My Beercation To Beervana & Beyond: Return To RiNo

After spending an entire day in Boulder, we are getting right back on the beercation horse and heading to the RiNo neighborhood. RiNo is short for the River North neighborhood in Denver. Why are we spending the better part of a day here? Well, I’ll tell you!

Every city has a neighborhood that exudes energy because of its eateries, drinking establishments, and coffee shops. For Denver, Colorado, the River North area is this place. Locals call it RiNo and it is a fantastic place to spend time. Cool murals festoon the buildings, and people walk around from place to place enjoying the laid back state of mind that Denver allows.

For a beercation enthusiast like myself, the RiNo area is a treasure trove of high quality breweries. One of the best parts about this area is that the breweries are all in close proximity to on another. The synergy existing in this part of town is like nothing I have seen anywhere. So many people are out and about on just a regular old Sunday. It feels like there is some major event nearby but it is just people out enjoying life. This kind of energy is inspiring to me.

For my beercation drinking buddy, Marty, today is another chance to explore and learn about the Denver drinking scene. I have been here before, but I never spend a great amount of time visiting some of the newer breweries in the area.

Epic Brewing Company

We decide to start at an established craft brewery. Epic Brewing Company started in Salt Lake City in 2010. After winning awards and growing, co-founders David Cole and Peter Erickson decided to expand to Denver in 2013. I have a few theories about why this was, but none have been confirmed. Utah has some ridiculously limiting beer laws. I assume the move to Colorado allows them to brew a wider variety of beers. However, I didn’t actually talk to the co-founders, so that is all purely speculation.

What there is not speculation and is 100% fact is that Epic brews some incredibly fine beer. I originally made a stop here in 2013 and felt like coming back would be wise. I know that Marty is excited to try some exciting beers as well. To me, a perfect beercation brewery visit consists of a variety of beer styles on tap. Epic Brewing fits the bill.

Marty and I decide we have time for two flights. The first flight consists of 2 lagers, a pale ale, and a sour IPA. The lagers are fantastic. The Blue Sky Lager has a slight grassy aroma and finishes with a nice modicum of bitterness. The Los Locos Lager is bright with a perfect hit of lime. The RiNo Pale Ale is wonderfully refreshing. Lots of grassy and piney aromas in this one. I feel like I am getting a great whiff of west coast hops in this bad boy. There is a fresh navel orange flesh and tangerine flavor that balances out the piney aromas. This is one of the better beers I have had so far on the trip.

The sour IPA is a head-scratcher to me. Alas, another hip style that makes me want to hop into a DeLorean and head back to a simpler time. The beer has an aroma of barnyard funk that comes across as a ripened cheese. Lots of tartness that tastes like lemon juice and lime peel. This finishes dry with a little bitterness. I am not sure if this style is for me. I like the flavors all on their own. However, when they join forces they don’t agree with my palate. Is this a bad beer? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary. In fact, there are so many things going on in the beer. The fact that they each stand on their own two feel and aren’t muddled is an act of high brewing aptitude.

Truly Epic Beers!

The second flight brings the bass. Dark, robust, and hefty in ABV, 3 of the four beers are north of 8%. The fourth is a perfect IPA. The Escape to Colorado IPA is a balanced beer that showcases why hops are often viewed as the most important ingredient in beer. The aromas of this beer are grassy and floral. The flavors have tangerine, pineapple, and orange. There is some bitterness here, but it is not anything that would prevent one from ordering another 3 of 4 of them.

Everything else on the second flight is malty. The Brainless Belgian Golden Ale has a boozy mouthfeel. There is honey sweetness and fruity notes of apricots. There are esters of clove from the yeast that make this a very aromatic beer. The Big Bad Baptista has aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, and coffee. Caramelized sugar sweetness and vanilla balance out the roasted malt in this beer. The hints of bourbon and coffee balance out nicely to make this a memorable beer. The Quad Barrel Baptist is as complex as the day is long. Chocolate, toffee, plum, caramel, and barrel all waft out of the glass. This boozy temptress is about the last thing I would expect from a brewery that started in Mormon country. Flavors of cherry and vanilla are followed closely by dark chocolate and coconut. That’s right, I said coconut.

After I stop crying tears of joy, Marty reminds me that we aren’t alone. I get myself together and we head out from Epic Brewing for the short walk through the neighborhood streets to Ratio Beerworks.

Ratio Beerworks

Simon and Garfunkel, peanut butter and jelly, and patios and beer; just some can’t-miss combos of the modern age. Lucky for me, Ratio Beerworks provides an outdoor setting to enjoy beer. We order up a flight that covers all of the bases and grab a seat at the end of a wooden picnic table out on the patio. People are playing bags, people are laughing and enjoying a brief respite from the oppressive Colorado sun, and beers are going down easy. If this isn’t the picture of a Sunday Funday, I don’t know what is.

The taster tray consists of a light lager, a pilsner, an IPA, and a Scotch Ale. We also grab an order of amazing buffalo wings from the food truck outside. These things might have been made from pigeons because they are huge! It is always a good idea to eat along the way when your beercation goals include hitting five breweries in a day.

Domstica is the light lager and it is a clean and straight forward beer. It goes perfectly with the wings. The No Shade Pilsner has a pretty straw hue and is as clear as the face of a Noxema spokesperson. The comforting aroma of fresh bread comes from the malt and there is a dryness in the finish which comes in the form of slight bitterness.

