It’s not always easy to sit someone down for a discussion of a complex topic. Buy that person a beer, though, and things change. “There is power in putting a beer in front of someone,” says Eric Larkin. “ All of a sudden, you get some of their time and you get to have a conversation about whatever it is: sustainability or issues in Denver, or even beer. Beer can be complex.”
Bringing people together over beers is the idea behind Cohesion Brewing, which takes its name from the word for uniting different pieces into a single whole. And when Larkin and his wife, Lisa, open their brewery this summer, probably in late July, in a former U.S. Army medical depot at 3851 Steele Street, their carefully made Czech-style lagers will certainly be the topic of a lot of conversations.
That’s because the Larkins will be bringing Czech beer, Czech nomenclature and Czech drinking traditions to Colorado’s craft-beer scene to a degree (Plato) that hasn’t been seen before.
For starters, the beers are all lagers, and they will be brewed and organized based on their color and degrees Plato rather than by style or ABV, as is done in the United States. In the Czech Republic, the three main categories of beer are pale (svetle), half-dark (polotmavé) and dark (tmavé), and they're typically brewed at different strengths based on "specific gravity," a term used to measure the amount of sugar in a beer and therefore its alcoholic content. So for instance, a beer brewed at 11 degrees Plato would have less sugar, a lower specific gravity and therefore less alcohol than one brewed at 14 degrees Plato.
Then there’s the foam — sometimes an entire stein-full of the stuff — that is perhaps the most confounding thing for Americans about Czech beers poured on draft. In an average bar here, a foamy beer would be cause for some consternation and possibly complaint. But in the Czech Republic, the “tapsters” who pour the beer create different levels of foam using skill and side-pull faucets. If done right, the foam is sweet and almost milk-like. “It’s wet, creamy and drinkable,” Larkin says.
“Tapsters have an immense amount of pride…and the [bar] is their domain,” he adds. “There is a saying over there that the brewer brews the beer, but the tapster makes the beer.”
Cohesion is just one of over a half-dozen breweries that will be added within Denver city limits in 2021, pushing the number of breweries in this town alone close to eighty. Others include Denver Beer Co.'s second Denver taproom (its third overall), which is already pouring on South Downing Street, and Odell Brewing's Sloan's Lake Taphouse, which is that brewery's second Denver spot. At least five more should open over the next few months, including Reverence Brewing in the former Thirsty Monk; Wah Gwaan Brewing in the former Intrepid Sojourner space; Smash Face Brewing downtown; Danico Brewing off Tower Road; and Ratio Beerworks, which will debut its second location inside the former Declaration Brewing spot on South Cherokee Street.
Cohesion's location is new to brewing. It's set in a massive business park just off East 40th Avenue in the Clayton neighborhood that was once a WWII-era U.S. Army medical depot designed by renowned architect Temple Hoyne Buell. Although the complex is being significantly refurbished and updated, it is also a significantly down-to-earth facility. The brewery itself, though, will be a little fancier — with high ceilings and chandeliers for an elegant touch. It will also have both indoor seating — possibly with table service — and a wraparound patio past an open garage door. “We wanted a space that had an interesting design to it, a space that people would want to come to not just for the beer, but because it’s a cool place to hang out in,” Larkin says. “Hopefully, we are taking bits and pieces of Czech tradition and letting people experience it here.”
Larkin got his start at Zero Gravity Brewing in Vermont before moving on to Maine’s Allagash Brewing, one of the most respected beer makers in the country. But in 2015, he decided to make a change, moving to Colorado and taking the top job at Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette. At the time, the craze for hazy New England-style IPAs hadn’t made an impact here, but Larkin and fellow Odd13 brewer Brandon Boldt were both from New England and loved the style. As a result, Odd13 became one of the pioneering producers of hazy IPAs in Colorado, along with WeldWerks, Fiction, Cerebral and New Image Brewing.
Hazy IPAs were a far cry from Allagash’s Belgian farmhouse beers — part of the reason they intrigued Larkin at the time — and they are even further away, stylistically, from Czech lagers. But such a departure from what he'd been brewing made him happy. “We blazed a trail that was fun and exciting at Odd13,” he explains. These days, though, hoppy beers have grown more and more complicated to make owing to the number of hop varieties and the chemical processes that can happen with each one.
Czech beers, meanwhile, are just pilsner malt, Saaz hops and lager yeast. The couple developed a taste for them when they visited Prague a few years back, and felt a real connection to the beers and drinking culture there. “I am happy to simplify things," Larkin admits. "I like working with few variables."
"Simplify" might be the wrong word, though, considering the very technical process that he plans to employ. In addition to buying all of his malt — including some that will be roasted to his exact specifications — from Loveland’s Troubadour Maltings, Larkin will use only whole-cone hops as opposed to hop pellets, which are the norm at most breweries. He’ll also rely on a three-stage, reverse-osmosis water filtration system and a traditional open-topped fermenter that will be protected from intrusive bacteria by a high-efficiency air purifier.
The brewhouse itself is made for decoction mashing — a time-consuming, old-school European technique that calls for separating a portion of the mash at least once during brewing, then boiling it at an even higher temperature in order to extract more flavor before adding it back in to the mix. Most American breweries aren't set up for decoction mashing because they either don't have the right equipment or don't have the time and staffing required....or both.
Although dozens of other breweries in Colorado have made Czech-style lagers, few specialize in them. Seedstock Brewing in Denver is one that does, while Bierstadt Lagerhaus has made two, also using traditional brewing techniques and the Plato scale. Brandon Boldt, the head brewer at Wild Provisions Beer Company, a spinoff of 4 Noses Brewing that opened in Boulder last May, is a big fan of Czech-style lagers and makes them using decoction mashing and the Plato scale. He also serves sour and wild ales in addition to the lagers.
In fact, in addition to six of its own beers, Cohesion will have three guest beers on tap all the time, including at least one IPA and one from Primitive Beer Company, a small Longmont wild and sour beer blendery owned by Boldt, Larkin’s former co-worker, and Boldt’s wife, also named Lisa.
When the Cohesion beer is ready to be served, it will be in glass mugs kept wet and chilled to the same temperature as the beer, as it is in some Czech bars. The beer will be poured by Cohesion’s own tapsters from two side-pull faucets made by Lukr, a well-known Czech tap brand.
“I know that some of this is super-nerd-level beer stuff,” Larkin says, "but we are not elevating things so far that people who just want a beer can’t get a beer.”
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