By Bobby Bush
The original Breckenridge Pub & Brewery opened in the lofty mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado in 1990. The initial brewpub's success prompted expansion plans that eventually led to similar establishments in Buffalo, Memphis and Dallas with sights on more major cities. For many reasons, the company pulled in its reigns in the mid-1990s, leaving only a brewpub in Denver, founded in 1992, and a circa 1996 distributing Denver microbrewery with a small bar called Breckenridge Brew & BBQ. Bottled Breckenridge beers can be found in almost every state, so instead of taking the brewery to the people, Breckenridge is taking the beer.
The Denver Breckenridge brewpub, the subject of this short discourse, sits on Blake Street in LoDo, not far from Coors Field. In fact, the horseshoe-configured bar even has Coors Light on tap for visitors who haven't discovered that beer from Denver is better than beer from Golden, just 30 miles west. Four Great American Beer Festival medals and a passel of other awards adorn the backbar wall. The brewhouse, still active in spite of the micro just three miles south, encompasses an entire wall, adjacent to the dining area.
With that bit of history behind us, I settled in, as I have many times before, at the bar for a round of brew. American in style, Mountain Wheat was almost Pils-like in its hoppy crispness. It was clear gold and refreshing, words that Coors probably uses to describe their watery beer. Avalanche Ale was amber in hue, medium bodied with a semi-sweet caramel taste offset by bitter aftertaste. Heavy caramel tones embellish Ballpark Brown which departs with tangy sweet finish. It's a bit bitter for an English style Brown. Billed as "a black diamond beer without the bumps and dangerous curves," Breckenridge Pale Ale - introduced to me by the bartender as an IPA - was hoppy with an extremely bitter finish and aftertaste. A "maltier, heftier cousin to Avalanche," Red Ale was that indeed, while nitro Oatmeal Stout was very roasty with tons of black patent malt flavor. Signs of oatmeal smoothness were nonexistent. This beer was harsh, tasted of tannin and presented coffee roughness at the finish. It got better with every sip.
From the seasonal selections, Hefeweizen was cloudy gold, citrusy with a smooth semi-sweet finish. Ruby colored Pandoras Bock was enticingly malty and decidedly non-bitter. Nice. In fact, you can always count on any of the three Breckenridge facilities for nice beer and a good time. See www.breckbrew.com
Next stop was one of Denver's more famous beer bars. Falling Rock Tap House - where there's "No Crap On Tap" - sports 69 different draft beers, not a one of them a Coors product. A casual atmosphere and knowledgeable staff make a perfect setting to try new beers or enjoy an old favorite. The decision is always the hard part. The selection covers the world of beer, from Denver to Belgium to Great Britain to Germany and beyond. The bottled offerings are just as adventuresome.
On this occasion I chose Avery Brewing's Hog Heaven Barleywine. Deep copper in tint, this sweet, syrupy beer possessed mucho grapefruit flavor (Cascades hops?) and closed with a pleasing sweet-sour finish. Scanning the bar as I slowly sipped, I noticed two English cask-conditioned beers on hand pump, Norfolk Wherry (an English Amber that was anointed Supreme Champion of Britain a few years back) and Fullers London Porter. Alas, a third pump was attached to a dry keg. A large digital clock counted down the days, hours and minutes until Denver's next Great American Beer Festival (Oct 3-5). A sign atop the cash register, with another slogan worthy of repeating, also caught my roving eye. It read: "If you want fast food, take your happy meal eatin' ass down the road." Falling Rock is unpretentious, a beer-lover's paradise in the rough. More at www.nocrapontap.com.
From there is was on to Wynkoop Brewing, the state's first brewpub circa 1988, to meet with Lew Cady, who runs the Beerdrinker of the Year contest for the brewpub. He had just come from Coors Field (just 337 steps away) where a day game turned into a blowout. That left more time for beer. Kyle Carsten is Wynkoop's head brewer. In response to Lew's inquiry, the bartender recommended Kyle's B3K Schwarz Bier, a black German lager. Thick dark malt flavor with coffee aftertones served well as backdrop for our conversation. We parted with a till-next-time handshake, leaving without trying other great Wynkoop brews like Two Guns Pilsner, Boxcar Kolsch, Wixa Weiss Beer, Captain Hickenlooper's Flying Artillery Ale, Patty's Chili Beer, though I did sneak in a pint of cask-conditioned IPA. (www.wynkoop.com)
Denver is one hell of a beer town. Leave the skis at home and check it out next time.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush