Sep 22, 2018

Cheshire Cat

January 2001

By Bobby Bush

Headed south from Estes Park and Lyons, we stopped at a Boulder, Colorado brewery that I’d never been able to find open. That’s because the Oasis Brewery Annex is really a microbrewery with a small tasting room and keeps pretty much to a standard 8 to 5 schedule. The brewery has a small kitchen with a limited menu featuring mostly sandwiches and appetizers. The original Oasis Brewery & Restaurant is still doing nicely on Canyon Boulevard as it has since opening in late 1991.

As you can imagine, the O2 Beer Bar, as it is affectionately called by locals, is a huge (12,000 square feet) warehouse and manufacturing plant. The Annex opened in May 1995 as a bottling and kegging facility. Working with a 20 barrel brewhouse and five 80 barrel fermenters, plant capacity is 20,000 barrels annually. The bottling lines hums at 120 bottles per minute. About 70% of the output is bottled. The five man operation brews three times a day. Steve Wadsinski is Oasis’ head brewer.

Wedged in with a late Friday afternoon post-work crowd, which included several Annex employees, we met assistant brewer Bernie Tonning. He stood by eagerly as we tasted through an Oasis sampler tray, then took us on an interesting brewery tour. Oasis Pale Ale, O2’s biggest seller, was medium bodied, smooth with precise hops bite, an excellent American Pale Ale. 1999 GABF gold medalist Scarab Red was malty with just enough hops to keeps overt sweetness in check. The most popular beer overall, ‘99 GABF silver-winning Capstone ESB was an American interpretation of the UK style. A great session beer, the ESB was moderately malty with a pleasing hops smack mid-taste. Tut Brown Ale, a 1994 GABF bronze winner, was caramel malty and definitely British in character.

With a trio of early-90s GABF medals to its fame, Zoser Oatmeal Stout was a robust, full bodied brew. The taste was heavy in roasted and back patent malt, chased by dry coffee bitterness in the finish. Made with a “high pressure lager yeast,” fermented under pressure at room temperature at the downtown brewpub, Oktoberfest was fruity, nice but un-lager-like. Trout Creek Scottish Ale boasted medium mouthfeel with rich caramel finish, while Trout Creek Porter, awarded ‘99 GABF silver, was all-malt blessed with tones of chocolate, roasted and black shining through. The Trout Creek brands are relatively new to Oasis. Originally brewed in Fairplay, Colorado, Oasis purchased that defunct brewery’s labels. There’s also a Trout Creek Lager, though it was not available for our taste tour. Thanks for the tour, Bernie.

Oasis beer can be found in about 20 scattered states. Do yourself a favor and ask for it wherever you go. Want more?

We stayed longer than we meant too, but it was worth every swallow. Headed now to attend a dinner party in Arvada at The Cheshire Cat. Founded on October 8, 2000, this brewpub, freehouse and “home away from home,” is an old Victorian house painted bright yellow. Parking is a problem, though the place was slammed. We found our group in an upstairs room. They’d been drinking elsewhere in the Denver area, so the conversation flowed almost as readily as the beer. A taster tray of nine beers was delivered, food ordered and, after some confusion about what was brewed where, we sipped from light to dark.

Four of the nine, it turned out, were housebrews. The others were guest beers from Golden City, Rockies Brewing and the like. Decidedly English in character, as was The Cheshire Cat, the smooth Mild was a little thin with low malt flavor. Arrogant, a “British Special Bitter,” fared better with potent alcohol notes and malty, berry-esque profile. Fatcat was a Strong Ale. Warm and uncarbonated, malty texture gave way to a citrusy finish. At 3.3% abv, Genesis Dry Stout was only medium bodied though it presented nice hops bite and was publican Geoff’s choice for his dark session beer.

Fish and Chips, Shepherd’s Pie, Mushy Pees with Mint Sauce (I kid you not), The Cheshire Cat is the cat’s meow for Denver’s eclectic UK sect. And the beer ain’t bad either.

This article is the third of a four-part Colorado 2001 tale. Follow along at Flying Dog
or backspace to Oskar Blues

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

© Bobby Bush


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