Previously in this series of articles covering our return visit to Colorado we were in Fort Collins, our fourth and final destination was due South back to the city of Denver. Here we juggled our brewery and craft beer bar visits around the Christmas Holidays to check out Epic Brewing, River North Brewing, Renegade Brewing, Falling River Tap House, Great Divide Brewing, and Hogshead Brewing.
Epic Brewing is located to the north-east of Downtown, about 0.5 miles from Coors Field Ball Park. Their Denver location is a modern building whilst their original, and still existing, location is in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Salt Lake brewery produces 8-12k bbl/year whilst the Denver brewery produces 10k bbl/year. First we started off with some samplers before going on a brewery tour.
- Brainless Belgian-Style Golden Ale – 9.2% (rich & a bit sweet)*
- 825 State Stout – 5.8% (bitter chocolate with CO2 tingle)*
- Wit Beer – 5.3% (fresh tasting beer, grains of paradise are strong)
- Mid Mountain Mild Ale on Nitro – 4.9% (smooth & light)
- Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout – 12.1% (coffee, chocolate & smooth)*
- Utah Sage Saison – 7.5% (heavy sage aroma & spicy)
- Barley Wine – 11.2% (toffee, hop bitterness, some alcohol)
- Blue Ski Lager – 5.3% (clean & soft)
* denotes our favorites in the above samplers.
The samplers included some great beers but we did feel, compared to other local breweries, the servings were rather small for the same price (see sampler #2 & 3 photos for normal pours).
Matt, the Head Cellar man at Epic Brewing in Denver, kindly gave us a tour and explained that they have a 20 bbl system consisting of a Hot Liquor Tank, Cold Water Tank, Mash Tun, Lauter Tun, Boil Kettle, and Whirl Pool. The water tanks use a mix of Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) water and straight Borough water to obtain the desired water hardness and mineral content. Having a separate Mash Tun and Lauter Tun enables Epic to produce more batches in a day by being able to Mash a new batch whilst at the same time sparging the previous batch into the Boil Kettle. The largest fermenters at Epic are 80 bbl and therefore require 4 brews to fill.
Matt explained that the method they use to filter the beer, in addition to the Whirl Pool, is using D.E. (Diatomaceous Earth) which is used to avoid the filter sheets clogging up within the filtration unit. The whole process looked rather messy but apparently works very well. Bottling and Kegging is all done by hand and the bottling machine does 6 bottles at once.
At the rear of the brewery are 3 Foudres (in French), or Fuders (in German), which were purchased second-hand from New Belgium in Fort Collins and are used to wood-age large volumes of beer at once. Next to the Foudres/Fuders they also had a collection of various barrels used for their sour beers’ program.
River North Brewery
Next we headed back towards Downtown to visit River North Brewery which we had enjoyed so much when we were at the Great American Beer Festival back in October. Here we decided to try the full range of beers as a sampler as almost all of them are Belgian-style which we enjoy enormously. These are also probably the best value samplers that we encountered on our whole trip ranging from $1.50-2.00 per 4oz sampler (though they seemed more than this)! Below are the beers included in this sampler:
- Hello, Darkness – 6.2%, 57 IBU’s (Black IPA – liquorice & malty flavor)
- River North White – 5.0%, 20 IBU’s (Witbier – coriander, crisp & citrus)
- J. Marie – 7.5%, 23 IBU’s (Saison – initial sweetness/maltiness, some floral notes)
- BPR – 6.4%, 64 IBU’s (Belgian Pale Red – tart then hop bitterness)
- Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle – 9.0%, 100 IBU’s (Belgian Double IPA – slight hop nose, high malt to counter hop bitterness, west coast hops with saison yeast)
- Avarice – 9.3%, 82 IBU’s (Imperial Stout – hop bitterness, some alcohol notes, also malt bitterness)
- Unified Theory – 8.5%, 23 IBU’s (Oaked Imperial Wit – plenty of vanilla)*
- Quandary – 9.6%, 23 IBU’s (Quadrupel – banana but not sweet)
* denotes our favorite in the above sampler.
As we left the brewer kindly gave us a complimentary bomber of the Unified Theory which was our favorite beer – a nice gesture and a top quality beer! After two visits to this brewery we highly recommend adding it to your Denver brewery tour next time you are in the area or alternatively pick up one of their 22oz Bombers from a store.
Our final port of call for the day was at Renegade Brewing which is located west of Downtown in the area sandwiched between the north-south rail road and Speer Boulevard. At night time this area is illuminated with the bright blue glow from the globe-like street lights – unusual but quaint.
Renegade Brewing currently produce about 1500 bbls/year using a 15 bbl system and recently added a 40 bbl fermenter to enable their production to increase. Whilst in the wooden beamed Tap Room at the brewery we chose the following sampler (right to left in the photo):
- 5:00 Afternoon Ale – 5.0%, 25 IBU’s (tasted like a typical American Blonde Ale)
- Redacted Rye IPA – 7.0%, 60 IBU’s (spicey with hop character)
- Sunday Morning – 6.0%, 19 IBU’s (coffee infused strong ale – prominent coffee but not too bitter)
- Radiator Spiced Winter Warmer – 9.0%, 20 IBU’s (cloves are dominant with some aniseed)
- ISM – 8.9%, 45 IBU’s (coffee not as dominant as normal Sunday Morning, also some vanilla notes)*
- Hammer & Sickle – 9.0%, 60 IBU’s (Russian Imperial Stout – some roast flavor & alcohol burn with hints of chocolate)*
- Peasant Porter – 6.0%, 40 IBU’s (a typical porter)
* denotes our favorites from the above sampler.
