Tuesday, October 1, 2019

La Carreta replaces Lemongrass Bistro

Posted By on Tue, Oct 1, 2019 at 8:10 AM

The Molcajete Duranguense plate at La Carreta. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • The Molcajete Duranguense plate at La Carreta.

Lemongrass Bistro closed its doors this past week at 6840 N. Academy Blvd., to be replaced just days later by a second La Carreta location.

La Carreta has been open on 35 Iowa Ave., just northeast of Memorial Park, for 23 years; Blanca Reyes and her mom Lorenza Galvan have owned it for the last five of those years.
"We appreciate the neighborhood that has been supporting us all this time," says Reyes, noting many regular customers who'd drive from the north side of town. So this new location is partly meant to place an eatery closer to those loyal customers, she says.

Though she had dreamed of a second location some day, Reyes said the opportunity to branch out now came when Lemongrass Bistro's owner recently approached them about a sale. What enabled La Carreta to open doors just days after Lemongrass closed down is how good of shape the spot's in, she says. The front-house decor was already fairly "plain," she adds, meaning it's an easy transition from Vietnamese to Mexican service, and her crew mainly just needed to reorganize the kitchen area.

Reyes says the menu at this new north location will be exactly the same as at the original, and Galvan will do the prep at both to ensure consistency.

"This is authentic Mexican food, the same way we cook at home," says Reyes, noting their Durango, Mexico roots. "Everything is from scratch: no cans, nothing frozen." 
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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

NaRai expands with soon-to-open Mangosteen Thai Street Food

Posted By on Tue, Sep 17, 2019 at 3:15 PM


Mango-topped catfish served at a preview meal. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mango-topped catfish served at a preview meal.

NaRai Thai Restaurant and NaRai Siam Cuisine will soon have a sister restaurant at 383 Spectrum Loop (off Voyager Pkwy., near North Gate Blvd.) called Mangosteen Thai Street Food.

The trio of eateries' owner, Jasmine Andrew, tentatively plans to launch the new venture on Wednesday, Sept. 25. (Keep an eye on NaRai's Facebook page for details, for now.)
Owner Jasmine Andrew (second from right) with several of Mangosteen's staff. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Owner Jasmine Andrew (second from right) with several of Mangosteen's staff.

What immediately sets Mangosteen — named after the healthful tropical fruit — apart from NaRai's two full-service locations (which themselves differ slightly with menu offerings) is its counter-service model.

Guests will enter and approach a hot line, set up almost as buffet would be, and select menu items which will be pre-prepared for on-the-go eaters; only chicken-broth soups will be made-to-order with protein options like pork and shrimp.

And within six months, Andrew hopes to utilize a drive-thru window that's built and ready, once the kitchen comes up to speed and gauges customer volume and capacity.
Tentative opening date: September 25. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Tentative opening date: September 25.

The original Rockrimmon-area NaRai opened in 2008, followed by the Cheyenne Mountain location in 2014. This Spectrum Loop building has sat vacant for roughly a couple years, formerly hosting a Taco Bueno. Andrew says she's had her eye on it for some time and finally decided to pull the trigger and give a third restaurant a go. "This will be my last one," she jokes, saying "no more."

Both the other locations close during the middle of the day to reset between lunch and dinner service, but here, she says "I want to stay open all day. I want to try something new. I wanted a faster-paced restaurant."
Lemongrass chicken with turmeric rice. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Lemongrass chicken with turmeric rice.

With that in mind, she also wanted to offer menu items not seen at her other spots in town, and perhaps not served by any local Thai eateries. A few are true street-food items in Thailand; others are popular at sit-down places.

At a preview meal we attended, Andrew presented vibrant items like lemongrass chicken with golden turmeric rice; catfish topped in a mango relish spiced by red onions and chiles; grilled pork with tamarind-chile dipping sauce; battered fried chicken with broth-infused rice; papaya salad, and assorted pot stickers with ginger sauce.

Initially Andrew didn't even want to offer Pad Thai at the new spot, to distinguish it, but her customers pressed her on the matter, so she conceded, but has opted to make it with a thinner noodle, to change at least one aspect of the popular dish.
Pot stickers. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pot stickers.

The new location will have a beer and wine license. As for the name, Andrew says people love mangos, so having that as part of the name (despite it being a completely different fruit than mangosteen) should attract attention, she believes. No, there's no actual mangosteen item on the opening menu at present — I suggested an ice cream in the future, maybe?

She has designed the space with a stark, modern sensibility, utilizing white and black tiles at the counter, dark wood floors and tables, and a fun, defining purple booth and seat upholstery that's almost eggplant purple, but also roughly the color of mangosteen skins too. 
Guest and staff enjoy food together at a preview meal. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Guest and staff enjoy food together at a preview meal.
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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Loyal Coffee's new north location approaches opening; here's a sneak peek

Posted By on Sat, Sep 7, 2019 at 4:09 PM

Coming soon, as in early October. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Coming soon, as in early October.

Loyal Coffee prepares to hold its grand opening of its new north location in early October. Keep an eye on its social media pages prior to then for some soft-opening info. 

October 1 will mark the 3-year anniversary for the business, so expect some celebratory happenings downtown, says Hill, who can't yet say if the north store will be ready to participate by then or not. (Again, watch their Facebook page to stay in the know.)
Co-owners Bevan Cammell, Chris Mueller and Tyler Hill (left to right). And that's not a pink espresso machine: It's "festive salmon" say the boys. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Co-owners Bevan Cammell, Chris Mueller and Tyler Hill (left to right). And that's not a pink espresso machine: It's "festive salmon" say the boys.

When asked if there's more Loyal locations on the horizon, Hill will only say "we're dreaming of number three and beyond at this point."
This new location is built-out to around 3,000 square feet, compared to the original location's 1,900 square feet. Indoor seating capacity will increase by around 20 seats, and an outdoor patio location of the previous Cafe Velo space (11550 Ridgeline Drive, #102) holds a lovely mountain view.
Ceiling rope design also ties the new north location to downtown, stylistically. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Ceiling rope design also ties the new north location to downtown, stylistically.

Several design touches tie the new space to the old, including a rope ceiling and wooden mural wall featuring some of Loyal's logo and branding design. And the overall color scheme's roughly the same, though this new location ties in new steel bar accents in select areas, contrasting plywood veneer and alder wood sections.

"We built on the stuff that worked downtown," Hill says. "The intentionality of the flow from the door to the register ... It feels like Loyal still, but it's beautiful and unique in its own way."

Hill says the team (of six former barista owners plus a group of investors) aimed to "build for the community we are in ... it's about the guests, not us."
Similar wood paneling to the downtown store creates a design connection. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Similar wood paneling to the downtown store creates a design connection.

White quartz countertops lead to the "festive salmon" (read: sorta pink) La Marzocco Strada AVR espresso machine. Mueller explains that for the purpose of consistent, easily replicated drinks, the unit (the first of its kind to offer this feature, adds Cammell) features scales under each group head, which weigh the ground coffee in the portafilter and calibrate the volume and timing of the shot accordingly. That expediency affords the baristas more time to take care of the customers, rather than fiddle with the machinery they say. "We've simplified things for the sake of our guests," Hill says.
Downtown's tiny nook seating areas are partly mirrored here with a row of larger booth seats. Overall indoor seating has increased by nearly 20 seats over downtown, to a total of around 70. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Downtown's tiny nook seating areas are partly mirrored here with a row of larger booth seats. Overall indoor seating has increased by nearly 20 seats over downtown, to a total of around 70.

Hours will likely be the same as at the downtown store, though they may close at 9 versus 10 p.m. depending on how evening business goes. This location won't have a license to dispense spirits and cocktails, only beer and wine. Expect 10 taps featuring craft beers, kombucha, lemonade and cold brew. Also look for a canned beer array.
This new space holds a meeting room that can seat between 10 and 14 people, or offer standing room to around 20 or so. It can be reserved by the hour. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • This new space holds a meeting room that can seat between 10 and 14 people, or offer standing room to around 20 or so. It can be reserved by the hour.

Another new feature to this north location is a meeting room, available by the hour by reservation online (soon). Mueller says bookings for meetings will include a free pot of coffee and a 10-percent discount at the register for other items. Options for the space include seating at a modular conference table or removal of said table to open up mingle room.

A rear hallway from the bathrooms leads past a kitchen entrance and the back half of the open service counter. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A rear hallway from the bathrooms leads past a kitchen entrance and the back half of the open service counter.
And the food menu will be quite similar to downtown, says Hill. Classic plates like the egg and toast will remain, but he says the team's finalizing plans for "some faster meals" as well as some vegan and allergy-friendly options.

Overall, Hill says there's a certain "elegance" to what Loyal hopes to achieve in this new neighborhood, where the median household income is roughly three times that of average downtown residences, according to their demographic research. Hence part of matching this neighborhood means leveraging Loyal's existing style and design aesthetic and bringing the same high coffee standard to a place where poshness already reigns. 
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Monday, August 19, 2019

Blackhat Distillery to pick up where Blue Fish left off

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2019 at 6:05 PM

Colorado Springs' newest distillery just announced its tentative opening, set for mid September.

Blackhat Distillery comes by way of the not-long-ago shuttering of Blue Fish Distillery.

"We heard they were closing," says co-owner Matt Bonno, and we came in before the lease was up and struck a deal with John and Ellen [Fisher] to purchase the business, including nine barrels of finished product, all their equipment, and their recipes." 

Bonno's name should be familiar from Boxing Brothers Ciderhouse (formerly Colorado Common), and he's partnered financially here with Joe Koscove of the Koscove Metal family as well as an accountant friend named David Varnum. But he's also brought in the talents of Allen Oliver (formerly of Cockpit Craft Distillery and Rocky Mountain Brewery) to be head distiller, as well as rockstar local bartender Montana Horsfall of Craft Cocktail Inc. to be Blackhat's director. 
COURTESY BLACKHAT DISTILLERY
  • Courtesy Blackhat Distillery
Bonno says the idea with Blackhat is to "build off what they had been doing and take that in our own direction." Hence the new name, which he says was built around the concept of people who changed history, "whether they were royals, rebels, outlaws, badasses, they always wore a black hat — whether that's a top hat, a bowler, a fur hat, a flat bill — it was worn by people doing and changing things. There's the idea of if you're a mover and a shaker, an innovator, then a black hat's for you. We're playing off that, the history that got us where we are."

As for the distillery's focus, it'll be on rums and agave spirits (like tequilas, but you can't call them that when you aren't making them in the proper area of Mexico). Which isn't to say there won't be a vodka and whiskies on the horizon: They're already aging product to become bourbon in two years.

Look for a 100-percent blackstrap molasses rum, Jamaican-style, as well as a Cuban-style sugarcane rum, plus barrel-aged and spiced rums. On the opening weeks, they plan to sell coconut, mango and pineapple-infused rums made out of the Blue Fish product they purchased. As for the blue agave spirits, expect both a pure Mexican-style sipping (not-) tequila as well as a mixed light and dark agave blended spirit, better for mixings, says Bonno.

Bonno says he plans to let Oliver guide the distillery's direction, but he's been able to be a sounding board on recipe development and help out with aspects such as ingredient-supply contacts, given his experience at his cidery. One cool tie-in, he says, is an upcoming traditional apple brandy, for which he's been able to help guide Oliver on making a great cider from which a great brandy can be distilled, he says. He brings a strong knowledge of fruit flavorings into alcohols.
Montana Horsfall will create Blackhat's cocktail menus in her role as distillery director. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Montana Horsfall will create Blackhat's cocktail menus in her role as distillery director.
Oliver, meanwhile, is a bitters wizard, hear Horsfall tell it. He makes a diverse array of his own bitters, which Blackhat plans to help him develop into his own label for retail sale. She says anything she'll need in the tasting room for her cocktail creation, Oliver can make. (That's the way the liquor laws demand it be done anyway, in distilleries, which can't serve other brands' spirits and liqueurs.)

The shared vision, she explains, is that as a guest, if you enjoy your spirit sampling and then a cocktail, they'll be able to send you home with just about everything you need to make it, from their base spirit to the liqueur and bitters — like a to-go kit.

"Everything I'm about with Craft Cocktail Inc. [her business, which she'll continue to run, with Blackhat's promotional support] is teaching people how to make good cocktails at home," she says. "If it's not five ingredients or less I didn't do it right."

