Denver: The Only City In The West

Filling the coolship today with a big, starchy, raw ale. ⠀ Raw ale meaning a beer that is mashed and thus pasteurized (with our mash regime), but never boiled. ⠀ The result is high protein, high starch, and carrying a unique and wonderful character of the grain (in this case @troubadourmaltings Pevec and Raw Wheat) that you cannot get when boiled. ⠀ We’ve experimented before with a few raw coolship beers and got some promising results after very long aging periods, well over a year. The way I do this style of beer results in something very difficult for microbes to ferment, but over months and years the result can end up being really complex. ⠀ I’m hoping to continue experimenting with the technique of raw ale to eventually be able to release a blend or two that are 100% raw/unboiled. ⠀ #rawale #turbidmash #methodegueuze #spontaneousale #coolship #spontaneousfermentation #denver #beer #craftbeer #stateofcraftbeer #instabeer #beerstagram #sourbeer #wildale #wildyeast #barrelfermented #barrelaged #nativemicroflora #koelschip #100percentnativemicroflora #blackproject #sourbeerisworththepain

A video posted by Black Project Spontaneous Ales (@blackprojectbeer) on

That’s the story of Former Future Brewing, which opened in 2014 with a gamut of beers from saisons to porters. But after GABF medals in the Wild Ale category in 2014 and 2015, they decided to rebrand around their side-efforts in spontaneous fermentation. Now called Black Project, they’ll have at least six wild ales available when you visit their Broadway Avenue taproom.

Denver has a strong presence of wild, sour, and spontaneous ales. Crooked Stave’s sours are legendary, and TRVE Brewing is another great option for lively experiments in mixed-fermentation. Denver, like all of America, also loves its hops and there’s no shortage of IPA. The hazy New England-style IPA may have been the biggest Denver beer trend of 2016.

And just as we’ve been seeing around the country, the approachable, balanced lager is making a comeback in a big way. The Slow Pour Pils made Bierstadt Lagerhaus an instant hit when it entered the scene last year in River North (RiNo). Prost Brewing excels in lighter German lagers. And the Tivoli Brewing Company, which started brewing in 1859, was resurrected five years ago along with its historic helles and Pilsners.

Adding to the pressures facing new breweries in Denver, they all begin life in the shadow of the Colorado brands that helped make craft beer a national obsession. A startup isn’t going to make a better IPA than Odell, and certainly not at the same volume. What’s the sense in pushing a milk stout with Left Hand in your backyard?

“When we opened, the goal was to be small and stay small, and I think a lot of breweries are going that way as well,” says Sarah Howat, co-founder of Black Project. “You can’t out-IPA Odell and Avery and stay small.” Denver beer writer Jonathan Shikes also predicts a rough go for mid-sized breweries hoping to expand a regional presence and join that pantheon.

“It’s the ones that want to start packaging and grow too fast—that might be where the trouble is,” he explains. “There’s a number of those in-between breweries that have their own packaging facilities and canning lines and are trying to make a push into retail and distribution. I think they might be in the danger zone.”

The pressure is already on. Great Divide Brewing, the largest craft brewery in the Denver city limits, saw their production dip 16% in 2016 when they discontinued three year-round beers to focus on new projects. And with increased competition in craft, Big Beer is trying to expand on the Denver scene as well.

Denver is the birthplace of Blue Moon, and the MilerCoors-owned label opened a 30,000-square-foot brewery in RiNo in July 2016, the same craft beer district home to such hometown favorites as Crooked Stave, Our Mutual Friend, and Ratio Beerworks. AB InBev-owned 10 Barrel Brewing established itself in RiNo last year as well, and their InBev stablemate, Breckenridge Brewery, remains a potent force in Littleton and beyond.

Yet most brewers show little worry about Big Beer halting the growth of craft in Denver. More people moving to town means no shortage of potential fans. And Denver’s craft brewers spoke highly of Blue Moon, especially lauding their efforts to open their laboratory to Denver’s small breweries for assistance with quality control.

If Big Beer isn’t hindering craft in Denver, what’s the straw man predicted to burst the bubble? Some reports suggest recreational cannabis in Colorado might be skimming a few percentage points off craft beer sales, though nothing close to conclusive evidence has surfaced yet.

The Brewers Association reported at the end of 2016 they found no downward drag on craft beer sales in states with recreational cannabis, and that the Colorado Department of Revenue shows consumption of beer increased last year relative to 2015. Some Denver residents are particularly happy with the 2016 election cycle that saw four new states pass legalization initiatives. Maybe everyone will stop coming here and raising our rent, the thinking goes.

It will be interesting to track the future of beer in Denver, a city whose beer trends are so analogous to those of the Twin Cities. Will the number of breweries keep pace with the growing population—or is there a saturation point on the horizon? What new styles of drinking will push the industry forward? What happens when there’s no style left un-brewed? What does craft beer look like once novelty is gone? Whatever the fate of craft beer nationwide, the harbingers will be on display in Denver. Go there, visit a few breweries, and taste the future.

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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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