Determining which breweries to visit in Denver is truly daunting. Many refer to Denver proper and its surrounding areas as a craft beer mecca. This aptly given moniker is well-deserved when you look at a map of breweries and realize how highly concentrated they are. You really can’t go wrong with starting at one brewery and then just working your way back towards whatever direction you need to go to get home.
My first destination for Tuesday, June 30th was the Bull and Bush Brewery. It looks from the road like a medieval inn straight out of Game of Thrones. The cheeky sign is another homage to the British sense of humor and skillful double entendre. The temp was about 95 and I was ready for a refreshing beverage. Walking in from the sun, it took my eyes some time to adjust to this dimly lit brewery. I saddled up to the bar which is spacious and is well-stocked with all sorts of wine and spirits along with a list of award-winning beers. After taking a few minutes to look over the beer descriptions, I settled on 8 of their offerings. Most of the offerings were more British style beers with the exception of the Hefeweizen and the IPA. The tasters came in a very unique tin carrier that was numbered so it was easy to keep track of all the craft beer samples. The beer tasted great and I realized shortly after I was there, that this was a place for locals to gather and catch up. I was sitting at the part of the bar right before it curved into a U-shaped end of the bar. As I was taking my notes, I noticed people come in to grab lunch and a pint. They all seemed to know each other and I started to wonder if I was in a hybrid of the Prancing Pony from Lord of the Rings and Cheers. The brewmaster Gabe Moline has quite the skill when it comes to brewing tasty and unique craft beer. Of the 8 beers I tried, my favorites were the Hefeweizen, The Tower ESB, the Big Ben Brown and the Black Rooster dry hopped black lager, with the ESB being the standout. The ESB had a wonderful bready and robust toasted malt character with really nice leathery notes. The flavor of this beer really showed how incredibly talented their brewer is. I should also give honorable mention to the Man Beer, it is an IPA with a lot of malt balance that finishes with a piney and grassy hop finish. I had seen the Man Beer written about in a few articles and it was really what I came in to try. However, like everything on a beer odyssey, it is the surprises along the way that make the voyage memorable. I enjoyed listening to the conversation of those around me while I meandered through the various flavors and aromas of the beer. This felt like a really great place to hang out and I was already regretting the fact that I had eaten breakfast so close to visiting this brewery. As people ordered food, it looked amazing when it was brought out. The Bull and Bush placed #1 in an article highlighting the top 10 brewpubs in Denver and the next time I am there, I will definitely be ordering food.
My next stop took me not too far away to the Copper Kettle Brewing Company, a smaller brewery that produces between 500-800 barrels a year. This taproom has a very new and fresh look to it with a lot of natural light from windows. The medium sized bar separated the taproom space from the rest of the brewery. Even in the short drive, I was toasty from the heat and the air-conditioned taproom was a welcome place. I looked at their tap and there were several refreshing options available. I chose a balance of styles that ranged from lighter and refreshing to heavy with a lot of booziness. Daniel, the bartender, was a busy man as I was not the only one who had the brilliant idea to beat the heat drinking craft beer at Copper Kettle. There was a gentleman by the name of Chris who seemed to be pretty dialed into the craft beer scene. Hew was talking about some brewery that was a 3 hour drive into the mountains. He said that if I like sour beers, that is the place to go on Saturday, as they are only open one day a month and the line can get a little crazy. This was the second person in as many days to mention Casey’s Brewing and Blending. I was a little disappointed because I knew I would not be able to sneak away from our 4th of July festivities for 7 hours to go visit some brewery in the hills. So, I would have to live vicariously through the stories that the people in the taproom were telling about the magical brewery. The conversation shifted to the ever popular GABF (Great American Beer Festival) that was coming up in the fall. Everyone there was talking about all the special events that happen in town during the fest, but are not specifically part of the fest. One particular event that had the taproom abuzz was the Denver Rare Beer Tasting III, a fundraiser for Pints For Prostates that has an unimaginable number of spectacular special beers that are virtually unattainable to the public. While the price tag for the event is a little high, it goes for a tremendous cause and I would recommend checking it out.
