Tour de brew: Hogshead Brewery

Classic English cask ales worth the trip

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Michael J. Casey

There’s no end of local and unique beer along the Front Range. But variety and experimentation isn’t just the sign of a mature market; it also speaks highly of the clientele. You need invention behind the counter, and curiosity in front of it, to make this whole thing work.

That’s why a trip south to Hogshead Brewery in Denver is an invigorating endeavor. Here you will find a cozy taproom of wooden tables packed with rowdy drinkers downing “proper” (20-ounce) pints of classic English ales while they watch the ball game, host chili cook-offs or just try to chat over the roar of the crowd. Sports bars aren’t this lively.

Located in the West Highlands, a stone’s throw from Sloan Lake, Hogshead is a proper watering hole thanks to owner and brewer, Stephen Kirby — a Brit who brought his brewing experience with him, specifically, cask ales.

Traditionally British, cask ale (also called “real ale”) is unfiltered beer served fresh from a secondary fermenting vessel — which often contains unfermented wort or priming sugar so the yeast can continue to ferment and condition the beer. The beer is uncarbonated, stored and served at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and is a living product with a short shelf life. It is neither flat nor warm, but it won’t bloat your belly with gas or turn the mountains blue.

The result is a brew that is creamy in texture, nuanced and subtle in flavor. Thanks to the serving temperature, the hops and malt show beautifully and need not fight for attention. The name of the game here is drinkability and balance — and Hogshead passes with flying colors.

They have three flagships: Chin Wag, an herbaceous and snappy Extra Special Bitter; Gilpin Black Gold, a London porter loaded with chocolate and roast; and Lake Lightning, a soft and supple English Pale Ale.

A few of those you can even find in the County — Backcountry Pizza & Tap House almost always has a firkin or two on tap — but you must make the trip south for a pour of 4 For the Floor, Hogshead’s fall seasonal ale that highlights soft sweet malt, tangy hops and a pleasant pop of black pepper. You can almost smell the leaves rustling by in every glass.

Should 4 For the Floor trip your trigger, dive into a proper of Downtown Julie Brown, which exhibits flavors of milk chocolate and roasted nuts. Need a bit more body? Extra Stout is espresso dark with a mocha head, coffee beans on the nose and heavy roast and toast in the mouth. It’s phenomenal.

Like all good cask ale, all of the above weigh in under 6% alcohol by volume, so you can indulge while you chat, cheer or chili. And should you find yourself craving bubbles, Hogshead has many of their cask offerings also carbonated and kegged. Hell, try them side-by-side and get the full experience. Just make sure you leave a little room for the Old Burton Extra.

ON TAP: Hogshead Brewery, 4460 W. 29th Ave., Denver, hogshead54.com.