Cafe Society

Pints Pub has the largest selection of single-malt Scotch in Denver

Of all the spirits, whiskey may be the most varied (the world can't even agree on the spelling of the word). Bourbons must be made with at least 51 percent corn in charred oak barrels. Irish whiskey ages distilled cereal grains in wooden casks. Canadian whisky just has to be mashed and distilled in Canada, though its blend often features a lot of corn and rye. And Scotch, one of the most famous whiskeys, has to be made in Scotland from water and malted barley and matured in oak casks for at least three years. Single-malt Scotch, which accounts for less than 10 percent of the Scotch produced, can't include cereal grains and must be produced at a single distillery in pot stills.

Pints Pub claims to have the largest collection of single-malt outside of Britain — and while that claim is hard to substantiate, this bar certainly has the largest collection in Denver. Bottles of single-malt line the walls, and the tome-like liquor list categorizes the offerings by their places of origin: Highland, Lowland and Island, among others.

But Pints is also a brewpub, and it crafts a variety of beers, including English-style cask-conditioned live brews and low-alcohol session ale. That activity inspired the decor when Scott Diamond opened his joint in a quirky, two-story structure in the Golden Triangle back in 1993. There's a British phone booth outside the door, the walls boast British flags, and the bar area and dining rooms are full of dark wood. The only thing missing was grimy darkness; my companion joked that they should cover a couple of windows to get the true Brit atmosphere.

While the ambience captures the feel of an English pub, the menu includes both traditional fare and several new-world adaptations, which I learned when I tried to order the fish and chips and was warned that I'd be receiving broiled salmon, not battered and fried cod or halibut. Instead, we went for the bangers and mash, as well as an order of chicken wings — touted as "award-winning" — and the beddar wimpy, a burger crowned with Canadian bacon and a slab of melted cheddar.

The wings came out first: a pile of huge, jointed pieces of bird that hadn't been battered, but still had pleasantly crispy skin encasing tender white meat. They were drowning in extra-buttery Red Hot; I wished the kitchen had just tossed them in the sauce, then served the rest on the side along with the homemade bleu cheese. But while award-winning seemed strong praise, we had no problem demolishing the order. Ditto for the wimpy, cooked to a perfect medium rare and drooling juice into the buttered and toasted bun. Though I prefer belly bacon to back bacon, the disks of pork and gooey cheese were delicious additions (as was a smear of Grey Poupon, which sits on every table).

My only regret was that I didn't save more room for the excellent bangers and mash. Taut, fat links of porky sausage in natural casings had been boiled in beer, absorbing a mild, sweet flavor that harmonized with the salty cure. Dipped in chunky mashed potatoes doused in thick, beefy gravy, the bangers were hearty and comforting, if a little rich for a summer night. We washed them down with cider and red ale, which had more malty character than I expected, and then got serious about the Scotch list.

A wee dram of peaty whisky was just the way to conclude the night.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk