There's a reason we've waited more than a year and a half to review Woodland Park's third brewery, Ute Pass Brewing Co.: It's taken the seven-barrel outfit this long to begin releasing its own beers.
On a recent weekend, two UPBC brews (enabled by wort transfers from Red Leg and Pikes Peak brewing companies) headlined, and by early 2015 co-owner and brewer Todd DeRemus cautiously says he'll have between six and eight UPBC beers online with capacity to add up to 10 more.
Why the delay? He boils it down to a series of situations familiar to many startup breweries, including issues with proper licensure, construction and infrastructure (converting and customizing old dairy equipment, among them). Also, he and co-owner Scott Jones still work full-time day jobs.
"We figure it's better to go slow and grow into something versus jumping in head-first," he says, noting that the business could continue to exist as a taproom alone based on steady patronage thus far. In other words, it should only get better from here. And considering that the duo earned bronze medals for their Kick Back Irish Red and Live the Dream Pale at the recent All Colorado Beer Festival, they aren't off to a bad start before really getting started.
Both have taken courses from Colorado State University-Pueblo's Zymurgy Institute and attended a three-day Brewery Immersion Course in Ridgway at Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery, run by Il Vicino co-founder Tom Hennessy. Which explains why a sip of the 4.7-percent ABV Irish Red directly transported me back to my go-to shift beer when I worked at Il Vicino in college. Spot on.
A tube popping off a conditioning tank spilled 120 gallons of the latest pale ale batch and shortened the dry-hop cycle for the last 50 gallons that were saved. But even without full aroma and flavor, the beer (both $5 pint) shows plenty of promise and drinks easy at 55 IBUs and 6.1 ABV.
For those not into barley and hops, The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey varietals showcase Colorado at a cozy bar counter that greets guests upon entry. Up a few stairs, the main dining room further highlights beetle-kill pine elements that place drinkers squarely in a Colorado mountain town, where service is notably friendly and warm and one struggles to find pretension anywhere.
Similar humility comes on the serviceable food menu, where satisfying guest-goods like Wally's Tamales (gluten-free, $6.50/each) and Tamacos (flour-tortilla-wrapped tamales with added onions, green chile, guacamole, $8.75) stave off a quick buzz, as do the house sandwiches and staple bar-food items.
Ping-Pong-ball-sized spicy corn nuggets ($3.50) are purchased from a distributor and guilty-good, while the thick-smoked Gouda and heavy cream beer-cheese soup ($5.95) makes good use of the Irish Red and ample bacon garnish. A tangy Greek dressing dip combats the dryness of a thin veggie panini ($9.50), while a pair of sliders ($10.50) composed of a beef, buffalo and elk blend find flavor but would benefit from less char, the leaner meats toughening at high temp. Fluffy cod ($9.50) with a Montreal seasoning-laced house tartar smacks better than average, as do airy onion rings, non-mushy fries and crunchy house potato chips (all optional sides).
Nothing reinvents the wheel here, but there's always a time for a good pint and some pub grease. You've waited long enough.