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.

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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.

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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.

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Candidate #8- The Beer Temple, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Make this pilgrimage for the best selection of American beers in the Netherlands (and Europe?).

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This is the little sister of Proeflokaal Arendsnest (a world-class bar that sells only Dutch beers) and offers 30 draughts, 60+ American beers in bottles and a raft of rare and classic beers from elsewhere: Westvleteren 12, Tokyo et al. Some are prohibitively expensive, but at least they exist.

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The Beer  Temple is prone to being ‘taken over’ or ‘invaded’ by a guest brewery, where they showcase a host of their beers. The Mikkeller glomming had a long legacy, and several could be bought on draft for some time (again, some obscenely expensive bottles). The house beer -Tempelbier, is eminently quaffable, and the Orval cheese is a brilliant bar snack.

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Being so close to Dam Square in the centre of Amsterdam, it’s easy to find and often easy to get a seat. Sneakily, it stays open very late and those tabs soon rack up.

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When it looks like that outside, it’s time to go to the pub.

Venue: 6/10

A large terrace on a busy street for people-watching, and a few really comfy seats inside. Looks every inch the American beer bar of its name.

Beer: 7/10

Due to the high hopping, a lot of the beers travel brilliantly. A deep trough of rare, great American beers.

Worthy? Yes

Might not be remarkable in the States, but it’s in Amsterdam and benefits from some classy European brews, particularly when breweries ‘take over’ The Beer Temple.

110. Sunset Grille & Tap, Boston, MA

For a liquid education, visit Boston’s best stocked beer bar; 112 fresh taps and three times as many bottles from microbreweries and afar.

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The menu is overwhelming, so just go from left to right and play ‘drink until you throw up’.*

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The staff are friendly and very efficient. Sure, they work for tips, but they are so much better than those ambling, feckless sponges of indifference who work for money.

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There is an affable, community vibe about the place. Nestled in the suburb of Allston, visiting tourists will need to make an effort to search it out, and can jump on the tram to Packards Corner. A lot of Boston exudes wealth and privilege. Allston is not that place: instead, expect a much more inclusive, eclectic and welcoming borough.

Venue: 7/10

Effortlessly American. Fantastic local vibe and friendly staff. I could spend a long time here.

Beer: 9/10

112 beers on draft. ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE.

Worthy? Yes.

A fine example of  a typical American hangout- but with a stunning collection of beer.

 

*Official rules can be found at the bottom of your glass, under the beer.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

95. The Publick House, Brookline, MA

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The Publick House, Boston; for beer scenesters.

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I had the misfortune of overhearing the barman and the manager casually chatting, throwing around contempt and condecension for people who don’t know all the beers and generally try to talk to them. There is a real snobby attitude of superiority emanating from this place; the irony being that most of their exclusive, rare Belgian beers actually taste different (awful) from their homeland, so all their token descriptions of coriander notes and caramel nose are… wrong.

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And the poor taste extends to the ‘Belgian’ decor. Look at the picture above: think anywhere in Belgium looks like this? A few poorly painted (athletic) monks on a grey wall does not add character.

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The photo above is a snapshot of their “Rules and Regulations” which takes up a non-trivial amount of space on the menu. It smacks of contempt for customers; an impression the staff did nothing to dispel.

Venue: 2/10

There is a Belgian theme running through the bar, but it’s a huge swing and a miss.

Beer: 3/10

Sure, Belgian beers are amongst the best, but not once they’ve sat on a boat for a few weeks and thousands of miles.

Worthy? No

Possibly the most pompous beer bar anywhere.

113. Redbones Restaurant, Somerville, MA

Redbones is deep in Somerville, Boston, to the north of Cambridge and you are unlikely to stumble upon it by chance. The pilgrimage is well worth the effort as they serve up 24 beers on tap to wash down the excellent home-cooked BBQ meats.

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Rustic and unkempt to the core, Redbones has a vibe unique amongst the emerging set of airbrushed bars. I hope that never changes.

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Redbones is situated in what seems to be a rather sterile and vanilla suburb, which makes the decor and the clientele surprising and refreshing. The patrons were genuinely friendly and the layout facilitates the gregarious and affable vibe. Nothing here is taken too seriously; it just ‘is’.

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Venue: 7/10

It is what it is. Unashamedly rustic and rugged; a lovely charm.

Beer: 7/10

24 taps, one cask and a wheel to help you choose from some top locals and fine imports, such as Karmeliet and Delirium.

Worthy? Yes

The BBQ food is brilliant, the regulars quirky and the staff are happy. Great vibe.

16. Falling Rock Tap House, Denver, CO

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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.

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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

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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.

108. McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel

The Kennedy School Hotel is a converted elementary school in Portland housing guest rooms, several bars and a movie theatre. The educational theme is quirkily retained; one can drink in the “Detention Room”.

Credit to: ww.darngooddigs.com

Credit to: ww.darngooddigs.com

It is owned by the McMenamins brewpub empire. If I’m going to a pub, I like one with the ‘brew’ prefix. I was naturally hesitant when I found out the size of the McMenamins micro-brewing; fearing for a loss of character and rustic charm. 4785179782_66f3580d6cThat may well be the case to some extent, but it takes the profits of a successful chain to bankroll the renovation of such a unique venue.

Kennedy School Hotel is reviewed quite favourably over on RateBeer; however, these reviews are bolstered by the impressive venue, not the beers. There are some eminently quaffable brews, such as the Hammerhead and the Ruby, but they don’t stand out in the craft brewing scene.

Venue: 9/10

Striking and tasteful. The mezzanine floor is really charming and, despite the size, cosy. A very tasteful and successful conversion.

Beer: 3/10

The brews are really rather good compared to the common swill, but this list deals with the worlds elite, and they struggle for a footing in such company.

Worthy? Yes

There will be few venues as good as the Kennedy School and that alone holds a strong argument for inclusion.