great – and some kinda awful – combinations by mixing beers and additives.
With its location somewhat outside of Old Town Arvada, Odyssey Beerwerks seems to attract a dedicated craft-beer crowd who’ve made the extra effort to drive or bike a mile out of town. The friendly bartenders quickly serve up beers in a relaxed atmosphere where patrons hang out and chat, play various games, and munch on food-truck fare in the taproom or on the patio.
BEER LINEUP: Odyssey’s taplist features both year-round selections and rotating seasonal and experimental beers. While on the short side compared to some breweries, the list has enough breadth to satisfy almost all tastes.
ATMOSPHERE: Odyssey offers up a relaxed and familiar atmosphere and it seems like many of the patrons are regulars who know each other and the staff. Many folks seemed to be simply hanging out for the afternoon and passing some time playing games or chatting with friends. The taproom features all the usual office-park-brewery trappings: high ceilings, big garage doors, stout rustic furniture, a patio, and views of the brewing equipment. Overall, a very low-key and comfortable place to hang out, indoors or out.
SERVICE: Awesome. You’ll need to go to the bar for service but the bartenders are exceptionally quick and very enthusiastic. The only negative I’ve noticed is that when people congregate at the small bar it can create traffic jams for people walking up to get beers, although the bartenders do a great job of managing it.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Odyssey sits buried in an average office park. If you think you’ve gone too far, you haven’t – keep going because it’s literally at the very back of the complex. Given the relative characterlessness of the area, Odyssey provides the only sign of life and they usually have a food truck since the other eating options are none. Driving is the most likely option to get here but biking could work too. Regardless of your mode of transportation, you’ll find ample parking.
STANDOUT BEER:Palm Tree Caribbean Lager. After a hot afternoon outdoors this light-straw-colored beer hit the spot with is super-light, Kolsch-like body. The slightly-hoppy nose and Pils-like old-world hops bittering were accented by rye, which enhanced the bittering but also gave the beer slightly more complexity and depth.
When some friends scheduled a Happy Hour at the Coors-owned Blue Moon Brewing Company taproom in RINO I tried to keep an open mind, but unfortunately the experience confirmed my worst fears and in some areas lowered the bar to surprising depths. On the positive side the exquisite space shows what Coors-level money can buy. On the downside the beers were generally bland and the service was abysmal. Given that Great Divide Barrel Bar,Mockery Brewing, and numerous other RINO breweries are a short walk away, if you come to this area for craft beer you can do much, much better.
BEER LINEUP: Blue Moon offers a range of styles, including a number of barrel-aged options. However our group’s consensus was that most of the beers were washed-out versions of their advertised style. The only exceptions were a few of the barrel-aged and high gravity brews that exhibited some sparks of taste.
ATMOSPHERE: Trendy-industrial. The indoor and outdoor spaces were definitely the high point of the visit. Blue Moon offers a spacious patio along with a modern-industrial take on a brewery space. Like many taprooms there are lots of hard surfaces, which are offset with colorful, quirky décor. The circular central bar looks like it could have great service potential and the taproom has a full kitchen (see service below). The patrons looked to be an upscale mixture of tourists, business people, and families.
SERVICE: Truly awful. When table service proved rarer than Haley’s comet, a trip to the bar was met with workers who shuffled past waiting patrons in a seemingly zombified state. Even getting their attention didn’t generate much reaction as they very slowly got around to providing service. The server who eventually cruised by the table compounded the disappointment with a scolding for those thirsty few who had the nerve to walk to the bar, then proceeded to ignore half the table, and delivered the requested beers at a snail’s pace.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Blue Moon occupies the fast-developing Brighton Boulevard portion of RINO. While street work currently causes some headaches in getting around, once complete the area will no doubt have a long-overdue facelift with even more convenient access. The surrounding area offers only a few retail business today but with the development slowly creeping out from downtown it will no doubt pop in the near future. In addition to some street parking, Blue Moon offers a decent-sized lot as well.
STANDOUT BEER: None, really, although I had a sip of one of their high-gravity beers that seemed to have some potential.
