Best of Boulder 2013: Bar, Beer and Alcohol

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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.