In Denver over the weekend it became abundantly clear: Microbreweries have become like cornerstores in Colorado. The absurdity hit its peak when I discovered that the place that’s always been the Montessori school down the road from my childhood home in the nothing strip mall in Littleton is now, you guessed it, a brewpub.
I was about to go into “ridiculous mode” over brewpubs, the state where too many things in the world strike me as ridiculous. I was lining up my ammunition to talk about how the Colorado market is saturated, now boasting more than 250 breweries, and how they must be handing out brewery licenses to all incoming cars at the state borders. I was ready to build an argument about how when everyone and their brother-uncle’s dog opens a brewpub, quality and craftsmanship plummets at worst and is hit-or-miss at best.
And then I thought: What in the heaven am I thinking? Me? A guy who loves craft beer? When is competition and variety a bad thing, especially for consumers? My initial disembrace of the microbrew explosion seems silly now.
And what an explosion it is, not only in Colorado but across the country. According to the Brewers Association, at the end of 2015, there were 4,269 breweries in the United States, the most since the previous high of 4,131 … in 1873. (One interesting thing about that number: The U.S. population in 1873 was 42 million; in 2015 it was about 312 million, which means that even though we have more brewpubs now, they drank way more beer then. In 2015, the country’s craft brewers produced 24.5 million barrels of beer, one barrel for every 14 people. In 1873, it was 8.9 million barrels, one for every 4.7 people. If craft breweries seem like 7-11s now, imagine what it looked like then.)
One brewery in Littleton, St. Patrick’s, was the epitome of hit-or-miss with our party of three, an admittedly small sample size. I had Peach Fire Wheat, brewed with Palisade peaches and Hatch green chiles, reminiscent of Steamwork’s delightful Flaming Apes, and its balance of fruit and spice was quite exquisite. On the other hand, their dry-hopped Citra Porter was so sub-par that one dark beer enthusiast in our party asked for and received an unprecedented exchange four gulps in, the equivalent of emptying your 4 oz. taster onto the grass at a beer festival.
The other dark beer enthusiast in our party then took us to Living the Dream Brewing Co., also in Littleton, specifically for the Helluva Caucasian Stout, which is inspired by “a White Russian cocktail with espresso, chocolate, and peanut butter.” The Caucasian was a hit. Meanwhile, I played it safe with the Idaho to Amarillo Oat IPA, which was decent but nothing compared to what I believe is the only IPA in the world that gives Carver’s a run for its money, the Crank Yanker at Eddyline in Buena Vista, an IPA that, alone, beckoned Buena Vista stops both going and coming from Durango to Denver.
In Longmont at Oskar Blues, the Death by Coconut porter was to die for, even for my dark-beer-snubbing palate, and their Coffee IPA was the trip’s tastiest surprise, the best new beer I’ve tasted in years. Meanwhile at Left Hand, also in Longmont, our two dark beer lovers fawned over the Milk Stout Nitro while I nearly choked down the nitro version of their Warrior IPA. I suppose that’s what you get with so many choices of microbrews, something for everyone, something for every mood and whim.
So I say more craft beer and more craft breweries, not less. We have six in Durango, why not seven or nine or 12? Because who’s to say which has the overall best beer in town because they all do at least one thing very well, whether it’s a particular beer variety, the atmosphere, the staff, the menu.
Individual beers might be hit or miss, but here’s to more tasting. Let’s continue this microbrew explosion.