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
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
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
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
Enough of Denver (for now). We’re headed west. Hold on, this trip is just getting
(Next installment: Get Your Own Dam Beer)
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush