It's Saturday afternoon, and the kitchen magicians at BRU Handbuilt Ales and Eats are on the patio, running through their checklist; an hour later, Ian Clark's new alehouse in Boulder is pulsating -- with music, energy and a swell of bodies, all of whom have been invited to be the first to check out the project that Clark has been working on for the last several months: a joint brewery and restaurant that, in some ways, is an extension of the brewing operation that Clark started in his home garage a few years ago.
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"We've got five fermenters, two of which are from my garage at home, and a bright tank that's from my garage, too, that will be used for aging purposes," says Clark, who left his post as executive chef of Centro Latin Kitchen in February to concentrate solely on BRU, the kitchen of which is tag-teamed by Josh Monopoli, former chef de cuisine at Black Cat and Jason Brown, who was Clark's sidekick at Centro, and before that, Jax Boulder.
The brewing operation, separated from the dining room by a wall of glassed windows and a sliding beetle-kill pine rail door built by Clark (he built just about everything in the restaurant with his own two hands), translates into a dozen beers, all of which are brewed on site, naturally carbonated and never filtered; two wine taps, a cider handle and housemade soda handle also reside behind the concrete-slabbed bar, and the handles, hand-welded by Clark, are spectacularly unique: Each one is constructed from antique kitchen tools -- ice cream scoops, meat forks, rolling pins, potato mashers, hand-cranked whisks, a spice grinder -- or waffle irons, with a wrench thrown in for good measure. Many of the kitchen tools were given to Clark by his mother-in-law, her grandmother or great grandmother, and they alone are worth the price of admission.
Clark, who describes his new joint as a "gastro brewpub with urban American food," is also pouring several beer cocktails, an idea, he says, that goes "hand-and-hand" with his food. "Food is beer, and beer is food, and we wanted to so some fun and funky stuff -- like beer cocktails -- and meld everything together," he says, adding that he'll also have a rotating tap exclusive to a Boulder County brewer.
But there's far more to BRU than just beer, although you can bet that hopheads from Boulder, Denver and beyond will make this their alehouse of choice -- this, despite the fact that BRU is far removed from Boulder's heavily saturated Pearl Street Mall. "I didn't want to be in downtown Boulder," admits Clark. "We want to focus on quality, and to do that, we don't want to be doing hundreds of covers every night. We don't want to sacrifice anything for the sake of location."
And the space, which only seats 59 inside and another twelve on the sheltered patio, is, for most, a destination, but for Clark, it embodies everything he wanted, including an open kitchen, its focal point, a wood-fired cathedral oven, from which emerges everything from thin-crusted sourdough pizzas, shaped like footballs, to Colorado trout, roasted vegetables, hanger steak and a bone-in pork chop, plated with squash noodles, charro beans and a beer-and-cherry gastrique.
The menu, which will change with the seasons, has an interesting element, specifically empty lines that will be designated for "write-in" dishes. "We'll print and date the menu every day, and servers will hand-write dishes that we decide to do on a whim. That's our way of keeping everything really seasonal and fresh," explains Clark, noting, too, that he'll split his own time between cooking and brewing beer. "The guys I have in my kitchen -- Josh and Jason -- are the most talented crew of guys I could have asked for to help me run the kitchen, and it's because of them that I can also focus on brewing," points out Clark.
"We've all been so buried in construction over the past few months that we're really excited to be back in the kitchen. We're stoked to have knives back in our hands, and I'm particularly lucky in that I get to combine my two biggest passions -- beer and food -- under one roof," says Clark.
BRU, which opens today and Tuesday at 5 p.m., will begin its regular hours -- 11 a.m. to close seven days a week -- on Wednesday; Sunday brunch will be added within the next few weeks.
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I spent some time at BRU over the weekend; here's a photo voyage of the brews, the space and several of Clark's dishes.