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Denver Again

January, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, but I’ve just about tapped out two of the best beer cities in America. I’ve been to almost every brewpub, microbrewery and important beer bar in the beer meccas of Portland, Oregon and Denver. So here I was in Denver again, to help select Wynkoop Brewing’s annual Beerdrinker of the Year winner. And I had time to make one stop before the festivities began.

With some trepidation, my target this morning was Hops Restaurant Bar Brewery, part of the Florida chain. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen my disdain in the past at this family restaurant’s lack of attention to beer. Except for the location of the brewery, right smack in the front entrance, it looked all too familiar as I walked through the portal of this south Denver establishment. The bar area was big, cozy. There were the expected beer ingredients imbedded in the see-through bar top. And thickly frosted ice berg-like mugs.

But it wasn’t until I took my first taste of Alligator Ale that I notice the real difference. Beneath frothy, long-lasting foam was a rich caramel brew. Hints of molasses and noticeable alcohol effect, this was far and away the best Hops beer that I had ever tasted. Definitely impressed, I sampled the slightly sweet Thoroughbred Red and two lightish lagers, Clearwater Light and Lightning Bold Gold. They were not earthshakingly great, but quaffable for the lowest-common-denominator styles they were.

Hops was filling with a Saturday lunch crowd as I slipped back out the door with new insight and a smile. Still not a beer destination, but that’s not their goal. Hops is getting better, at least in Denver where craft-brewed beer is appreciated.

Still early for the Beerdrinker competition, I found a seat at Wynkoop’s island bar for lunch and drink. Scanning this 12-year-old brewpub for beers I had not tried, I settled on cask-conditioned Imperial IPA. Obviously dry hopped, this medium bodied ale presented an initial melon-like taste which was almost immediately overtaken by bitterness for the remainder of its profile. St. Charles ESB and Quinn’s Scottish Ale were also on cask. Full-bodied and nitro, Sagebrush Stout was smartly smooth. Holiday Ale, malty to extremes, was a light barleywine, copper-colored and spicy. Patty’s Chili Beer, used to make great Bloody Mary’s, received warmth from 150 pounds of Anaheim chilis.

Of course, Wynkoop had their mainstay Railyard Ale on tap, along with seasonals like Jed Fest (a German-style ale hopped with Saaz), Loveland Blizzard Blonde and Captain Hickenlooper’s Flying Artillery Ale, a brown ale named after founder John Hickenlooper.

Well known in the industry, Hickenlooper is also involved with many other brewpubs as a consultant and minority owner. These include: Phantom Canyon (Colorado Springs), Upstream (Omaha), Titletown (Green Bay), Beach Chalet (San Francisco), Raccoon River (Des Moines) and Pearl Street (Buffalo).

Wynkoop brewed 4,047 barrels in 1999. This three floor monster brewpub has a comedy club in the basement, dining and bar on the main floor and pool tables galore in the upstairs pool room. Always a fun place and great, great beer. In my humble opinion, it’s Denver’s best.

From best to worst, against my own advice I followed friends down the street to Dixons Downtown Grill. As I experienced in the past, Dixons beers can only be described as bad. Why bother? We almost had to beg and plead to the bartender for samples of Wazee Wheat, sour Jay’s Pale Ale, harsh Angel Amber and an oaky, roasty Solitaire Stout.

I was saddened to learn, while suffering through Dixons’ line-up, that Heavenly Daze Warehouse Brewery & Bar, a 18-month-old Denver brewpub just a mile or so south of LoDo, had closed. The original Steamboat Springs Heavenly Daze, founded in 1991 and unfortunately used as leverage to open the Denver operation, was shuttered as well.

Enough of Denver (for now). We’re headed west. Hold on, this trip is just getting started.

(Next installment: Get Your Own Dam Beer)

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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