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Behind the Brew: River North Brewery

In a neighborhood that's still evolving, River North Brewery is pouring its (now highly awarded) Belgian-style brews. And they're holding down the fort without a need to surrender to trends. 

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Three years ago, River North Brewery opened its doors on Blake Street and set the stage for what would become an area ripe with local fare and coffee roasters, repurposed industrial facilities, artfully constructed storage container buildings, and—yes—more craft breweries. In the time since, the brewery has done more than simply maintain a successful taproom; they have continued experimenting with aging and brewing techniques, claimed tap handles throughout Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, and stocked shelves with their award-winning staple witbier. Its namesake may be a ‘hood full of trends that may or may not stick, but River North Brewery will be serving up pints for years to come.


Location: Situated on the northwest corner of Blake and 24th Street, River North Brewery sits on the cusp of where the Ballpark neighborhood and River North meet. Although it’s within a bustling part of downtown, this three-way intersection is mild when it comes to traffic, so your ears aren’t bombarded by the sounds of car horns and engines. The taproom and brewing facilities occupy the south end of a building that fills half of the block and houses several other businesses, each with its own independent entrance. (Other than Blake Street Wine and Spirits, which is the northern-most shop in this building, the spaces in-between have seen a slew of short-lived hopefuls.)

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Ambience: Prepare to get cozy (and familiar with your fellow beer fans). River North’s taproom is, well, a little tight. With about eight stools lining the bar, three four-seater high-tops, and a couple of two-tops, finding a place for your derriere can be a challenge during peak hours. However, the space is brightly lit with nearly 30-foot ceilings, so close quarters doesn’t equate to creepiness.

The seasonal garage-door entrance prominently displays their rustic-industrial style bar. Weathered sheet metal serves as the backdrop for their tap list, while a rich, wood bar softens the concrete floors and slate-gray walls. Directly behind the bar, a massive window provides a generous view of the brewing facilities (which, unless the sun is still up, is heavily lit—perhaps to pique your curiosity).

Whether you’re seeking an outdoor space for your afternoon beverage or a spot to watch the sun dip behind the Rockies, River North’s patio has you covered. From any one of the four picnic tables sidled up to the south wall of the building, you have optimal sun exposure and a decent view of the CrossFitters (Crossfit LoDo) across the shared parking lot, who will likely be joining you for a beer after their WOD (CrossFit term meaning “workout of the day.”) If it’s a little snug in the taproom, the patio is a great option for overflow seating and maybe even a little entertainment.

Who You’ll Meet: Location plays a large role in this department; a mish-mash of downtowners, RiNo-ites, and CrossFitters are the majority of River North’s regulars. But, as is the case with so many breweries that aren’t super niche, you’ll likely encounter people (local or otherwise) just looking to experience the oodles of craft breweries popping up all over Denver. It’s difficult to pin down the types of people you might share a pint with, because River North doesn’t advertise themselves as anything but a brewery that prides itself in its strategic brewing process and the exceptional flavors that result—and that’s something anyone would want to be a part of.

On Tap: Matt Hess, River North’s head brewer, is a big fan of yeast—the Belgian variety to be exact. Because it offers flexible flavor profiles and a naturally drier finish on the beer, Hess is able to create highly refined brews that are loved by the masses. Most of his creations are already highly decorated, and the brewery as a whole was just awarded the 2015 Brewery of the Year by Best of Craft Beer. Among the award winners is River North White Ale (5 percent ABV), a Belgian witbier whose clean, lush flavor and extreme drinkability make it an all-occasion beer. The J. Marie Saison maintains a level of drinkability that may become dangerous, as its ABV of 8.1 percent can easily sneak up on you. For a hoppier (and maybe heightened) experience, spring for the Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle Double IPA (9 percent ABV). If darker, malty brews are up your alley, don’t miss the Quandary Quadrupel Ale (9.6 percent ABV).

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Make a Night of It: The nature of this neighborhood resides in its social ease; hop from brewery to brewery with friends or grab a few drinks after dinner. Other breweries and locally owned restaurants within walking or biking distance that are not to be missed: Los Chingones, Work + Class, Cart-Driver, DADA Art Bar, Ratio Beerworks, and Black Shirt Brewing Co.

Stay Tuned: River North has been brewing a version of their Quandary Quadrupel Ale that invites a classy chardonnay into the mix. This will be the first white wine brew they’ve created, and it should be available in early August 2015. River North also brews a limited-edition ale to celebrate their anniversary, and the ABV seems to increase every year. Their most recent, the Anniversary Ale #3, rang in at 17.2 percent. Officially, the celebration isn’t until February, but it’s worth the wait (and you may need an entire year to recover).

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