Everybody needs a nice neighborhood bar. Friendly faces behind the taps, a reliable menu for when you can’t make up your mind and a familiar stool waiting for you when it’s time to get out and watch the game with friends. Sure, the TV at home is huge and the beer in your fridge might be cheaper, but who are you going to high five after Sidney Crosby gets another hat trick? Who will buy you a round while you wax poetically about what to do about the economy? And who’s gonna listen to your problems long after you start to repeat yourself? Why, your friendly neighborhood bar, that’s who.
Walnut Brewery, located off Walnut and Broadway in downtown Boulder, has been that fine establishment for hundreds of Boulderites since Frank Day opened the brewpub back in 1990. The place has changed hands a couple of times — CraftWorks Restaurant, the company behind Old Chicago, Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch, now owns the joint — but that hasn’t stopped the Boulder faithful from coming in day after day; their mugs left behind the bar, waiting for the next happy hour when they’ll be pulled off the shelf and filled with Walnut’s fine lineup of brews to quaff.
That lineup has remained relatively unchanged for some time now. Some beers come and some beers go, and brewmaster Rodney Taylor releases one new brew a month, but the Walnut faithful don’t come seeking wacky new trends in brewing. They come for the standards: Old Elk Brown Ale (5.5% ABV), Buffalo Gold (5.1 %), St. James Irish Red Ale (4.5%) and Indian Peaks Pale Ale (6.2%). The world may change, but these beers still taste the same.
My favorite of the bunch always has been, and always will be, the Old Elk Brown Ale when it’s served from the cask. Sometimes called “real ale” by the Brits, cask ales are neither carbonated nor nitrogenated. Instead, the beer sits dormant and still until the bartender draws the beer out using forced air to pull the beer through the tap. The result: soft, smooth English pub ale. Try drinking the two versions back to back — Old Elk Brown from the CO2 tap highlights the caramel malt and produces a middle-of-the-road easy drinker, but the Cask version smooths out all the edges and favors the malt greatly. For some, the result may be on the flat side, but this is how they like it across the pond, and I’m inclined to agree.
For those seeking the normality of brew bubbles, the St. James Irish Red Ale has a toasted nutty nose with a malty, dry and distinctly Irish pub finish. The Buffalo Gold is nice and light and on the crisp side, while the 1123 IPA (6.8 percent) boasts a hoppy flavor of grapefruit and lemon with a little kick in the teeth.
If you ever get bored with the core, Walnut has you covered with a couple of rotating taps — their upcoming seasonal, White Pelican Pilsner, drops May 14 — but in this ever-changing world in which we’re living, familiarity can be very welcoming.
On Tap: Walnut Brewery. 1123 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-447-1345, walnutbrewery.com.