Drew and Leah Watson opened Hops & Pie on September 29, 2010 — the same week as the Great American Beer Festival that year — with a bang. The artisan pizza and craft-beer joint had twenty taps pouring rare specialties like Russian River Brewing Damnation and Stone Brewing Smoked Porter. Aside from the stalwart Falling Rock Tap House, only a few other places in town, mostly newcomers, offered competitive draft lists.
Back then, there were only ten or eleven breweries in Denver (versus seventy today), including the four-month-old Strange Craft Beer Company, so Drew, who is also the restaurant's head chef, collaborated with Strange founder Tim Myers on a house IPA that he could also use in the recipe for his pizza dough.
It was a nice piece of timing. The craft-beer scene exploded over the next few years — not just with the opening of dozens of new breweries, but with the arrival of many more craft-beer bars. In fact, locally produced beer became a staple across the bar top rather than the exception — as it had been before.
Hops & Pie has changed, too. Not only did the Watsons double the size of the restaurant and open an in-house, early-morning doughnut shop, but they also had two kids, added multiple menu items, hosted insanely packed GABF parties and collaborated with many more breweries beyond Strange Craft.
To keep the beery times rolling, Hops & Pie will host a big bash on Saturday, October 3, to celebrate a decade in business — and the Watsons will do it not just with live music, giveaways and a special tap list (think WeldWerks Coconut Medianoche, Casey Brewing East Bank and Toppling Goliath Mornin' Delight), but with some new collabs honoring the occasion from Call to Arms, Westbound & Down, Cannonball Creek, Casey and Comrade.
Drew shared his list of ten of his most memorable collaborations (below), but first, here are ten blockbuster beers that stood out over the years — and a few words from Drew:
"The rarest beers are always the best sellers. Some of that is due to them being unavailable in our market," he explains. In addition, when they were poured, some of these well-known breweries were still young or had yet to expand, so while a beer might be regularly available now, it was rare then. "A lot of these won't be super-fanboy beers in 2020, but at the time they were poured, holy smokes, they were coveted."
Ten Trendy Beers That Stood Out
1. The first time we had King Sue from Iowa's Toppling Goliath, folks went berserk. Now it's readily available [in Denver liquor stores], but before that, wow!
2. Back in the day, Firestone Walker's Parabola and Anniversary Ale would always bring the boys to the yard; they came out once a year and were really hard to get.
3. Barrel Aged Abraxus from Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis. We have poured this twice, and folks were ordering it two to three at a time.
4. The first time we poured Sip of Sunshine from Lawson's Finest in Vermont, it was gone in the blink of an eye.
5. We did a Dogfish Head tap takeover in 2013 with something like fifteen of their beers; at the time, that had never happened, so people were tailgating outside prior to the sun rising in order to get in.
6. Similar to Dogfish Head, the first time we were able to pour Trillium Brewing beers [from Massachusetts], in 2018, it was nuts, maybe the craziest day we ever had.
7. Pliny the Younger is always a shit show. [This triple IPA from California's Russian River Brewing is tapped only once a year and was rated at one time as the best beer in the country.]
8. The first time we poured Melvin Brewing's [GABF gold medal-winning] 2x4 IPA, every brewer in town was at our bar waiting to get a taste. That beer was ahead of its time in many ways.
9. The first time we had The Alchemist's Heady Topper to sell, it was complete insanity, especially since that was during COVID times. Folks were rushing to the counter to buy as many as they could until they were gone.
10. Rare or first-time appearances by both Bell's Brewery Hopslam Double IPA and Alpha King from Three Floyds ended in lines down the street. First trip to denver = line down the street until it was gone. Both are readily available in other markets, but there was a time you could have gotten trampled trying to get a pour.
Ten Most Memorable Collaborations
1. My favorite collaboration was one that became a seasonal can option for Upslope Brewing: the Blood Orange Saison made with pink peppercorn. For the first round of it back in the day, we zested and juiced ten cases of blood oranges in our garage at Hops & Pie. It was a blast and a great memory, I feel super proud that it made it into the brewery's regular distribution.
2. Tropical Oh Yeah from Call to Arms Brewing was a Southern Hemisphere IPA that was just lovely at a time when those types of IPAs were just hitting the market.
3. Another Upslope collab that makes the list was when we used our sourdough starter to produce a table beer that was just lovely. Not the best seller, but definitely cool as hell.
4. Jake from Westbound & Down has made a ton of collabs with us over the years, and my favorite by far was You're Fucked If You Do and Fucked If You Don't. It was a great hybrid IPA and was born of a drunken argument over East Coast versus West Coast IPAs.
5. A cranberry saison from Call to Arms makes the list — not because of how the beer turned out, but because we shipped in four crates of cranberries from my home town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
6. Rhymes With E-BAG was a Stone Brewing collaboration that was made with us and a few other beer bars from Colorado. We got to fly out and spend two days eating and drinking our way around San Diego. It was a great time and a pretty darn good beer. Thanks for that memory, Stone.
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7. I got some first-run whiskey barrels from Breckenridge Distillery and handed them out to five breweries to fill with beer and age. Out of the five, the Ten Fidy from Oskar Blues was my favorite. It was amazing, and also a great event at the shop. It was a crazy day in a time when barrel-aged beers owned beer geeks' attention.
8. Pepperoni Side Car from Station 26 was a beer we engineered to be the perfect accompaniment for a slice of pepperoni pizza, and the name was way cool.
9. Hops & Pie PA, made with Tim at Strange Brewing. This beer was a staple in our lineup for our first four years of operation and our house IPA for those years.
10. H26P from Station 26 stepped in and took over for Hops & Pie PA as our house IPA for the following several years. It was a really great go-to IPA.