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Home / Articles / Special Sections / Best of Boulder /  Best of Boulder 2013: Bar, Beer and Alcohol
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Thursday, April 25,2013

Best of Boulder 2013: Bar, Beer and Alcohol

By Boulder Weekly Staff
Photo by Susan France
Greta Kuhlman of Avery Brewing Company, winner of best microbrewery
Bar

MOUNTAIN SUN
1535 Pearl St., 303-546-0886

SOUTHERN SUN
627 S. Broadway, 303-543-0886

Second Place: The Bitter Bar
Third Place: West End Tavern
Fourth Place: Conor O’Neill’s
Fifth Place: World Famous Dark Horse Bar and Grill

It’s easy enough to joke about Boulder as a hippie town, or an ex-hippie town. It might be accurate, too. But the winners here show that it’s by no means a complete picture of the city.

In fact, the top three best bars are an interesting cross-section of Boulder. Topping the category is the Grateful Dead-esque Mountain Sun/Southern Sun, easily one of the liveliest spots in town any night of the week. The busy, friendly bar also represents Boulder’s much-loved breweries on this list.

Then there’s the upscale craft cocktails of The Bitter Bar, drawing in its own distinctive clientele, followed by the beer-and-bourbon specialists at West End Tavern. Naturally, all three pack in the crowds, spanning from hippie to yuppie to sports and barbecue fans. And of course, live music is a fixture at each of this year’s winners.


Beer Selection

MOUNTAIN SUN
1535 Pearl St., 303-546-0886

SOUTHERN SUN
627 S. Broadway, 303-543-0886

Second Place: Backcountry Pizza
Third Place: Oskar Blues
Fourth Place: Old Chicago
Fifth Place: Rueben’s

Ask any 10 Boulderites their favorite Mountain Sun beer, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers, from the FYIPA to the Java Porter to the Colorado Kind or Annapurna ambers. Toss in the ridiculous variety of the rotating taps, which could have a barley wine one day, a Belgian the next and an imperial stout after that, and you’ve got a head-spinning range of brews to choose from. On top of all that, there’s the fact that Mountain Sun, Southern Sun, brand-new Under the Sun and Denver’s Vine Street are the only places you can get any Sun. Meanwhile, if you’ve just got to have a pint from that one brewery way off in — well, just about anywhere on Earth — runner-up Backcountry Pizza is all but guaranteed to have you covered.


Cocktails

BITTER BAR
835 Walnut St., 303-442-3050

Second Place: The Mediterranean Restaurant
Third Place: St Julien Hotel
Fourth Place: OAK at fourteenth
Fifth Place: SALT

Take equal parts talented mixologists and craft liquors, and you’ve got the recipe for some great cocktails — which is what Bitter Bar pours every night. Bitter Bar staffs a fleet of innovative, determined (and now award-winning) bartenders and stocks a bar with rare and meticulously cultivated craft liquors. The blend leads to some creative cocktails with flourishes, like fresh ginger, cayenne maple syrup and ice cubes of almond milk or cider that leave martini glasses topped in lime wedges feeling a little underdressed.


Distillery

303 VODKA/BOULDER DISTILLERY
2500 47th St., #10., 303-442-1244

Second Place: Roundhouse Spirits
Third Place: Altitude Spirits
Fourth Place: Rob’s Mountain Gin
Fifth Place: Spirit Hound Distillers

The story behind the winner of the inaugural “Best Distillery” category is a good one. 303 Vodka founder and physicist-by-trade Steve Viezbicke stumbled onto a recipe for potato vodka in a trunk belonging to his grandfather, “Grandpa Pete,” a Polish immigrant. A couple years of tinkering later, Viezbicke launched his distillery. The company now makes a whiskey as well as a vodka (no word yet if that recipe also came from a dusty attic). At the company’s distillery, an adventurous drinker can get all sorts of creative cocktails, such as a root beer-vodka concoction called “vootbeer” (get it?) and a number of different martinis, including a “candy cane” and a “Boulder Creek” varietal. Roundhouse Spirits, which makes a killer gin, took second.


Happy Hour

THE MEDITERRANEAN RESTAURANT
1002 Walnut St., 303-444-5335 %u2028

Second Place: Boulder Cafe
Third Place: Brasserie Ten Ten
Fourth Place: Jax Fish House
Fifth Place: Mountain Sun/Southern Sun

Happy hour at The Med should be called happy “hours,” since it lasts from 3 to 6:30 p.m. every day of the week. And happy they are, indeed. The Med’s happy hour menu features a long list of its tasty, reasonably priced, small appetizer plates known as “tapas,” of both the hot and cold variety. Beers are a buck off, cocktails are $4, sangria is $4.50 and a margarita or martini will only set you back six bones. But more important, we think, is the atmosphere at The Med. It just screams, “Hey! You deserve a drink with friends downtown after that long, hard day at work!”


Margarita

THE RIO GRANDE
1101 Walnut St., 303-444-3690

Second Place: Tahona
Third Place: Efrain’s
Fourth Place: Zolo Grill
Fifth Place: Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace

Our favorite story about The Rio Grande is when a margarita-loving relative, who will go unnamed for his own protection, became a regular in the bar there and after a few years saw a menu and asked incredulously, “They serve food here?” Yes, Virginia, they serve food at the Rio, not just their world-famous margaritas, and it’s quite good. The food, that is. Not that the margaritas aren’t. That’s our whole point. These bad boys are so strong that they literally won’t let you drink more than three in one night. And don’t order anything too spicy here, if you do go for the food, because those margs go down really smoothly and quickly when you’re thirsty, which can be dangerous. But fun.


