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.
So right off the bat, yes, Breckenridge Brewery is owned by Inbev so it rides the line between craft beer and big-bad-industrial-beer ownership. And frankly, it also feels rather mass-produced (though The Farmhouse was completed before the Inbev deal). Perhaps Breck intended for the suburban crowds of Littleton and Highlands Ranch to feel like they have a “craft brewery” in their neighborhood without actually having to travel or subjecting themselves to anything unfamiliar. Be that as it may, a friend suggested Happy Hour there so off I went and, as designed, had a pleasant and non-challenging experience. The Farmhouse serves all the Breck standards and happily seems to now use some of that added brewing capacity to make stuff you can’t find at the local liquor store. They also do have some pretty great comfort food. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a destination, and truthfully there are plenty of actual, great craft breweries within a couple of miles, but if you do go (perhaps with kids or grandparents) everyone will likely have a pleasant-enough time.
BEER LINEUP: Improved. Previously The Farmhouse offered the same old Breck brews you could get at any restaurant or liquor store (think Avalanche, Agave Wheat) but has since expanded into some one-offs like an orange chocolate stout and barrel aged beers. While not covering every style they have a broad selection from very light Kolsch to deep, dark stouts. Nothing way out there like sours, though.
ATMOSPHERE: Cracker Barrel on steroids – like a rustic building decorated by a midwest housewife with lots of tacky stuff to buy. It definitely has a family restaurant atmosphere, much like White Fence Farm in Lakewood and it almost seemed like more people came to eat than drink. I guess that’s not surprising considering the food was fantastic. During the summer the large patio and recreation area offers additional hangout options.
SERVICE: Fun, at least at the bar. The servers flirted and teased the customers and each other. It seemed like the servers actually enjoyed their job. When we needed anything or placed an order they were fast and attentive.
NEIGHBORHOOD: None to speak of. Breck sits on its own semi-rural campus between downtown Littleton and C470 on Santa Fe. The campus backs up the Platte River and trail, and features numerous production buildings for both Breckinridge and contract brewing along with an unrelated winery.
STANDOUT BEER:Dry Irish Stout on Nitro starts off thick and creamy with heavy roast malt and, as promised, a drying sensation on the tongue which left minimal aftertaste. Simple but pleasing.
I made it to my first Halfpenny Brewing Company Beer and Cheese Pairing last night and it was great! Aside from the attractive presention, the cheese was spectacular and the Whole Foods rep gave interesting background and tasting suggestions for each cheese and beer. Apparently he has the enviable job of coming in to taste all the beers each month before selecting cheese pairings. It seems to work great! I’d highly recommend keeping an eye on Halfpenny’s website for next month’s event.
Sunday January 29 Copper Kettle Brewing Co is hosting a Chili Cookoff from noon to 3. Bring your best recipe for the challenge or just stop by for some beer and tastes. Best part is that it’s free and winners will get Copper Kettle gift certificates (i.e. free beer!)
New Image Brewing Co. in Old Town Arvada seems to favor sours and Bretts on their limited house-brewed taplist, but since those are not really my thing I went with the Olde Town Regular. Olde Town Regular is tough to categorize but relatively straightforward to describe. At first it tastes like a Pils both in body and in the slightly bitter, German-hops flavor. However it ends with a bit of floral hops (just a little). The very light yellow color and slight cloudiness make it look more like a shandy or radler than a traditional clear yellow pils. New Image lists it as a German-style lager hybrid, which I guess pretty much captures the challenge of categorizing it, but shouldn’t scare anyway away from trying it. It’s a solid, light beer that’s easy to drink and probably refreshing on a hot day. Note: Even if this beer doesn’t sound appealing or you’re not into sours, New Image offers a full bar and decent list of other beers on tap and in bottles.
Old Town Arvada has really filled in with small business over the past few years, and at least two of those are breweries. While this hardly qualifies as a walk, since the distance between the two is about as far as the restroom in either establishment, it’s still a pleasant pairing of breweries and an easy journey on a cold/snowy/ice winter day.
As one of the outposts of Grand Lake Brewing from Grand Lake, CO, the taproom/restaurant feels unsurprisingly like a divey mountain bar with lots of log-cabin and wood finishes. The cozy feel complements the long and diverse taplist of Grand Lake beers, guest beers, and full bar. The beer list consists mostly of typical styles like wheat, IPA, and brown with a few slightly adventurous beers in the mix such as a pumpkin beer and a chili beer. The beers I tried solidly represented their styles and had clean tastes, and amongst the friends in our group there were no complaints about any of the beers. The multiple tvs and comfortable atmosphere definitely encourage hanging out for few brews and watching a some football or hockey.
Heading out the door, taking a right, and walking 20 feet will bring you to New Image Brewing Co. and a totally different vibe. New Image feels much more modern and “city” rather than “mountain”. They describe their approach as focusing on non-traditional styles and blending, and the house-beer taplist represents this with sours/Bretts, cider, and various flavor combinations. Like Grand Lake the menu also lists guest brews and features a full bar. Between the beers I tried and the reaction of friends, the beers provided a combination of happy and not so happy experiences. Maybe some were a little too experimental for particular people. That said, perhaps the best plan would be to get a flight or some samplers before going all-in on a full pour. For the less-adventurous, the Old Town Regular offers a fairly uncomplicated pilsner/lager profile, and is an easy-drinker.
Both breweries serve food so if you want to make an afternoon of it you could have lunch in one and dinner in the other. Or you could go for an actual walk and grab dinner elsewhere in Old Town.