Following up on my visit to the Mile High City for GABF
By Alan J. Wax
America’s Mile High City is bubbling over in beer.
That’s something a visitor to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver late in September could quickly have discovered. I did.
Some five dozen breweries now produce lagers, ales and stouts within the 155-square-mile confines of Colorado’s capital city, almost half of them opened in the last two years.
During my visit to the GABF, I got to experience some of the city’s bustling beer culture with a visit to two its newest production breweries, Ratio Beerworks and Spangler Brewery, courtesy of the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau, which arranged a bus tour for a group of beer writers and bloggers. The tour, led by Ed Sealover, a reporter with the Denver Business Journal and author of “Mountain Brews,” didn’t’ travel very far from Downtown.
Our first stop was Ratio in what’s known as the River North, or RINO, neighborhood. Here, Jason zumBrunnen, a former brewer at the city’s pioneering Wynkoop brew pub, has partnered with Zach Lowery and Scott Kaplan to open a music-inspired, 5,500 square-foot brewery (with a 20-barrel system) and taproom in a former distillery. Ratio, which produces beer on a 20-barrel system, traces its roots to its owners’ days in the punk rock music scene of the late 90’s. Their idea was to combine the marketing and business sense they acquired in the music business with their knowledge of brewing,
It appears to be working. The taproom was abuzz with visitors during our beer week tour and the beers I sampled were both unusual and quality brews
Though I only had timet to sample three beers, there were no disappointments.
Wicked Grin was a terrific saison made with plums that had an intense tart character and nice black pepper notes. Hold
Steady with Coffee, a deep brown ale, struck me as something akin to the ice coffees one finds in Southeast Asian restaurants, cold and sweet.
The Knew Gose was a delightful summer quencher with great lime notes.
Our next stop brought us to another close-to-downtown neighborhood that’s undergoing revitalization, Five Points, which in its heyday was a jazz mecca that rivaled Harlem. Here, we found the Spangalang Brewery, which riffs on Welton Street’s jazz roots. Housed in a former motor vehicle office, the tasting room walls are adorned with framed jazz album covers. Former Great Divide brewers Austin Wiley, Darren Boyd and Taylor Rees produce the beers, made in an adjacent space several feet below ground.
Spangalang, which opened in April, is already a winner; Its Table Beer won GABF gold in the category known as Other Belgian-Style Ale
The brewery takes its name from a jazz term that refers to a cymbal pattern.
Here, I sampled a number of sour and Brettanomyces focused beers and one more mainstream brew
Pure Gold, a sour beer made with tart cherry juice and rose water and 100 percent fermented with Brett. Cloudy gold, I found the Brett character muted and only hints of sour cherries.
Mr. Ra’s Interplanetary Influence, homage, I presume, to jazz composer Sun Ra, another Brett brew that is cloudy gold and, again muted Brett character.
Cucumber Gose, a collaboration brew with the Real Dill pickle company, Fresh cucumber juice and coriander are added post fermentation to this slightly sour, salted wheat beer. An interesting concept, but it was a bit like drinking from a pickle barrel.
Bossman Marzen. Tasted at the advice of a colleague, this amber brew game off notes of fruity malt and caramel on both the nose and the palate. Definitively more pleasing that the sours.
Though GABF won’t be around for almost another year, if you find yourself in Denver before then you’ll be quite pleased with these newcomers—as well as the many other beer makers across the Mile High City.