Crooked Stave (The Source)
Although I have visited Crooked Stave's production facility/tap room in the River North neighborhood of Denver, this was my first trip to the tap room at The Source outside of downtown where Crooked Stave has its coolship installed. The Source is an open concept food market where you can eat, drink and shop (for food items) around an open seating area. It's cool. Crooked Stave has a tap room with a solid set of taps and bottles available and Crooked Stave's bottle shop (The Perfect Pour) where I snagged a bottle of Fantome Boo at a fairly reasonable price.
The tap room has a similar set of beers as the original tap room where I was able to sample fantastic beers like Origins, Motif, Nightmare on Brett Street and a variant of Saison Vieille double dry hopped with moteuka hops. As much as I enjoyed the sour beers I was really in the mood for that saison and it was the winner for the day. I was short on time in Denver for the day so I didn't get to sample as much as I would have but cramming in as much as I do in my Colorado beer trips means great beer always gets left by the wayside.
River North Brewing
River North is a short skip away from The Source so my wife and I decided to stop by for their anniversary beer released that afternoon. My wife is a huge fan of River North so any visit to Denver requires a stop. I've talked about RiNo Brewing in past posts and I'll give out the short description that I am not always a fan of their base beers but I think they are making some very interesting barrel aged beers that are really well done.
This year's anniversary ale is a boozy 17.2% biere de garde. The alcohol was unmistakable but not burning or misplaced in the beer. Stonefruit, caramel, citrus and anise dominate the flavor profile. Although I enjoyed the flavor and found the alcohol integrated it is still a stout beverage and splitting a four ounce taster was the right amount for this beer.
River North also offered its 2013 and 2014 barrel aged Avarice, a slightly hoppy Belgian imperial stout. The hops, predictably, had mostly rolled off the 2013 variant and a spicy-licorice note appeared in both variants. It's definitely not the predictable BBA stout that every brewery seems to be unloading into the market these days.
Manitou Springs Brewing Co.
Manitou Springs is a small tourist town on the west side of Colorado Springs in the foothills of the Rockies. It was originally built as a tourist attraction around the still-running mineral springs and it has the feel of other mountain tourist towns. Located in the town's interior is Manitou Springs Brewing Company, which is more of a brewpub offering house beers with guest taps, wine and spirits.
The house beers span an interesting mix of styles and I believe what was on tap on our trip was their winter set of beers that included a steam beer, a wheat ale, spiced winter warmer, dubbel, ipa and oatmeal milk stout. The steam beer was the best of the bunch with very mixed opinions about the other beers around the table. None of the beers were terrible but several seemed to be recipes in the midst of getting dialed in rather than recipes prepared to be served next to their GABF medal winning BDSA. Maybe we just have difference preferences for some of these styles. The dubbel, for example, was made with a spicier yeast (tasted like the Achouffe strain) than the normal fruity abbey/trappist strains that proved not too popular at the table. I liked it but I think I was the only one of the group who appreciated the unusual direction.
Bristol Brewing Co.
If Trinity Brewing is Colorado Spring's best known brewery, with its unusual farmhouse beers and Office Space references, then Bristol is surely Colorado Spring's second best known brewery. Bristol opened its doors in 1994 during the 1990s wave of craft brewing and recently moved into the Ivywild School, an elementary school built in 1916 and closed in 2009. It was renovated into something similar to The Source with a brewery, restaurant, whiskey bar, bakery, butchery, music studios and a handful of other ongoings. It is an incredible building and the mix of old and new was very well done.
Bristol's range of beers focuses on a core set of what can fairly be considered craft beer's core styles that the industry built itself upon during the 1980s and 90s. Many of these styles, like scottish ale and amber ale, have fallen out of favor among new breweries and beer snobs but can still be readily found at many older craft breweries like Bristol. Bristol also mixed in several Belgian styles and various hoppy offerings. We ordered a flight of the standards plus the winter seasonal and the single hop Warrior IPA. Admittedly, we were not overly impressed by the beers although everybody thought the Warrior IPA was a great beer. None of the beers were bad but other than the Warrior IPA the other beers just didn't stand out well enough that I would make the drive from north Denver to Colorado Springs (past untold numbers of breweries) to get them.
Left Hand Brewing Co.
