The view from the rooftop bar at Odell Brewing's new Sloan's Lake taphouse says it all: Denver is back.
Under the cheery euphoria of blues skies, warm weather and increasing vaccinations, people are bursting out of their homes and into the city's parks, onto the streets and around the corner to their neighborhood brewery. And in northwest Denver, they have a new one, just a few feet from the walking paths around Sloan's Lake Park.
The new Odell Brewery Sloan's Lake Brewhouse, at 1625 Perry Street, opens to the public today (Monday, April 5) at 11 a.m. This is the second Denver location for the 32-year-old Fort Collins brewery, but it is the first to offer housemade dining options, which include everything from pizzas with seasonal ingredients to a smoked-pork belly flight, smoked trout dip, salads and soft pretzel bites.
Set in the historic Kuhlman Building — once part of the St. Anthony Hospital campus — the two-story taproom has room for more than 230 people (once restaurants are able to seat at full capacity). The space also houses a ten-barrel brewhouse, where head brewer Marni Wahlquist, who's been with Odell for seven years, has already brewed several beers that will only be available on site; they include two IPAs, a spot-on pilsner, a saison and a rich chocolate coffee stout.
Wahlquist has several more beers exclusive to Sloan's Lake in the fermenters, including a pineapple kettle sour, a raspberry cream ale, a soursop IPA, another hazy IPA, a dark lager and a Kolsch. But she's most excited about the Perry Street Pilsner. "It's something we don't do a lot of at Odell, so I've been really into that."
The brewer also promises gluten-free options, including a line of Odell's new Allkind Hard Kombuchas that she grew from a single keg-sized batch to its current multi-barrel size. Wahlquist uses a combination of a kombucha culture and wine yeast to up the alcohol content to between 6 and 6.5 percent ABV.
Getting into the food business wasn't the brewery's original goal, because no one on the staff had any restaurant experience a year ago. "We didn't go out seeking a restaurant space," says Odell marketing director Alex Kayne. "But we fell in love with this space. It has a community feel — a neighborhood vibe where people are going to push strollers to or ride a bike to. We couldn't bring a space like this to life with just a brewhouse."
To help, Odell hired its first head chef, Isaiah Ruffin, a sustainable food specialist who has worked all over the country and abroad, and general manager Bella De La Torre, who served most recently as assistant general manager and beverage director at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den. Ruffin's résumé stretches well beyond professional kitchens: He's a military veteran with a master's degree in sustainable food systems (and he's nearly finished with his Ph.D. in education), so you'll see plenty of local ingredients from producers that the chef has researched, including Sky Pilot Farms (for lamb and pork) and Hazel Dell for mushrooms.
Although Colorado breweries have traditionally stayed away from adding restaurants (aside from those that started off as brewpubs) because of the challenges involved, that mindset has changed over the past five years as beer makers big and small looked for ways to differentiate themselves from increasing competition and for new ways to keep customers, as well as revenue, in the house.
Denver Beer Co., for instance, opened its own eatery inside its third taproom in south Denver last month, while Longmont's Left Hand Brewing will add a restaurant when it opens a huge new taproom next to the Mission Ballroom in 2022. TRVE Brewing, meanwhile, is adding a hot chicken outlet inside its Broadway taproom.
Building its own kitchen also helped Odell hire more than thirty people for the new taproom, bringing the company's total employment to nearly 200 people, Kayne says. That's important for the brewery, which did manage to increase its revenues slightly in 2020 despite the pandemic, because there is now a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to bringing customers back indoors, both in Denver and Fort Collins.
"It's certainly good timing for us," Kayne adds, pointing out that a combination of the weather, pent-up demand and rising vaccination numbers could make for a Roaring ’20s kind of feel this spring and summer as people compare that decade to the building mood at the onset on the 2020s.
But it's the soaring taproom and the stunning rooftop patio that steal the show at Odell. On the first floor, a split-level seating area allows people to spread out and enjoy the high ceilings, old photos of the park and a view into the brewhouse. Upstairs, the airy space includes a high-windowed indoor area with sixteen taps, high-back booths and an indoor-outdoor bar, along with a sprawling outdoor area featuring community-style tables, a pergola and views of the neighborhood, the mountains, the park and Sloan's Lake itself.
Odell, the nation's seventeenth-largest craft brewery, first announced the new taproom in July 2019, just fourteen months after opening its taproom and pilot brewery location in RiNo. The expansion has been a bold one for the brewery, which previously had no locations outside of Fort Collins.
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