That said, she's planning for an approachable, "simplistic" menu, but also a special higher-end drink list that must be requested, she says. 

Blackhat hopes to launch by a target date of the weekend of Sept. 20-22, and keep regular hours: 3-9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursdays; until 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; and 3-7 p.m. Sundays, tentatively. They'll likely have food trucks park on site (5745 Industrial Place, Suite A) on weekends. 
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Four summer sips at Brooklyn's on Boulder, plus 1,728 ways to make a gin and tonic

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2019 at 3:17 PM

Brooklyn's on Boulder launched its summer menu update in mid July, which will run into a yet-to-be-determined date in October.

As usual, that means the core menu of classic gin drinks stays untouched, but the house bartenders get to play with two menu pages (15 drinks this go-around) for seasonal inspirations. They invited us out to sample a drink from each of four sections of the summer menu.

Bar Manager Carlos Garcia reminded us how each season's menu-creation process takes about six weeks. The staff, including he and head bartender Philip Taylor, as well as bartender Robin Jones, will bring ideas to meetings for peer critique. It's all about making the best drink possible, inside a team atmosphere, he says. "We talk about checking your ego at the door. We ask each other 'What are you trying to achieve.'"

Jones started us off with a drink she conceived, named the Viva Havana, made with Lee Spirits Co. Dry Gin, coconut milk, orange liqueur, house Colorado tonic and lime juice.  She explained that the coconut milk was intended as a lighter cream element than what heavy cream brings to many cocktails, "and the coconut flavor really adds a lot," while the orange helps lift the citrus element without making the drink more sour. Undertones of lemongrass in the tonic, also made with aspen bark, add complexity. If you like piña coladas, this is for you.
Viva Havana. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Viva Havana.

Next up, Taylor says with each menu he likes to riff on one of his all-time favorite drinks, the Old Fashioned. What that looks like this go around is called the Chattanooga Manor, made with Winston Lee blended whiskey, angostura and orange bitters, allspice dram and an awesome house cola syrup. He says he modeled the drink after the idea of a Jack-and-Coke meets a rum Old Fashioned. Between the bright allspice notes and vibrant spicing of the cola syrup, which includes nutmeg and cinnamon, there's ample aroma and flavor to study, bookended by the whiskey and citrus factors.
Chattanooga Manor. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Chattanooga Manor.

Another Winston Lee whiskey drink presented by Garcia, the Rosa Fuerte, plays off a Manhattan, trying to usher it into the hot days of summer (of which we've had more than plenty lately). To him, that meant adding Lee's Creme de Rose liqueur for subtle floral notes atop the sweet vermouth and angostura bitters. That plays quite nicely, not too sweet but plenty suggestive and elegant with the pervasive flower essence.
Rosa Fuerte. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Rosa Fuerte.

Lastly, we enjoyed a dance with a drink called Pagan Poetry, concocted with Lee Dry Gin, Suze (gentian root), Calisaya liqueur (with cinchona, bitter orange peel, liquorish, elderberry and spices), Lee's Forbidden Fruit liqueur (made with white grapefruit, honey, and "a blend of spices"), and a smoked rosemary tincture. Thanks to a big rosemary sprig garnish, the aroma's superb, evocative of earth and forested land, that impression reinforced by the multitude of botanic elements and a clean bitterness that carries through and finishes crisp and fresh, like high-mountain air.
Pagan Poetry. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Pagan Poetry.

Before we depart, the crew lets us know about new happy hours (5-7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 4-5 p.m., Sunday) during which you can choose your own Gin & Tonic. What that looks like is a checklist menu featuring four gin styles, six tonic variants, and nine different garnishes (pick two per drink). So, for example, you might build a lavender gin with Q elderflower tonic topped with an orange wedge and cardamom. Or fiery Ginfuego mixed with Fever Tree Bitter Lemon, garnished with basil and pink peppercorns. You get the idea — it looks hella fun, and they say of the 1,728 possible combinations, they rarely see different guests build the same drink twice.
Brooklyn's on Boulder bartenders Philip Taylor, Robin Jones and Carlos Garcia (left to right). - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Brooklyn's on Boulder bartenders Philip Taylor, Robin Jones and Carlos Garcia (left to right).
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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Solar Roast Coffee's new Springs location a breath of fresh brew, and style

Posted By on Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 1:31 PM

Awesome wall murals by Pueblo artist Mathew Taylor. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Awesome wall murals by Pueblo artist Mathew Taylor.

