Once upon a time — like five years ago — all a craft microbrewery needed was an empty warehouse and a good recipe for an IPA, and it was ready to roll. Of course, that’s still true, as startups like Wild Woods, J Wells and Bootstrap have proven.
But there’s a movement within craft beer toward specialties, as consumers begin to accept craft beer as a whole and seek out their favorite styles. River North Brewery in Denver opened in 2011 and features beers with a Belgian twist; Denver’s Prost Brewing, which opened last year, brews only authentic German lagers; Gravity in Louisville, also a year old, specializes in high-alcohol beers; and the upcoming Twelve Degree Brewing, aiming to open sometime soon in Louisville, will feature Belgians.
West Flanders is in this bold new group of breweries that’s making a specialty out of a particular style. While the recent addition to Boulder’s beer scene does produce an IPA, a stout, a pale ale and a few other standards, it’s all about the Belgians here. When we stop by for a Monday lunch, there are four Belgian styles on tap, along with actual Belgians from actual Belgium in bottles and on a guest tap.
The Belgians here generally keep the yeast in check, leading to smooth brews like the St. Mark’s Dubbel, a mild, slightly banana-flavored beer that Joel embraces enthusiastically. “That’s a burger beer,” he says as his burger arrives from the kitchen.
I, meanwhile, am thrilled with my choice, the Daisy Cutter Belgian strong ale. It’s all caramel and malt, yet light and drinkable, yet 9 percent ABV, yet I wanted a second one.
Elizabeth is “pleasantly surprised,” she says, by the ESBueno, an ESB that’s quite bitter but never goes overboard. “I have one and I’m ready to crawl under the table and take a nap,” she says, in the most positive sense.
As we welcome new interns with a beer — “Oh, wow, cool cup,” Joe exclaims over the classic Belgian tulip glass — and Joel recounts memories of West Flanders’ location decades ago, when it was Potter’s and he was being tossed out for fighting, I wander off to check out the “Home Brew Wall of Fame,” a bit of an anomaly in such a nice place. I mean, would a fancy restaurant dedicate a bulletin board to home chefs?
But that’s just the ethos of the craft brewing community. West Flanders offers an extended happy hour for homebrewers every Tuesday. It features photos of homebrewers working at home and keeps contact information displayed for Hop Barley and the Alers, the Boulder homebrew club. West Flanders’ brewer, Brian Lutz, has spent decades in the homebrewing community, and it shows.
For this week, we are hoping to attend a May 16 event at the Boulder History Museum, the Coast to Coast Toast in celebration of American Craft Beer Week. If not, we might finally trek up to Ned and knock off Very Nice and Wild Mountain. Either way, the end, sadly, is in sight.