It doesn't matter how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose, and even that doesn't make that much difference. ~ Coach Finstock ~

Friday, March 11, 2011

Travel Guide: Freshcraft (Denver, CO) {B. Wiltin}

Here is the first of hopefully many travel guides I can bring to you, this one courtesy of Brian Wiltin (with an i n). So if you are out in Denver be sure to hit up Freshcraft.

Jason Forgy had a unique hobby and self described beer geek, who worked at the ground floor of several startups and wanted to take his passion of food and beer to another level. This is where his brother, Lucas Forgy comes in. Lucas worked in the kitchen since he was 15 years old and ended up in culinary school which moved him to Florida, Chicago, Milwaukee and then to Colorado. It was on a beach in Mexico that Jason pitched the idea of bringing together food and beer and the resulting project was what became Freshcraft that opened in Denver in August 2010.

On a cool March night in downtown, I and two friends decided to meet at happy hour to give our stamp of approval to Freshcraft. This is not like any other bar in Denver; they combine comfort food with over 120 microbrews to choose from. You get local Colorado brews competing against European micros, Belgians against Pilsners, Pilsners against IPAs. The 5-page list of beers was more than plenty to satisfy the wetting of the whistle. Combine that with unique comfort foods and you get one hell of night.

As I looked at the 120 beers to choose from, it was a little overwhelming. The menu had one page devoted to craft beers that were on tap, flip the page and this is where the golden tickets of options are. The bottle and cans are subdivided in to categories: Ambers/wheats/white, Pale Ales and IPAs, English Style Ales/Bitters/ESB, Brown Ales, Scotch/Scottish Ales, Saisons/Sours/Belgian Style Ales, Porters/Stouts, Everything else – barley wines, ancient ales, malt beers and gluten free, Seasonals and then the Ciders and Meads. Turn another page and then they had the large bottles ranging in size from 22oz to 750ml and ranging in price from $10 all the way to the Odell Mountain Standard 2010, Black IPA with 9.5% ABV from Colorado for $22.

What Freshcraft does to make the beer decision easier is to pair their beers with the food menu items. With so many choices, that was the route I chose to take to start Round 1. My friends and I decided to try their Southern Fried Pickles, which they dyed the pickles red and added serrano peppers for a very light kick, dusted them with corn meal and served them with a side of smoky Cajun aioli . The pairing recommended a sweet stout or American wheat. I went with the Left Hand Milk Stout -sweet stout, ABV= 5.3% from Colorado and my friend ordered the Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat – American wheat, ABV=4.4% from Missouri. The pickles were great, they had a light kick to them and were cut fairly thin. The aioli was very good and the stout that I ordered paired rather nicely with the pickles. I could have eaten the aioli with a spoon, but then again I love condiments to begin with.

One thing that I noticed, the stout was made with nitrogen vs. the standard CO2. Nitrogen is typically used in stouts and British Ales due to the smaller bubbles it produces, which makes it “creamier” and smoother and headier. If you want the scientific reason for nitrogenated beer, click here.

For Round 2, I still had no idea what to order.  I told Matt, the server to suggest something. He recommended the Boulevard Smokestack Series Tank 7 Farmhouse Ales from Kansas City, MO. It was a Belgian Style Ale with ABV=8.0%

It has fruity aroma and grapefruit hoppy notes and tapers off to a peppery, dry finish. That was from the website and I am not sure if I could tell all that, but I definitely could feel the fruity aroma and finish. It was a pretty good Belgian beer and I tend to stay away from Belgian beers…

Another beer that was ordered for Round 2 and was HIGHLY recommended by Matt, the waiter was Left Hand’s Fade to Black Whisky Barrel Aged Stout ABV=11%. It was definitely a unique beer and had a very good taste to it. It must be a special beer because it is not listed on the website and it is pretty hard to find online anywhere. It has a very slight whiskey type flavoring at the end which made you wanting more.

Round 3 for me consisted of Highway 78 Scotch Ale ABV=8.8%, which was another recommendation from Matt. This was a very good beer. It was a collaboration between Green Flash Brewing Company, Pizza Port of Carlsbad, CA and Stone Brewing Co., all based out of California.

On the back of the bottle it read, “What do you expect, a nuclear hopped bottle of insanity? How about malt driven, barley hopped ale with incredible depth with rich bold flavors?” Well, that was exactly what I was thinking, so I took a sip and it was a very good beer. It had a hint of being a little sweet (maybe some sort of choc flavor) and had a slight spice to it. It was very smooth and if you notice the picture there was really no head that formed in the glass. I would definitely order this one again. This is the one that I ate with my Reuben sandwich that Frashcraft put a little twist to. They had the typical Reuben sandwich corned beef with Bavarian sauerkraut that was sautéed with bacon and put caramelized apple Russian dressing with melted Swiss cheese on it. The options for sides were a salad, coleslaw, fries and something they call spudpuppies. Imagine a ball of mashed potatoes deep fried in hushpuppy batter. They were ridiculous and should have ordered a plateful. Maybe one more 8%+ ABV beer and I would have. The side pickle was even delicious. The pickle had a pungent vinegar taste to it sort of like those pickles you get at Jewish delis, but a little more potent. It was actually better than a normal pickled pickle. It was like putting vinegar on fish and chips, but on a cucumber and that was the vinegar taste of the pickle. It was really refreshing.

Overall, this place is worth checking out, the waiter was very knowledgeable with all the beers they had on tap and most that were in the bottle. His recommendations were spot on and the beers that I tasted, I liked them all. The only downside is not really a downside at all, they had tons of beers to choose from and it could get a little overwhelming if you have no clue what kind of beer you like. With the help of one of the employees it is a pretty painless process and the food is pretty legit. The overall cost for one medium entre and three beers was reasonable. I will definitely return soon.

Wiltin Rating: 5 out of 5 beers.

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