Friday, October 1, 2010

Denver Day 3: Business Time

Our three-brewery excursion exhausted us. We woke with dry mouths and nagging headaches which would only be quelled by a rigorous morning workout and several cups of tap water.

Working out at this elevation is humbling. Just shuffling on an elliptical with little resistance for a mile was taxing. I took shallow and unfulfilling breaths. Still, to commit to working out while slightly hung over and still jet lagged gave me a burst of positivity that I carried with me on the bus to Boulder.

James and I were nuts enough to crack open a beer on the way to more beer. We shared a crisp, malty blonde sharply packaged in an aluminum can by Ska Brewing Company. As we polished off our can and turned our eyes forward, we were overwhelmed by the beautiful severity of the Rocky Mountains beyond the bus' dashboard. We were driving into those mountains, or they were about to consume us. Either way, the view was impressive. We wondered about the scattered lodges and houses built onto the sides of the mountain range. Recalling Colorado's recent brush fires added drama to the scene.

A skankin' good brew

Boulder Brewing Company stands at the feet of the Rockies. The door at the loading dock rolls up to reveal the snow-crested mountains. When we first arrived at the scene we were greeted with an outdoor beer garden picnic, complete with centerpieces and decorative hop vine garlands. The grillmaster hooked his iPod up to a portable stereo and we all received a pint of our choice to as a party favor. I opted for the Buffalo Gold, a golden ale that I've never seen in Ohio, even though it's been a staple at Colorado's first microbrewery since 1989.

If I worked at this brewery I'd keep the door open year-round

Our tour guide, affectionately dubbed Chicken Dan for reasons less interesting than the nickname itself, was goofy, sarcastic, wily, and endlessly entertaining. He led the tour in Willy Wonka fashion, madly gesturing towards various brewhouse elements with a long metal keg rod. His humor and vibrancy set this tour apart from the others. You can only see so many towering fermentors and bottling lines before they all start to look the same.

Chicken Dan and his pole

One anecdote that I fondly recall from Dan's tour is that Boulder Brewing Company started in a goat shed. For this reason, Boulder decorates its mug club mugs and pub walls with goats.

Our picnic at Boulder consisted of grilled burgers, brats, and hot dogs with a delicious potato salad and chips. I gave the vegetarian barley burger a shot, and it was delicious. The best beer I tasted on our trip (or one of them) was Boulder's dark mild English ale, named Business Time. This flavorful well-balanced session beer was fresh off a gold medal win at last week's Great American Beer Festival. The brew was so named because its low alcohol content makes it a manageable lunch hour beer, but when the marketing folks got a hold of it they turned the name into a Flight of the Conchords reference. Because James removed my garter to this song at our wedding, a marketing guy printed us two limited edition posters for the beer on excellent stock for no cost.

Sampling toasted malt gave us a great idea for a new cereal

The tour of Avery Brewing was fast and unremarkable, though our guide was personable enough. I think he knew we were already familiar with the brewing process and just wanted to get us to the good stuff: the beer. Avery is oddly located in an industrial park, so even though the pub itself is comfortable, it's tucked away in a place that I would probably avoid on weekends if I were a local. But again, the beer is what's important, and Avery does a fine job creating delicious small-batch treats. Some standouts included the casked sour ale (tapped by a tough dude with a sledgehammer!) and a passionfruit wheat beer unlike anything I've ever tasted. We spent some time playing with two retrievers hanging around the brewery and took home free branded glasses.

Tap that sour!

After two straight days of consuming nothing but beer, my new husband and I required a different kind of refreshment and some time away from the throng. For cocktails, the concierge recommended the Brown Palace, Colorado's oldest hotel, conveniently located a block away.

We were not prepared for the elegance and classic opulence of this hotel. Marble, onyx, carved wood, disarming high-ceilinged beauty. Our footsteps patted against the floor and their echoes hung importantly in the air. We were walking towards the Churchill Room, a cigar bar that James noted was probably once meant to be enjoyed by men only. For whatever reason, I found this to be dreadfully romantic. I ordered a Manhattan, which arrived in halves: one in a martini glass and the other in a shot glass placed in the center of a small, shallow bundt-shaped pan of ice. This perplexed me and I felt like a rube until our waitress assured us that this serving method was a Brown Palace exclusive.

James and I traded puffs of a mild cigar and he shared the muddled cherries from his old fashioned. Yes, we capped a day of drinking with more drinking. But being in a dark oaky room with James and looking into his eyes through the cigar smoke that rolled fluidly from his lips made me realize why we are doing this thing together and I felt overwhelmingly in love in that room.

Our beer tour friends let us snuggle in the throne at Avery

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