As a fellow traveler once commented, "there's a Germantown everywhere."
German settlers, active for centuries in other countries, proved prolific and ambitious in early 1800s America, too. So in many big cities worldwide, it's still common today to run into quaint German villages, or at least enclaves of traditional bakeries and restaurants.
Still, it's not so common to find a true taste of Deutschland in a small, cowboy mountain town. But that's exactly what former Trinidad Brewing Company headmen Jeff Aragon and Brian Horton have brought to Woodland Park with BierWerks. Against a backdrop that approaches the Alps in scenic grandeur, you can find flavors that compare favorably to those at Munich's Hofbräuhaus.
To be clear, for a full German menu locally, you'd still want to head to Edelweiss Restaurant. BierWerks is unapologetically beer-centric, with food purveyed from outside playing a supporting role.
"We've been through the restaurant scene before," says Aragon dismissively. "Our focus is on doing really good beer."
And based on annual results from the Colorado State Fair, they've been doing just that. At the now-defunct Trinidad, they medaled every year they entered, from 2003 to 2008, and their BierWerks brews earned two golds (for the Helles and Dunkel) and two bronzes (the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale and WeissBier) this year.
Trinidad used to rotate German specialty beers, along with IPAs and Imperial reds and stouts, alongside a "big beer" mix. Now Aragon and Horton are squeezing the big beers in as specials and devoting their primary taps to a handful of traditional German lagers. (Beers are $4 for a pint or for a two-beer sampler.)
"We always liked the style," says Aragon, who adds that some breweries avoid them because they're "more technical to make and tricky to keep on tap." Lagers, he explains, take about two more weeks than ales to finalize, thanks in part to a longer brew cycle and the need to allow tank sediment to clear up, since the beers are unfiltered.
Also unlike many other brewers, Aragon says he and Horton do brew generally to GABF guidelines (as compared to their own tastes). We coincidentally sampled a Munich-style helles with GABF judges (see p. 17) just days before our BierWerks visit, and learned the parameters of the style; sure enough, BierWerks' easy-drinkin' helles (a Bavarian blonde) has a "bread-like" malt character, a "light straw" color and no fruitiness or butteriness.
As for the "chill haze," well — it was too dark in the dining room at night to properly see. (Unfortunately, it was light enough to read the clichéd, and perhaps inaccurate, Ben Franklin quote, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" painted atop one wall.)
'Make it a Mit Schuss'
The outfit is a converted, four-bay service station, split into equal brewing and drinking halves with a firepit-centric patio streetside. Two bay doors now shield brew equipment, the third slides halfway down to a walk-up, outdoor order station, and the last opens fully on warm nights as a giant entryway. (They're currently working on constructing a winter entry on the building's south side and heated outdoor enclosures.)
In the dining/drinking room, tables look over a half-wall bar into a tiny open kitchen, if it could be called that. Green Mountain Falls' Mucky Duck restaurant prepares all BierWerks' cold-cut platters, so there's no stove, hoods or anything but a reach-in cooler.
Our Bavarian ($9.50), served in style on a thin wooden cutting board, featured two rolled slices each of thick-cut ham and roast beef, thin strips of havarti and Swiss cheese, a small plastic cup of potato salad, a pickle, mustard, and a stack of sourdough rye bread. The form sets a casual tone, and the Mucky Duck's products are of fine quality. All the flavors, the rye and mustard in particular, pair splendidly with the beers.
I did have flashbacks of watching the Hofbräuhaus slowly grow blurry as I sipped BierWerks' Dunkel-Weisse Bier, a super-delicious dark Bavarian wheat concoction with sweet fruit tones atop the mildly bready body. Chewing on a perfect soft, salted pretzel from Wimberger's Old World Bakery and Delicatessen ($2.50) only intensified the nostalgia.
As BierWerks is admittedly behind on its brewing, we were only able to try one other house beer, the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. A big, higher-alcohol brew outside the German list, it's regarded for its nutty caramel malt flavor and mild sweetness. It also shows up next to water crackers in a cheese crock ($4 for 4 ounces, $7 for 8 ounces), blended with soft cheddar to a Cheez Whiz consistency — initially off-putting with its slight tang, but likely to grow on you.
We did also take the menu up on an offer to "make it a Mit Schuss" by adding a shot of raspberry syrup ($1) to the helles. Bryce, who despises fruit beers, despised even more the fact that he liked it — a lot, and rightfully so.
BierWerks on the whole is extremely likeable. Its service flaws — such as beers getting low before more are offered, and orders needing reiteration — are easily dismissed, because you're otherwise so pleased by the German drinking experience. I wouldn't leave the Rockies for the Alps, but it's sure as hell nice to visit.