- Matthew Schniper
- Coffee-rubbed, hickory-smoked and whiskey- and chocolate-braised beef knuckle wins the day.
The local restaurant opening of the year has occurred, but that’s not evident based on the near-empty dining room I encounter on both my visits to Polaris Pointe’s Beasts and Brews. Colorado Springs, you are missing out.
Yes, the largest self-pour tap system to date in the U.S. (predominantly of leading Colorado craft beers, but also some wines, spirits and other imbibables) plants a certain flag — not so much shtick as a truly superior selection of suds with which to sample and create diverse food pairings. And a built-in butcher shop (à la Cowboy Star) shows panache. Decor and atmosphere are of course on point. But it’s the flavors coming out of Beasts and Brews’ locavore-minded kitchen that truly win us over — leave us stunned at turns, really — highlighting hyper-local ingredients treated with the utmost care. As a whole package, the place is beyond bully; it’s badass.
So there’s the old joke about giving someone a knuckle sandwich. Call it a culinary double entendre, but that’s exactly what Executive Chef Noah Siebenaller does with Domenik’s Knuckle Sandwich, a worth-every-penny $14 item constructed with beef knuckle (sirloin tip), which bestows a powerful, sensory smack to the palate. He starts with a house-blend dry rub of Hold Fast Coffee grounds, toasted cumin seeds and smoked paprika, then smokes the cut and a side of beef stock over hickory chips. Following that, he braises it in the stock, whiskey and high-end dark chocolate, then shaves it, and to-order sears it on a flat-top with some of the reserved braising liquid. On a Sourdough Boulangerie bolillo roll, the meat joins with pungent bleu cheese, acidic pickled peppers and onions, and the coup de grâce, blueberry horseradish cream.
Location Details Beasts and Brews
Huh? The touch came as inspiration from a joke made by Siebenaller’s girlfriend’s son Domenik, and somehow took root; he enjoys the color it imparts beyond the touch of sweetness. We’re wholly bowled over and devour the masterpiece with dips into a dark-beer-infused au jus. Call us punch-drunk, even though we’re only sipping on tasters of several IPAs: Denver’s 4 Noses’ smooth, semi-sweet, fruit-skin-forward Blueberry Velvet milkshake IPA (see what we did there?); Frisco’s lesser-seen-locally-if-not-exclusive Outer Range Brewing In the Steep Citra-hop New England IPA (their juicy flagship) and their Urban Cowboy double imperial IPA (thick with marijuana aromas).
We’ve also ordered the Brussels starter, served with tender bits of duck confit that have sweated oil all about, plus a slightly over-poached but still richly delicious egg and spicy agave sauce that’s more sweet than heat. To cut the fat, high acidity helps from Goat Patch’s dry-hopped limeade shandy (bright with lime peel essence and pleasantly under-sweet) and Denver’s Platt Park Brewing’s watermelon sour session beer — tart, with a pure melon nose and flavor.
Peaks N Pines’ Ohana Nut Stout on nitro ushers us into a liquid dessert course, with gorgeous macadamia essence and a sweet, creamy finish, even if it’s more amber- than stout-bodied.
Lastly, we find bliss by pouring a blend of (soon to expand to the Springs from Greeley) WeldWerks’ strong Starry Night milk stout (with full hazelnut and toasted coconut essences plus milk chocolate sweetness) and cold brew coffee from Hold Fast (hence the aforementioned grounds).
We’re less-than-quietly patting ourselves on the back for our clever pairings when owner/founder Tim Peterson appears, introducing himself and taking us up on a sip of our roasty, silky concoction, which apparently no staffer or customer had yet conceived. Quickly converted, he resolved to recommend it to others. I later call him and Siebenaller as well as shift supervisor and beer buyer Koryn Valentine to find out just how the hell all this magic came to be.
- Matthew Schniper
- Chimichurri tops the superb bone-in ribeye, set with potatoes and broccolini.
Valentine, for her part, says she holds level two cicerone training (beer’s equivalent to a wine sommelier), and hopes to become level-three-certified close to this time next year. Before she came along, front-house manager Kylee Gordon and her partner Ben DeTurk — who Gordon calls "the backbone to everything we have done" — worked closely with Karl Schwender, who designed the original tap lineup. Gordon and DeTurk took Schwender's list and blended it into their own, in April, leading up to the store opening.
