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Imaginative brewers are bubbling up all over the Springs

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Thanks in part to domestic monsters Coors and Anheuser-Busch, Colorado ranks No. 1 in the nation for beer production. Thanks to beer-connoisseur residents, it also does just fine in the microbrewery market: We're home to the second-most craft breweries in the nation, according to the Brewers Association, an authority on such things.

Colorado Springs is home to seven of those breweries, and with any luck, could add two more within the year. Below, you'll find a cursory breakdown. Here's to a beautiful place that appreciates beer. Cheers!

Arctic Craft Brewery

2506 E. Platte Place, 477-1340

myspace.com/beer_creator

Arctic Craft is the only brewery in town to can, rather than bottle. Owner John Dunfee likes to experiment with other things, too; early this year, he said he would soon unveil a beer without hops. (He'll substitute rhubarb and crab apples.) If that sounds less-than-refreshing to you, don't worry: Arctic still brews wheat, porter and stout beers that have us wishing the brewery was open more than three days a week. But, hey, the limited hours are just another reason to fill up a growler or to grab an eight-pack of On-On Ale to go.

Bristol Brewing Company

1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555

bristolbrewing.com

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Even after 15 years, we never tire of Bristol. Sure, pretzels are its main food offering, and finding a place to sit (or stand) during a brew release party is about as easy as getting Ted Haggard to admit he's gay. But dang it, we love the place.

For one thing, Bristol churns out not just beers, but talented brewmasters: Jason Yester was a Bristol brewer who started Trinity Brewing, and now assistant brewer John Schneider has started his own label, called Black Fox Brewing (which Bristol's helping to "incubate").

Still, the main attraction is the brew: the newly coined Compass IPA, the ongoing Skull and Bones series, the award-winning Laughing Lab, the potent, nitrous-pushed IPA ...

Judge Baldwin's Brewing Company

4 S. Cascade Ave., 473-5600

When Judge Baldwin's opened in 1991, it was the Springs' first microbrewery. Located inside the Antlers Hilton, it's now a low-key operation, brewing mainly for hotel and restaurant guests, says head brewer Mike Ford. He makes a few seasonal beers, including an Irish red for St. Patrick's Day and an Oktoberfest in the fall, but for the rest of the year he's content to brew old favorites like amber and pale ales.

Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.

2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800

phantomcanyon.com

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Because Phantom doubles (quadruples?) as a restaurant/billiard hall/banquet facility, it's tempting to classify it as something other than a brewery. That is, until you taste the beer. (The huge industrial brew tanks in plain sight are also helpful reminders.)

Classics like the Hefeweizen and Queen's Blonde Ale are always on tap, but Phantom regularly offers seasonal creations, like summer blueberry ale and an annual barleywine. To celebrate its 15th birthday, it introduced a light-bodied pale ale with a distinct hop flavor. Enjoy any of the beers over dinner, or head upstairs to the billiard hall for nightly drink specials.

Rock Bottom

3316 Cinema Point Drive, 550-3586

rockbottom.com

I usually root for the underdog. However, when there's frosty beer involved, I'll let my principles take a back seat. Rock Bottom may be corporate, but its Springs location does all its brewing on-site, every beer the product of local brewmaster Jason Leeman.

He picked up two awards at the Manitou Craft Lager Festival last summer, and each month unveils a new creation. Rock Bottom usually offers about 14 brews on tap, but don't expect to find Bud or Coors: "If we don't brew it," Leeman says, "we don't serve it."

Rocky Mountain Brewery

625 Paonia St., 528-1651

myspace.com/rockymountainbrewing

The guys at Rocky Mountain like to experiment with small batches of unusual flavors. For instance, at the time of publication there was a red chili beer on tap, a toasted coconut porter fermenting and a saison conditioning in some five-gallon kegs. Most such brews disappear soon after they're introduced, but no matter. When you visit this garage-like tasting room, head brewer Nick Hilborn promises you'll get beer with personality.

"We're not trying to dummy down our beers," Hilborn said in 2008. "We're not reducing the flavor so that more people will like them ... we're trying to impress the microbrew drinkers."

So far, they're doing a damn good job.

Trinity Brewing Company

1466 Garden of the Gods Road, 634-0029

trinitybrew.com

Much of Trinity's interior was constructed from recycled materials, including the psychedelic bar top, made from shards of beer bottle glass layered in resin. But its business model is anything but recycled: Trinity implements Slow Food (local, organic) principles in the kitchen and rewards human-powered arrival (biking, walking) with discounted beer.

About that beer: Trinity keeps it flowing from 30-plus taps, both imported craft brews and refreshing creations from head brewer and co-owner Jason Yester. Trinity only opened last August but this place is hoppin' most nights of the week, especially now that it's added live local music.

The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery

25 W. Cimarron St., 475-8880

thewarehouserestaurant.com

OK, the Warehouse doesn't technically have an operational brewery. In fact, owner and chef Chip Johnson recently filed paperwork to remove his name from the brewpub license, saying he's too busy with the restaurant and gallery portion of his business to concentrate on his basement full of brewing equipment.

But Johnson says he's "trying to find the right person who wants to rent a brewery."

Feeling thirsty? (You know, for success?) This could be your chance ...

amanda@csindy.com

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