Ironton Distillery - A Distillery that Solidifies RiNo as a Must-Go-To Neighborhood
Ironton Distillery was and is an exceptional place.
Scientists say that for every star that dies another is born. Or maybe that isn’t science, that’s Hollywood. Or perhaps, the saying goes that every minute a star is born. I don’t fucking know at this point but what I do know is we have a brand new place for you to try fresh, hand-crafted spirits and cocktails in Denver called Ironton Distillery. And we also have the last review that I am going to write for The Denver Hopper. It’s a conundrum. Death and birth. But I want to make sure you see what I saw and feel what I felt about Ironton before I go.
I knew this was going to be my last review for the site and I was a more than a little sad. Not weeping, mind you, but at least a little gloomy. It’s like someone stole my candy or my beer. The adventure I started 2 years ago was and is about to come to an end. But I had to “keep it together” for the sake of “professionalism“. Ironton Distillery deserved my best. By the end of this, you will understand why professionalism was never part of the equation in this review or with The Denver Hopper altogether.
The River North District of Denver has been the “caterpillar in a cocoon” area of Denver for years now. It went from a seemingly dead limb — an industrial area in the city to high priced multi-use neighborhood with a dense population at a tortoise pace. It still isn’t finished. I still remember when people would talk about The Source and I became confused at the idea/place they were describing but the allure was undeniable. And now after all those years, RiNo is finally turning into a butterfly.
Ironton Distillery is a sexy addition to this butterfly metaphor that I am going to beat to death by the end of this review. At the time of this review, they have only been open for three months but everyone and everything seems right at home. The distillery is located in an old ironworks. Statues of this former life still stand from the previous owners. In fact, there are still some 8 artists that work on the property. A spacious and tranquil garden sits in the midst of their land allowing for their mantra of “Farm to Flask” to come to life.
When Kallyn, Robbie, and Laura first walked up to meet me they were accompanied by a happy doggie named Karma said hello first. Your dogs are also welcome at Ironton while you get your buzz on after a long day. I ordered a luxurious Gin and Tonic that comes in a goblet and we sat down to converse over the workings of their fine distillery.
At Ironton, they want to have an expansive selection of hand-crafted spirits including seasonal styles. One of the spirits they had at the time of my visit was the Pumpkin Spice Latte Spirit. I have been told for years that I am “Basic”(from the Basic Bitch video on youtube) when I order a PSL at Starbucks. People ask me where my Uggs are. They are mean beyond measure but that PSL is goddamn delicious. Sometimes I wonder if I have brought shame upon my household. What would my parents think? What would the Lord say? Well, the PSL Spirit at Ironton was so delicious that the turbulent shame I felt for years was washed away. And I wondered out loud at the possibilities of taking a shot of that every morning instead of the coffee. Not sure what my boss would think but it’s still a possibility.
We went through a taster run of their spirits and I was impressed by all of them. They proof their liquors are at 86 Proof (43%) to give a little more kick and allow for the flavors to still shine when the spirit has been watered down through cocktails and what have you. If you have read my reviews before you know I am gin man and they did not disappoint. They have two types of gin for the old soul in all of us. The first one I tried is a straightforward Colorado Native Gin distilled with botanicals from their garden that’s on site. It was floral but not overwhelming. Easy going for the gin lovers amongst us.
The Genievre Gin is a different style gin that hits with more malt and citrus flavor. I relished in this gin. And even if you don’t care for drinking gin I think you should give this a try. It’s sneaky with all the feelings you get from gin but without the pine tree flavor, so many people despise. Perfect for G&Ts or just with soda. It’s a fine way to get a buzz on a hot or cold day. And this is the what craft spirits are all about – it is a place to find something special, a labor of love, a refuge while the whole thing falls apart.
Ironton Distillery is also one of the two distilleries that I know of that have Aquavit. This spirit is a Scandinavian delight that’s perfect for Bloody Mary’s and full-scale riots. I am just kidding about the second part, of course, but it’s possible you’re an Aquavit rookie and I think you it’s time for you to get some skin in the game. It has similar floral characteristics to gin but with caraway and fennel spices that give a hint of black licorice flavor. Delish.
Once we got to the details of the spirits and began a tour of Ironton Distillery, Laura’s voice went from friendly to passionate. She is the head distiller at Ironton and her nickname is “Scrappy Bobcat”. That is the best nickname. I have heard. Random and oddly spot on. She has three stills aptly named Carl, Margo, and Tamara. The dynamic between these stills was one of a dramatic yet functioning household filled with love. The silliness in the conversation we all had around this part of my visit cemented the euphoric and cordial feelings I came away with. And it is a reason to go back. Good people are hard to find in this world and from what I could tell Laura, Kallyn and Robbie are the kind of folks you want in your life.
Ironton Distillery is also one of the only distilleries to have the licensing to serve beer. At the time they had five beers on tap. They also will have whiskey for your enjoyment soon enough. And maybe, just maybe there will be agave spirit crafted there in the future. I wrote this at the genesis of it all. So, we shall see.