Solar Roast Coffee finally opened its much-anticipated Colorado Springs location on Aug. 7, taking over a former Starbucks location on Tejon Street — yeah, up the street just a few blocks from the other Starbucks — yay for an independent eating a chain, for once, rather than the other way around!

Continue scrolling and reading below to check out the stylish space.
A summer special rose latte, made with Solar Roast's Aristotle Blend. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A summer special rose latte, made with Solar Roast's Aristotle Blend.

If you're new to Solar Roast, check out my original interview with brothers Mike and Dave Harkop back in early 2008, when they were still roasting literally using the sun's rays as part of a solar concentrator named Helios 4, composed of 800 IKEA mirrors focused on one point, which generated more than a thousand degrees of heat with which to roast.

You can still buy Solar Roast beans at Mountain Mama's or Natural Grocers, and soon Whole Foods, but to guarantee maximum freshness my money's on buying on site in the coffee shop. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • You can still buy Solar Roast beans at Mountain Mama's or Natural Grocers, and soon Whole Foods, but to guarantee maximum freshness my money's on buying on site in the coffee shop.

Today, the roasting process is different, as solar panels mounted atop the Pueblo roastery on 226 N. Main Street generate about 13 kilowatt hours of energy, says Mike Hartkop. He adds that the actual roasting process only utilizes 12 kilowatt hours, leaving more available to offset office and the coffeehouse's usage.

Jessica and Mike Hartkop, operations manager and owner, respectively. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Jessica and Mike Hartkop, operations manager and owner, respectively.

When I ask Mike if they have plans for more expansion, he says: "This has strained every relationship I've ever been in. This is it for now." He appears to only be half joking, or not at all, but says "it's fun to be here" and walk out the doors of a familiar coffee setup but into a new town. "Pueblo has been so great to us, and there's Puebloans everywhere — we stick together." (Right next door is Bingo Burger's Pueblo expansion, for example.)
Mathew Taylor is also a graffiti artist who goes by Refic, and is part of Pueblo's talented Creatures Crew. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mathew Taylor is also a graffiti artist who goes by Refic, and is part of Pueblo's talented Creatures Crew.

Another Pueblo person provided all the muralist work at this new location: Mathew Taylor, who the Indy has caught up with before, regarding his work with the Creatures Crew.

Let there be music! A records rack precedes the ordering counter. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Let there be music! A records rack precedes the ordering counter.

Beyond the artwork on the walls, a records shelf adds more character to the coffee shop, allowing customers a chance to peruse labels while waiting for their drinks to pop up at the pickup counter.

Roasts available on site include rare barrel-aged coffees. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Roasts available on site include rare barrel-aged coffees.

All coffees sourced by Solar Roast are 100-percent organic, says Mike Hartkop. Learn more about the business from this recent Colorado Springs Business Journal article.
The facade shows a taste of what style awaits inside. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The facade shows a taste of what style awaits inside.

Indulge me this bit of self-satisfaction, but I'm overjoyed to see my 11-year-old article still posted on Solar Roast's walls, still getting to tell the story of the mad scientist Dave Hartkop.

"Our overall vision is ... to be a recognized brand and entity in the world of coffee," said Mike at the time. "That means being able to provide coffee to anyone in the world who wants it and following through with vision of solar roast using alternative energy for industry."
We always love to see our work represented by places we write about. I first met the Harkop brothers in early 2008, when they were still roasting on their wild Helios 4 machine, made from 800 IKEA mirrors that concentrated sunlight. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • We always love to see our work represented by places we write about. I first met the Harkop brothers in early 2008, when they were still roasting on their wild Helios 4 machine, made from 800 IKEA mirrors that concentrated sunlight.
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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Decadent Saint makes a case for sangria and spirit exploration

Posted By on Wed, Aug 7, 2019 at 9:46 PM

MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
Meet Michael Hasler, a winemaker from Australia with roughly four decades experience around the world. He's the owner of and winemaker at Decadent Saint, a Louisville, Colorado-based winery.