The team curates all-Colorado products including some one-off rarities and exclusives through Beasts and Brews’ distributors. The beer menu — you procure a card upon arrival to scan at each tap, which displays cost and your tally — easily rivals those of chains like The Brass Tap and sophisticated locals like Brewer’s Republic, not just for quantity but smart curation of labels not so common around town. It’s a beer nerd’s mecca, building off what Trails End Taproom started locally with 40 self-serve taps, but more than doubling that to offer 100. Peterson says he believes a Portland-area spot plans to take the national lead with 101 soon, but he’s already prepared with a plan for some portable kegs for the patio to up his count to 110 when the time comes.
If that says anything about his personality, beyond displaying playful competitiveness, it shows pride in and ownership of his concept, into which he’s sunk more than $2 million. Peterson, who moved to the Springs in 2011, is a longtime contractor who has built restaurants elsewhere. For Beasts and Brews, he initially partnered and consulted with butcher Jason Nauert, who founded the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, which in part teaches butchery and field-dressing classes to the Army Special Forces. (Nauert stepped away to focus on that business.) Though Peterson gave Siebenaller “complete ownership” of the food menu, Beasts and Brews was otherwise his overall vision from the beginning: a self-pour taphouse meets eatery meets butcher shop. The latter component, he says, was inspired by a spot he remodeled for an artist friend in California many years ago: Hugo’s, a historic butcher shop turned restaurant in West Hollywood.
Wearing his contractor hat, Peterson’s also behind the design: reclaimed barnwood and corrugated metal on the walls and cool, custom rebar-framed chairs and bar stools imported from Virginia. He procured cute animal murals by local painter Jon Francis. And in order to combat the typical noise bounced off concrete floors, he spent “a boat load for sound-proofing so people can talk ... really that’s the core of my design ... I wanted a bar and restaurant where you can hear yourself think.” To that end, there is a complete absence of TVs other than the small digital touch screens that you can tap to read beer descriptions. He hopes families will come in for dinner and conversation around the table; he’s even consciously set the music volume so tunes are present, but not disruptive. (Though the taphouse does comically oversell that effect in a website bio: “The music is just loud enough to send a subliminal upbeat vibe and energy that enhances your mood to be creative and want to try new tastes.” ... Yeah, um, not since the breakout YouTube hit “Hot Cheetos & Takis” has a song tantalized so many people to scarf down.)
Chef Siebenaller took Peterson’s cue and says he built the menu to focus on “comfort and family-style.” So before you get sticker shock with entrées that climb in price from a $22 half chicken and $25 16-ounce pork chop to $38 whole Colorado trout and $62 32-ounce N.Y. Strip, consider these are intended to be shared, with side plates meant to round out the meal (not unlike dining at The Famous). “We want people to come together and create memories around meals,” he says.
Elsewhere I’d likely dismiss that as corporate rhetoric and marketing fluff, but after trying his food, I confess he makes a lasting impression, as I’ve thought about that knuckle sandwich every day since I ate it. My fellow food writers at the Indy have been equally impressed — our text exchanges including phrases like “blown away” “hugely impressed” and the more academic “Dopesauce McGee!”
Bear in mind also that the prices reflect the purchase of more than 90 percent Colorado ingredients, “as much as possible,” according to Siebenaller — down to Lamar-made sunflower oil from Colorado Mills, locally grown herbs, grass-fed and -finished beef from several spots, and eggs from Black Forest.
Meals here are by nature more interactive because of the self-serve aspect; you order food at the same greeting counter next to butcher cases in the entryway, and return to grab it when the restaurant sends you a text. You’ll also fish chilled glassware out of a reach-in cooler to build sample paddles or pour full pints between dining courses, and likely share sips with your pals if you dine and drink like we do.