The remainder of my time was spent posted at the bar talking to strangers. In fact, I ended up giving Laura’s husband a hug. I forget why exactly but these things happen. There is that “professionalism” we talked about earlier. That is my world in a nutshell. Or at least it has been for almost two and a half years doing these reviews. Ironton Distillery was and is an exceptional place. Gin, gin, gin. I love gin! I want you to go there and drink deep, Denver Hoppers. Support these local Farm to Flask entrepreneurs. After my visit, I was no longer doleful because I want you to enjoy the fuck out of this life and this city. C’est la vie.
The Denver Hopper Notes:
Ironton Distillery has events on a regular basis. They have a massive indoor and outdoor event space. Phone# is on the website. They will be offering tours in the near future. Find out the details on their Facebook!
River North Brewery - A Dynamic Veteran of the Denver Brewery Scene
River North Brewery resides at the blurred line of old and new with a huge parking lot and welcoming atmosphere.
From time to time the Denver brewery scene feels like one of those ancient moving puzzles from an Indiana Jones films – it’s dynamic, ever-changing but old and sedimentary at the same time. There is a beauty in that. It’s an iconoclast towards an industry that will never settle in or figure itself out. Or at least I like to think of them that way. River North Brewery was one of the first breweries I went to as a young man. And it was formative in the downtown Denver showcase of outstanding beer that you see today. Their location may have changed from my yesteryear (a new location will bring them back to RiNo soon) but the soul hasn’t. And that’s what the fuck matters here at The Denver Hopper. That and the beer.
The city begins to unwind when you head north for long enough on Downing St. The plush new condos transform into a landscape of industrial buildings with old leftovers of an age gone by sprinkled in between. River North Brewery resides at the blurred line of old and new with a huge parking lot and welcoming atmosphere. When I arrive the taproom is bustling with a Happy Hour crowd. It’s a Thirsty Thursday. The feeling of freedom from a life or restriction whirls around the nose and ears.
Founded in 2012 by Matt and Jessica Hess, River North Brewery is run on a tight ship of only six full-time employees and two part-time. Their story started with Matt’s passion for home brewing Belgian style beers and morphed into brewing many different styles. The first beer I tried on my visit was the trip down memory lane. The Farmhouse Ale (4.6 ABV) is a Belgian Saison that’s primed for summer or any time you want an easy-drinker. Belgian esters tickled the tongue as I settled into the beer and enjoyed the fading summer warm in their open and inviting taproom.
Patrick was nice enough to sit down with me and talk over some beers while Kim worked at the bar. Patrick runs marketing and Kim is the Taproom Manager. This husband and wife team have been with River North since the beginning. They have seen the ebb and flow of change and growth happen – going from a baby brewery built on a dream to canning 5 different beers: The River North White, Farmhouse Ale, Colorado IPA, Mountain Haze New England IPA and the Pilsner. Times sure have changed but their resolve and passion are apparent and steadfast.
The next beer I had was the White Noise collaboration with Station 26 they are bringing to GABF. They decided to go buck wild and dry hop their River North White. This beer stood out to me the most. Sucking me into a world of glorious hoppiness. It drinks like a Belgian White IPA with a rush of that patentable juiciness of the Banger from Station 26. I like where they are going with this beer and their future collaborations have me fired up.
River North used to be in the heart of the RiNo neighborhood of Denver. But now where they once were is an apartment complex. But worry not, Hoppers! They are coming back to a location on 34th and Blake. Where they will be wrapped in their old familiar surroundings and have a focus on small batch brews. I can’t fucking wait for this to happen. It will be a cheaper Uber for me and so many others. But, most importantly, it will bring them back to the center of the brewery scene that they essentially started in RiNo. Follow them on Facebook to see when this bad boy will be opening.
So, how can I write an ending to a review on something that is only in its infancy? I don’t think that I can, at least not in a responsible way. I have to really step back and take it all in and accept the recklessness of my actions and examine my life. And my beer. River North Brewery has been a staple in my drinking life and in the craft scene for so long but their journey has only just begun. I have to believe in the veterans on my team. I have to trust the writing. But this is all easy in the face of exceptional beer at the core of what makes River North Brewery great.
Bear Creek Distillery - Craft Spirits, Tasting Room, Heaven
The focus for Bear Creek over the last six years has always been to provide the highest quality grain to glass craft distillery around.
I used to think that whiskey could save a life under the right circumstances. And maybe it can. But, in the face of all that I’ve seen, I realized that was a fool-hardy and shortsighted opinion. It isn’t just the alcohol that resurrects the soul. The refurbishing of the ethos comes from the conversation over the spirits and the good music in the background and the comfortable lighting in the room and the quality of product one consumes. The set and setting are important here. In my most recent visit to Bear Creek Distillery, I realized we have a sanctuary that offers several elements necessary for recovery right in our own backyard.