Left Hand is well known for their milk stout (and among the craft beer industry some grumblings about their trademark of the word "nitro") but isn't thought of as a brewery doing exciting things these days. Left Hand might not be making the most exotic beers but they quietly release a stream of excellent and interesting beers that are tough to find, such as the Ambidextrous series of beers and their cask offerings. I didn't have time for too much beer at Left Hand but my wife and I hit a sampler that included a session IPA out of a series Left Hand is running (Safety Round), a cask of milk stout with coffee and chai, their porter (Blackjack) casked with EKG hops, their coffee ale and a sour beer. The coffee ale is Denile Ale which is brewed for the Old Chicago chain. It's a solid blonde coffee ale and thankfully available in Dallas.
The most unusual and unexpected offering was the sour beer. I had no idea Left Hand was souring beer but like many of their limited offerings it is hard to find much information about them outside of the taproom or stumbling upon them at a bar. They call this WTF Sour Blend and like many of their limited releases there are a number of releases under this name that are numbered off sequentially. I'm not sure which release this is. It was a sour brown with a really interesting flavor profile. There was a strong strawberry and cranberry flavor to it. It reminded me of some of those Ocean Spray cranberry juice blends. However, the blend had a strong acetic acid character that I didn't like and it was a little thin for my preferences. I tried blending a little with the cask porter and found it adjusted the mouthfeel and acidity but lost that great fruit flavor. I don't know for sure what was in the blend but I feel confident in guessing their barleywine (Widdershins) was a significant part of the blend. I suspect with less confidence that their ESB (Sawtooth) was also present.
Oskar Blues is well known for its long running line of canned beers but they also have a series of beers that are brewed exclusively or semi-exclusively for their own restaurants and tasting room. It's easiest to find these beers at the tasting room in the production facility in Longmont and more rarely at other Oskar Blues locations. My wife and I made a quick run through the restaurant and tasting room in Longmont on our way out of the state and were able to capture a few of these beers. We found Pump Can, an unimpressive pumpkin ale and Velvet Elvis oatmeal stout, which was a little thin but had a nice flavor. We captured Shipwrecked Circus barleywine which I enjoyed quite a bit. It's a good mix of malt character and American hops. We also snagged some of the Pinner throwback IPA with pineapple on cask which was unusual. The pineapple worked with the more restrained IPA. We picked up a couple cans of other beers that we brought home.
Fort Collins Brewery
I know I've said it several times before but Fort Collins Brewery is a thoroughly underrated brewery. In my opinion they are putting out some of the best smoked beers in the country with a solid range of other beers. The food in the restaurant is excellent and it's an obligatory stop in Fort Collins (along with Funkwerks). This trip we captured the smoked marzen which is fantastic. FCB has also started doing variants on their Double Chocolate Stout and the cherry variant was my favorite (compared to coffee and barrel aged). They also released an Australian sparkling ale (Champagne of Craft) which was bright and dry.
Funkwerks is among my favorite breweries in Colorado and thankfully they have finally rolled into the north Texas market although we receive a small piece of the Funkwerks offerings and obviously none of the beers that never leave the taproom. I was sad to learn White (a wit fermented with saison yeast) had been relegated to a seasonal offering but thankfully it was on tap this trip so I enjoyed a big pour. Funkwerks also had Blanka, a double wit, which was interesting and full of spices but lacked the brightness I appreciate in White. I also enjoyed Crimson, a cherry-filled sour brown. I didn't find it quite as spectacular as Funkwerks' Oud Bruin but they were clear that this beer was aged for a short period of time while Oud Bruin was aged for considerably longer. We picked up a bottle of Crimson to age and see how it develops. Pale Ryder was a nice rye Belgian pale ale with a nice mix of fruity hops, yeast esters and rye's unmistakable peppery character. I also enjoyed the boozy Quad for all its expected quad flavors. Barrel-aged Deceit was also among my favorites. Funkwerks is aging this beer up to two years before blending it into packaging and the smooth aged flavor really pulls through.
So that was most of my great time in Colorado this month. We also hit Horse and Dragon in Fort Collins but we didn't stay long and I didn't drink too much because I was saving up for the other breweries. We also hit New Belgium but I forgot to take notes on what we drank and that was towards the end of a very long day of drinking. We also stopped by Mayor of Old Town in Fort Collins and tasted some beers from Zwei in Fort Collins who is making some very solid lagers. I also left out a stop in Denver but I want to hold off on talking about that place until the right time.