The atmosphere combined with the delicious craft beer make Copper Kettle a great place to relax and enjoy a pint or two. The people working there along with the patrons are exceedingly friendly and went out of their way to give a stranger some idea of places to go. While I found all their beers to be above average, there were a few that really impressed me. My third favorite was the Oh For Hefe N’s Sake Hefeweizen because of its aroma and refreshing quality. The visual on this beer was perfectly cloudy with a nice white head on it. It was a perfect beer for a 95 plus degree day. My second favorite was the Bavarian Helles. I fell in love with this one for a similar reason as the Hefe, it was crisp, refreshing and flavorful. A craft beer style like a Helles leaves very little room for error on the part of the brewer. Copper Kettle hit this one out of the park because it hit on all cylinders of flavor and aroma. My favorite craft beer offering at Copper Kettle, despite the oppressive heat, was the 2011 Gold Medal Winner of GABF’s Herb and Spice category, Mexican Chocolate Stout. This beer was easily the best beer I have sampled so far. The cinnamon and chili spice and dryness marry well with the thickness of the boozy and chocolaty texture. As I sipped it, the heat built nicely, but never to the point where it was heavy-handed. Even though I was barely a third of the way into my trip, I knew that the Mexican Chocolate Stout was going to be a beer I remembered for a long time. I said my goodbyes, bought a hate and some stickers and made my way to my next spot to check out the USA vs. Germany Women’s World Cup match.
My last destination of the day brought me to a fairly new craft beer locale called Coda Brewing Company. Located right next to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, it draws a lot of grad students as well as other craft beer fans. The fine folks at Copper Kettle recommended that I stop here and I was not disappointed. The taproom is a cozy and inviting area. Everything from the tables to the tap handles are works of art and unique expression. The bar is a breathtaking tribute to woodworking, the flight carriers are made from wood and hold small 150 ml beakers for their tasting glasses. This is more than likely an homage to the owner’s background as a scientist. Although, the brewery’s namesake, Coda, is a reference to the music symbol. The coda is meant to signal the end of a musical piece. The connection to music and beer is very prominent at Coda Brewing company. They will often tap the beer onstage to show the connection between the beer and music. According to their website, “The science builds the beer and the music drives it.”
I sat down at the masterfully crafted wooden bar and looked around. Past the wall that housed the beer lines and taps, I could see all the brewing equipment. As a beer geek, I love it when you can drink the beer and see the equipment where the beer was made. This really provides a cool connection of the brewing process and makes me feel like the beer I am getting is as fresh as it can be. I got the attention of Jamison, the bartender and told him that I wanted to do a flight. After some recommendations, I had figured out what I wanted. The flight came presented in a wooden flight carrier and the tasters were mini beakers. Jamison was fairly busy as people began to stream in for the soccer match. When he wasn’t pouring beers, he was willing to chat and was genuinely curious about what I thought of the beer. I was pleased and I told him that Copper Kettle referred me over and that evoked a proud grin. Even though Coda has been open for a little over a year, they have already received some hardware and recognition from the GABF in the form of a 2014 Silver Medal for their Sleepyhead Passion Fruit Kolsch. Jamison told me that Coda produced around 500 barrels in their first year.
As the crowd gathered, it became clear to me that the demographics were all over the place. Some wiser drinkers and then a fair number of grad school-aged people were all enjoying the craft beer and the ambiance. While the game was being projected onto the stage, the sound was off and music was being played. Several of the patrons asked to get the sound for the game on and Jamison obliged them. I thought that this was a nice gesture. I appreciate when a place is willing to break from the norm as far as their philosophy of the taproom atmosphere is concerned.
I was working my way through the tasting flight when the Dave, the assistant brewer, stopped over to chat. We got into a great discussion of beer. He came to Coda from Chicago and one of the beers, the Via Chicago Pale Ale was something that he had a considerable amount of input on. This beer was in many ways an homage to some of the popular pale ales available in the WI and IL region. Dave was curious about which beers were my favorites and I told him that I was partial to the Lucille Black IPA, Via Chicago Pale Ale and the Wit 10 Belgian Style Wit. All had unique flavors and balance, the benchmarks of extraordinary craft beers. The Via Chicago had a nice mouthfeel with a combination of refreshing and fruity hops. The Lucille paired the robust flavors of toasted malt and coffee with a nuanced hop balance that consisted mainly of floral and piney hop aromas and flavors. The Belgian Wit was very delicate and had a great citrus and spice character to it. This was a perfect way to end the day as the US Women’s team pulled out a victory against Germany, I felt like a winner myself for discovering such a great place to drink. Between Dave and Jamison, I felt right at home and they took very good care of me. I was able to bring home a bottle of their GABF Medal Winning Kolsch and I look forward to enjoying that when the time is right. I think that this place will continue to grow and be a wonderful place to enjoy music and craft beer for many years.
The day was filled with great craft beer and people. As I went home, I had a feeling of overwhelming wonder at how many great places there are to enjoy craft beer in this city. I knew that between my first trip here in 2014, and a few days this summer, I had barely scratched the surface of this beer mecca. I was gaining a great understanding of why so many craft beer drinkers point to Denver as a craft beer destination. Stay tuned for Part 3 of my Denver leg of the journey. Prost!