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Sep 02, 2014

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Coors' Sandlot Brewery

By Marty Nachel

Over the past decade or so, fans of the microbrewing industry have joyously celebrated each of the small but significant triumphs along the road to recognition and acceptance of craft-brewed beer by the masses. This latest microbrewery incarnation is nothing less than a quantum leap for those celebrants- or is it?

Although Anheuser-Busch and Miller are reaping the dividends of successful forays into the world of microbrewing, the respected Adolph Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado, has become the first national brewer to actually build a working brewpub. Of course, it came with a Major League Baseball stadium attached, but let's not dwell on the small details. The Sandlot Brewery will be closely watched by brewers and beer lovers on both sides of the corporate dividing line. Has Coors become a deep pocket interloper in the hallowed world of microbrewing and a precursor to the "microbrewer" of tomorrow? Or has Coors acknowledged the grass-roots call for better beer and just levelled the playing field (so to speak). These questions can't be answered here and now- only time will tell.

So what questions can be answered? The simple ones, the obvious ones and the ones that are of interest to would-be visitors to Denver. And maybe a couple anticipated from zealous microbrew fans anxious to take on this Goliath.

To begin with, Coors Field is a new and imposing state-of-the-art structure, blending the best of new technology with turn-of-the-century architecture. The stadium, located near lower downtown (an area known as LoDo), is an impressive addition to the city skyline and a fitting home to a young team on the rise. The Sandlot Brewery is located, somewhat inconspicuously, in the extreme right field -or northeast- corner of the park. Only a couple of wind-blown banners call your attention to its presence. It is accessible either from the inside of the stadium or from streetside, and is open even on non-game days.

Rounders is the name of the brewpub and is named after a popular sport begun in England in the early 1600's. It is rather spacious and unconfined with plenty of table seating and stools at the bar. Light wood furniture and accenting, along with an abundance of east-facing windows keep the place bright. The decor is mostly sports themed; framed pictures of sports-related people and places. The view of the playing field from the brewpub is rather limited, but customers can still hear the roar of the crowd.

Rounders' food menu may have more depth than the Chicago Cubs' pitching staff, but offers little more than minor league versatility. Starters (appetizers) include Buffalo wings, nachos, artichoke cheese dip, and smoked chicken quesadilla. Middle Relievers are basically Denver Dogs and beer brats, salads, Ball Park Burgers and Sandlot Sandwiches. Set Up Man consists of Sourdough Ranch Chicken, Poor bat Boy, Rocky Mountain Meatloaf, Mexican League Burrito and Chicken Pot Pie. Under "Big League Pizza" is The Umpire Pizza- call 'em as you see 'em. These are served with "Extra Balls and Strikes" (various toppings). Finally, Closers (desserts) include South Platte Mud Pie, Brownie and Blondie Diamonds, bread and butter pudding with Boubon sauce, and All American Pastime Hot Apple Pie.

The brewhouse itself, showcased behind glass, is typical of many spotted throughout brewpubs around the country - no impossibly huge and gleaming copper vessels demanding your attention (and nary a mention of the Coors name). Head brewer Wayne Waananen is an accomplished brewer and is well known in homebrewing circles for his work with the Association of Brewers in Boulder. In July, 1995, Waananen produced a special brew in commemoration of The Sandlot's 100th batch. This commemorative brew was called Umperial Stout and debuted at the Great American Beer Festival last October. It was just one of several specialty beers produced throughout the year - one is usually on tap at all times. Besides the specialty brew, the casual visitor here is likely to find four other styles on tap, all considered regulars: Squeeze Play Wheat, Right Field Red, an E.S.B. and Slugger's Stout. As would be expected, all of the beers were very clean and clear. Most, but not all, held good heads to the finish.

The wheat beer, although very drinkable, lacked the requisite spritz expected of this style. While quite wheaty in flavor, it is more American in style, without the phenolic cloviness and banana esters associated with authentic German weizens- and maybe that's the idea. The red ale, it was pointed out by the bartender, is their best seller. Despite the initial fruity aroma and mild toasty maltiness, it's innocuous character is illustrative of mainstream fare. Slugger's Stout offered the palate something a bit more substantive. A coffee-like roastiness greets the nose, and dry but thin, roast malt flavors last well into the finish. The E.S.B. was a "hit", one could say. The malty character of this beer had a chewy texture and required an appreciable amount of hoppiness to properly balance. As a matter of timing, a White Beer occupied the fifth "special" tap. Pale gold and cloudy, this beer was mightly tasty but fell short of anything of its kind from Belgium. Tangy citrus flavors were its redeeming quality.

All in all, The Sandlot comfortably juxtaposes two of America's greatest pastimes- beer and baseball. To fans of both, this could be a glorious beginning.

1995 Marty Nachel

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