The benefit of choosing a University in Denver for your online program is it gives you a good excuse to celebrate graduation by visiting a vibrant craft beer scene. So while beer may not have been the “official” reason for this trip, you can bet we allowed it to play a pretty strong supporting role. Avery Brewing (Boulder): Our first visit and arguably the highlight thanks in no small part to the hospitality from Plant Engineer Steve Wadzinski. Let’s get this out of the way first – yes, Avery did pull distribution out of Indiana in 2011 and you can hold that against them. But they have also established a well-earned reputation as one of the more aggressive and innovative breweries in the past twenty years of craft beer. As a drinker who grew into the scene primarily through American styles, Salvation and The Reverend were two of my earliest exposures to Belgian styles. And The Beast Grand Cru frightened me a little at the first tasting…in a good way. The growth of today’s Avery Brewing has strained the limits of available buildings within their small industrial complex, and plans for a new facility have been in the works for two years. The brewery continues to produce their old favorites and push the boundaries of emerging craft brewing trends. When we attended, they were preparing for the release of Momi Hiwa, a 17% ABV coconut porter aged in dark rum barrels and the 15th addition to their Barrel-Aged Series. The interesting samples we found in the tap room included Trogdor, a smoked Dopplebock, and Snapping Turtles, a Scottish Wee Heavy brewed with a variety of hot peppers that really snuck up on you with a nice burn in the aftertaste. And it’s just always great to get fresh samples of Maharaja Imperial IPA and Hog Heaven, a very hop forward American Barleywine that I prefer without extensive aging. Probably the most unique feature of Avery’s brewing process to me is the use of outdoor fermentation vessels due to the lack of sufficient indoor space. These require six inches of insulation to preserve proper temperatures during Colorado winters. As someone who worries about the 1 degree change from placing a carboy in different sections of the basement, I find it a marvelous feat of engineering that all this great beer can be produced when exposed to a harsh climate.
Oskar Blues (Lyons): Oskar Blues appears to be building a small empire in the Rocky Mountain National Park region with a variety of brewing facilities, tap rooms, burger joints, and their own food truck. They also just opened a new brewery in Brevard, NC. You may be familiar with Oskar Blues from their two collaboration releases with Sun King, and you may have read here a few months back about their desire to expand distribution to Indiana. For our trip, we visited the original Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in the very small town of Lyons that we first discovered in 2006. Besides their status as one of the pioneers of producing craft beer in a can, Oskar Blues is well known for crafting assertive beers high in flavor….and alcohol. Their hoppy beers are wonderful, but the Old Chub Scotch Ale and Ten Fidy Imperial Stout are also personal favorites. On our trip to the brewery, the house taps included smaller offerings that included a Nut Brown and Helles lager which were very good. Any place that I can get good beer and a good bowl of jambalaya is a winner in my book. This was also the first (and not last) experience with a $7 pint on this trip, a pint of Deviant Dale’s IPA in this case. While this beer certainly warrants a certain level of premium pricing, it brings up a topic I’ve been tempted to address in the past. I enjoy visiting a brewery and sampling some fresh beer (arguably too much), but I start to wonder if there are any limitations on what breweries can charge at their own place. It seems like the same beer that goes through the added expense of bottling/canning, distribution, and retail markup somehow ends up half the price or less when purchased off the shelf. I know, I know, the beer in that glass is worth whatever someone like myself is willing to pay for it. Well, exactly how much are we as drinkers willing to pay? On another recent occasion I visited an unnamed brewery taproom and enjoyed a nice seasonal offering. Upon leaving and visiting another bar, I found the same beer and was able to order a pint for 50 cents less than was charged at the brewery. Not a big difference, but something seems a little backwards here. Anyway, I’m way off topic, back to the trip…….
Great Divide Brewing (Denver): Our final visit of the trip commenced with a convenient walk up Arapahoe Street from downtown Denver to the Great Divide tap room. Now this is a great tap room! There were 16 different beers on tap including four different varieties of their Yeti Imperial Stout (regular, oak aged, espresso oak aged, and chocolate oak aged). Great Divide will pour you a generous sample (see picture below) of any beer on tap for merely a dollar. This included premium offerings like the Yeti varieties, Old Ruffian Barleywine, and their 19th Anniversary ale featuring birch wood aging. To top it off, all tap room sample sales are donated to local nonprofit organizations. Great Divide initially made a name for themselves with Titan IPA and Hercules Double IPA, but it’s the other styles that have always really impressed me at this brewery. The Claymore Scotch Ale and regular Oak Aged Yeti would rank at the top of my list, followed closely by Hoss Rye Lager and Nomad Bohemian Pilsner. While all the Yeti samples were wonderful, the oak character pairs so well on its own with this beer that other additions end up distracting. Overall, this is basically a brewery that can spin through a wide variety of styles and rarely leave you disappointed. I think the Yeti beers are a fairly good value even in bombers, but six packs of the Claymore Scotch Ale or Hibernation Ale (winter seasonal) are highly recommended buys from Great Divide. They’re fairly easy to find at better craft beer stores across central Indiana.
Regardless of my comments on pint prices, these three represent the breweries I consider “must stops” along the Denver/Boulder/Rocky Mountain National Park route. Left Hand Brewing in Longmont is only excluded because their tap room was closed for renovations the day we could have fit in a visit. I had a great time visiting them on past trips. We’re not big fans of New Belgium beers, but their brewery is a really interesting place to visit and I appreciate their sustainability efforts. The other breweries we visited on this trip included: Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery (Boulder): Well worth a trip West Flanders Brewing (Boulder): If you have a time Wynkoop Brewing (Denver): If you have a time, and don’t order “Ye Olde Ale” Cheers, Nathan