In Pursuit of Humble Beer in the Mile High City
Eating and drinking are two of my favorite pastimes, and Denver, as I just discovered there on a long weekend, is a city that excels in both of these areas. While Colorado is well-known for its bold brews, Denver has a diverse brewing scene, and it is not hard to find good, humble beer. Accompanied by my best friend (a.k.a. my wife), here’s what we found.
Dinner our first night was at Mercantile Dining and Provisions, which, with a highly regarded chef, and prime location inside Union Station, was an ideal way to kick off the trip. The menu, which may appear ho-hum at first glance, included several complex dishes that were expertly executed. We shared the mussels, lobster tortellini, gnudi, and grilled pork loin. I accompanied these with the Bohemian Girl Pilsner by Tivoli Brewing Company, and the 8 Second Kölsch by Elevation Beer Company. Both were quite enjoyable, especially the Kölsch.
Following dinner, we stopped at the craft beer institution Falling Rock Tap House. They had two selections from the local Hogshead Brewing on cask. Though Hogshead was on my itinerary for the next day, I couldn’t resist knocking back a beautifully subtle mild ale. As I would later find out, Hogshead is selective in what accounts they will allow to pull their cask ales, though given Falling Rock’s reputation, it should come as no surprise that it is served there.
I believe Falling Rock was also pouring the well-known Slow Pour Pils by Bierstadt Lagerhaus. Bierstadt also takes their beer very seriously, and will only distribute to local accounts that commit to properly pouring their brew. This means, among other things, the pils must be in a proper glass, and, as the name implies, it must be a slow pour (a three step pour that takes about 5 minutes). While I was also looking forward to trying Bierstadt’s brews at their brewery, I did not have one at Falling Rock. In hindsight, that was a mistake.
Hogshead Brewery may have been the stop I was most looking forward to on this trip. With that excitement came the fear that it would be a disappointment. It was not. Their tasting room is small, and though it is supplemented with some outdoor space, it was raining on and off while we were there. So, the room was cozy at happy hour with a mix of patrons of varying ages.
We had two cask ales, including the Barge Mild and the Cook Lane (best bitter). On the draft side, based on the name alone, I had to get the Downtown Julie Brown Ale, which was excellent (wubba wubba wubba), as was the Chin Wag (ESB), Mother in-Law and Divine Right. Hogshead does these traditional English ales well, and they clearly have an audience in Denver. I cannot overstate how pleasant it was to sit in this taproom a knock back a few subtle, low-ABV pints. Simply put, the craft beer community needs to be encouraging more establishments like this across the country.
After a stop for dinner, we visited Prost Brewing Company. Prost, for the most part, makes traditional German brews. There were a few nods to current trends with an IPL, a Whiskey Doppel and a kombucha. I opted for a keller pils, and my wife got the dunkelweizen. Both were pleasant, and the view of downtown was fantastic. Prost is very close to a trendy food/drink hall called Avanti. Avanti is also known for its view of the city, and the food and drink lineup is good. If you’re in the neighborhood, my recommendation would be head to Prost.
Saturday morning brought us to The Source Hotel + Market Hall. New Belgium has a small brewing operation there, and Crooked Stave has a taproom. I would’ve been happy to have a Fat Tire Amber or Von Pilsner in their homeland to add to my list of humble beer stops, but unfortunately it was 10AM, and both were closed. The Source, as well as the nearby Zeppelin Station, bill themselves as shopping and arts destinations, in addition to food and drink, but they really seem to excel most on the latter two. Not a critical stop if you’re in town for a short visit, though my brisket breakfast burrito from Smok was delicious (but it did not beat the breakfast burrito I had the day before at Taqueria La Familia in The Highlands neighborhood, which I devoured before I could take a picture.)
After some strolling in the RiNo neighborhood, we stopped by Bierstadt Lagerhaus, which I was eagerly anticipating. Again, I was not disappointed. Their Slow Pour Pils is perfect. There really is not a whole lot else to say about this beer beyond that. It is by far one of the best in the country. I followed this up with a collab smoked helles (I don’t recall who the collaborating brewery was). It was excellent. I wish I could’ve stayed there all afternoon to work through their menu.
The one unfortunate thing about Bierstadt Lagerhaus is their welcome message on their website’s homepage. “Apparently, it is allowable to add strawberries, gummy worms, pizza, and all matter of other things to a “beer.” Each to their own. You do you. We aren’t ones to judge.” This strikes me as an odd and negative way to welcome people to your business. This brewery would be an absolute grand slam for me, but this message leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
A few blocks away, worlds collided for me at Ratio Beerworks. The owners of Ratio come from the same music scene I have been so passionate about since the 90’s, and the names of their beers honor many classics from that era.
From their menu, I chose two beers with names that are near and dear to my heart. Dear You, a French saison, is named after an album by the recently reunited Jawbreaker. It was controversial when it was released because it was the band’s first on a major label. They lost a lot of old fans who cried “sellout”, and didn’t gain many new ones. I loved the album, and these days, with Jawbreaker’s reunion, it has been revisited, and being more warmly received than it originally had been. Younger me may have cried “sellout” over the use of juicy American hops to this beer, but I found it refreshing, and it actually worked quite well for me.
Fugazi’s debut album, ‘Repeater’, was a groundbreaking release in the American punk and hardcore scene. As hardcore was moving in a direction of male aggression, Minor Threat’s lead singer began a new project that broke away from an overly aggressive sound and scene, to one that was passionate and intelligent. Ratio named their extra pale ale after this album. This is one of those flagship kind of beers I could happily crush all day at a barbecue.
While at Ratio, I had the good fortune of meeting Tristan Chan, their Marketing Manager. In addition to his work at Ratio, he is also the creator of Porchdrinking.com. Tristan shared his knowledge of the Denver scene, and gave us a quick tour of Ratio’s facility. I was most impressed when I learned about their support of the arts and charitable contributions to the community.
Ratio’s love for the arts is further reflected on the facade of their building, which has a wonderful mural. Same goes for their neighbor down the street, Our Mutual Friend (OMF), where we stopped after dinner that night. Their menu is fairly diverse, with humble beers like a keller pils, a mild, and a brown ale, and more on the other side of the spectrum with a variety of IPA’s, sour beers, et. al. Staying focused, I had the pils and the mild, which were superb. I really wanted to try their brown, with house roasted malt, as well as several of their wild and sour beers, but I had to restrain myself, a little.
Contrasting Bierstadt Lagerhaus’ website, the message on the website of TRVE Brewing states “our goal is to give you a rad place to hang out and drink killer beer…Our beers may or may not exactly adhere to any particular guidelines – we’re style blasphemers and category agnostics – but you can count on the fact that we’ll always brew damn good beer.” Known as the heavy metal brewery, TRVE is an inviting space, and their patrons vary widely. While the passion for metal is not a gimmick, it shouldn’t scare anyone away.
I had their keller pils and grisette, which I really enjoyed. In addition to these, I was thrown a curveball upon entering their taproom when I saw they had a number of cans from Austin Texas’ Live Oak. Live Oak is one of the few breweries making the Polish-style grodziskie beer, which I greatly enjoy, and rarely see. I had to have one of those.
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Denver lived up to it reputation as a great beer city. While I didn’t make it to all the places I wanted to visit, we certainly did pretty good for a couple of days. From a humble beer perspective, it was great to see places like Hogshead and Bierstadt being warmly embraced by their community.