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.

Brewery Snapshot: Wild Blue Yonder Brewing Co.

Occupying the old Victorian space of the former Augustine Grill, Wild Blue Yonder Brewing Co. takes its place as Castle Rock’s newest and possibly busiest brewery. Offering up huge indoor and outdoor spaces plus food, a full bar and a variety of beers, Wild Blue Yonder was packed when I visited just before Halloween on their second day of business.

BEER LINEUP: While limited at this early stage, the taplist of seven beers hits most popular styles and will likely let any beer lover find something appealing. The styles that our party tried all tasted great and true to style. Additionally, there are guest ciders and a limited bar.

ATMOSPHERE: On their second day of operation the atmosphere was buzzing with energy and even a little chaotic. The mostly adult, professional crowd packed the indoor taproom and spilled onto the large front patio and huge rear beer garden. The industrial taproom has a slight aviation theme in keeping with the brewery’s name and the owners’ Air Force roots, and opens nicely to show off the production area. While the beer garden is a bit roughly-finished at the moment the plan is to upgrade the landscaping and make it a multi-functional space. The kitchen offers a full food menu.20181026_174018_HDR

SERVICE: As one might imagine for a brand-new operation that was suddenly packed to capacity, service was a little confused but overall the friendly crew did a pretty good job of keeping the drink and food flowing.

LOCATION: Situated on a corner of busy Wilcox Street at the edge of downtown Castle Rock, Wild Blue Yonder makes a great stop while strolling around the main street shops and businesses, as part of a brewery-hopping tour, or as a destination its own right. There’s decent street parking and the Douglas County School District building across the street has plenty of spots in off hours.

STANDOUT BEER: Napoleon’s Conquest French Saison showcases virtually everything I love about saisons. The orange-amber, medium-bodied beer puts forward a medley of spice flavors balanced by a little bit of breadiness and the crispness that comes with Belgian yeast.

Patio Weather in the Springs

The patio-drinking season is winding down so a friend and I decided to take a trip to Colorado Springs for a short hike and a few patio beers.

After a morning hike we stopped at Cerberus Brewing Company 20181026_125401_hdr.jpgto enjoy their expansive patio/beer garden and some lunch. Cerberus serves up what I’d call “gourmet pub food”, which seems like overkill for a brewery, but was certainly tasty. They specialize in smoked brisket and our hunger was piqued when we smelled the smoker as we pulled into the parking lot. As far as the beer, my friend went light and I went dark and we both enjoyed all of the beers that we tried. They offer a varied selection for all tastes and exceptionally friendly and efficient servers. The overall atmosphere definitely encourages lingering, chilling, eating and drinking – especially on a warm sunny day.

From there we headed 10 minutes through downtown Colorado Springs to Goat Patch Brewing Co., which looks like a dated strip mall from the outside but inside is an old 20181026_142228_HDRschoolhouse converted to retail with businesses in the old classrooms and gym. The taproom offers up the standard craft-brewery experience; light-industrial design, garage doors opening to a patio, and a handful of beers that stay reasonably true to style and cover the full spectrum. The brewery offers up a pleasant experience but nothing about it would make me go out of my way to visit. In the context of this little tour, it’s a fine drop-in between Cerberus or Atrevida but you could easily substitute one of the other downtown breweries and not miss out on anything.

Our last stop in The Springs was Atrevida Beer Co., which was  a spur-of-the-moment choice but a fortuitous one. Located in a depressing-looking industrial park/strip mall, the exterior did not inspire confidence. However the indoor Mexican-themed taproom felt warm and cozy, enough so that we didn’t even bother with the small front patio. The 20181026_154621_hdr.jpgbeers mostly focused on traditional styles with interesting additions such as the Fresas con Crema strawberry cream ale and Boriqua Belgian blonde with pineapple and citrus. Based on all the brews we sampled, Atrevida has that approach dialed-in. We greatly enjoyed the creative beers, the friendly server, and checking out the tiny production units that make these small-batch creations.

Finally it was time to head back to Denver but not without a mid-way refreshment stop in Castle Rock at Wild Blue Yonder Brewing Co., which had just held their grand opening the previous day. We expected a quiet environment20181026_173437_hdr.jpg to wind down our day but it seems like the place has already become the go-to stop for Friday Happy Hour. The trendy-industrial taproom, front patio, and huge beer garden were packed and buzzing with energy. Although I didn’t try any of their food, the two beers I enjoyed while playing cornhole outdoors were absolutely fantastic. It often seems to take time for a brewery to settle into  their recipes and equipment but Wild Blue Yonder appears to have hit the ground running. It’s definitely worth the short drive from Denver.

From there it was back to the city and on to other Friday night Halloween-ish fun. Despite the fact that we packed in a drive, a hike and four breweries this day trip didn’t seem at all rushed and would also make a great weekend excursion. And if hiking isn’t your thing, Colorado Springs offers up a bunch more breweries that could give you an early start! Note: The earliest-opening brewery we found was 11 a.m.

Route Map and Directions: