My Golden Colorado Weekend

For Labor Day Weekend, I flew out to Denver for the first time in nine years (still can’t believe it’s been that long) to see Roger – my best friend from high school and early college years – get married. He is a fellow beer lover and he and his friends do some serious brewing. Not long ago around the time of the wildfires that struck Colorado Springs, he lost a 25 gallon batch that he was working on. His friend Tim (who served as Best Man at the wedding) works at one of the local brew shops and they lost a 50 gallon batch. Heartbreaking indeed. I felt terrible when I heard the news. All I’m doing is little 5 gallon batches and anything that goes awry or out of order with anything I do is a serious problem. And I mean that wholeheartedly. I really felt bad when I heard that news. I mean, my troubles seemingly pale in comparison. Anyway, enough empathy and back to the gist of my story.

I took my lady Sonia with me because I wanted her to meet Roger and family as well as experience Colorado. We landed in Denver, picked up a rental car and headed to Golden, about 15-20 minutes outside of the city. Before I go any further, I have to address something I heard on the tram as we headed from the terminal to the rental car place. Over the PA came one of those PSAs that plugs the local area for all would-be tourists. What I heard was “Did you know? Colorado has over 180 different breweries.” Stop the presses! You had me at 180. Sonia’s eyes rolled and she said under her breath “oh god” knowing full well the chaos that I was about to venture into. Looking at me she could see my eyes light up like a kid in a candy store. If the state has that many breweries, by God I’m gonna try and hit every one of them. Yeah, good luck. We checked into the Table Mountain Inn, a great hotel with a rustic side to it, located on Washington Avenue just down the street from the world-famous “Welcome to Golden” arch that stands over the street in the middle of town. As soon as we got checked in, I made my way to the curb and started walking around town.

Ace-Hi Tavern

Just down the street from the hotel (and not far from that arched sign) was the Ace-Hi Tavern, I walked in and sat down at the bar. Roger had mentioned this place before, told me it was a good spot to hit. He was right. The bartender greeted me and I ordered a beer from her. She seemed quite personable, as most of the places I’ve been to in recent past they just take your order and then your money before you get your drink. There were a couple old school bikers seated down the bar from me, and after a few glances we spoke. The vibe I immediately got from the place was that of a classic dive bar, right in the middle of a nice little town that brings in plenty of guests. Ace-Hi had just celebrated its 50th anniversary back in Sept of 2010. With that kind of longevity you have to imagine they have a successful business model. And with operating hours from 7am-2am, it’s also hard not imagine a steady stream of business all day long. Many a beer drinker scoff at the rule of waiting until noon to imbibe (it’s always 12:00 somewhere). And it doesn’t hurt having the Coors Brewery being practically right across the street. It’s not hard to imagine plenty of people stopping in before or after a brewery tour there.

Colorado Native Lager

On that note, I got to sample one of their beers. I was a little apprehensive, because I know what Coors beer tastes like, but this was a special limited release. This beer is brewed and only available in Colorado, and was appropriately called “Colorado Native Lager.” It was an amber/red lager and was 5.5% ABV. Official disclaimer – This isn’t officially a Coors beer, it is brewed by the AC Golden Brewery, but it is a subsidiary of Coors. Minor technicality I suppose. The beer was actually quite nice, I grabbed a pint right off the tap and got a clear amber/light brown lager that didn’t pour much head, but retained a nice white ring throughout consumption. The aroma was a bit grassy and slightly hoppy, but the flavor that came was rooted in caramel. Toasted malt grains began the flavor profile, but soon after a slight hop presence began to linger in the back of my mouth. This is pretty good. And at 5.5% it is fairly strong but not overly boozy. I only had a couple of these while waiting for my lady to catch up. We were about to tour around. I made myself a promise to revisit the Ace-Hi later in my stay. For a quick lunch, we stopped into the Table Mountain Grill & Cantina, the restaurant/bar connected to the hotel. I got my hands on a pint of Mojo Nitro IPA from Boulder Beer Co. (review coming soon) and we split a massive grilled chicken taco salad.

The rehearsal dinner was prefaced by a gathering at Roger’s parent’s house, a beautiful home in the giant hills of Evergreen. There, we enjoyed a plethora of hors d’oeuvres and a few coolers loaded with beers that Roger and Tim have brewed. Looking into each cooler, I noticed bottle caps that were labeled with the brew’s initials in permanent marker. Editor’s Note – Irv and I do the same thing when we brew. Well, I guess great brewing minds think alike. My first jaunt was a Strawberry Blonde. The color was a golden amber and the aroma was malty sweet and hinted at some faint strawberry. This beer was so well-concocted and easy going down that it could have been brewed by one of the breweries in the area. The flavor was smooth and delicious, it was light and crisp, but offered some sweetness and a nice lingering strawberry undertone. Even the ladies were rushing like mad to get this one, even those that were drinking wine. Next up was the Imperial Pilsner, a high gravity brew that was more amber and brown than golden. It was delicious though. I kept wanting to go back and try the Chocolate Stout, but every time I was distracted by another variety looking up at me. “Soon enough,” I told myself. After finishing my IP (as the bottle cap displayed) it was time for the Oktoberfest. The time is just about right for it. This was a good dark amber color and the taste was rife with caramel goodness. Very indicative of a good Oktoberfest beer.

After another round of beer and finger food on the edge of the patio overlooking a beautifully scenic mountainous backdrop, I went back to the cooler for the vaunted chocolate stout that everyone was thus far raving about. And just my luck, I kept putting it off and was left out in the cold when I discovered there were no more to be found. Curses! So due to my procrastination, I had no choice but to go back to the other varieties I had already enjoyed. After the rehearsal dinner moved to the Creekside Cellars Winery, also in Golden, the group enjoyed a delightful dinner and selection of wine. After that had finished, we all returned to the Table Mountain Inn where we were staying. Roger said we needed to have a nightcap so I ventured to his room and we caught up on old times and talked over beers. It was there that I was finally able to get my hands on that elusive chocolate stout. The wait was worth it. Delicious!

Alaskan Amber –  Alaskan Brewing Co

The wedding went off in fine fashion at the Mount Vernon Event Center, hosting a beautiful lawn area adorned with chairs and another mountainous backdrop. This place is spectacular. During the reception, we had a nice selection of beer and wine. I went for the Alaskan Amber first. This is an altbier from the Alaska Brewing Co. that checks in at 5.3% and has a strong malty body with a very subtle hop finish. Bread, caramel and toffee were the primary forces on this one. Crisp at the end, but the relative hop presence just wasn’t there. Tasty though. Also on tap was Blue Moon and Coors Light. After the reception ended and the crowds had cleared out, another nightcap was proposed. You only live once right? We returned to the Table Mountain for a short stay before they closed. I was finally able to try Batch 19 by Coors – a beer rumored to be so limited that you can only get it in the area. This was an impressive brew for this particular label. I wasn’t expecting something like this. Batch 19 is a pre-Prohibition style American lager that has a bold taste, especially when compared to their other offerings. Grains and malty sweetness drive this one, but the hops don’t sit quietly in the backseat like obedient children. The rare combination of Hersbrucker and Strisslespalt hops give this a much different palate than anything I would expect from Coors. It is light on the tongue and offers a tingly carbonation on top of a medium mouthfeel.

When the place closed early, we decided to finish the nightcap back at the Ace-Hi. All it took was a can or two of Oscar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale and my turn to get on the pool table before we wound up closing the place. The night was over, as was my vacation. the following morning, we it the airport and flew back to Jersey. I had a blast and made a promise to myself and Sonia that we wouldn’t wait another 9 years before going back out there. I have yet to even scratch the surface when it comes to all those breweries. Soon enough, right?