Best Wine List for a Bar That's Not a Wine Bar

RiNo Yacht Club

RiNo Yacht Club

From emerging regions such as Lazio and the Languedoc to little-known indigenous grapes like Ruché and Romorantin to sparkling reds and the savoriest sherries, the Source's island bar may be the coolest place at which to explore the world of wine right now — which shouldn't come as any surprise to fans of the Proper Pour, a liquor store just steps away. The couple behind both projects, McLain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright, are admirably disinclined to dumb anything down for timid tastes: They source, stock and serve what they like to drink. This is not to say that RiNo Yacht Club's MO is snobbery. On the contrary, the staff is all about pressure-free encouragement: Between the precise tasting notes they provide for each wine and the pleasure they take in offering sample pours and flights, even the most experiment-averse are sure to leave here with their vinous horizons at least slightly expanded.

Mercantile Dining & Provision
Danielle Lirette

Stuart Jensen brought years of cooking experience to his latest role as bar manager at Mercantile Dining & Provision, with all that time in kitchens shaping his approach to creating cocktails. The Brom Bones, for example, one in a series of Jensen's steamed cocktails, is prepared in much the same way as the jams and preserves available for sale in Mercantile's marketplace. In a tiny, four-ounce Mason jar, Jensen combines whiskey, maple syrup, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, cloves, allspice berries, peppercorns, orange peels and Angostura bitters. He steams fifty jars at a time at 212 degrees for exactly two minutes. Order one, and the (cooled) jar arrives with a screened lid; you pour it over ice, and the solids remain. The steaming infuses the flavors together, creating a stunning winter cocktail.

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Danielle Lirette

Former Future had a bumpy landing when it opened in February 2014, running out of beer immediately and limiting its hours. But the brewery, helmed by the adorable James and Sarah Howat, has soared ever since. Based on a steampunk-like historical-futuristic theme, Former Future pours an eclectic lineup of beers — everything from a pre-Prohibition-style cream ale and a sour red to a salted-caramel porter and a barrel-aged Russian imperial stout — that you can drink at the bar, which is made from the wing of a Cessna airplane. The experience is deepened by the Howats' ever-present elegance behind that bar and other well-thought-out design touches, such as lights made from old whiskey barrels and runway lights, barbershop-style bar chairs and tabletop terrariums. In October, the brewery won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival for a beer that it spontaneously fermented on its roof. Look for more leaps forward into the past this year.

Readers' choice: Joyride Brewing Company

Best Colorado Beer Putting the World on Notice

Superpower IPA

Comrade Brewing
Jonathan Shikes

Comrade Brewing first launched its offensive in unsuspecting southeast Denver, rolling over the neighborhoods there before pushing outward to the rest of the city. Leading the attack was Superpower IPA, which many local drinkers believe is as good as or better than California's famous hop bombs (a wet-hopped version of Superpower won silver at the Great American Beer Festival). It's become so popular, in fact, that brewer Marks Lanham has trouble keeping up with production. That's okay, though, because Comrade's enormous tap room is chock-full of other spot-on beers, including Quit Stalin, a Russian imperial stout, and Hop Chops, a double IPA. Fear the power.

There's a fine line between kitsch and cool — a line that gets crossed often. But Grandma's House has managed to redraw that line, one stitch at a time. The brewery was pieced together with thrift-store prowess by Matthew Fuerst, whose interest in brewing is matched only by his interest in collecting knickknacks, appliances and glassware, and by a sense of style that you could and would only find at, yes, your grandma's house. From the '60s-style furniture to the crocheted and cross-stitched decor to the old TVs, video games and eight-track player, everything feels strangely at home here. As will you — and the breweries around town that are planning to use Grandma's House, which calls itself a collective brewery, as a place to jump-start their own recipes, sales and brewing techniques.

An oasis amid busy streets, construction zones, industrial businesses and the grubby South Platte River, Mockery Brewing is no mirage. The brewery, which opened last fall, boasts an ample patio with festive lights, reclaimed-rock walls, community tables and a detached, fully stocked game room like the one at your best friend's house. Oh, and when you're chilling outside in warm weather — or under the heat lamps in winter — over the next two years, you'll be able to watch the construction next door of a couple more River North oases across the street, including a new park and the massive new Great Divide Brewing complex.

TRVE Brewing
Danielle Lirette

TRVE Brewing has a love for heavy-metal music, and the divey space may be one of the darkest you'll enter in Denver. But the staff is one of the most welcoming, and it's the beer that's truly metal. Over the past year, owner Nick Nunns and head brewer Zach Coleman have turned out a series of beers that are packed with crisp flavor and tightly constructed. They include the lower-in-alcohol Scorn, a dry-hopped wheat, and Wanderlust, a Belgian-style pale ale, as well as the more powerful Atma, a Belgian golden strong, and the Tunnel of Trees IPA. TRVE is also on the leading edge of Denver's sour- and wild-ale scene, releasing a variety of barrel-aged beers with puckering power. In 2015, TRVE will open a second — but not public — brewhouse dedicated to this side of the business. They must have made a deal with the devil.

Readers' choice: Great Divide Brewing Company

When Joyride Brewing opened last summer, it came at the expense of Edgewater's most recognizable piece of ambience: a mural depicting the tiny burg's history on the edge of Sloan's Lake Park. But the change was worth it. The brewery renovated and opened up a prime corner spot, providing a cheery gateway to the town. Cementing that position are the six — count 'em — glass garage doors that look out across Sheridan Boulevard to the park. Find a spot in the busy but well-staffed brewery at the thirty-foot bar — made from the floors of Coors boxcars from the early 1990s — or at one of the tables along the door rails and enjoy the views. Next year, Joyride plans to add a rooftop patio.

Readers' choice: Denver Beer Co.

Stem Ciders

Tucked behind the Mile High Winery in the RiNo district, Stem Ciders boasts of "being just hard enough to find" for cider fans. But the real find here is the rotating series of Tuesday specials — pairings of ciders and cheeses, ciders and pies, an open-mike night that encourages performers with a free glass of cider, and so on. In a town awash with happy hours and wine tastings, Stem Ciders has become a hotbed of real ferment.

Golden Moon Speakeasy

Sure, there are lots of great bars in Denver, but how many of them distill all the spirits that they stir and shake? Duck into a tiny passageway off Golden's main drag and you'll slip into a place that does: the cozy, Prohibition-era Golden Moon Speakeasy. All of the booze on the back bar is distilled across town at Golden Moon Distillery — thirteen spirits, with more coming very soon. "We hit the classics pretty hard," says bar manager Noah Heaney: Twenty-five of the sixty cocktails on his drink menu range from classic Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds to lesser-known vintage libations such as the absinthe-based Brunelle or even punches. The bar team here is one of the best around — highly trained, dedicated, and steeped in the classics that their grandparents probably enjoyed.

Readers' choice: Williams & Graham

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