That tasting room was damn full for a Wednesday after work when I stopped into Bear Creek Distillery and talked to Jay Johnson. A focus on the aesthetics was apparent as soon as I walked in and I would soon learn that the entire tasting room is decorated with reclaimed wood. Lovely and inviting. I was at the beginning stretch of summer that reminds me of the train from Under Siege 2 except I am not Steven Segal and I die in one of the ridiculous battle scenes from a stray bullet. Tragic and unnerving. There is no doubt that a deep need for tasty craft spirits was the cure for what ailed me. It was a crazy time. And honestly, it hasn’t slowed down.
To put their best foot forward, Jay and his cohorts traveled and learned how to make exceptional spirits from distillers nationwide. The focus for Bear Creek over the last six years has always been to provide the highest quality grain to glass craft distillery around. They want the experience to be something you will never forget from their unique 100% rye vodka that is exceptional in dirty martinis to the handcrafted cocktail list to their array of 10 spirits to engage with all of your drinking desires.
Jay and I shot the shit while he showed me the inner workings of Bear Creek Distillery. He was a great host with a beard most men would at least arm wrestle for if not kill to have. They produce 50 gallons of product 3 to 4 times a week. And their goal is to move production to a 24/7 model so they can grow their accounts and spread the Bear Creek Love to all that seek it.
Barrels were piled high in the back room. Many of which will remain stacked for the two years needed to age their bourbon properly. Some are wine barrels some are Yeti Imperial Stout barrels from Great Divide Brewing Company. When we got to the tasting portion of the tour I was able to taste some both of these kinds of whiskey.
Before me lay tasters of the essential spirits including rum, whiskey, bourbon, and vodka. At that moment, a light shined down from the heavens and a noise called out to me. It was the savage and wild call of a bear. Surprisingly it didn’t scare me. Bears are normally terrifying creatures but this one just wanted me to be happy and safe. They have nearly every spirit you could ask for with the exception of gin. You need a separate still for gin and it may be in Bear Creek’s future.
The Rye Whiskey was peppery, smooth and flat-out fantastic. I bought a bottle later on. In fact, that’s what I am drinking right now. Their Spiced Rum puts the damn Captain to shame with a pumpkin pie flavor that made me want to relax on the couch. Vodka never seems to impress me. It is either smooth or plastic jug and either way it will get you drunk. But the 100% Rye Vodka was downright interesting and ready for consumption. I pictured it going well with a Bloody Mary or a Dirty Martini – adding an extra little hit of spicy rye to make the world wonderful again.
After the tour, I stuck around for a few cocktails. Of course, my go-to was the Bold Old Fashion with straight Bear Creek Bourbon, bitters and a sexy little sugar cube mixed in. The turn of our globe seeming slows down when drinks are made this well. The staff at Bear Creek Distillery know how to do the damn thing. The tasting room sounds elevated and I relaxed into my final drink the “Big Easy” with Bear Creek Rye Whiskey, Winship’s wormwood bitters and simple syrup. This smooth honeysuckle of a drink conjures all the things I love about NOLA but at a Mile High.
The only proper way to write a review about a craft distillery so devoted and renowned for their whiskey is to sip on some of that fine rye magic on the stoop of my apartment with Lucero playing in the background. The weather is easy as the sun goes down. Bear Creek Distillery supplied the goods. The gods are at the helm. My emotional fortitude is strong again. Set and setting and craft whiskey are how you save a life.
The Denver Hopper Notes:
Bear Creek Distillery has events on a regular basis. They offer tours starting at $10. Find out the details on their Facebook and website!
Colorado Plus Brew Pub - A Neighborhood Brewery and Scratch Kitchen in the Heart of Wheat Ridge
It strikes me as a fitting oasis for this tight-knit neighborhood.
At first glance, it seems that everyone you meet in Denver is from somewhere else. They were drawn in by the sunshine, legal weed, mountains or perhaps they just needed a change in their life. And that led them right to our square-shaped mid-western haven for liberty. The longer I live in this city, however, the more multi-generation Coloradans I run across. They are in every nook and cranny of the metropolitan sprawl. Wheat Ridge is one of these Colorado Native strongholds positioned between Denver and Golden, Colorado. It holds a gaggle of second and third generation folks that carry state and city pride. Colorado Plus Brew Pub fits in at the center of what makes people stay for decades in this area and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The lights of Colorado Plus Brew Pub are subdued in their comfy taproom. Patrons are scattered throughout. Over 50 beers from all over Colorado line the wall, including 8 beers of their own making. Guest taps from some of your favorite local spots like TRVE, Eddyline, Strange Craft and Avery are displayed with Colorado pride on their impressive array of taps. It strikes me as a fitting oasis for this tight-knit neighborhood. There is a certain ambiance that comes with the old suburbs that makes them not-so-suburban in a sense. They are more than that. They are a community, a tribe.
I sit down with Eugene and talk about the world of Colorado Plus Brew Pub. In a professional sense, I am shaking the tree to see what fruit falls to the ground. My attempts at journalism aren’t needed here because Eugene is extremely affable and friendly. He says hello to everyone he passes and seemingly knows them all by the first name. While we settle in I order a session pale ale by the name of Colorado Serenade (6.2% ABV). The Cascade hops are easy on the soul with this one. Refreshing and easy drinking.
