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
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
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