Prior to this, Siebenaller spent around a year as chef at Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. after eight total years with other ventures, including catering gigs here (Buffalo Gals and Picnic Basket) and in Denver, and a steakhouse in Wyoming, plus some private chef work. He graduated from the culinary program at Denver’s Art Institute of Colorado. And from Phantom, he brought along Keith “Gonzo” Gonzalez, now the house butcher who breaks down all the cuts and makes fine house sausages (which rival, say, Denver’s Euclid Hall both in quality and price).
We nab a sausage trio plate, featuring a piquant elk-cheddar-jalapeño; stellar coffee-pork; and rich, only faintly gamey barbecue lamb. Adding color to the affair, a blushing-pink carrot and cabbage kraut gifts vinegar tang alongside sweet onions and peppers. Like much of Beasts and Brews’ food, the sausages show no hesitation for salting, which seems to help boost flavors all around. The plate also comes with a smashed potatoes side, sensational in and of itself, as fingerling heirloom potatoes cooked with duck fat and finished in a rosemary-strong herb mix and a bounty of biting garlic — like, so much garlic I want to high-five the kitchen crew.
Before my final visit, I ask both Peterson and Siebenaller by phone for their recommendations for anything must-have, since we’re on a limited budget and everything looks appealing. They suggest a bone-in ribeye steak, and the $38, 16-ounce portion comes with the same epic smashed potatoes and also charred, still-snappy and -fibrous broccolini roasted in house Caesar dressing and garnished with shavings of Fruition Farms’ Cacio Pecora (a nutty, raw sheep’s milk cheese). Why steak, when you can get one just about anywhere?
Short answer: Not everywhere gives theirs a sous-vide bath first, finishing them in cast iron inside a wood-fired oven, seasoning simply with salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme in a little butter. From a list of $1 to $2 toppings available to complement the entrées, I take Siebenaller’s suggestion for chimichurri, which adds more herbal accent from the parsley and cilantro plus a garlicky kick. As steaks go, it’s indeed a remarkable beauty, well-marbled for flavor throughout. But a particular treat’s a giant pocket of fat clinging to a bone that’s presented away from the rest of the portion, seemingly because the large cut would have overhung the woodblock upon which it’s served. The fat melts in my mouth almost before I can chew it. For a moment, I almost think I’m eating bone marrow. I’m that blissed out.
What beer to pair? Many would say a Saison, but most agree on a lighter, sometimes crisp beer. I try Denver’s Diebolt Brewing Mariposa Pale Ale, described as piney with a tangy bitterness — it’s good on its own but too much here. So I return to two beers I enjoyed earlier to match my appetizer: Denver’s Tivoli Bohemian Girl pilsner, crisp with a spicy, grassy hint, and Denver Beer Co.’s Pretzel Assassin amber lager, with appropriately bready notes and a semi-sweet malt body.
I’d ordered that beer in part to amuse myself since Siebenaller’s other recommendation was his loaded pretzels starter. They begin as the same dense, doughy Mark Anthony pretzels he says he purchased for Phantom Canyon, but here, he smothers them in beer cheese and tops them with tiny bacon pieces and sweet peppadews, shaving more of that Cacio Pecora cheese atop and presenting them with a ramekin of aioli made with Merfs Condiments’ Hand Grenade Sriracha. Yeah, what’s not to like between the marriage of sweet heat and cheesy richness punctuated by pork and peppers? (Nothing, he said to himself, downing the rest of his beer sampler.)
Which left only dessert, this time a scoop of the insanely good, housemade Breckenridge Bourbon brown sugar ice cream. Holy wow! This one’s not for the kiddos, big and boozy. I can’t resist scooping some into different dark beers to find the perfect beer float. Great Divide Velvet Yeti nitro stout? Nope, too much roasted flavor. It overwhelms. Red Leg’s Devil Dog Stout? Better, but not quite money. What about that WeldWerks’ Starry Night milk stout? Yep — the hazelnut-coconut elements pick up the bourbon’s vanilla and oak suggestions and it all folds together into a divine, velvety treat. WeldWerks scores for the win once again.
And Beasts and Brews for the assist, for creating this fun platform to pair and play and geek out on subtle qualities that separate average food and drink from the extraordinary. There’s so much more I want to return to try, and by then, several dozen new beers will likely be rotating through. And hopefully a lot more people, too. This one’s too good to lose, Colorado Springs.