By Bobby Bush
You don't need to be a long-time reader of this Beer & Loafing dribble to understand that Denver is one of my all-time favorite beer drinking towns. Nowhere else in America can you walk to six brewpubs and a handful of great beer bars, all in one hip city. However, with only six months gone since my last visit, not much had changed in the beerscape. Dixon's, a Lo-Do nightclub that had no business making its own beer (and it showed), finally gave up the battle. But nothing new - just a bunch of great brewpubs like Wynkoop, Rock Bottom, Breckenridge, Denver Chop House, Flying Dog, micro Great Divide and more - so I had to devise another plan.
Just 30 miles away, Boulder beckoned, but the story was similar: been there, drank that. Further north, Fort Collins was intriguing. Seven or eight years ago, we hit CooperSmith's Pub & Brewery. That might be worth a McArthur-like return. But my beeriscope pointed toward uncharted territory. The small town of Greeley, founded in 1870 in honor of newspaper mogul Horace Greeley, boasted two brewpubs. Hmmm.
Smiling Moose Brew Pub & Grill opened in 1996 in the Hillside Center shopping strip. Jamie Atkinson, a Georgia native has been the brewer off-and-on for the past four years. He just happened to be there on this Wednesday afternoon, working away. First thing I asked was "why four wheat beers?" He replied that this college town is a lowest common denominator Bud Light town, and besides, it makes his job easier. Honey Bear Wheat, Mooseberry Wheat and Apricot Wheat were all extract-added variations on Jamie's unflavored Mapleleaf Wheat. Except for the original, all were disappointing. The seasonal Belgian White was a wheat of a different style. Pale gold, smooth with a nice dry finish, this ale offered just hints of the requisite spices, making it pleasant to my pallet.
The UNC hats had me confused in this dark and dungy tavern. Blue letters on yellow hats, seems like the University of Northern Colorado (not you-know-what) resides in Greeley.
Moving on to the rest of Smiling Moose's line-up, Pine Tree Pale Ale, billed as American in style, was medium bodied and marred by a sour bitter finish that also was prevalent in McAllister's Ale, a Scottish brew that won a silver medal in the 2000 World Beer Cup. Saskatchewan Big Moose Stout was the best of this show. Roasty, toasty, full bodied and creamy, it closed with a dry coffee-ish finish.
Working with a seven barrel brewery crammed into an enclosed ex-patio and an even tighter cold room behind the bar, Jamie has four conditioning tanks and four for serving. The 1950s building is scheduled to undergo renovation. An outdoor beer garden is included in the plans. All-in-all, Smiling Moose is a decent college town beer dive.
More history: Union Colony was the name of a group of ambitious and idealistic easterners who decided to take Horace Greeley's advice and "Go West" to carve out a home on the Colorado plains.
Union Colony Brewery, no relation except for the name, was founded in 1994. Will Johnston has served as head brewer the past year. A core of locals filled the bar but found a stool for Suds. Offering encouragement and suggestions, they watched while a sampler taste of all six UCB beers was consummated.
Johnston's Homestead Honey was very sweet, yet somehow appealing. UCB Belgian Wheat was heartily spiced with coriander and orange peel. Pawnee Buttes Kolsch Ale was clean with malty flavor, ending with a slight bitter taste and aftertaste. Old 8444 Alt, a 1999 GABF bronze medal winner, had medium mouthfeel and a quick bitter bite finish, while Rattlesnake Kate's Vienna Lager ('98 GABF silver) was brown sugar malty sweet and blessed with German hops. Dry-hopped (three pounds of Horizon whole leaf hops in a ten barrel batch) Inspiration IPA was bitterly blessed. Just racked to the serving tank but not yet carbonated, unfiltered Go West Wheat was smooth and promising.
These two Greeley brewpubs bring my Colorado count up to 56 brewpubs. Not bad for a state over 1500 miles from home.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush