Denver’s comedy scene is never far from booze. Pretty much every night of the week, in bars across the city, a young comic takes the stage, microphone in one hand, half-full pint of beer in the other. Comic Steve Vanderploeg has closed the gap between comedy and beer by starting a new show at Chain Reaction Brewing, located in Athmar Park. For his show, which takes place tomorrow — and on the second Friday of every month — he created a special beer called Denver Comedy Pale Ale, which is available only during the shows.
While the event is only two months old, the collaboration goes back much farther than that. Vanderploeg, who grew up in Morrison, played roller hockey in high school with Chad Christofferson, who owns the brewery with his cousin Zack. “Some of us just started hanging out a bunch outside of hockey,” he says, “then we all became real good friends.”
When he found out that Christofferson was opening a brewery, he stopped by to check it out — and instantly saw a great venue for a comedy show. “The first time I went to visit their brewery,” Vanderploeg says, “right after they opened, I brought it up to them. They loved the idea. We figured it out, and we got it rolling.”
Vanderploeg dubbed it Comedy Night At Chain Reaction Brewing Company, and pulled in local comedian Jordan Doll to headline the first one on December 12. “Once word got out that it was a really good room,” he says, “it spread really fast. It was pretty awesome.” The show features four or five comedians, plus one headlining act.
It also features a special beer. “The idea of a Denver Comedy Beer was something I loved right away,” Vanderploeg says, “so I kind of pushed them to get that going as soon as we could.” Vanderploeg posted an open poll on his Facebook page, so his comedian friends could vote on which type of beer they’d like to drink at the show. “The pale ale was the most common,” he says. “A few people wanted red ales or saisons, but it’s Denver, and everyone here loves pale ales.”
Vanderploeg admits he didn’t know too much about the brewing process, but he visits the brewery every month to assist in the production of Denver Comedy Pale Ale. “Back when we used to all hang out in college and stuff, a lot of my friends’ parents and families were involved in home brewing, so I knew a bit about the process," he says. "But when you get down into the details of how many hops, what kinds of hops you use for specific flavors and all that, that’s something I’m not too versed in.”
But he didn’t have to do it all himself. “These guys, seriously, are amazing,” Vanderploeg says of the Christoffersons and the brewers at Chain Reaction. “They walked me through all the steps.”
“Steve took a poll with all the comics,” says co-owner Zack. “They were really into these really drinkable, slammable beers. We pretty much just took our traditional pale ale and crisped it up a little bit, to where it’s a little bit easier to drink. We lightened it up to where it’s not quite as malty — not as much caramel, maybe a little bit drier.”
Christofferson calls it an American pale ale, even though the two hops used in the beer aren't from the United States. Hercules is a German hop, and Galaxy is from Australia. Both give the beer a nice juiciness with a real nice, clean bitterness, Christofferson says. “But mostly it’s an American beer,” he continues. “It has that citrus, that clean, crisp bitterness.”
Denver Comedy Pale Ale’s ABV is between 5.5 and 6 percent, with IBUs ranging between 50 and 60.
Christofferson hopes to offer a slightly different beer for each show. “It will change up a little bit,” he explains. “We’ll kind of have fun with it, maybe gear it toward the season, maybe toward who’s going to be headlining.”
Denver Comedy Pale Ale will sell for $5 a pint, with other size options: $3 for a 10-ounce pour, and $1.75 for 4-ounce pour. Only ten gallons of it are produced each month, and it will only be available the night of the comedy show. “If you’re not here that night, you’ll probably never get to try it,” Christofferson says. “It’s a super-rare, limited beer, that’s dedicated just to that Denver comedy scene, and we’ll re-brew that for each show.”
Christofferson is pleasantly surprised that the comedy show has been drawing large crowds to his brewery. “It’s been crazy,” he says. “The show starts at 8 p.m, but I tell people to be here at seven because we’ve got a line out the door at 7:15. The last two shows we’ve done have been standing-room-only.”
While many local comedy shows take place in dive bars, Chain Reaction’s show offers a slightly different atmosphere. “It’s kind of brighter in here, it’s a little bit more spread out, Christofferson says. “And, it’s a warehouse, so it’s totally different. We absolutely just love doing it.”
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But, the room isn’t without it’s challenges. “They’re at a brewery,” Vanderploeg says of the audience, “and they’re easily distracted. But, they love comedy. You’ve got to win them over.”
His first two shows drew largely from younger comedians, but he wants to keep himself free to move away from that format. “I’m going to start mixing that up and throw some more experienced people in there, rather than just the same stuff everyone sees," he says. “I love grumpy old men comics. They’re my favorite, so I want to book more of them.”
The third Comedy Night At Chain Reaction Brewing Company will be held this Friday, February 13. The show is free, and starts at 8 pm. Adam Cayton-Holland will headline. “I think that the expansion of Denver comedy is really, really good right now,” Vanderploeg says of his new stage. “I think that Denver will always want a new space to see comedy.”