The tasting-room experience is only partly about the beer. The other part is all artistry: the sight, sound and song of the brewery.
It's the feeling that you've stepped inside a loaf of bread, the air heady with the smell of yeast and malt; the clang of tanks, and wheeled kegs and bottling machines; and the satisfaction of sipping on something piped from a keg in cold storage five feet away, 10 feet away from where it was brewed.
Pikes Peak Brewing Co. co-owners Chris Wright (brewer) and Dan York (chief consumption officer) have nailed this combo, while at the same time creating a coffee-shop-esque space with a look that's best characterized as mountain industrial: lots of steel, and slate and wood, much of it beetle-killed pine. Opposite the bar, black leather chairs circle a large fireplace, while black tables and high rounds, each topped with a bowl of malt as a centerpiece, fill the smallish dining room. Outside offers a fire pit, hula hoops, dog water bowls and a game of cornhole.
Beverage-wise, Wright's always known booze: He's author of The Beer Journal, essentially the Bible for Colorado's fermented religious fervor, now in its second edition. Even more, he knows that to break the rules, you've got to know the rules. And Wright, a computer engineer by trade, knows the rules.
It shows in the small stuff — the pre-pour water rinse of each beer-specific glass (which minutely affects the beer's nose and flavor), or the blackboard denoting ABV, IBU (measurement of bitterness) and drink profile — and it shows in the beer. Grab a flight of six for $6.50 and you'll notice right off that the Devils Head Red is bigger, hoppier and nuttier than expected, while staying true to the style's basics. The Rocky Wheat recalls Bristol Brewing Co.'s Beehive, minus the honey, plus brighter citrus notes. The Brits Are Here is flat, malty richness, while the 8.8 percent ABV Elephant Rock imperial IPA is the favorite of the bunch — pine-y, with huge poppin' hops.
And though it doesn't have to be, the food, sourced from Monument caterers Taste of Life and Nita Faust, is good, too — especially the meat-and-cheese paninis ($7.95). The peppery turkey is best, but the ham and Swiss, and roast beef, both taste fresh, with great toasted bread and kettle chips. Soups ($4) — like the green chili, the sneakily spicy beer cheese soup or chunky clam chowder — are thin, but packed with strong flavors.
Pickers should grab the two chewy pretzel sticks ($4), or the tray ($9.95) with fresh salamis, cheeses, and pickled jalapeños and onions. And for sweets lovers, there's a rich-to-overflowing German chocolate cake ($3.95) laced with ganache, and served with a shot of lightly sweet Summit House Stout, or a creamy key lime pie ($3.95) with the IPA.
The pulled pork sandwich ($7.95) is the only disappointment, and all it needs is a new barbecue sauce. The pork is tender and plentiful, and the crusty roll, via Sam's Club, is a surprising highlight, but the bland sauce is thin and soaks the bottom of the bread.
Still, if the beer's the thing, Wright's put together a slate to hang with that of any Colorado brewer. He's already playing around with a barrel-aged whiskey stout for December, and taking Bristol's philanthropic cues and crafting a rye porter to benefit Trout Unlimited. (Release date is Sept. 17.)
It all comes together to make Pikes Peak Brewing Co., for anybody south of Monument, true destination dining — or, should I say, drinking.