They employ 34 people at the Wheat Ridge location of Colorado Plus Brew Pub and they have a killer scratch kitchen for your appetizing pleasure as you sift through their giant beer list to decide what you want. Recently, they opened a cidery in downtown Golden, Colorado. I will be sure to give you an update once I visit. But despite all of the changes and growth at Colorado Plus Brew Pub, the staff is a big family with a ton of pride about their community and their beer.
He gives me a tour of the huge facility that Valente’s Italian Restaurant left behind. There are multiple rooms for Christmas Parties and family reunions. I remember the old Italian joint being a place where my friends that went to Wheat Ridge High School would go as kids. It was one of those spots that you thought would never go away. And in a way, it didn’t leave. Instead of being forgotten, it was transformed into a craft brewery that wants to be the home base for a new generation.
Soon Eugene needs to leave. He leaves me to my own devices with an empty stomach and alcohol rummaging around in the empty halls of my body. A crucial part of Colorado Plus Brew Pub is the scratch kitchen that they work so hard to run. I decide on the Fried Chicken Sandwich made with Redbird Chicken Strips and hot sauce on a pizza bun. I pair my meal with a light, true to style, Curly’s Cream Ale (5.1% ABV) that comes a litte more dry than other cream ales but it fits perfectly at the moment. I am blown away by the tasty the sammy – chicken, hot sauce and pickles make the world a better place and their hand-crafted fries make the heart sing. The cooks at Colorado Plus Brew Pub know how to make that magic a reality.
Time slips away. The atmosphere invariably moves from a low hum to a bustling dining room. The staff is cheerful and fast moving. I find myself wanting to stay. I mean, why would anyone want to leave this neighborhood? But, alas, I must move on to the next destination for the Denver Hopper. We must explore this great state together. As I walk out the door I am left wrapped in the pleasantries of a neighborhood I hadn’t quite understood before. Comfort in this manic society of ours can be hard to find but Colorado Plus Brew Pub has found a place to slip away and dive into the best of what Wheat Ridge has to offer.
Living the Dream is a haven for families and groups of friends in Littleton who are looking for a solid brew and laid back atmosphere.
Started by Jason Bell, Living the Dream Brewery has wonderful views of the mountains and even better beer. I made the trek down to Littleton, CO after work one day to check out Living the Dream after tasting their raspberry stout at Collab Fest this year. As I pulled up into the dirt parking lot, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, the place was packed! You can tell Living the Dream is a haven for families and groups of friends in Littleton who are looking for a solid brew and laid back atmosphere.
The tap room was bustling, but I quickly settled into tasting the Powder Run, a vanilla cream ale, while chatting with Jason about the story behind Living the Dream. Jason was initially drawn to brewing through his love and experience with cooking. He began his studies in civil engineering but quickly moved to work as a chef’s apprentice and getting a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Everything clicked when I learned about Jason’s cooking background. You can tell, both from talking with Jason and tasting the beer at Living the Dream, that flavor combinations are at the forefront of their brewing process.
Living the Dream is focused on classic beer styles, and only add their own twist once they have perfected the foundation style. In fact, every Living the Dream beer begins with a classic base, and the brewers build on it from there. Further, each fruit beer the team makes begins with a Belgian golden base. This team is really focused on consistency and I must say, it shows. They have several variations of the same base, which is great for those who really like that pure Belgian golden, but also keeps it interesting for those who like to experience the nuanced difference changing just one or two ingredients can make.
That’s not to say Jason and his team don’t experiment. The Living the Dream team is always trying new techniques and flavor combinations while maintaining classic consistency. They recently released a small batch chili beer after getting several customer requests for that style. The brew team wanted to respond to their customers without making a chili beer so hot that it wrecks the palette. They settled on a pineapple hatch chili beer, which was so popular they’re now planning to put it in the regular rotation.
After finishing my tasty vanilla cream ale, I sampled a few others. The Or Belge, the Belgian golden base beer, was just what you would imagine. A light, crisp, refreshing taste with hints of coriander. The spice factor in this beer though is much lighter than many Belgians, as it’s often used with fruits or other ingredients, which may not come through if the Belgian flavors were too heavy. Next was the Tangerine Or Belge, modeled after a tangerine cream ale but with a Belgian base. It was light and drinkable, with a nice hint of tangerine that wasn’t overpowering. Jason mentioned that they started this fruit Belgian varietal with blood oranges, but have since decided they all prefer the tangerine. I was surprised at the difference between the two fruits can be subtle, but even without having tried the blood orange, I think they made the right decision. Third was the Belgian Brune, a brown ale style beer with the Or Belge base. It was light, but surprisingly still tasted like a delicious malty brown, which you don’t always see with lighter brown ales. Jason also sent me home with a bottle of their wit style beer aged in both pinot noir barrels and then Old Tom Gin barrels. Old Tom Gin is known for being a bit more citrusy and less juniper-forward, making this beer burst with citrus and pine. The wine flavor also came through making it an interesting and balanced mixture of all three flavor profiles.
My absolute favorite of the day though was yet another spinoff of the Belgian base, the Barrel Aged Du Miel Reserve. This imperial Saison began with the Belgian base, was brewed with local wildflower honey then aged in Rombauer chardonnay casks for seven months. Let me tell you, Chardonnay isn’t usually my first choice of white wine but this beer was truly enchanting. The base was flavorful from the Belgian yeast, the honey balanced out the traditional Belgian spices and added a silkiness, and the Chardonnay came through in the perfect way; giving the crisp essence of wine, but tasted like a beer. If I could have rolled a whole keg of this out to my car, I would have!
As we were sipping on some of the aforementioned brews, Jason took me on a tour of the brewery itself. Of all the breweries I’ve toured, Living the Dream has the most intricate setup I’ve seen. There is a room off the main tap room that you can reserve for private events, where you can see barrels stacked up that the team is using to experiment with different sour styles. Next is the canning area where you can see the new branding on the cans that will go out for distribution. Next to the canning room is the grain room where you can see Jason’s original home brew system and the grain masher that was initially used for all Living the Dream Production. It’s hard to imagine that tiny thing crushed grain for a brewery that has been close to 100%, if not over, capacity since the beginning.
They have since upgraded to a larger and more automated system, but I like the idea of keeping the roots around to reminisce about the growth this brewery has seen in only four short years. Jason is committed to using the classic grain styles for each different brew foundation, and you can see the different bags of imported grain from France, England, and Minnesota. After being crushed, the grain is transported to the boil tank, and the wort is then cooled through a tube and run into the correct fermenter. Jason is able to monitor the temperature of each fermenter with brewery control systems, meaning he never has to worry about walking into a surprise ruined batch of beer when he comes into work. This place has every bell and whistle you could imagine to make a brewery run smoothly and make each recipe very consistent. Though these are all the standard brewery practices, it was amazing to me that most of the equipment has been built by Jason and his team, keeping with the homegrown aspect of local breweries.
It is clear Jason is incredibly passionate about both beer itself, as well as making his business thrive. He sees two distinct groups of customers in the craft beer world. Those who revel in everything beer – the beer geeks, and everyone else. As a business brewer, Jason tries to make interesting beers that are still accessible. He and his brewers also keep a healthy balance of different ABVs on tap to appeal to those who aren’t into the heavy imperial stouts. Jason maintains that Living the Dream will always be a full spectrum brewery and you’ll never see them making beers disguised to taste like something else. This was one of the most incredible brewery tours I’ve been on and if you can’t tell, I was pretty into the beer as well. It is absolutely worth the trip to check out this one of a kind brewery and take in the mountains all at once. In fact, Living the Dream is celebrating their 4th anniversary on July 21st, 2018; a perfect excuse for enjoying great beer and getting to know one of Littleton’s hidden gems.
With the slogan, “highest cell count in the industry”, you might not immediately guess that Inland Island Yeast Laboratories is actually one of the most important companies supporting the brewing industry. I had the pleasure of talking with Matthew Peetz, one of the two Inland Island owners, and learned all about the essentials of high-quality yeast for a high-quality brew.
Inland Island Yeast Labs started in 2014, cultivating yeast in a spare bathtub, just to see what would happen to the cells. With a background in cell biology, Matthew has always been interested in fermentable goods and with figuring out the story behind each strain’s unique flavors. While Inland Island began marketing to homebrewers, once their first partner brewery, Joyride Brewing, signed on, the secret got out. Now, the majority of Denver and Metro Denver Breweries get at least some of their yeast from Inland Island. One of the reasons Inland Island has become so popular is that yeast must be shipped same day, making it particularly expensive for brewers. Finding an operation that’s not only local but also is impeccably good at cultivating and marketing its product; it’s a dream come true.
Matthew is somewhat of an expert in the history of yeast, so the start of our conversation took us back a few hundred years. Humans have been fermenting food and beverages for centuries, as soon as they learned that anything over 5% alcohol wouldn’t allow pathogens to live (and, not to mention, the effects of alcohol). Humans quickly figured out that yeast could be cultivated and re-used from any unpasteurized fermented beverage. In fact, one of the most interesting tidbits I learned from my conversation with Matthew was that all lager yeast comes from the same original yeast colony, started in Germany in the 1880s. Other countries soon caught on, and Ale and Belgian yeast also all have ties to only a few original sources in Europe. Yeast has a deep history throughout the world, and Inland Island has figured out how to cultivate it in a way that allows brewers to continue to find new flavors and combinations while maintaining historical roots.
Yeast is one of the most vital components of any great beer. Not only is the yeast what allows the wort to become alcoholic, and thus become beer, but yeast is also what gives different styles of beer their unique and distinctive flavors. Have you ever had a Belgian style beer, and tasted that banana and spice flavor? A lot of that flavor profile comes from the yeast used in fermentation! You really can’t make a Belgian taste like a Belgian without using Belgian yeast. Another example Matthew gave that underscores the importance of using the right yeast for the right brew is the process of making a Kölsch style beer. Most beer drinkers know that a traditional Kölsch style is a crystal clear beer. However, the Kölsch strain of yeast makes beer particularly hazy. During our discussion, I learned that adding in a strain of California Ale yeast clears the beer right up, making it look like your traditional Kölsch.
So where does the original yeast come from? Usually, it comes from other beers or previous strains that have been morphed by growers overtime. Matthew described that a small amount of yeast lives at the end of any unfiltered beer. You can cultivate yeast from any unfiltered beer by pouring the very bottom of the beer into a petri dish and letting it grow. Matthew shared that several brewers come to Inland Island with some of their favorite rare and interesting beers from all over the world and will ask the Inland Island team to cultivate the yeast from that beer. Once there is enough yeast for a brew batch, the brewery makes their own concoction with it. Often, they report back to the Inland Island team about what flavors developed, and if they liked the brew, how they might replicate that yeast strain and continue to use it. It’s all about combining ideas, flavors, and molecule structures to see how they interact.
Yeast strains are like any other fruit, vegetable, herb, or bread starter. They have been cultivated from an heirloom variety, and then changed and morphed over time as different strains are added together, or as one particularly powerful strain continues to be cultivated and used in more brews. The Inland Island folks have over 200 different yeast strains in storage, just waiting to be used in different beer experiments. They even have a few strains that no other company has, really setting them apart from the pack.
The last piece of the puzzle is understanding what form of yeast will give you the best tasting brew. You may have seen yeast at your local grocery store, you know, the bright yellow Fleischmann’s packets. That’s what is known as dry yeast. While it may work for homemade pizza dough, it’s not the best for brewing. While not all yeast varieties can be dried, those that can still aren’t as flavorful as yeast in liquid form. When yeast is dried, a good portion of it dies, meaning that a lot of the flavor is lost and isn’t transferred to the product you’re fermenting. Not only that but if you leave dead yeast in a fermenting beer it can autolyze (meaning the yeast cells rupture) and cause a meaty, cheesy taste to the beer. I don’t know about you, but when I think beer, I typically don’t think ‘meat and cheese’. On the other hand, liquid yeast packs a punch and brings ever changing and evolving flavor to the beer you love. Keeping yeast in liquid form also ensures that it stays alive and active so that when you being fermentation the yeast is ready to eat up all the delicious sugars in your beer wort.
Overall, I’d say this was one of the more interesting and in-depth conversations I’ve had about beer and the beer making process. From what Matthew tells me, it sounds like we will see a good share of pastry stouts coming up as well as some interesting flavor combinations with yeast cultivation from rare world beers. Unfortunately, you can’t tour Inland Island, but I would absolutely suggest checking out their products in various homebrew shops around Denver, especially if you’re thinking about making your own brew. Inland Island is really making a name for themselves after only four years of being open and based on how knowledgeable Matthew was during our conversation and how popular Inland Island products have become with brewers, I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon!
I’m a little late to the party, but the boys at Call to Arms Brewing Company are at it again. Well, now that I think about it, that statement may be a tad disingenuous because it implies that they stopped being “at it” for a while. There was never a hiatus or a delay. The brewing at Call to Arms Brewing is continuous and calculated – the beer is refined and dangerously tasty. This heralded brewery in the Berkeley neighborhood is constantly conjuring up craft brew magic. They are a staple of the brewing scene here in Denver.
Their latest bottle release goes by the name of Old Old Wooden Ship and it’s a doozy. This “porch pounding” sour Saison was brewed with guava and tart cherries and aged in port barrels. It is a day drinking, easy-sipping sour beer that I could comfortably drink 3 or 4, to start. And I can’t say that about most sours that I encounter. I adore them but they are usually one and done.
The Old Old Wooden Ship utilizes their well-developed house blend of wild yeasts and bacteria. The Brettanomcyes and Pediococcus strains blend together for a funky yet approachable brew that brings out the beer nerd in all of us.
I combined my sit down for this bottle release with a date. I brought a love interest of mine along to give a different perspective on the beer and the establishment. Fresh eyes are key. She enjoyed the hell out of our time there and even though she doesn’t normally get into sours the Old Old Wooden Ship was right up her alley.
Call to Arms Brewing Company is a prime place to show off Denver’s Craft Beer scene. Jon and Chris are laid back fellas that are easy to talk to. Life is good out here. And so is the beer. I highly recommend you visit Call to Arms and pick up some bottles for you and a friend or a lover. Also, their Anniversary Party is July 21st, 2018 and you won’t want to miss that good ol’ time. I know I won’t.
The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project - A Brewery for the Curious Traveler in All of Us
And what I would come to learn is that Andrew’s style of mingling different and surprising elements combined with a wanderlust spirit is what sets them apart from the rest of the pack.
