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Denver North

January, 2001

By Bobby Bush

As in each of my past four annual treks to Denver, this January d one primary goal: to help select the new Beerdrinker of the Year. Even though trip duration was short - in Friday, out Sunday - we managed to squeeze in stops at seven new brewpubs. That’s more difficult than it sounds, for the easy ones were got, actually had been got. So it takes precise planning and diligence to track these elusive new-brewpub beasts.

We started by heading north toward Boulder. Just a few miles out of the Mile High City, we spied our target just a little too late and had to make a quick detour U-turn back to Flat Iron Crossing Village. On the edge of an upscale restaurant complex awaited the newest Gordon Biersch. Part of the Chattanooga-based chain, this Gordon Biersch opened in August 2000.

Big room, high ceiling, plentiful televisions, island bar, brewery in the corner behind towering glass walls and visible from inside and out, a friendly bartendress whose boyfriend brews at Boulder’s Walnut Brewery; hey this one was beer-friendly place. We decided to hold off lunch for a while. Hunger was no problem, thirst was.

Brewer Tom Dargers has no choice except to tow the corporate recipe line. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Pilsner was crisp, powered by a biting front bitterness, tantalizing hop nose and nice, but not overpowering malt flavor. Deep gold, Blonde Bock tasted sweeter with each swallow. Dry finish camouflaged its 8% abv kick. Almost amber in hue, Maerzen was malty sweet with apple-y finish and aftertaste. A bigger, bolder version of the Maerzen, Dunkles was dark copper, malty in taste and mouthfeel with a slightly sour finish. You can always count on Gordon Biersch for well-brewed, tasty German-style beers and good food. Hmmm.

About an hour’s drive awaited us. Cruising right through Boulder and 36 miles further on Highway 36, with some trouble we discovered Estes Park Brewery. In the middle of nowhere on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, this circa-1994 brewpub resides at 7500 feet in altitude. Tasting room, merchandise store and brewery filled the downstairs space, while a quieter restaurant was just a few steps upward. Rummaging through t-shirts and coolers of bottled beer, we stayed where the beer was.

Brewer Eric Bratrude had eleven beers available, though one was in bottles only. Raspberry Wheat and Honey Wheat are the rustic brewpubs biggest sellers. The former had moderate berry taste and a sour finish, while the latter smelled of sweetness yet proffered a dry sour finish. Estes Park Gold, a “light body amber ale,” was pleasant, closing with a dry finish and little aftertaste. Malty body and bitter end captured Staggering Elk Organic Lager. Burnt caramel dominated the dry finishing Trail Ridge Red. An American pale ale, Estes Park Pale Ale was fruity in mouthfeel with sour grapefruit-like (Cascades hops?) bitterness mid-mouth. A 1993 GABF gold winner, Estes Park Renegade was a Cascade blitzkrieg of potent hoppiness. It too had a grapefruit finish.

Estes Park Porter worked the malty, dark burnt caramel path, while Samson Stout, a “bittersweet oatmeal stout,” was black, full bodied, definitely bittersweet in profile and very filling. Blended when kegged and bottled, Raspberry Porter consists of 60% Raspberry Wheat and 40% Porter. I would prefer the opposite ratio. From the bottle, Estes Park Barleywine was sugar on wet cardboard. In other words, a typical, strong (11% abv) barleywine, smooth body with alcohol bites as each swallow goes down. Upstairs awaited pubgrub (homemade beer chili, beer brat sandwich), pool tables and a beer garden.

Though it truly is a beautiful, rugged place, the community of Estes Park no longer boasts a major tourist attraction. Because other Colorado ski slopes proved more popular, Estes Park’s was closed years ago. Instead, this tourist-dependent area has become popular with snow shoe adventurers and summer sight seers (check www.estesparkresort.com). We saw and tasted all we wanted. A mixed six-pack and large bottle of that barleywine tucked safely in the trunk, we began our curvy (the roads not my driving) back toward civilization.

This article is the first of a four-part Colorado 2001 tale. Follow along at Oskar Blues
.

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

© Bobby Bush

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