08 April 2013

Spring Storms, SnoFros, and the Fabled Colorado Sun

As I rocket up the Northwest Parkway from Denver International Airport to Boulder, ashen clouds drift over the mountains and plant themselves above the highway, hovering so closely to the ground that they nearly cling to the pavement. The robo-voice in the airport shuttle bus boasted in a faux-John Wayne cadence that Colorado sees sunshine 300 days a year. And it's certainly dry here, drier than I remember Colorado being. But today is one of the other 65 days because rain has arrived. It pelts my scurrying armadillo of a rental car as I close in on my destination.

The Northwest Parkway eventually joins the Denver-Boulder Turnpike and enters Boulder, weaving by the burnt reds and browns of the University of Colorado campus. Nearby, strip malls and national chains confront me. I've seen that Barnes & Noble, that Einstein Bros., that Whole Foods Market, that Starbucks before. Were it not for the beauty of the foothills and the Flatirons rising over the college and city, I might despair at the dull sameness of the commerce.

My trek terminates in downtown Boulder. Unlike the outlying areas of the city, here independent shops and restaurants abound. To be sure, a Rise-of-the-Creative-Class ubiquity exists here, especially among the businesses that cluster along the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall. A café called Snooze in Boulder is Café Patachou in Indianapolis. Pizzeria Locale is Pizzology or Napolese. Trattoria on Pearl is Ambrosia or Mama Carolla's. Atlas Purveyors is Hubbard & Cravens or Foundry Provisions. Yet it's important to remember that Boulder was creative class before creative class was cool. Boulder is a pioneer, not a coattail rider like so many other cities that have rushed to join the new urbanism.

Boulder. Home to the Brewers Association. Birthplace of Chuck Pagano, beloved by Colts fans. Home of the aforementioned University of Colorado, place of higher learning and perennial favorite in the "best party school" category. A hippie haven. The dream of the '60s is alive in Boulder. Is Boulder the Bloomington of the Rockies, or is Bloomington the Boulder of the Hoosier State?

And then there are Boulder's breweries.

To my good fortune, the storied Colorado sun has revealed itself upon my arrival in town. So after I stash my bags at the nineteenth century-era behemoth serving as my hotel, I bolt for West Flanders Brewing Company, which is two blocks away on the Pearl Street Mall. This brewpub's Belgian-style beers quench one's thirst for Flemish ales. To cite but one example, a beer called Angry Monk brings to mind the Trappist beers that Belgium is known for, the blonde brew leaving lingering notes of bananas and pepper on the tongue. It's not quite Orval, but it's more than an acceptable substitute. Wasabi deviled eggs and a plate of poutine prove to be the perfect culinary companion.

Late afternoon turns into evening as I stroll up Pearl Street to the venerable Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery. The pub's vibe brings to mind the Broad Ripple Brewpub, but less English and more hippie. Perhaps Louisville's Cumberland Brews is a closer analogue. Walk in and there's no place to sit at the short bar because there are no barstools. Stand and consume your pint, take a booth beside a tie-dye tapestry, or head outside for alfresco imbibing. Alfresco it is. I cannot pass up the chance to drink Boulder's beers in the setting Colorado sun. Half-pints during happy hour, which is much longer than an hour in Boulder. Half-pint number one is Korova Cream Stout on nitro. Silky, sweet, and chocolaty, not brutal like the patrons of its milk bar namesake. Resinous Rye IPA is the second half-pint--creamy, unfiltered, and piney as expected.

The next day brings a long day of work and, at blessed happy hour, another opportunity for Boulder's highly-touted beers. No opportunity to go far afield because an early day beckons tomorrow, so a restaurant pint it will have to be. Leaf is the name of the establishment. Vegetarian fare is its forte. This is Boulder after all. A veggie reuben? Why yes, let's see if it can compete with the Chicago Diner's renowned Radical Reuben. What beverage to accompany it? A spring snowstorm approaches, so a winter beer seems appropriate. Twisted Pine's Pearl Street Porter. Baltic. Smoky. Malty. Sweet. If Lithuanian weather is coming, I might as well drink like the Lithuanians. And the reuben? Good, but Chicago Diner is still the champion.

The snow comes that evening. And comes. And comes. Twenty-five miles south in Denver, our nation's best eleven resume their quest for a berth in the 2014 World Cup. An early goal for Deuce. In the second half, the referee almost calls the game because of the blizzard. But the players implore him to continue, and the game goes on. After 90, the result stands. The USA wins and the SnoFro is born in a match that will long be remembered.

The snow continues the next day. Come midday it is done. Evening arrives and a choice must be made. Limited time, limited options. It's either one brewery or another. Avery Brewing Company or Boulder Beer Company. A or B. I've had both A and B, and my apologies B, but A wins because, well, I've had A's beers and they are phenomenal. If I leave without visiting A's premises, I will forever regret it. So it's off to Avery in the already-melting snow. Yes, the sun shines again.

Avery sits on Boulder's outskirts in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it spot. Welcome to Three Floyds' western twin, another brewery in an industrial park. The taproom is a welcoming space, staffed by amiable and attentive servers who know their craft beer shit inside and out. And the beers? A murderers' row of brews. Beers like Bolder Weisse, a Berliner weisse that needs no syrup because it's exceptional alone, a tad more sour than your typical Berliner weisse. Beers like Eremita V, a sour ale in the style of Flemish browns, a beer that almost puts BFM's Abbaye de St. Bon-Chien to shame, a beer produced from an exquisite blend aged in Cabernet, Zinfandel, and whiskey barrels. And the finale, Lilikoi Kopolo, a Belgian-style wheat infused with passion fruit and well-paired with a bowl of calamari.

The next day, more sunshine. The blizzard that produced the SnoFro has enveloped Indiana. It is time to return to Indianapolis to unfortunately experience the storm again. But at least I was lucky enough to bask in the fabled Colorado sun.

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