Running with the motto “Science Balanced With Creativity”, Grist Brewing Company strives to use science to make the best beer possible within a style and occasionally throw a little something into the mix for a slight variation. What you’ll find on tap are a number of style-fitting beers along with beers that make slight variations on those styles. Grist is not somewhere you’re going to find an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink beer combining multiple fruits, flavors and unusual production methods in a single glass. The taproom that opens to the brewery gives off a bit of a science-geek vibe that aligns nicely with their stated mission. Note: This review describes the Littleton taproom off Santa Fe; Grist recently opened another location near Park Meadows.
BEER LINEUP: You’ll find a lot of straight-shooter beer styles from light to dark, complemented by a few lightly-modified beers. Grist definitely uses a light touch when making alterations to traditional styles.
ATMOSPHERE: Grist’s trendy-looking taproom features a huge bar, industrial tables, and also a patio. One entire wall opens to the brewery and comfortably integrates the brewery operation into the taproom (or vice versa). The crowd seemed diverse in a suburban, Highlands Ranch way – young and old, couples and groups of singles, some bikers, a few people with dogs, etc. Overall it made for a very relaxed environment.
SERVICE: Bar service only and not particularly fast, but adequate.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Cookie-cutter suburban-brewery location in an office park. Finding the brewery shouldn’t be too hard, as it’s prominently located on the road that runs from Highlands Ranch to Santa Fe but you’ll need to rely on the food truck for eats since there’s not much else of interest in the area. Parking is, of course, plentiful.
STANDOUT BEER:The Belgian Strong Ale delivers the “strong” part in a lot of ways. You can taste the extra kick of the 10.5% ABV along with a strong farmhouse flavor and significant Belgian-yeasty tastes. Even the color is more intense than most Belgian strongs, with a medium-brown accented by red/copper colors. If you like Belgians this is essentially a super-size of everything you’ll like and if not then it probably swings just as intensely the other way.
With its location at the edge of the suburbs, Living The Dream Brewery may be a hard sell for city folk but the beer selection makes it worth the trip. It makes a great weekend afternoon destination, where you can grab something from the food truck and kick back on one of their patios with few beers. It also works well for a Littleton pub crawl, as there are at least four other breweries nearby along the Santa Fe corridor.
BEER LINEUP: Variety is the name of the game at Living The Dream. They put out styles ranging from a light Belgian wheat up through several IPAs to a dark, full-bodied coffee stout. Along the way they take some creative detours like a strawberry wheat and Belgian cherry.
ATMOSPHERE: This definitely seems to be the Highlands Ranch hangout. During our rainy visit the industrial-minimalist taproom was packed with families, large groups, and dogs, and light on the hipster crowd often found at downtown breweries. No doubt during nicer weather people spread out onto the patios and the taproom becomes much less chaotic. Living the Dream has a decent-sized front patio adjacent to the parking lot and food truck, and a large back patio with pleasant mountain views. I believe the back patio is also 21+ so maybe a haven for those looking to avoid the kiddos running around the taproom.
SERVICE: You’ll need to go to the bar for a beer and while not exactly speedy the servers are friendly.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Like many breweries, Living the Dream located themselves in an industrial park area. It can be a bit tricky to pick the correct turn off of Santa Fe and once you find it, it becomes apparent that Living the Dream the only retail business for far around. Fortunately they usually have a food truck. Most people would consider this a destination brewery and as such, it fortunately has ample parking in the lot and on the street.
STANDOUT BEER:Cherry McGuire Belgian cherry beer. Very few places make a Belgian kriek-style beer so I always enjoy running across one. With Cherry McGuire, cherry is pretty much all you taste – sweet on the front and a little tart/bitter on the back. While not the best kriek-style beer I’ve had, given the rarity of the style it puts on a good show and stands out from the standard beer styles.
Another long ride similar to the Southeast Ride, this one cuts through a state park with a reservoir, features scenic trails and mountain views, and for better or worse takes on some big hills. A couple of differences include a much more rural setting, some on-road stretches along high-speed Santa Fe, sections of gravel trail, and a railroad crossing.
The ride starts at the Breckenridge Brewery Farmhouse, where you can get primed for the long ride with both tasty homestyle food and beer served either in the farmhouse building, on one of its screened patios, or in the expansive beer garden. The Farmhouse is extremely busy but if you start early parking shouldn’t be an issue and the service is always efficient. The beer selection can be hit or miss, so maybe just have one before grabbing your bike, riding out the main entrance, and heading left to launch southbound on the South Platte River Trail(Mary Carter Greenway on some signs). Continue reading “Littleton – Highlands Ranch Loop”