Friday, October 21, 2016

GABF 2016: Dropping in on Downtown Denver breweries

A few days before leaving for this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF), I saw a post on social media suggesting that attending the event is something that should be on everyone's beer bucket list. I certainly agree, though for me it's about more than just the festival itself. That and the competition may be what draws brewers and their fans to Denver each year, but the array of festivities that go on in and around the city all week long is what makes the entire experience a must-do in my eyes.

In additional to smaller events and the slew of rare tappings that happen day and night throughout Denver and beyond, there are larger events like the Denver Rare Beer Tasting, Epic Brewing's Firkin Fiasco, The Oskar Blues Brewery Ordeal and a little thing that has origins in Texas, the Beerliner & Chill.

On top of that, there are always a few breweries that choose GABF week as a platform for debuting new products. While the curtain is usually pulled back during a media-only event to start, you can almost always find these beers being poured on the opening night of the festival. Examples this year included the unveiling of Pils World from Ska Brewing, The Smoothness from Great Divide and a Grilled Pineapple Golden Ale from New Belgium (the result of a burger-inspired collaboration with Red Robin restaurants).

For me, though, while the Beerliner is always on my evening itinerary, if you've read my GABF recaps in the past, you know that brewery hopping is how I like to spend my spare time during the day. In the spirit of that, thoughts on those visited while on my 2016 GABF adventure are provided below. As an added bonus, this year I was accompanied on many a stop by Matt Dixon, co-founder of Dallas Brew Scene (DBS) and Executive Director of North Texas Beer Week. So, in the diary of drinking that follows, you'll find commentary based on our shared experience. You can also read Dixon's own personal rundown on the DBS website by clicking here.


Stops on the Beer in Big D/Dallas Brew Scene brewery tour...

  • Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

If memory serves, it was 2003 when I last went by Wynkoop Brewing Co., a.k.a. Colorado's original brewpub. But, dropping in this year was a given, considering low long-time North Texas brewer John Sims (formerly of Copper Tank, Four Corners, Oak Highlands, Texas Ale Project and others) recently re-located there to take the reins as head brewer. These days, the Koop keeps upwards of 30 beers on tap, including more than 20 of its own. And on this visit, the lineup included the brewpub's infamous bull testicle beer, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.

As for how Dixon and I ended up there...

"Sims invited us to hop in a pedicab and head with him over to the brewery for lunch and a few beers," recalls Dixon. "I can only imagine what a sight three gentlemen of our size packed into a tiny pedicab seat, barreling through the streets of Downtown Denver, was to pedestrians. Not the mention the strain on our poor driver."

It turns out that two of the pedestrians who witnessed our jaunt were none other than Michael and Melissa Peticolas (and other members of the Peticolas Brewing Co. crew)...but that might only be because we screamed out a toast to them (with GABF session glasses in hand) as we rolled on down the road.

  • Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Dixon and I had both checked out Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project before at its location at The Source, and considering the brewery made the move there in 2013, it probably makes sense that we saw many of the same differences when comparing the past and present feel of the place. Brewing equipment that once filled space off to one side was no more, allowing for expanded seating which Dixon felt gave the taproom a "much more relaxed feel."

Something else we noticed was how Crooked Stave makes a series of "Petite" sour beers with fruited variants that brought to mind the Petite Golden Sour line made by The Collective Brewing Project of Ft. Worth.

  • Great Divide Barrel Bar
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Due to a certain affinity I have for the brewery's Yeti Imperial Stout and all its variations, a visit to Great Divide Brewing Co.'s taproom is always in the cards when I'm visiting Downtown Denver. In the past, that meant hitting up the brewery on Arapahoe St., but now there are two places to get your drink on after the company opened Great Divide Barrel Bar in the River North neighborhood in 2015. Last year, crowds kept me away, but this time around Dixon and I made it stop three on our impromptu brewery tour.

On the atmosphere side, it's not a huge space, seating only about 40, but Dixon probably summed it up best by saying, "From the wooden staves hanging from the ceiling above the bar to the wooden furniture, the Barrel Bar lived up to its name and is worth checking out."

Beer-wise, options on the night in question included The Smoothness (a beer created in association with Jameson's Drinking Buddies initiative), the nitro-infused Velvet Yeti and barrel-aged versions of Hibernation and Old Ruffian.

  • Mockery Brewing
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Mere steps away from Great Divide's Barrel Bar is another relatively new Downtown Denver brewery in the form of Mockery Brewing. It's a cool little spot that Dixon described as has having a "distinctly industrial vibe...with a unique fixture of pipes and lights surrounding the brewery's logo on the wall."

Having been here before, my impressions mainly centered around the fact that only one or two of the beers on tap were repeats from when I bellied up to the bar just last year. According to the bartender, that's the norm at the brewery, where constant rotation is just the way they do business.

We both thought Generation Boom, a big wine barrel-aged quadrupel, was probably the best beer on the board the night of our visit. Dixon also singled out Turn That Down Upside Down, a sour brown ale with cocoa nibs and cherries, and Shout at the Pineapple, a peachy and peppercorn-infused IPA.

  • Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

They may be wearing black at Black Shirt Brewing Co., but all you'll see is red. That's because all of the brewery's beers are red...the gose, the saison, the porter and any other style you can think of...all of The black thing has to do with representing the counter culture, while the red thing is about picking something and trying to do it better than anyone else. In this case, that means focusing exclusively on red ales.

And, while I spent my time at Black Shirt replaying a soundtrack in my head that consisted of the songs "I See Red" by the Split Enz, and "Red Skies at Night" by The Fixx...Dixon managed to maintain focus enough to recall details regarding both the atmosphere and the beer.

"The brewery is very music forward, so the place appealed directly to my two biggest inner geeks (that would be music and beer)," said Dixon. "They even had a farmhouse triple IPA on tap called Box of Boom in honor of My Morning Jacket's album 'Z.' As for some others, Ocean of Noise, a gose brewed with yuzu, lemongrass, Hawaiian red gold sea salt and dry-hopped with Equinox and Hallertau Blanc, and At Dawn, a Milk Chocolate Oatmeal Red Porter, were two of the more memorable Black Shirt beers."

Solo stops...

Bierstadt Lagerhaus

Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

This place had me at copper kettles. Well that and I have been known to enjoy a traditional German lager or two. Brought to you by a group that includes the former brewmaster of Downtown Denver's other German brewery, Prost Brewing, Bierstadt Lagerhaus is part of a hulking complex that also houses a cidery and on-site restaurant. As you've probably gathered, German standards are order of the day here, with a Helles, Dunkel and Slow Pour Pils being among the everyday offerings.

Tivoli Beer Co.

Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Tivoli Brewing Co. was my last stop before heading to the airport on this trip, and it was also the brewery I enjoyed visiting the most. And, the reason was entirely to do with the history behind the place. You see, at Tivoli it's a "what's old is new again" kind of thing. The original brewery has origins that date back to 1859 and the business continued to operate, with the exception of Prohibition, up until 1969. A revival of the brand occurred in 2012, with the brewpub of today being located on the lower level of the old brewery building. The structure, which also serves as the student union for three local colleges, also features signs and exhibits that tell story of Tivoli beer.

As for the brewpub, three of Tivoli's six year-round beers are inspired by products of yesteryear; Tivoli Helles, Tivoli Neef Bros. Bohemian Girl Pilsner and Tivoli Jet Malt Liquor. Those combine with outside offerings to make up a tap list consisting of 40 beers, the majority of which are supplied by small, local breweries from Colorado and surrounding states.

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