The Beer Gods have been good to Denver this spring, blessing downtown and the surrounding area with new breweries to compete with an already ample market. What a great problem to have.
I don’t know if I’ll make it to all of them, but I had to make it to one. 38 State, located in the middle of suburban Littleton on the south side of Denver, was a great choice: It celebrated its grand opening on Saturday. Even cooler, I thought, was the fact that 38 State is the only brewery in Littleton. That’s a city of roughly 42,000 people. They’re overdue.
Their website shows they popped up in a familiar way; four friends started brewing beer for fun, which snowballed into them building their own brewery once their friends started asking to buy their stuff. That sounded good enough to me, so I trekked the half hour it takes from my apartment to see if they were any good.
The first thing I noticed is the building is camouflaged. Their Facebook page shows a clear-cut sign on a clean beige background, hoisted above and next to two glass garage doors. What the picture fails to convey is that the rest of the brewery is located in an area the city probably zoned for “big industrial glass garages.”
Once I circled the building three and went inside, though, I realized I couldn’t blame my lack of direction on the brewery. They presented themselves well. An exposed brick wall highlighted the solid wood tables and bar, which had a TV playing the Tour de California on mute above it. A glass door led to a patio, which would have been full on the weekend, but was open the Thursday afternoon I went.
It was easier to tell the bar was new than I would’ve thought. Only about a dozen patrons were peppered around the brewery, many first-timers. A handful of auto workers behind me told one woman (one of the brewers, I later learned) that they’ve been waiting for the place to open for months and decided to finally check it out.
Just a note: They weren’t unprepared. Lael told me 38 State is working with a one-barrel system, which means smaller batches, but greater freedom to change or improve their recipes. To compare, Oskar Blues works with a 50-barrel system in their Asheville location.
That small-batch, work-in-progress feel transferred to their two brews, giving both of them a juicy, unfiltered, unrefined feel. That’s a good thing! Like comparing “most pulp” orange juice to freshly squeezed: The freshly squeezed might have some seeds in it, but it’s still juicier.
The better of the two was their Two Buttes Double IPA, which stood out from the crowd of double and single IPAs around Denver. It was a hazy chestnut that looked more like an IPA/brown ale mix, with a sweet, tannic, piney smell. But unlike the straight-up pine needle taste associated with some in the style, this represented the whole tree (again, in a good way). A sweet pine and slightly fruity front is mixed with a woody bitter bite that sticks around. I can’t even describe it in a way that would do it justice – like oak barrels and toasted crackers mixed with what Pine Sol smells like. It paired perfectly with the pretzels they handed me.
I wish I’d gotten a chance to try some of their other styles. Apparently their Honey Hefeweizen and Kolsch sold out fast, and I was told to try their pale ale, amber and dunkel. I could tell by the number of taps they had ready to go (more than a dozen) that they had no intention of being a one-note brewery. The staff told me to come back in two weeks, once they had more selectio ns available and had more time to gather themselves.
That’s something that was bittersweet about the whole experience. It didn’t seem all that gathered. The beers weren’t refined, but the brewery was small enough to be able to improve them. The brewers were catching up with demand, but still had time to sit and chat with strangers. In fact, 38 State is so new that it has no regulars yet. It’s all a work in progress. If I come back in two weeks, I don’t know if I’d come back to the same brewery or something brand new. It’s all kind of exciting.