Seeking out hidden gems in Denver’s crowded beer scene

A brewery we had never heard of wound up being the highlight of our trip, at least as far as the beer went.
A brewery we had never heard of wound up being the highlight of our trip, at least as far as the beer went.

In case you do not follow us on social media, you might have missed the photos that Franz Solo and I took from our visit to Denver. Our main purpose for this trip was to see Iron Maiden (they were awesome, of course), but we naturally took some time to indulge in the area’s vast beer scene.

Our last trip to Denver featured visits to a lot of well-known breweries, including Great Divide, Prost, TRVE, and Avery in Boulder. This time around we sought out some different places, smaller but highly-rated establishments. Sometimes the best beers are still being made by the little guys.

As we stayed near downtown, we set out on foot on our first night, aiming to the area north/northeast of Coors Field, which is home to a cluster of 10 breweries between 26th and 38th Streets. Our first stop was the famous Falling Rock Taphouse, where I met up with one of the Rockies writers I know to chat about baseball. We did enjoy Falling Rock, but it is a small space so we can see how it gets crowded during big events. Also, we struck out on our first two beer picks off the menu. They need to update that thing more often. I settled on the Bear Republic Hop Shovel, and after chatting about baseball, we got a dinner suggestion to hit up Breck on Blake, Breckenridge’s taproom/restaurant near the ballpark. While their beers have been passed by, Breckenridge does have good food and some guest taps of quality (Elevation’s 8 Second, Melvin’s Hubert MPA).

After filling up on food, our brewery call began. It might have gone longer, but it was a Tuesday, and most places were closed by 11.

We stumbled upon the beers at Zephyr.
We stumbled upon the beers at Zephyr.

Zephyr Brewing (Walnut and 26th): This was a newer place, so we took that into account with the beer selection. The American Blonde was fine for the style, while the Scottish came off more like a brown ale. The IPA needed the most work, though it had more to do with the malt bill than the hops. The star of the show here was the Holy Grail, a Belgian quad that was barrel aged. Sweet? You bet. A little hot? A little, but not too much. If any ABQ brewery wants to brew a quad and then barrel age it, we would be OK with that. Then we would drink it all up.

Spangalang Brewery (Welton between 27th and 28th): A patron at Zephyr recommended we head a few blocks down the road and try out Spangalang. We should have gotten that gentleman’s name, because we owe him a huge thank you. Another new place, Spangalang just celebrated their first anniversary. This comes on the heels of celebrating their first Great American Beer Festival medal last fall. Spangalang won gold for Sugarfoot, a Belgian table beer. Honestly, it was one of the finest American-made Belgian-style beers that I have had. In addition to that delightful little starter to our sample tray, we also got our fill of hops with El Dorado Single Hop Pale Ale, D-Train IPA, and Hop Colossus. Their Anniversary Ale was hop-forward as well, a beautiful blend of IPA and a barrel-aged IPA. And, because awesomeness found us multiple times on this trip, we got the additional benefit of their anniversary party leftovers — four versions of their Night Walker imperial stout. There was the regular version, which was delicious on its own, along with the Night Walker Con Alma (re-fermented with red wine), plus the 2015 and 2016 versions of the barrel-aged Night Walker. The 2015, in particular, could hold up with the finest BA imperials we have ever had. We cannot recommend this brewery enough on your next visit to Denver.

The beer board at Our Mutual Friend. Points for creative names.
The beer board at Our Mutual Friend. Points for creative names.

Our Mutual Friend Brewing (Larimer and 28th): It had a bit of a hipster vibe (in Denver, I know, shocking), but once you get past that, grab a spot at a raised community table and snag a flight. I tried seven of eight beers (allergy concerns strike again), and while there was no “Sweet Jeebus!” among the group, it was a pretty solid lineup. The Camisado Cream Ale was similar to Nexus’ Cream Ale and a good place to start. Franz was wondering if Blame It On the Kane, a dark British mild, was named after Tottenham striker Harry Kane. Whether it was or not, it was solid for the style. Dad’s Brown Ale used Star Anise as an ingredient, making for a rather different kind of brown. The Novo Coffee Stout was on nitro, which muted the sharp coffee flavors a little too much for me. Don’t Panic, a black IPA, is basically the malty little cousin of Santa Fe’s Black IPA. Feyd, their DIPA, was made in the East Coast style, with a heavy malt backbone, similar to what you would get from a Dogfish Head 90 Minute.