Over the course of twenty plus years living in Denver, I have come to realize that this is not just a city of transplants as one might expect but it’s also a place of refuge for wayward travelers. The writer Jack Kerouac would stop in Denver during his travels and get weird with his friends as if it was a bastion for the romantic and aesthetic values he held so dear. To this day, it remains an enclave of different ideas and progress that leaves room for free spirits of all types to partake in unique and interesting endeavors. Within this space, you find brewers like Andrew at The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project finding the line sand and stepping over it again and again.
8th Avenue was packed with people from the swarm of worker bees leaving downtown Denver. As the city has grown, this main artery of traffic that runs right through the Art District on Sante Fe has turned into an even more vital yet increasingly congested street. Weary souls waited with me as I headed toward The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project to talk beer and life and whatever was on the minds of Andrew and Ben.
The after-work crowd hadn’t quite arrived yet to fill the easy-on-the-eyes taproom. There were only 2 or 3 patrons talking to Joey, the chill and friendly bartender The first beer I tried was a new release called Peach Brett Belgian Session IPA (5.5% ABV) that brought a pinch of funkiness from the Brettanomyces yeast and a dash of peach (not overly sweet) and finished with hint Chardonnay. The complexity of the beer balanced like a gymnast between all the elements in this uncanny session IPA. And what I would come to learn is that Andrew’s style of mingling different and surprising elements combined with a wanderlust spirit is what sets them apart from the rest of the pack.
Ben and Andrew both grew up in Indiana. Life went on different paths for each of them but eventually, they would reconvene via their Mothers. Ben started business school while Andrew cruised along a path to become an archeologist. During Andrew’s travels to the Middle East, he fell in love with their food, drink, and spice. He homebrewed beer during these years and began to experiment with adjuncts and spices that you might not normally find in craft beer. In other words, he likes to get weird with it and we fully encourage that at The Denver Hopper.
I went through an array of tasters while I was talking with Ben and Andrew. The Turkish Coffee Stout (7.0 ABV) brought a full robust flavor with hints of orange but didn’t overwhelm. The Basil IPA (7.1% ABV) utilized a sweet basil to balance out the bitterness of the hops. It sounded weird to me at first but I fell in love as do some many people do and that is why it is their best seller. The Lavender Tripel that comes with a high ABV of (8.7%) is a cautiously drinkable beer the floral notes and touch of sweet on the tongue that you could convince non-craft-beer-drinkers to get down with. All of these were impressive feats of clever brewing that you probably won’t find anywhere else in town.
The combination of drinking beer and eating food that pairs well together is a priority at Intrepid Sojourner. When Andrew traveled he became enamored with local foods and he wants to bring those tastes to the beer he brews. Starting July 3rd, 2018 they will be hosting a series of dinners with premier chefs from around town creating dishes to go with Intrepid Sojourner’s beers. Global themes characterize almost all they do including the events they hold like a Bastille Day Festival every year and a Day of the Dead Party. If you bring your passports on Thursdays you receive 25% off your tab.
The Finnish Sahti (7.4% ABV) stood out for its’ originality with a hint of juniper and chocolaty malty deliciousness. The beer was light and sessionable – a summertime porter. I was struck by a shimmering vision of patios and friends and blurry heart to hearts and Uber rides that culminated with me asleep at 6pm because of this majestic draft.
The world is an expansive and wonderfully wide open canvas meant to be explored and magic can be found at every place you go. Denver is certainly a special town. But there is more. Traditional beer styles and the comfort of what you know is also important. But still, there is more out there. The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project will give you that flash of different, expansive beers but they come at it with balance and precision. They keep food and adjuncts in mind at this oasis of carefully thought out craft beer. I guess in a way it is exactly what Jack Keroauc would have wanted – odd, wonderful and free to see the world.
The Denver Hopper Notes:
The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project will give you 25% off on Thursdays if you bring your passport with you.
Tighe Brothers Distillery - A Distillery Where I Learned a Lesson on the Glory of Patience
Hannah and Jennette Tighe were behind the bar keeping everyone entertained and the vibe was that of a local pub where you were always welcome.
In these increasingly scattered and frenetic times, patience has almost turned into an art form that only masters of craft are capable of finding under the layers predisposed bullshit. We want everything in an instant, from our fame to our fortune to our ultimate decline. Equanimity is an attribute so scarce that it seemingly goes unnoticed. Maybe that is the way it is supposed to be. I mean, why would anyone notice something moving slowly when the information superhighway is flying by? It doesn’t have that glitz and glam that the world wants us to see. It is simply the act of knowing that that thing you are doing will get better with time. But we need it now more than ever. And while I am horrendous at taking things slow and I have to practice daily to keep myself from bouncing off the walls I have the ridiculous privilege to figure out how it works by talking to the folks at Tighe Brothers Distillery who are exceptional at waiting the madness out and soaking it all in.
Tucked away, in one of the last un-gentrified areas of Denver called Elyria-Swansea, lies Tighe Brothers Distillery. With plenty of parking, the location feels off the beaten path and secluded but it’s only a few blocks away from the A-Line Lightrail in one direction and Five Points and River North neighborhoods in the other. It is close to all the luxury that comes with newly constructed watering holes in that area of town but there isn’t the pretense that permeates throughout RiNo.
