Mapped: The Best Beer Bars in the USA.

USA

According to some people, these are the best beer bars in the contiguous USA. Granted, I took this list from a 2010 publication of Beer Magazine (I think), so it may be a bit dated, but you can’t manufacture historical whimsy, so at least some of these must still be right. I have only visited those with a blue label, so there’s much to look forward too.

Advertisements

Candidate #10- Strange Brewing Company, Denver, CO.

Watermelon, goodness.

Watermelon, goodness.

Thanks for not reading the Rocky Mountain News. Thank you Rocky Mountain residents, for chilling out and not generating much news. When the paper closed, two former employees took a punt on a 20-gallon home-brew kit and a beery dream. Strange was born.

IMG_0591

There are eleven beers detailed on their website, but no mention of the watermelon bomb I tried in July 2013. They also say they close at 9 though, so I don’t know what to believe. The Strange Pale Ale was also good, and I’d already had a Pliny the Elder that night to which it was inevitably compared.

IMG_0602

The Strange Brewing Company is really well hidden in an unremarkable industrial area of Denver. All chipboard and business inside, the decor is a stark contrast to the effort made by bars this side of the pond to create an homely, affable vibe. But, despite their decorators best efforts, or in spite of them, they have created a brilliant atmosphere. I loved it. I was also on my nth ±6 beer when arriving, so make of that what you may.

That really is where it is.

That really is where it is.

There was some kind of bluegrass yokel band swinging on a trailer in the garden which, given the location, was disturbing no one.

Venue: 7/10

The bar really is the brewery- the garden is reached by walking through a room full of brewing vats.

Beer: 8/10

The (temporary?) watermelon beer is perhaps the best fruit beer ever.

Worthy? Maybe

Huge novelty value, instantly welcoming community feel and an all-round positive of the new micro-brewing explosion.

59. Blue Moon Brewing at the SandLot, Coors Field, Denver, CO

The Sandlot is a plastic bastardisation of the American craft-brewery tradition, just like its beer. A craft beer is the product of enthusiasm, passion, tradition and knowledge of independent brewmasters. Blue Moon is the commercial exploitation of this market by the bland giants Molson Coors and SABMiller, whose combined revenue of $25 billion helps them to crush small, brilliant enterprises by sealing huge deals with large retail units that guarantee shelf-exclusivity, therefore ensuring obligatory purchases by commercially isolated suburbs and communities throughout the USA and is definitely not made with Rocky Mountain glacial water.

blue_moon_sandlot2_612x612

Classy, individualistic, homely, cosy, pioneering: adjectives no one will use to describe the Sandlot.

Venue: 0/10

Who knows? It’s only open on match days, so probably full of baseball enthusiasts.

Beer: 0/10

It’s Blue Moon. That is all.

Worthy? Noooo.

Unfathomable inclusion. Poor beer produced at the expense of good beer.

38. The Wynkoop Brewery, Denver, CO

IMG_0560

The Wynkoop Brewery opened for business in 1988 and became Denver’s first brewpub and craft-brewery. They are pioneers in this brewpub-crazy state (Colorado ranks 4th in craft breweries per capita) and have been getting a lot right since their inception, such as their commitment to the environment and localism.

IMG_0565

Somehow they procured the  J. S. Brown Mercantile Building, built in 1899, and originally home to a mercantile emporium during Denver’s pioneering early days. This building is really quite magnificent and retains a lot of the built-to-last original features such as thick timber pillars and  pressed-tin ceilings. Unfortunately, this expansive former warehouse is a difficult space to renovate as a brewpub and the promise of the exterior is not fulfilled inside.

IMG_0567

The Wynkoop Brewing Company raises the question of “At what size does a ‘craft’ brewery lose its name”? Whilst Wynkoop is far from the Blue Moon and Sierra Nevada scale, their website bangs on about their corporate offerings and their new beer-canning operations. I don’t think they can be thought of as a micro-brewery anymore. Will the quality suffer as their business grows?

IMG_0569

Rocky Mountain oysters are bulls testicles. Just so you know.

Venue: 5/10

The old mercantile building is maintained beautifully and separated cleverly to preserve atmosphere and an affable vibe. The inside is not nearly as remarkable as the exterior though.

Beer: 4/10

A large range for a micro-brewery, which I’m sure I would appreciate if I was local. As a passing guest, I felt that maintaining this breadth was at the expense of individual quality. I was not blown away by their award-winning dark larger (try Flek Thirteen for an excellent example), but they redeemed themselves with the milk stout. The IPA is OK.

Worthy? Just about.

They haven’t got everything right, but they do have that most elusive of qualities: an affable, charming vibe. The staff interact as though they are family.

16. Falling Rock Tap House, Denver, CO

IMG_0582

If I was being nice, I’d describe the exterior as ‘unassuming’; but really it is ugly and deceptive. Falling Rock is located in downtown Denver amidst myriad game-day bars and brash night-spots, and blends in unassumingly. What lies beneath however is a bounty of local and specialist American beers.

IMG_0579

Pliny the Elder on tap! In 2013 it was rated the 2nd overall beer on beeradvoctae.com, 3rd on ratebeer.com*. Disappointing glassware.

The large main room is plastered in beer bottles, taps, signs and various other memorabilia. This makes the big space feel much closer and settling, whilst still being able to accommodate large numbers. There are some choice European imports, but the vibe is quintessential American tap house; pool downstairs, neon outside, nuts, burgers and fries on the menu. Clearly a lot of thought and patience was involved in designing the layout, furnishings and beer list, which is effected with the typical Coloradan breezy complacence, making it seem effortless: “Oh, this? It’s just my awesome bar with 80+ beers on tap. Nothing really”.

Venue: 8/10

The interior is resplendent with bottles and taps, which help to fill the space necessary for all the local enthusiasts.

Beer: 9/10

The range at Falling Rock is more than anyone could expect; Pliny the Elder is a real treat to find anywhere. They do not limit themselves entirely to Usonian brews, and have some tastefully chosen European imports. One could argue that they only have the big names imported, but I can say with some authority that these names are big through quality, not rabid commercialisation; they stock Orval, Rochefort and Sam Smith’s, not Heineken, Palm and John Smiths.

Worthy? Yes

Do you know a tap house with a better Usonian range?

*As much as I love user-submitted review websites, and as clever as the rating algorithms become, there will always be inherent bias. This is frustratingly evident on RateBeer where they break down the best beers by category: there is a cider category, which contains NO ciders from England, the birthplace and undisputed king of the genre. In fact, 7 of the 15 ‘ciders’ are from Quebec. Being a .com, we can probably assume that most of the reviewers are Usonian, and have little real knowledge of brews outside of their country, apart from imports whose flavour has corrupted during long voyages. If Quebec is the home of cider brewing, clearly the name has a different stylistic meaning than in its birthplace. Like

IMG_0586

wise, 8 of the top 10 overall beers are Usonian. Sure, the population is roughly equal to Europe, so we can expect a strong competition. But finding 80% of the worlds best beers in the States is to bat far above its weight, especially when some of these styles are copies or European originals.