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.
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.
With two walls of open garage doors and a fantastic view of Sloan’s Lake, Joyride Brewing Company’s taproom almost feels like the outdoors. The busy location in downtown Edgewater offers a fair number of beer choices, which you can enjoy in their small backyard beer garden or sitting at the counter while enjoying the great view and watching life pass by on the busy street corner.
BEER LINEUP: Much of the lineup looked fairly standard, though favoring lighter, summery brews – a couple IPAs, a Kolsch, a lager, a cream, and a dark beer. They also spice up the mix with seasonals and specialty beers so you might luck into something a little offbeat as well, like my friend did with a mango IPA.
ATMOSPHERE: Busy on a summer Saturday. All of the communal tables and street-facing counters were full of a variety of people from hipsters to families to neighborhood regulars. Even the small outdoor space in back was packed, even in iffy weather. Joyride is most definitely a summer stop, with two walls of the taproom open to the heat and outward-facing counters for lake views and people-watching. It seems like they always have a food truck, but there are plenty of neighborhood restaurants too.
SERVICE: Despite the busy Saturday afternoon the bartenders seemed in a good mood and happily provided samples and reasonably quick service. It seemed like there was sort-table-service if one of them could work his or her way out from behind the bar, but I wouldn’t count on it.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Old-town Edgewater feels like a small town despite the close proximity to Denver. There are small shops and restaurants to peruse along with Sloan’s Lake for recreation. It’s definitely a place where you could hang out vs. just hitting Joyride. Joyride seems like another small business bringing a key piece of the puzzle to make the neighborhood whole instead of just a hit & run visit.
STANDOUT BEER: So it sounds strange for a summer, but the day had unexpectedly cooled and the Bear Paw Oatmeal Milk Stout really hit the spot. The beer offered a smooth and balanced experience combining forward coffee and chocolate flavors with a more subtle milk flavor. As one would expect, Bear Paw has a thick body and dark color.
With a new patio this spring and some interior renovation the Crazy Mountain Brewing taproom has more on offer this summer as a place to kick back with a beer from their wide-ranging taplist. An outpost of the Edwards, CO-based brewery, the S. Santa Fe location seems to be steadily building their clientele, particularly as a happy-hour/early-evening stop. With solid beers the central-ish location, Crazy Mountain lends itself to a quick stop on the way to or from other events around town.
BEER LINEUP: With over 20 beers on tap Crazy Mountain offers a little bit of everything. They have about a dozen “year-round” beers served in 16 oz pours and then another dozen or so “Locals Stash” beers that are barrel aged or otherwise unique and served in 10 oz pours. Generally all of their recipes play nice with one’s taste buds.
ATMOSPHERE: Energetic with a younger and somewhat hipster crowd cycling through for a beer or two before moving on. The large patio hosts live music with lots of activity swirling around both inside and out. The industrial taproom is rather dark and rundown-looking but the beer makes it worthwhile. As part of the recent renovation Crazy Mountain removed the kitchen and now has food trucks.
SERVICE: While at times a bit spacy, the servers really seemed to know their beer and weren’t shy about sharing their beer-related opinions. They generally took the time to learn our preferences and offered appropriate beer suggestions.
NEIGHBORHOOD: The immediate surroundings on semi-industrial South Santa Fe aren’t much to look at, but with the arts district and two other breweries a few blocks away (Renegade and Black Sky) it’s easy to make this part of a bigger plan to get some culture, grab some dinner, or just brewery-hop. The area offers easy highway access and parking.
STANDOUT BEER: The Cara De Luna Black Pale Ale contains a few surprises, starting with the toffee color and moving on to the initial maltiness that buries the hops and forces them to fight their way out in your mouth. You still get a hit of hops, though, but they’re on the bittering side vs. floral. Although it has a heavier body than most pale ales, the great balance makes it a relatively easy-drinking beer.
One of the older Denver craft breweries, Strange Craft Beer has remained tucked away below I25 for seven years in its industrial location near Mile High Stadium. Despite being off the beaten path, Strange draws a mixed crowd of regulars and visitors from throughout the city with its cozy taproom and eclectic beer lineup offering both traditional styles and interesting new brews. The central location makes it easy to head down for an evening or stop by on the way to another event.
BEER LINEUP: Strange offers a diverse and always-changing lineup from IPAs to stouts to farmhouse and fruit. They generally feature a few standbys like Cherry Kriek and Breakfast Grapefruit IPA combined with rotating favorites like Big Malty and a few new brews. Although the menu is unpredictable it would take an awfully picky drinker to not find something to like.
ATMOSPHERE: The taproom has a very intimate feel and it seems like many patrons are regulars and know each other and the bartenders. The familiarity is good since the small taproom practically requires sharing tables and making new friends. During warmer weather the Biergarten behind the brewery opens with tons of seating and outdoor games which include raising a toast to each light rail train that passes by. Strange seems to always have a food truck out front.
SERVICE: Always super-friendly. While the bar can get jammed up and appear hopeless for getting refreshment, the bartenders do a great job of managing traffic while still offering samples and friendly chitchat about the beers.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Strange sits right below the 13th street bridge under I25 and next to a power plant in an industrial strip mall so the neighborhood offers little else of interest aside from maybe the distillery next door. Although within walking distance of Mile High Stadium you really need a good map app to navigate the twists and turns to find it. The area has a slightly sketch feel but it’s really more deserted than unsafe. Parking in the strip mall lot is usually available.
STANDOUT BEER:Big Malty. In an IPA-crazed world it’s refreshing to break the mold with this medium-dark beer combining the slightly sweet and roasty flavors of malt with essentially no hops bitterness. Best of all, it’s surprisingly light-bodied, unlike many stouts and other malt-forward beers. Better get it fast, though, as I think its season’s about ending.
Based on the name alone you should guess that Prost Brewing is all about German-style beers, but a taproom visit will strongly confirm that. From their German-themed Highlands taphouse to the strict Germanic brewing process and seasonal beer rotation, Prost stays true to all things German. Traffic and parking in the area can be challenging but Prost distributes most of their beers locally so if the taproom seems too much trouble, you can get many of their beers at bars and liquor stores.
BEER LINEUP: German and, well, more German. That’s their thing and they’re proud of it. The seven standards and seasonal rotaters all conform tightly to their styles.
ATMOSPHERE: The indoor taproom sports a Bierhall theme with German decorations and communal tables. The cavernous space can get loud, but during warm weather you can opt for the outdoor tables, although they lack any German charm. You won’t mistake the roar of I25 for a relaxing German Biergarten, but the spectacular views of downtown help compensate. Prost usually has food truck and if not Avanti is 5 minutes away.
SERVICE:Overstaffed, so excellent. With true German efficiency one server poured and another rang the transaction to deliver beer in near-record time. Staff also usually rotates around the indoor tables if you want to skip the trip to the bar.
NEIGHBORHOOD:The red-hot real estate market in Prost’s I25 & 20th St. location causes the area to change monthly. The immediate neighborhood is developing quickly and you can now incorporate Prost in a bar- and restaurant-hopping walking tour. Or you could keep it simple and combine Prost with the Avanti complex across the park for an afternoon of sipping and sampling food. The major downside of the development is the utter lack of parking. Between new apartments, Avanti, and Prost’s loss of their parking lot you may have to search a while for a spot.
STANDOUT BEER: I can’t pick just one. Having spent lots of time drinking German beers in Germany I can say that that Prost nails each and every style. If you have a vision of your favorite German beer then that’ll be your standout. However if you don’t like the German style, then you should probably take a pass on Prost.
West Colfax has long sat in the shadow of popular East Colfax, but several breweries including Seedstock Brewery now provide some entertainment options along that stretch. Located at Colfax and Lowell, Seedstock focuses on German and Czech styles served in a comfortable taproom or on their patio.
BEER LINEUP: The menu definitely leans toward Czech and German beer styles, but also offers other options including at least one IPA for the hopheads. Seedstock brews a good balance of traditional styles, lesser-known old-world styles, and experimental twists on tradition such as Vanilla Espresso Stout.
ATMOSPHERE: We happened to visit during a boil so the air was thick with tempting malty smells. Aside from that, Seedstock felt chill and the taproom looks like your typical brewery with sturdy seating which opens to the production facility. The good-sized patio feels relatively insulated from Colfax and offers sun during the day and a firepit for chilly evenings.
SERVICE: The service was very relaxed. Despite a rather large crowd the single bartender took everything in stride and provided friendly and efficient service. It seemed like bar service only.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Gritty section of W. Colfax. Seedstock straddles the neighborhood between N. Federal and Casa Bonita so you can observe all kind of randomness . . . or not, depending on the hour and day. For most people this will be a drive-to brewery, which fortunately sits close to major thoroughfares like I25 and features at least some parking.
STANDOUT BEER:Lichtenhainer – This smokey/sour German style was supposedly popular over 100 years ago. While I wouldn’t rate this my favorite beer by any stretch, it stands out as a very unique beer and a pleasant offering for some tastes. The light-bodied beer contains medium sourness and a smoky (think smoked cheddar) flavor. I say contains vs. combines because the two flavors seem to fight it out in your mouth; one minute sour, the next smoky. It makes for interesting drinking and should you decide on more than one, the 3.8% ABV won’t sneak up on you. Even if it doesn’t sound like your thing, you ought to try a sample.