Microbrewery

AVERY BREWING COMPANY
5763 Arapahoe Ave., 303-440-4324

Second Place: Mountain Sun/Southern Sun
Third Place: Oskar Blues
Fourth Place: Left Hand Brewing Company
Fifth Place: Upslope Brewing Company

In Boulder’s craft brew scene, Avery Brewing Company is the black sheep, the class clown and the mad scientist. The brewery consistently offers out-there concoctions like the world-renowned Maharaja, made with four varieties of hops, and the deep burgundy Beast Grand Cru Ale, clocking in at 15 to 17 percent alcohol. The taproom, which is scheduled to move to Gunbarrel in the near future, provides a warm atmosphere for trying samples of Avery’s latest experiments, and the brewery periodically hosts awesome beer events like the Boulder Strong Ale Fest and the Boulder SourFest.


Wine Selection

FRASCA FOOD AND WINE
1738 Pearl St., 303-442-6966

Second Place: Flagstaff House
Third Place: The Kitchen
Fourth Place: Boulder Cork
Fifth Place: The Mediterranean Restaurant

Great meals deserve to be paired with great wines, and that is the essence of Frasca Food and Wine. At this world-class restaurant, Owner and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson works his magic over 200 varieties of wine chosen from some of the world’s most acclaimed vineyards, as well as amazing bottles from lesser-known regions and winemakers. The wait-staff at Frasca is extremely knowledgeable and can answer almost any wine question, but just in case they can’t, Frasca’s own sommelier, Bobby Stuckey, is nearly always walking the dining area to answer any questions and, as the restaurant’s website says, “offering unpretentious guidance and thoughtful recommendations.” If you truly love wine, you will love Frasca.


STAFF PICK: Underappreciated Bar

CATACOMBS

Sometimes you need to get off the beaten Pearl Street Mall path and hit a basement bar like the one under the historic Boulderado hotel. Catacombs is a Boulder original, a classic, funky establishment that has pool tables and arcade games, not to mention trivia night on Tuesdays and karaoke on Wednesdays. Plus, they recently upgraded their dance space, so check out the DJ scene Thursday through Saturday.


STAFF PICK: New Beer

BRU’S BEEZEL BELGIAN STYLE GOLDEN ALE Runners-Up: Bootstrap Brewing’s Pumpkin Ale; Wild Woods’ Ponderosa Porter; Twisted Pine Brewing’s Cucumber Cream Ale

We really can’t say enough good things about new breweries and new beers in Boulder County. This staff award, if it continues, could be the most difficult to decide in coming years, as local breweries continue to amaze and delight beer lovers.

This year, we’re naming a few brand-new beers, and, by chance, our favorite new beers are all of the added-ingredient variety. Beer’s a flexible fluid, and these three found ways to introduce new ingredients to the mix to give their brews complex and unusual flavors.

Among many worthy candidates, we’re honoring BRU, a one-man operation started in 2012 by Ian Clark, a well-known Boulder chef. BRU’s Belgian-style golden ale features black pepper, bitter orange peel and honey, giving it a firmer backbone and clearer citrus flavor than most Belgians. At Wild Woods, owners Jake and Erin Evans turn out a kickass oak-aged porter made with whole vanilla beans, Bootstrap brewers Steve and Leslie Kaczeus have concocted a spicy and delicious pumpkin brown ale, and Twisted Pine’s refreshing cucumber ale is summer in a bottle.


STAFF PICK: Beer Labels

LEFT HAND BREWING COMPANY

Runners-Up: Upslope Brewing Company, Avery Brewing Company

Wow. This was our most talked-about staff pick. From its start, when someone on staff suggested “Prettiest Beer Bottle,” it was hotly debated. It turned into one of those arguments — er, discussions — where you run up to a friend and ask their vote but start walking away three words into their answer when you realize they aren’t in your corner.

The contestants: Upslope, the quintessential minimalist approach, with its attractive label switching colors chameleon-like on different cans. Oskar Blues, also in the color-swapping class but with a dominant font and a little attitude. Boulder Beer, which hits all the notes (the Flatirons, pictures of hops, hippie font) but is really two different styles depending on the beer. Avery, with the familiar window style and the distinctive characters of a naked albino devil and a cute dog.

This isn’t even taking into account beer logos, an entirely different category that FATE Brewing, with its clever negative-space emblem, has to be a favorite in. Honorable mention there might go to the West Flanders lion head, which kind of bridges the gap between a soccer club’s logo and a brewery’s, and the in-your-face BS of Bootstrap Brewing.

Ultimately we landed on Left Hand. Swirling, dark and mysterious; recognizable but detailed; when you think about it, a little obsessed with skulls. You know you’ve got strong design when people name Fade to Black as a great label, and there really isn’t anything on the label but white lines on black. Another favorite is the startling, confrontational Oktoberfest Märzen Lager, the best of many lions’ heads on the market. Left Hand’s hit the perfect balance: You know the brand right away, but you can study the details as you empty the bottle.


STAFF PICK: Local Barrel-Aged Gin

ROUNDHOUSE SPIRITS

Here in Boulder County we are lucky to have one of the few distilleries in the country that makes a special light-brown gin that is aged in oak casks. It’s the Imperial Barrel Aged Gin from Roundhouse Spirits. Some call it “ginskey” because the process introduces subtle tones of scotch and whiskey. Swing by and give it a taste sometime.

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