A trip to New York reflects well on Denver’s craft brew scene.
When traveling, I try to seek out unique drinking establishments as a roadmap to an unfamiliar area. Most have been established by locals for locals and evoke the tastes of a particular neighborhood. This approach has served me well in my journeys across the United States and as far away as Turkey.
Drinking in different cities amidst other cultures also affords a glimpse into what makes Colorado—and Denver in particular—unique and where we’re headed in the craft-drinking world.
A recent trip to the cultural magnifying glass of New York City afforded some time to reflect on these cultural differences, and enjoy a few beers along the way. Unless you’re using a TGI Friday’s mudslide as your navigational beacon, I’d skip Midtown and head elsewhere.
Although I originally went to Manhattan’s East Village to prepare my stomach for a night of beer exploration, celebrity chef David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar ended up being a perfect mirror of Manhattan. Sitting at the bar overloads your senses like the city itself. Meat sizzles and spurts as it hits the flat top, and like the steam pouring out of a manhole, the burst of aroma and the intensity of heat hits you in the face. Cooks move at the frenetic pace of Wall Street traders, appearing hectic and chaotic, dredging baskets of noodles into boiling water, chopping vegetables, grilling meats; all while a cacophony of customers builds.
Its Denver equivalent is the first place I went before a pub crawl: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs on Larimer Street in the Ballpark District. Although small and never empty, it doesn’t feel crowded. Like most citizens of Colorado, there are no pretentions in the aluminum and wood-clad venue, but that doesn’t mean the food is any less memorable. Coloradans like meat, and Jim’s delivers a cornucopia of wild game, from pheasant to elk to rattlesnake. Both Momofuku and Biker Jim’s are true to their cities and serve local beers, with Momofuku offering its own tart sake that pairs well with its savory noodles.
While I value the unique, it can’t be at the expense of craftsmanship. I look for places that brewers themselves recommend. According to many New Yorkers, the “real” New York can be found across the East River in the hipster borough of Brooklyn. There, in an edgy neighborhood called Greenpoint, sits an homage to this diverse and idiosyncratic community, Tørst.
A boutique beer bar nearly hidden between dilapidated take-out restaurants, Tørst highlights the crafted beer of Danish brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing and his collaborations with world-renowned breweries. Its décor is covered mostly in wood, and all beers are served out of wine glasses (pictured above) to capture the optimal amount of aroma and emphasize the elegance of what these beers represent.
Tørst displays draught rarities from international breweries that could very well be the next big thing. Big and atypical flavor combinations dominate, with examples like the Evil Twin/Perennial Artisan Ales collaboration Loomi Weisse, a light and tart black ale, reminiscent of a chocolate-covered sour cherry…wow factor included.
The River North District (“RiNo” to locals) is Denver’s answer to Brooklyn. It’s the place you’ll find the latest in trendy specialty stores, as well as innovative producers of fermented beverages. The Source (pictured below), a minimalist indoor marketplace within an 1880s brick foundry, hosts the brewery Crooked Stave, as well as a host of other craft stores including a coffee roaster, bakery, butcher, cheesemonger, craft liquor store and two restaurants.
Crooked Stave embodies the Colorado beer scene, paying homage to tradition while still staying true to its heart of exploration. Some of the oldest breweries in the country are speckled throughout our state, but newer breweries here are setting the pace for what styles will be tomorrow’s craft-beer benchmarks. As one those forerunners, Crooked Stave focuses on barrel-aged sour ales (a variety of beers pictured below), characteristic of the wines previously aged in the saturated casks.
Other notable RiNo beer spots include Colorado brewing staples Great Divide and Epic Breweries. Almost 30 years of combined brewing experience make them veterans in a continually booming industry, allowing several of their offerings to become cult favorites. Great Divide’s Yeti imperial stout series has kept dark beer lovers anticipating new iterations for years, with experimentations including oak aging and the additions of espresso beans and chocolate. Epic (pictured below) has run the gamut of styles, breaking the mold with the critically acclaimed “Brainless” series: Belgian-style ales aged on various fruits such as raspberry and peach.
True to the innovative nature of Colorado, the RiNo District also hosts two urban wineries: The Infinite Monkey Theorem (pictured below) and Mile High Winery. Infinite Monkey takes a cheeky attitude towards its winery, but is serious about being environmentally friendly in a very green state. It touts itself as “the finest in back-alley winemaking” and cans four of its offerings in 100-percent recyclable containers that don’t sacrifice flavor; they preserve it.
But that’s what Colorado is—an innovator. Despite our lack of flash, the refinement of our beer, wine and spirits stands up to—or even above—what’s on tap in cities far bigger than ours.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver
Great Divide Brewing Co.
2201 Arapahoe St., Denver
3001 Walnut St, Denver
The Infinite Monkey Theorem
3200 Larimer St, Denver