The Ultimate Guide to Craft Brewing in Denver

If drinking beer is good, drinking freshly brewed beer straight from the source is even better. Pull up a stool and taste the revolution.

February 2013


Wit’s End Brewing

Tucked into an industrial office park just south of Highway 6 between Federal Boulevard and I-25, Wit’s End Brewing isn’t exactly following the location-location-location axiom. And yet the brewery—which is more reminiscent of a residential garage than your average taproom—has a cheery vibe, which is attributable to the fact that brewer Scott Witsoe (see page 47) greets each patron with a handshake and a smile. The tap list will please the beer-geek crowd (how often do you see a Belgian oatmeal IPA?), but you don’t need a Ph.D. in brewing to drink at Witsoe’s joint—only an open mind.
You’re Drinking: Ambition, Witsoe’s alcoholic ode to a strong cup of black coffee
You’re Listening To: Arcade Fire
If You Go: 2505 W. Second Ave., Unit 13, 303-459-4379, witsendbrewing.com


Denver ChopHouse & Brewery

If it’s possible for a bar to feel both chaotic and intimate at the same time, the vibe at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery is just that. Although a well-heeled LoDo crowd bustles about and the large HD TVs display the game du jour, the ChopHouse’s low lighting, long granite bar, and ’30s-era jazz and blues tunes keep things cozy. Situated a block south of Coors Field in the historic Union Pacific Building, this longtime citadel of steak is often overlooked when locals think about craft beer. But during a time when obscure pours seem to be the new norm in Denver, the ChopHouse’s more obvious and approachable lineup (pale, red, and wheat ales) can taste refreshing.
You’re Drinking: The easy-drinking Red Ale
You’re Listening To: Jazz, from the likes of Duke Ellington
If You Go: 1735 19th St., 303-296-0800, chophouse.com


Wynkoop Brewing Company

The fact that our governor founded this LoDo institution in the late ’80s makes this place endlessly cool. Even without its historical cachet, Wynkoop Brewing Company would be easy to like. There’s the large pool hall and bar upstairs; a bar with abundant seating and TVs downstairs; and a dinner menu packed with pub-style comfort food like bangers and mash. And—and!—the ’Koop has roughly 14 rotating taps, which range from approachable (Rail Yard Ale) to hoppy (Mile HiPA) to adventurous (Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, anyone?).
You’re Drinking: Mile HiPA, a pleasant India pale ale
You’re Listening To: Classic rock
If You Go: 1634 18th St., 303-297-2700, wynkoop.com


River North Brewery

Technically, River North Brewery isn’t located in Denver’s up-and-coming River North neighborhood, but we’re not keeping score—especially since this year-old spot captures much of the zeitgeist of Denver’s thriving brewing scene. Like other breweries in Denver—many of which have been erected as neighborhood gathering spots more akin to your local coffeeshop than a rowdy sports bar—the crowd has that I’m-here-because-they-just-tapped-a-new-Belgian-ale atmosphere. Simply stated: It’s a bit beer nerdy. But River North is also casual and friendly, and the beer...well, there’s a sticker on the wall that sums it up nicely: No crap on tap.
You’re Drinking: The straightforward J. Marie Saison, a great introduction to the style
You’re Listening To: The Beatles
If You Go: 2401 Blake St., Unit 1, 303-296-2617, rivernorthbrewery.com



EXPLAINER: What's a Firkin?


❉ At some point, you may have seen a smallish, keglike container sitting on the bar at your favorite watering hole and thought, What the f$#& is that?! Turns out these aren’t kegs at all; they’re firkins (the name is a reference to an English unit of measurement that equals 10.8 gallons). Brewers love this small container for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it allows them to experiment with different, sometimes odd, flavors. Vine Street Pub & Brewery brewer Brad Landman says he once added candy atomic sourballs to a batch of his beer. “With firkins you can be experimental,” Landman says. “This firkin was for a candy store party and it was perfect. But, what works in one instance doesn’t always work for another.”
There are other differences from traditional brewing, too. Firkin beer, or cask ale, goes through a “second fermentation” that produces a lighter carbonation than unfirkined beer, which gets an infusion of CO2. Less carbon dioxide means more flavor, less bitterness, and an overall smoother mouthfeel.
When the beer is ready, brewers hammer a tap into the cask with a mallet—and the beer starts flowing. Quick tip: Firkin beer isn’t pasteurized and only lasts a day or two after being exposed to oxygen, so drink up. —Lindsey R. McKissick