Falling River Tap House
To start off day 2 in Denver we went to Falling Rock Taphouse, which has been voted the #1 Craft Beer bar in America on a number of occasions. Here they have 95 beers on tap and many more available in bottles. The liquid part of our lunch comprised of the following:
- Prost Weissbier – 4.3%*
- Gift of the Magi by The Lost Abbey – 9.5%
- Crooked Stave Vieille – 4.2% (slightly soured sage saison)*
* denotes our favorites from the above beers.
Most people who visit Falling Rock will rave about their beer selection and trust us they are right – top quality and hard to find beers are available. What we did not quite fully appreciate from our first visit back in October was how good their food is! We had their Tamale Plate which was truly delicious so if you visit this great craft beer bar, don’t just have a drink or few, also try some wonderful food…
Great Divide Brewing
Our first brewery stop for the day was Great Divide Brewing, which we also visited back in October whilst in Denver for GABF, but this time with it being less busy we wanted to take in a tour round the brewery. First of all it was sampler time starting with the following:
- Hades – 7.8% (Belgian-style Strong Golden Ale – plenty of banana aroma & flavor)*
- Claymore Scotch Ale – 7.7% (some coffee which was not apparent last time)*
- Sour Puss – 7.0% (good example of a sour)*
- Wolfgang Doppelbock – 8.0% (not bad but could do with more mouth-feel)
- Old Ruffian – 10.2% (American Barleywine – hop forward as expected)
- Hibernation Ale – 8.7% (Old Ale – slight roastiness & coffee)*
* denotes our favorites from the above batches.
Whilst on the tour we found out that Great Divide have a 7 bbl pilot system and a 50 bbl Boil Kettle and Whirl Pool which can be recirculated to separate out the suspended particles from the wort. In most breweries the Mash Tun, Lauter Tun & Boil Kettles are usually the same size but here they have an 80 bbl combined Mash & Lauter Tun which enables them to produce stronger beers by only taking the higher gravity runnings into the 50 bbl Boil Kettle.
On the tour we also saw the depalletizer and automated bottling machine as well as the grain room. Given the size of the brewery we were surprised to find out that sacks of grain are still manually loaded into a feeder hopper rather than using an outside grain store and automated hopper but apparently this is because the brewery uses so many different types of grain and helps maintain freshness.
Inside are various sized fermenters but outside there are a number of large 300 bbl fermenters and associated Bright Tanks for carbonation. The existing location has a capacity of 65k bbl/year with current production at 38-40k bbl/year. Within the next two years a new production facility will be opening to help increase this though the existing location will remain part of Great Divide Brewing.
After Christmas Day we took to the car to take in a couple of breweries which were in the Denver suburbs with the first being Crooked Stave. Upon arrival at their ‘Barrel Cellar Taproom’ we found a notice on the door indicating that this was now closed and that their new taproom is located at ‘The Source’:
3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216
We jumped back in the car and headed over to The Source where according to their Facebook page this is “Denver’s newest artisan food market featuring 13 vendors including two restaurants, a bakery, coffee shop, butcher, brewery, florist, and cocktail bar”. Unfortunately we had struck out twice as the Crooked Stave Tap Room and Brewery were closed – perhaps due to the Holidays.
Our final brewery destination on this trip to Colorado was Hogshead Brewery which won the RateBeer award for ‘Best New Brewer in CO region 2013’. Hogshead opened in June 2012 and have a 10 bbl system with a 20 bbl fermenter. The focus of brewing is an emphasis on English ales which is helped by having a head brewer who is British – a complete low-down on the brewery can be found here.
Chin Wag ESB and Gilpin Black Gold London Porter are their flagship beers. We inquired as to what the meaning of the ’54’ in all the brewery logos was and it turns out that this represents the 54 Imperial Gallons that make up a Hogshead barrel.
Hogshead do not do samplers which unfortunately means we could not taste all their beers but we did manage to have the following selection:
- Downtown Julie Brown – (Southern English Brown – nice roast aroma)*
- Old Burton Extra – 8.9% (Old Ale – uses Fuggles as the main hop which an orange/fruitcake flavor. Dark amber in color and aged for 3 months in stainless kegs)
- Lake Lightning – (English Pale Ale on cask – dry hopped with Chinook, mango aroma)
- Barge’s Mild – (light roast aroma & flavor)
All told our return trip to Colorado was a very enjoyable experience especially given the breweries were far less busy than during GABF which made it easier to get onto tours and also to speak with the brewery representatives or even the actual brewers.
Even the weather was better than back home in Pennsylvania, sure it was very cold on some days, but all the time on our trip it was sunny afterall Colorado has the most days of sunshine per year of any State in the USA.
Colorado has 130+ or 160+ breweries, depending on which statistics you look at, making it one of the main brewing States within the US and by the nature of that it would take much longer than a week or two to visit all of them. We managed to get to quite a few over our two trips to CO but we did not go into the mountains to discover the more isolated ones nor down to Colorado Springs.
If you plan on making a brewery trip to Colorado here are a few pointers:
- Check the opening times beforehand as they vary a lot. If you plan to visit around Christmas or Holiday time, check the brewery web sites or call them as their usual opening hours may not apply.
- Some breweries have limited space on their tours and may require pre-booking e.g. New Belgium Brewing.
- Not all breweries serve food but some do have Food Trucks that rotate each day.
If you have any comments or questions about this article, or any other in this series, please post them below as we would love to hear from you?