Big beers and food fixes

At Louisville’s Gravity, another clever cuisine workaround

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Photo by Elizabeth Miller

We didn’t have much hope for food in Gravity Brewing’s Louisville warehouse. They’ve got a billion-foot-long bar and pool and pingpong tables, but there’s no sign of dining until we smell someone else’s fries. We grab menus, which we’ve already read carefully. Not a victual in sight.

Then Elizabeth spots the window on the east wall that opens into the neighboring warehouse in the industrial park. It’s the home of the American Legion Post 111, and it’s the kitchen for Gravity’s customers, who queue up and order burgers, fries and pretzels from the Legion’s menu.

This is probably the oddest arrangement we’ve encountered for serving food to brewery patrons, but not by much. Back at Niwot’s Bootstrap, we saw a file organizer full of local restaurants’ menus. At Avery, you order off an Avery menu with an Avery server, who brings you food from Savory Cuisines across the alley. Asher has a steady rotation of food trucks parked just outside the front door.

There are the traditional brewpubs, of course, like Boulder Beer and BJ’s. And places like Shine built their reputations on their food before ever mixing barley and water. But for a good number of Boulder County breweries, feeding the masses involves a workaround or an improvised solution.

Colorado’s regulatory structure is often mentioned as one of the reasons for the craft beer explosion here. State law allows breweries to sell on-site, which many states don’t allow. But there’s still a sizeable labyrinth of state and federal rules, and breweries need to make a decision in their application of whether they’re a “brewpub” or a “brewery” — if they’ll be serving food, which has to account for 15 percent of their sales, or if they don’t want to serve food at all.

“People start brewpubs if they want to start restaurants,” Gravity owner John Frazee tells me by phone after our visit. “People who are just brewers don’t want to have a thing to do with that. It’s just a nightmare.”

Frazee’s workaround allows Gravity to focus strictly on the beer, and that’s a very good thing. Even within the brewery’s high-alcohol concept — it’s not called “Gravity” because they like basic laws of physics — there’s a ton of variety in the offerings here. It’s not all the heavy-handed stuff like imperial stouts.

But let’s start with there, because of course Gravity’s got one. Tsar Bomba, the imperial stout that just returned to the taps, deserves a place among Boulder County’s best. Malty, brownsugary, molasses-y and heavy at 11 percent ABV, the Tsar is an instant classic. Naturally, Gravity also offers a double IPA with an alcohol content just under 10 percent.

But it’s beyond those obvious high-gravity beers that Gravity is most surprising. The double red rye and ESB, two rarely seen styles, are both great examples of their styles, with sharp spice from the rye and a caramel sweetness from the ESB.

The Mendacious Belgian blonde has surprising depth and a mouthfeel best described as slightly chewy. Banana and citrus flavors shine through, as well as some acidity.

In the perfect example of the Gravity philosophy, the menu calls it “highly drinkable” and says it clocks in at 8.1 percent ABV. Call a cab.

Next stops: J Wells, 2516 49th St. #5, Boulder, 5 p.m. March 7; Left Hand, 1265 Boston Ave., Longmont, March 14. Members of the public are welcome.