August 1, 2012

Hogshead Brewery

I’ve never much liked the metric system. While maybe more logical than the Imperial system, units like slugs and furlongs are so much more fun than boring ol’ grams and meters. I think Bart’s grandpa, Abe Simpson said it best, “The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it!” So hearing that a new Highland’s brewery would be named Hogshead, the Imperial unit for a 250 liter wooden cask, I was quite pleased. Call me crazy, but 250 Liter Brewery doesn’t have quite the same appeal.

With so many new breweries popping up every month it’s a good idea to have your niche and Hogshead surely does, by promising to regularly offer up cask-conditioned “real” ales. Readers may remember real ales from May’s article on Great Divide. Real ales, as the Brits have somewhat confusingly coined them, are unfiltered, unpasteurized beers that contain active yeast. This yeast allows them to naturally carbonate resulting in a brew with a gentler carbonation and a more integrated, brighter malt and hop presence. Real ales are traditionally served via a hand-pulled “beer engine” (versus a standard CO2 system), and Hogshead is no exception.

Located just a few blocks north of Sloan’s Lake, construction on the 50s era gas station was surprisingly quick and they began slinging back suds in June.  They’re still in the process of getting all their fermenters on line and have consequently struggled to keep up with high demand. Until they catch up, they are operating in a “soft start” mode and only open Thursday – Sunday.

When things settles down, their plan is to keep five beers on tap, two of which will be cask-conditioned, hand-drawn versions. In the few visits I’ve been able to make, there have only been two beers on tap at any given time, one of which being a real, or “cask”, ale. The current tap list includes Chin Wag (ESB), Gilpin Black Gold (stout), and Lake Lightening (pale ale). The other choices will be a rotating selection of seasonal/specialty brews.

Right now, seating is limited to an 8-seat bar, picnic tables, and high tops. The atmosphere is bright and airy with high ceilings and large glass windows that allow sunlight to pour in. It’s not a large room by any means, but there’s always been a place for us to take a seat. Their planned patio has run into zoning issues, so when you stop by the brewery, chat them up and if interested, sign their petition.

But what about the beers? Head brewer, Stephan Kirby, started brewing in England when he was a teenager and has mastered the UK’s unique styles.  The overwhelming theme here is drinkability and they do it very well. The beers are well-balanced, flavorful, and with a “sessionable” ABV (typically under 5%), your glass is empty all too quickly. This approach is keeping with the general way of British-style beers, which are often designed to enable pub patrons to enjoy a few throughout the night and still hold a conversation (or “chin wag” as they call it).

Beers are available in a variety of sizes, which is a welcome change from your average brewery. Prices range from $3/10oz, $5/16oz, and $6/20oz. Any beer on cask costs $1 extra. Food is limited to $3 pretzels from Baker Street Pretzels. On one visit, DipStik, a fondue food truck, served up tasty dipping snacks in the parking lot.

Thus far, the relatively small tap selection has made my beer choice painless. Chin Wag’s spot-on balance of nutty caramel and pears, along with an earthy hop bite, is an easy favorite. However, I’d recommend whichever beer is on cask to experience it in its truest, natural state. If you’re there with a friend, order a “real” and CO2 version of the same beer. Tasting the two side-by-side truly showcases what cask beers are all about.

I have to say, Hogshead is a great addition to the burgeoning Denver beer scene and the fact that it’s in my own backyard makes it all the better. Having authentic English cask ales in the hood is a real treat. Swing on in and check it out; you won’t leave disappointed.

I’ll close this month with a reminder that tickets to the Great American Beer Festival go on sale August 2nd. It sells out quicker and quicker each year – last year in barely over a week. As you probably know, this is one of the premier craft beer events in the world and not to be missed. It’s like having the Olympics in your hometown every year. Hope to see you all there. Prost!

 

Hogshead Brewery

4460 W. 29th Ave

(303) 495-3105

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