June 22, 2012

Denver Chophouse

Think of your favorite steakhouse. Imagine that succulent filet mignon, air-whipped mashed potatoes…maybe a bleu cheese salad? It’s easy to take the stereotypical next step and add in a glass of red wine. It makes sense, in America the two are a standard pairing. Steakhouses across the country regularly top Wine Spectator’s “best of” lists and many employ an in-house sommelier.

So leave it to Denver, smack dab in the middle of the “Napa Valley of Beer”, to buck the trend and instead have the Chophouse, a beer-centric steakhouse that brews its own. This high-end “brew-steakhouse”, located just south of Coors Field, has been serving up steaks and house-brewed suds since 1995. Owned and operated by Craftworks, the company that owns Rock Bottom and Old Chicago, the Denver Chophouse’s success has led to additional locations in Cleveland, Boulder, and Washington DC.

Here is the thing about the Chophouse though, ask your average beer geek for a list of local breweries and chances are it won’t be on there. Most people think of it only as a restaurant and forget that it’s a brewery too. I admit I’m probably guilty of the same thing, not having stopped in for a few years. I recalled their beers being decent, but unexciting. I figure now was as good a time as any to drop in to see if they were truly forgettable, or just overlooked.

The restaurant and brewery are housed in the historic Union Pacific Building. Its vast size provides ample space for both a large numbers of dining patrons, as well as a decent sized brewing operation. The interior is dark with lots of mahogany and low lights; the feel of your stereotypical steakhouse. During the summer, their back patio opens up to overlook the pedestrian walkway to Coors Field.

Their beers are based on very classic styles which each large European brewing epicenter respresented: Germany, England, Ireland, and Belgium. Included are a Wheat, Pale, Stout, Red, and Pilsner, and they’re named as such. Also on tap are the somewhat obscure styles, Dortmunder, Dunkel (named Dark Munich Lager), and a bourbon barrel-aged, Oatmeal Stout (named Bourbon Stout).

A taster tray didn’t come cheap, ringing in at $15 (!) for 5-oz of each beer. Otherwise, beers are $5.25 a pint, except for the Bourbon Stout at $6. Prices are substantially more affordable during happy hour (4-7 P.M., Mon-Fri) when all beers are $3 a piece.

Now, it seems the brewing world has been inundated with these new, ultra-innovative beers intent on pushing creative boundaries. Beers like Belgian Double IPAs and Chardonnay barrel-aged Apricot Blondes. While I’m definitely not complaining, I’ve also found myself yearning for just a crisp, easy-drinking pilsner.  So when this selection of classic beer styles was laid out on the bar for me, I was excited.

However, as I worked my way through the samples, most left me a bit disappointed. The Pilsner had a syrupy, corn taste and none of the contrasting, elegant hops that complete this style. The wheat was filtered, so while there was some coriander spiciness, that full, chewy yeastiness was missing, leaving a bland impression. Even the bourbon barrel-aged Oatmeal Stout, by far the most creative beer on the menu, fell short; at only 6% ABV, it’s not strong enough to extract the oak flavors that make barrel aged beers so complex and delicious. In its place, was an overpowering strong bourbon presence over some sweet, roasted, chocolate flavors.  A shadow of what it could have been.

I’m not saying that the beers were bad per se, but they didn’t hit on what makes their brewing style special. They seem to have been crafted with the intention of being as inoffensive as possible, but were resultantly a muted version of what they could be. That being said, there were a few exceptions; the Pale Ale was quite drinkable, though was really more of an English Bitter, having some sweet caramel flavors and a complementary resiny, hop bitterness. The Dortmunder was also pleasant with its balanced grainy sweetness and floral hops. Overall, however, I found I left more beer at the bar than I drank.

Now, I’m well aware that the average customer at the Chophouse isn’t a beer connoisseur. The makeup of the clientele is probably a lot of tourists and people catching dinner before the ballgame. I’d guess the aim is to brew middle-of-the-road beers that are accessible to a very broad crowd. Although they probably accomplished that, their portfolio also isn’t going to inspire anyone to become a beer connoisseur either. While the Chophouse is a good downtown spot to grab a steak, when it comes to beer, I would turn to one of our other many great, nearby options.


The Chophouse

(303) 296-0800

1735 19th St, Denver, CO

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