We couldn’t travel to Denver without visiting a few new breweries. It’s what we do. Plus, with the year winding down, I wanted to pick up three or four to help with our goal of reaching 600 by year’s end. The problem is that the eastern slope of the Rockies is well traveled territory for us. After a bit of research, I found four potential targets just south of Denver.
We were on the road late morning to reach our first stop at their 11am opening time. After what seemed like a million traffic signals, we were at our first destination, Hops Restaurant and Brewery, in the Denver suburb of Littleton.
I know I should have more of an open mind, but I’ll admit I am not a huge fan of chain breweries. My expectations tend to be low and I just view them as a notch on the bed post. However, we were pleasantly surprised at Hops. The staff was very friendly, even after we told them we were on a brewery tour so we only wanted a taster set.
And the beers were not too bad. My biggest beef with chains is that their beers usually taste the same no matter what style they’re supposed to be. Not so at Hops. There were a couple of flavorful beers amongst our six beer sampler. I thought the Thoroughbred Red and the Hoptoberfest were the best while Merideth’s favorite (although she’s embarrassed to admit it) was the Clearwater Light.
After visiting nearly 600 breweries, I have developed a sixth sense about when a brewery visit will potentially be a problem. It’s that “uh oh” feeling I get that tells me the brewery is going to be either a) closed, b) closed for good or c) not have any of their own beers.
Our second stop, Falcon Brewing in Parker, was one of those breweries where I got the “feeling.” Before our trip, I confirmed that the other brewery in Parker was open, so it wasn’t going to be a complete loss if my feeling about Falcon was correct.
And the correct prediction was… C. Falcon was out of their beer. The bartender told us that the house brews would be ready in a week. Even, “Oh, well, we’re from California” didn’t get us any samples from the fermenters. Out of luck, we headed over to Parker’s other brewery.
Elk Mountain Brewing was the pleasant surprise of the trip. Located in an industrial park off the main road into Parker, the tasting room is bright and spacious with that really new feel. That made a lot of sense as Elk Mountain had held its grand opening party just one month before. Like many of the new generation of beer places we have visited recently, Elk Mountain does not have food, but provides a number of takeout menus from local restaurants who will deliver.
As one of the only customers early on a Friday, we had a chance to chat with Tom, brewer/owner and his assistant. Elk Mountain is apparently known for their German-style beers and it showed with a wonderful Hefeweizen, Wild Wapiti Wheat. Lots of banana and clove, just how I like it. Merideth loved the clean and crisp Mine Shaft Kölsch. However, Puma IPA was the star of the show. A wonderful hop bomb!
We had one more stop before returning to Denver. Merideth picked up Dry Dock Brewing a few months back on a trip without me. That was an important moment for her as she leveled the brewery count. To show what a wonderful husband I am, I offered to skip Dry Dock on this trip so we could reach 600 at the same brewery this December in Europe (I’m such a romantic!). Merideth said not to worry about it and it was okay to go to Dry Dock. However, once there, she engaged in a bit of whining and claimed not to remember this pre -trip conversation.
A few hours before the Friday night session, Dry Dock was hopping when we rolled in. The bartender was quickly and efficiently pouring taster set after taster set. Wanting to try all 11 beers, we ordered an almost double taster set and found a table in the corner.
Dry Dock subsequently won four silver medals at GABF the following day, but unfortunately only one of those beers would be available on our visit. U-Boat Hefeweizen was the second great Hefe of the day!
However, the beer I really went to Dry Dock for was Seven Seas Double IPA. I drank it for the first time the day before at Falling Rock. This massive hop bomb was my favorite beer of the trip and I was hoping to bring some home. When I inquired about purchasing a couple of bottles, the bartenders reaction told me I was light years too late. After a few sips of each of our beer samples, we slipped out and headed back to Denver. I had picked up three breweries, Merideth two; closer and closer to 600.
In our two previous GABFs, we have shied away from both the Friday and Saturday night sessions. They have the reputation for being really crowded with long beer lines. Not the kind of scene Merideth and I generally like. But this year, we attended Friday night’s session mainly because the beermen.TV guys were going. They missed meeting up with us at Falling Rock before the session (something about needing a beauty nap), so we agreed to hook up with them at the session.
Finding three Aussies and a Kiwi at the Friday night session was easier said than done. Employing our wandering down the aisle choosing breweries without lines tactic, we figured we would run into them sooner or later. Halfway through the three hour session, we still hadn’t found them. By 8:30pm, the crowds were getting too large for our enjoyment so we gave up our quest and left the festival.
We couldn’t leave Denver without trying one of the new beer establishments in the city. There were a number to choose from but we selected Freshcraft, mainly because it was a few blocks from Falling Rock. With the GABF session still going on, Merideth and I easily found a spot at the bar.
Earlier in the day, we learned from our friend and Colorado beer writer, Dan Rabin, that Boulder had a new organic brewery, Asher Brewing Company. What a coincidence… the first beer listed on the menu was Asher Amber. Merideth and I both ordered a pint of this really nice brew. After the din of the GABF session, it was nice to wind down a bit and have some dinner. Even the semi-annoying birthday girl couldn’t even damper our relaxation, though she tried hard.
But once the GABF session ended, the small restaurant filled up quickly and we felt pressed up against the bar. The party really got started when Greg Koch from Stone arrived to do an event in the back of the restaurant. At the same time, Odell Brewing started pouring a firkin of their Bourbon barrel-aged Stout. After chatting with Joe, a brewer from Odell for a few minutes and trying the Stout, we finally had enough for the day. Merideth and I looked at each other, giving each other the “it’s time to call it a night” look. We left Freshcraft and headed back to our hotel.