Ratio Beerworks (Larimer and 29th): A quick hop from OMFB, Ratio was the last place still open Tuesday night. It is a bigger, more spacious place with a bit of a retro vibe. I got to enjoy all eight beers off the sample tray — Domestica (Blonde Ale), Dear You (Saison), Repeater (Pale Ale), Rented World (IPA), Hold Steady (Scotch Ale), Hold Steady with coffee, One Great City! (Belgian Quad), Antidote (IPA). The best of the bunch were the One Great City! and the Hold Steady with coffee. Clearly, Denver breweries have gotten good at quads and at adding coffee to beers besides just stouts or porters. Rented World was the slightly better of the two IPAs by my Untappd ratings, but my comments were drying up by this point. Did I mention it was at the end of our crawl?

You know it's the end of the night when your picture of the last place is a mostly wiped-out flight.
You know it’s the end of the night when your picture of the last place is a mostly wiped-out flight.

As for Wednesday, the day of the concert, we did revisit Avery to try all the brewery-only beers they don’t bottle. It’s still awesome up there, and the food was great, too. For dinner we hit up the Rhein Haus, a massive, two-story German restaurant with an impressive beer selection, great food, and full-size bocce ball courts. We grabbed the house lager, which was brewed by Prost Brewing. It was about as authentic as you can get in the U.S.

Oh, and we did hit one new brewery that day …

Black Sky Brewery (Santa Fe and 5th): This is another heavy metal-themed brewery, but it’s more purposely done as being low-end than TRVE. It’s a bare bones place, with a handful of house beers, some guest taps, and a bunch of pizza/grinder/calzone-style food. On this day, it was also an unofficial Iron Maiden pregame event, so there were a whole lot of folks inside. And, only four people working behind the bar. There was no table service, and everything was backed up beyond belief. I have no idea if they underestimated the crowd, or the staff they had was all they could get on a Wednesday. But, in the end, I stood at the bar for 12 minutes without anyone so much as acknowledging my existence. I gave up, but Porter Pounder and his friends arrived and got some beers. I took a sip of the Hazelnut Porter, which was pretty mild for a porter with minimal hazelnut flavor, and With Odin We Ryed, a beer with a great name and next to no body or flavor or much of anything. Maybe my views on these beers were too influenced by the lack of good service, but considering that almost all of their beers hover in the 3.5 to 3.6 range on Untappd, I don’t think I’m alone.

For Thursday, our main goals were 1) sleep in and recover, 2) eat something hearty at Jelly (a wonderful breakfast place recommended to us by the awesome Dana Kleinman of Babes in Brewland), 3) fill the trunk with beer to go, and 4) visit one last brewery.

The name may sound Russian, but the beer is All-American.
The name may sound Russian, but the beer is All-American.

Comrade Brewing (7667 E. Iliff Ave.): Located pretty far south/southeast of downtown, we were hoping to stop here on our way into town on Tuesday, but it turns out that’s the one day a week Comrade is closed. We could not miss this place, not after their Superpower IPA made it to the finals of the National IPA Challenge. They may have lost to Bosque’s Scale Tipper, but we could easily see why Superpower was the national runner-up. It is a big, hefty IPA with a lot of hops up front, a strong malt backbone behind them, and overall it was the one IPA we tried on our trip that could truly hold up against the best of the best down here in ABQ. In addition, we tried their other three beers (samples only, we had to drive). The Yellow Card Citra Blonde proved that the best way to make a blonde ale that can actually produce a “Wow!” is to add Citra hops. REDCON was a solid Irish red, a little more sharp and dry than others in its genre, and less sweet. The closest local comparison would be the Crimson Lass at Quarter Celtic. Finally, the Koffee Kream Stout was their take on a coffee-infused beer. It was beautiful, balancing the coffee notes with the sweetness of the cream stout. Next time, if this is on tap, it will be my pint choice. No matter where you are staying in the Denver area, make sure to find time to visit Comrade. Just remember, not on a Tuesday.

Well, that sums up our visit as best as my memory can recollect. If Franz Solo feels like adding comments, we will let you know when those are posted.

To leave this trip, a final picture of that wee little concert we saw with about 30,000 other folks.

Hails! \m/ \m/
Hails! \m/ \m/

Up the Irons!

— Stoutmeister

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