The Antidote IPA has the aroma of an old-school West Coast IPA. A bit grassy and piney. There is pear and orange juice flavors up front and the finish is pure piney resin. This also is the perfect drink to enjoy with some wings. The Hold Steady Scotch Ale is a complex and delicious malty wonder. It has a slight hint of smoke along with some coffee and dark caramel aromas. The malt flavor comes across as toasted bread and this is incredibly tasty.

Marty and I bask in the breeze and comfort of the patio as the surrounding energy recharges us. It is a perfect day to be tippling around the streets of RiNo. We finish our wings and beer and decide to make the trek down the street two blocks to the next destination.

We pass murals, coffee shops, and a grip of millennials on scooters. Not only is this beercation to relax, but also to show these whippersnappers that Sunday Fundays are for children of the 80s, too.

Our Mutual Friend

We grab a seat outside and I go in to assess the beer situation. Again, with a myriad of options at Our Mutual Friend Brewing, deciding what beers to populate the flight tray with is challenging. I opt for a variety of styles. So, a Keller Pils, Hazy IPA, English Mild, and Coffee Stout on Nitro are the winners.

We are situated perfectly to people watch. We marvel at the varying degrees of scooter aptitude on full display. Some appear as confident as Luke Skywalker on a speeder bike. Others are exhibiting panic akin to the first time you realize that Indian food and your digestive tract want to be enemies more than friends. Between laughter and sips of beer, Marty and I are having a blast.

We also have a delicious tray of beers in front of us. The Keller Pils is clearer than most other ones I have had. A hint of sulfur in the nose goes away like a buzzing scooter on a Denver street. I like the bright and refreshing nature of this beer. The finish is hoppier than other Keller Pils examples I have enjoyed on the trip and that is a fun difference.

The Hazy IPA is a marmalade color and cloudy as the weather. Bright orange flesh flavor up front and an onion/grassy finish. This aroma is quite herbaceous which I like. The English Mile Ale is leathery with a nice bready note. Definitely a satisfying taste without being heavy. The Coffee Stout on Nitro has dark chocolate and coffee bitterness without the acidity. There is also a great amount of roasted malt flavor. These elements are balanced out by the velvety smooth mouthfeel thanks to the Nitro.

Beercation

While I was in the bathroom, one of the fine folks from the bbq place in the parking lot brought a sample of a burnt end for Marty. I came back and he seemed really happy. He explained that he just had a bite of amazing bbq. I realized that Owlbear Barbecue is right around the corner.

Owlbear Barbecue & The Curious Case Of The Beercation Meat Sweats

As giddy as school boys on Italian Dunker day, Marty and I get in the Owlbear Barbecue line. My only hope is that they still have some food left. As a Minnesotan, I fully recognize that my regional cuisine pales in comparison when put toe-to-toe with other parts of the country. Sure, we have “seafood” restaurants but after being in Portland, Maine, a few years back, why bother. In 2015, I crossed off every bbq place I could find off of my bucket list.

Minnesota is a great place to get sweet corn, a juicy lucy, Pho, and a heaping portion of passive aggressiveness. However, barbecue, seafood, a good fish taco, or any other coastal delicacies are hard to come by. Does Minnesota have a food scene? Yes, and it is up-and-coming, however, there are just somethings that you can’t find in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Which brings me back to Owlbear Barbecue.

Meat Sweats? What Meat Sweats?

This place came highly recommended to me by the taproom manager at River North Brewery, Fonda. She knows the people who started Owlbear and it is fairly new. The pitmaster at Owlbear studied under the Obi-Wan-Kenobi of barbecue in Austin, Texas, at a place called Franklin Barbecue. So, I know Marty and I are in for a treat. Designed for quick grab and go service, Owlbear has two doors and you line up, place your order, and can either stay there to eat, or go elsewhere.

Beercation

We are looking at the time and knowing that they have been open since 11 am, we are cautiously optimistic that they still have food left. My hope takes a little bit of a hit when I see that they are out of a couple of sides including the mac and cheese. However, they still have brisket, ribs, pork tenderloin and pulled pork-I can work with that. The folks working here welcome us in as if we are in their home. They offer us samples of anything we want to try. Instantly, the flood gates on my salivary glands kick into high gear and I become enchanted with flavors and textures I am not used to.

The brisket has a bark on it like I have never seen. It is fall apart tender and has juices continuously oozing out of it. The pork tenderloin, yes, you read that right, pork tenderloin, is amazing. It is juicy, tender, and flavorful. Those three adjectives seldom go with pork tenderloin in Minnesota. The spareribs have a smoke ring that, I kid you not, is a 1/3 of an inch. I am almost positve that there are ground up unicorn horns in the rub because it it other-worldly. This food is beyond amazing and an absolutely a revelation. It has ruined Minnesota barbecue for me. I will not even waste my time trying to find anything close. Marty and I are both slowly falling into a meat coma and enjoying every minute of it. This place is amazeballs.

Today’s adventure showcases why Denver is an amazing place to live. The RiNo neighborhood is a crown jewel of everything that people want. The energy is contagious, the beers are delicious, and those scooters go pretty fast. If you are in Denver, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon. Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .