January 17, 2014

Happy Leaf: A Different Kind of Brewery

Mention the word “brewery” and almost everyone, especially us Denverites, think of a big copper kettle, a bearded brewer, and sacks of hops and malts waiting to be turned into beer. However, when talking about Denver’s newest brewery, Happy Leaf, you’d be dead wrong. Instead of beer, the folks at Happy Leaf are brewing a fermented tea known as kombucha.

For those unfamiliar, kombucha is a lightly effervescent, sweet, yet tangy tea which is often served chilled. It is made by taking a sweetened tea (any tea works), adding a specialized mixture of bacteria and yeast, and allowing it ferment. It’s really not a whole lot different than beer, except that instead of the sugars coming from malted barley, they come from a source such as cane sugar or fruit juice. As it undergoes fermentation, alcohol is produced (again, just like beer). However, a unique bacteria then transforms the majority of the alcohol into acetic acid, the same tangy compound found in vinegar (not like beer).

Along with the acetic acid, a smidge of alcohol (typically below 0.5% ABV), and tea created during the fermentation process, all sorts of other enzymes, amino acids, phenols, and other organic acids are produced. Many believe that these compounds provide a variety of health benefits, ranging from hangover prevention to helping to cure cancer. Thus far, there has been no scientific research to substantiate such claims, but people the world over have experienced enough benefits for themselves to become believers.

In fact, this is how the owners of Happy Leaf, Jenny Lyons and Mike Burns, first got their start making kombucha. After Lyons was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, she decided to eschew chemo and pursue a homeopathic path instead; one that included drinking a significant amount of kombucha. Five years later, her cancer is in full remission; a fact that’s baffled her doctors and something she credits fully to this “magical” fermented tea.

After years of home brewing the tea, the couple decided to take their hobby to the next level and began selling it at farmer’s markets across the Front Range. Often made with fresh, local fruits and unusual flavors, the kombucha was instantly popular during the hot summer months.

This success enabled them to begin looking at expanding their operation to a permanent facility. So when a spot opened up in the red hot RiNo neighborhood, they jumped at the chance. Located on Brighton Boulevard, just a few short blocks from the trendy Source Marketplace, the locale should make for an easy stopover for those doing their gourmet shopping in the neighborhood.

Happy Leaf is highly industrial, with stark walls and high exposed ceilings. A comfortable bar of beetle kill pine (made by the couple) adds warmth and a smattering of pieces from local artists makes for enjoyable viewing.

While you can enjoy their kombucha on site, feel free to order a bottle to go. Lyons and Burns plan to offer five teas at any time, though high demand already has some selling out early. Their “regulars” are Pura Vida (coconut, ginger, lime) and Longevity (lemon, hibiscus, ginger), but look for a variety of unique, seasonal offerings to be on tap as well. Thus far, flavors like strawberry-basil and even a Simcoe dry-hopped version have been available.

Whether it’s for health-related interest, or just culinary curiosity, kombucha is well worth a try. Not only are they serving up a quality product at Happy Leaf, but their use of local ingredients helps you to feel good about spending your hard-earned cash. Next time you find yourself in the RiNo neighborhood be sure to stop in and try out this funky tea.

Kombucha Brewery Happy Leaf's Owners

Mike Burns and Jenny Lyons Happy Leaf’s Owners

Happy Leaf Kombucha

Happy Leaf Kombucha

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April 4, 2012

River North Brewery

Signs of spring seem to be popping up everywhere. From the crocus blooming, new ant piles dotting the sidewalk, and the first shoots of our hop plants appearing, Mother Nature seems to have awakened from her slumber and is busy at work. Things in the local brewing scene are no different. A plethora of nearby breweries are set to open in the upcoming months (Prost, Hogshead, and Black Shirt), and leading the way is River North Brewery, which just opened their downtown doors. It is indeed a great time to be a beer lover in North Denver.

So lest I get distracted with this impending excitement, I wanted to be sure to give River North my full attention. Located on Blake Street about three blocks north from Coors Field, the brewery is in the same building that once housed part of Flying Dog brewery, which I found to be a positive progression of events.

The tap room is bright and airy with high ceilings and expansive windows. A large front door rolls up allowing an open air feel that was welcome this warm spring. Customers are greeted by a large, wrapping bar surrounded by several hightop tables. The space isn’t large, probably seating around 30 people and I could see it becoming packed before and after Rockies games.

Their tap list is quite short at only five beers, but runs the gambit of styles, ensuring there is something for everyone. I opted for the taster flight that includes a 4-oz pour of each beer and rings in at $8. Considering that only comes out to an English pint (20 oz) worth of beer, this isn’t the best deal, but I went for it anyway in order to try each brew. Otherwise, beers were $5 a piece with the stronger ones being limited to 10-oz pours. The flight served up was: the black IPA, Belgian wit, saison, Belgian-style double IPA, and what they called their BPR (Belgian pale red ale).

Hello Darkness (6.2% ABV), is their take on what seems to be the trendiest beer out there right now, the black IPA. Black IPAs have the biting hop bitterness, fragrant hop aroma, and rich maltiness one would expect from an IPA, but dark malts are added to give another layer of complexity. Hello Darkness fits the bill quite well, especially once it warmed up a bit and allowed the roasted, coffee-ish flavors to shine through.

I momentarily skipped over the Belgian wit to give their saison, J. Marie, a whirl. Weighing in at a hefty 7.5% ABV, I expected a boozy beer, though found it to be anything but. The nose was awash in fruit; apricot, peach, and apple with hints of spicy clove in the background. The alcohol only came across as a bit creamy, not hot and boozy. The grains were soft and light and the beer had a pleasant, dry finish. An excellent version of one of my favorite styles of beer.

The River North White, a Belgian wit, was up next. A cloudy wheat ale, the beer offered notes of clove and pear from the Belgian yeast, which complemented the bready malt flavor. However, the body was a bit thin and watery, not something I look for in a Belgian wit. That being said, this could very well be their attempt to cater to the “light beer” crowd, which I suppose is understandable, especially given their location.

The last two beers were their hoppy ales, the BPR (6.4% ABV) and their Belgian-style double IPA, Hypothesis (9% ABV). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect given the BPR’s lengthy description of a Belgian-style pale red ale, but found it to essentially be a hoppy Red ale. There were light notes of Belgian yeast perhaps, but nothing too noticeable. However, it was enjoyable and fans of hoppy pale ales and IPAs should definitely give this one a try.

I finished my flight quite blown away by the Hypothesis. For those that don’t know, a double IPA is essentially just that. Brewer’s put their IPA recipe on steroids; greatly increasing the amount of malts and hops to create a more intense, strong IPA. River North’s was fantastic, as it burst with copious, fruity hop flavors of grapefruit and pineapple backed with tons of sweet caramel malts. On top of all that was a subtle Belgian yeastiness that took it to another level. A complex balance of flavors, Hypothesis is for any beer fan, not just hopheads.

All in all, people should be very excited to have River North as part of their rapidly growing local brewery scene. They say choice is good and we’ve got that in spades. Be sure to get out there and take advantage. Prost!

River North Brewery
2401 Blake St | (303)296-2617

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