Tighe Brothers Distillery wasn’t open on the first day I stopped in but Paul Tighe was available to talk and show me around. The atmosphere is laid back and inviting. Leather sofas, light wood grain, and a concrete countertop bring a feeling that is easy going yet slightly elegant. In single-man-terms, I think their atmosphere is a great place for a first date. Time to download Tinder again and start swiping again. Oh, Joy!
We tried a sip of their gin. It contained nine botanicals and comes with just of enough floridity to make it stand distinct but not overwhelming. I love when folks create gins that inspire the mind and get weird with their approach but I also love the simple things. Of all the distilleries I have written about for The Denver Hopper, I enjoyed Tighe Brothers Distillery’s Peacock Gin the most for how goddamn sippable it was and the botanicals they used kept me intrigued.
As we sat on barstools and delighted in the killer old fashioned from their menu – made with local bitters and maple syrup — this drink was as refreshing and mellow as one could need. Paul and I talked about life and how one might get to the juncture of owning a distillery. He started his first business at seventeen years old and bought his first property at twenty-two years old. Retirement was almost always on his mind. But he brought passion to all of his ventures in life, from real estate to entrepreneurship, and now to distilling. He is in his early 50’s and Tighe Brothers Distillery is his semi-retirement job. I tried to think of myself at seventeen years old and what I was doing with my life. Like most folks, I was just fucking around and getting wild with friends. It’s incredibly inspiring to see that kind of patience and foresight in someone and it reminds you to keep on your grind. And that resiliency shines through their products.
The road was long to get to this point but it all started with their Grandpa who loved good bourbon. The man cherished high-end bourbons and with that influence, the appreciation for aged spirits seemed inevitable for the third generation Denver natives, Paul and Danny Tighe. The old fashioned that I mentioned earlier uses the Tighe Brothers handcrafted bourbon. Mellow, oaky and full of flavor – a whiskey that gets right to the heart of the matter after aging for over a year. Like all of their spirits, the bourbon is made from only Colorado grains from the Whiskey Sisters in Burlington, CO. I got the feeling as we carried on in conversation this distillery would eventually be a Denver institution and a staple of the craft-spirits scene in Denver.
Towards the end of my visit, Paul excitedly brought me in the back and showed me the still in all its magnificence. His passion was infectious as he talked about the process of distilling and the time it takes and the rewards it provides. Then he let me sample some of their rye whiskey out of the barrel. It hadn’t been proofed down but By God, it was wandering array of delicious and spicy and captivating. The next time I come through I am buying a bottle.
Just for good measure, I stopped in the next day to see what the atmosphere was like when people besides me were there. Hannah and Jennette Tighe were behind the bar keeping everyone entertained and the vibe was that of a local pub where you were always welcome. I had another old fashion and waited for a friend to show. I ended up in a conversation with a kind fella that is a favorite local of theirs. The experience connected the dots on the constellation that is Tighe Brothers Distillery.
I learned a vivid lesson on the correlation between patience and quality during my trip to Tighe Brothers Distillery that I think we could all digest. And the lesson being: we just need to remember that when you feel rushed in your existence and overwhelmed — you have a lifetime to get through, so, there is no reason to hurry things or cut corners. The flavor really comes out of this life if you take your time and let it all sink in. So, just sit down on a regular basis with a glass of handcrafted spirits and have a nice conversation with the universe. It’s better that way. I promise.
The Denver Hopper Notes:
Tighe Brothers Distillery has a growing number of events. They offer tours starting at $20. Find out the details on their Facebook and website!
The summer is upon us like a great tsunami composed of sunshine and questionable decisions. Denver has grown by leaps and bounds over the year and new watering holes are popping up everywhere. Here at the Denver Hopper, we want you to mix it up at some of our favorite spots and mingle with awesome people. The Denver Passport from The Passport Program can offer just that for $25 with a ton of Buy One Get One Free deals.
I recently stopped by the launch party thrown by Two Parts and Lexa PR and had a damn fine evening. I perused through the book as I sipped on the new Hey Day IPA from Great Divide Brewing. Other Denver drinkers flooded in and flipped through the extensive passport in their hands. I felt like I was in a club of some sort.
A few of the stops on your passport where they offer the Buy One Get One Free deal include a few breweries and distilleries that we have reviewed like Alternation Brewing Company and Denver Distillery on Broadway and Spangalang Brewery in Five Points. They also have a slew of hip spots like Stoic and Genuine, The Family Jones and There…Bar. I can also appreciate that they put some Buy One Get One Free opportunities for slices of pizza.
I don’t see how you can go wrong with picking one up if you like getting weird and wandering around Denver like I do, Hoppers. But you will want to get The Denver Passport quick because they sell out fast! Cheers to you, Hoppers, and have one hell of a summer!
The Denver Hopper Notes:Get your Denver Passport Here: https://www.thepassportprogram.com/denver