Over the past several weeks, I have been revisiting Denver's brewpubs. I haven't been to them in a while, and I stopped in to see what was new with the changing seasons. I was surprised more than once, but not always for the better.
Dry Dock Brewing is attached to The Brew Hut, a local home brew shop in South Aurora. They have, almost from the very beginning, been winning awards for their beers at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. I especially enjoyed their SS Minnow Mild Ale (think Gilligan's Island). I also remembered that they had a generous discount for American Homebrewer's Association members, so I coupled it with a trip to the brew store for some supplies one weekend. I tried several samples including their German Alt, ESB, and finally settled on a pint of their Old Ale, but none of the beers particularly stood out for me. Sure it could have been me, but either I didn't want what they were serving (they had two IPA variants avaliable) or the ones I tried tasted off or unappealing. To add insult to injury, their great discount does not apply to the weekend. I felt somewhat cheated by both the experience and the lack of a discount. I did buy supplies from the home brew shop, though, and think that they have a great selection. When I make it back there, I hope that my mood improves or that they have beers that I am in the mood for.
The Bull and Bush is a fantastic English Pub hidden off the main thoroughfares along Cherry Creek in Glendale (or near the Eastern Glendale/Denver border). The pub is an exact replica (interior and exterior) of a pub somewhere in England. It is a Tudor Style building and has a nice outdoor patio. It has been open since 1971 and probably brewing on premises for over 10 years now. The brewer at the Bull and Bush seems to have a serious dedication to my malt over hops philosophy, or it could be that it is a traditional English Brewpub serving traditional English Ales. I don't know. At a couple of recent visits I have had the opportunity to have their Stout, Irish Red, Scottish, ESB, and Traditional English Brown, and they have many more untraditional selections all of the time. I have to say that the tastes of my ales were spot on. My complaint....no head. The beers all seemed to have quickly dissipating heads or none at all. This is in line sometimes with traditional English ales and methods, but I find a beer without a healthy head to be somewhat lifeless. That, and the bartender used a chilled glass for my brown ale. A no-no in my book, but I admit, that I am one of the few people who like the temperatures of my ales somewhere between American tastes and traditional ale serving temperatures. Also, no AHA discounts at the Bull and Bush....not a deal killer, but a bummer.
Brekenridge Ballpark Brewery was gearing up for Rockies season when I visited in early April. They have a nice AHA discount on beer and food. They have their original Lower Downtown location and a brewery south of downtown on Kalamath. They no longer brew at the Downtown location, which bums me out, so technically it isn't a brew pub anymore. The downtown location is a beautiful old brick warehouse with the train dock out front, and it is a block away from the ballpark. You can see where their original conical fermenter used to stand. They have a nicely crafted Main Line of beers along with an interesting selection of Small Batch beers (usually of higher strength or bitterness) and Seasonals. Their Ballpark Brown Ale is always a standby for me, but I also enjoy their Trademark APA. Their Bock was their seasonal (remember when I was saying that I didn't know what a traditional spring beer was?). I didn't think of Bock for whatever reason. When I was there, I was disappointed that there was nothing new. It seemed like they can be counted on to have their regular selections and they are consistently good, but the Seasonals seem to stick around too long (the Christmas Ale didn't run out until February, I think). I don't often order items from their Small Batch series, but even they were all the same old beers that have been around for months. They had a wheat based anniversary beer, but I didn't want a full pint of it. I guess I was in the mood for something different or new, and I couldn't find it this time at Brek. The brown ale was excellent as usual and the staff is very friendly as usual, and the people at the bar are usually talkative (many are tourists) and the experience is always enjoyable. The brewery location on Kalamath isn't as fun to visit (in my opinion), I don't know why that is. I just wish they would put a 5 barrel system back at the Ballpark location.
I hit up Wynkoop, Denver's first brewpub (est. 1988), also in Lower Downtown (18th/Wynkoop). I have to admit, I like going down there, for the pool hall, the atmosphere, the location, and to people watch, but with the exception of their yearly Pumpkin beer, have not really found a beer for me there. They have a discount for AHA members, but not a great one. But.....I found a new respect for their ESB (a regular offering) and a special brew called an Auld (Old Ale, I think) brewed by their beerdrinker of the year (a yearly contest, but this year the winner was a brewer). I think I am on an English Bitter kick as of late. I was pleasantly surprised, and am looking forward to getting downtown for another some time soon.
I also within the last three or four months hit BJ's Brewhouse/Restaurant (a brewpub chain) in Aurora. That brewery doesn't strike a chord with me. It seems expensive, the bartenders didn't seem knowledgeable, they have an AHA discount on food, but not beer (what is the point of that?), and I can't even recall what beer I had. I am uncertain if they brew at the Aurora location (I know they do at their Pearl Street Mall location in Boulder), but I also think that they brew or serve the exact same beers in all of their locations, which always makes it seem more corporate and impersonal. I don't know if that is completely true, but I can't admit to going out of my way to hit a BJ's Brewhouse. I keep hoping my experience there will change, and maybe someday it will.
I can't wait to get back to Walnut and the Chophouse (both in the Rock Bottom System) which I love, and give Pint's Pub another try. Pint's is located downtown near the library, is very traditional, but I don't think I appreciated them back in the day (last time I was there, that is), and would like to see if my palate or their beers have improved.
I think that the important thing about brewpubs is that things do change over time. They are usually having new offerings, and their regular beers sometimes change and improve. The beer is always fresh, and the company is often enjoyable. If you haven't been to a particular brewing establishment in a while, especially one you decided you didn't like, give them another try periodically. Small brewers don't always have consistency, but they more than make up for it in experimentation and wonderlust.