I met Hasler recently, randomly via an Airbnb experience, and I visited him later at his booth inside the early July Colorado Springs Art and Music Festival.

I confess I approached his "Ultimate Mixers" with a degree of skepticism, at-first thinking they sounded like a potential headache in a bottle, likely to be sappy and over-sweet, or maybe synthetic tasting.

But a short sampling later, I was totally hooked on them, anxious to play at home with some bottles I purchased. (Transparency note: Hasler threw in a jar of his newly launched Decadent Mud chocolate sauce for me to try.) Should you be interested in checking the products out, after watching the below video for a little more backstory via Hasler, they're available locally at many locations in the area.

The reason I'm choosing to write about the products here is because of how much they've impressed both me and many guests to my house in the last several weeks. They've also garnered critical acclaim and medals at competitions such as the Denver International Wine Competition and San Francisco International Competition (a 2016 Double Gold for the Spiced Mocha spiced dark chocolate wine).

As Hasler describes in the below video, all his concentrated wines are made with real fruit, unpasteurized and unfiltered as his liqueur-making process goes. Each 750ml bottle (20.5-percent ABV) makes up to a gallon of sangria by simply diluting with water and ice, or can be utilized as component to a wide variety of cocktails.

Overwhelmingly, our samplings at home have led to the passionfruit flavor being our clear favorite — we've added it to beer, made a simple sangria, and made the suggested passionfruit habanero margarita and passionfruit hard lemonade. I've even turned persnickety bartenders onto the products.

Decadent Saint's raspberry flavor makes a really lovely sangria, even if the base wine you're using under it isn't all that fine or fancy, says Hasler. We've been drinking it with a $12 bottle of an organic cabernet sauvignon.

We've played the least so far with the spiced black currant, mainly because those spices evoked a sense of fall time for me, and I just wasn't craving them in the midst of the hot summer days. But soon that time will arrive to explore them, in something like a black currant Arnold Palmer, which adds the Decadent Saint product to vodka and lemonade plus black tea — another variant for that bottle is a black currant mule with vodka, ginger beer and lime. 



Come dessert, the spiced mocha label contributes to a fine Colorado Bulldog or White Russian, but I've also enjoyed it just mixed with coconut milk. The 15-percent-ABV Decadent Mud is just that, made with fortified red wine, coconut cream, decaf coffee, maple syrup, black currants and the same proprietary spice blend that goes into the spiced mocha liqueur. It's reminiscent of Glühwein (mulled wine), with a faint clove and cinnamon essence. The mud spreads like Nutella and can go on just about anything, from toast to ice cream to fruit — admittedly we just keep dipping pinkie fingers in the jar.

So, yeah, this all might read like a damn commercial, but let's say that Decadent Saint impressed us enough that we felt compelled to share the word on the brand. It's a great Colorado spirit worth your attention — it absolutely caught ours. 
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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Taylor Donner departs Cerberus Brewing Company, heads to Belgium

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 7:14 PM

Taylor Donner, off to adventure abroad. - KAITLYN BOWERS
  • Kaitlyn Bowers
  • Taylor Donner, off to adventure abroad.
Local wunderkind Taylor Donner, who holds a rare advanced-level Cicerone certification and has held the assistant brewer position at Cerberus Brewing Company since its launch a few years ago, departs for Belgium next week for at least three months of personal study abroad.

The bad news for the Springs: He may stay gone much longer in the pursuit of more hands-on education and experience, depending on where his travel and connections take him.

Donner, who's also been the beer buyer for Brewer's Republic, probably knows more about beer (at least on paper, to be fair) than anyone in the city — at age 26. "Getting out of the Springs and Colorado is the next biggest step for me," he says, noting "...Cerberus laid the groundwork for who I am now and who I'll be moving forward."

The young brewer has his sights set on three breweries in particular in Belgium, places that have produced "beers that mean a lot to me." They are: De Struise Brouwers and Fantôme (both confirmed), and Cantillon (if he's lucky). The goal is to volunteer and do work apprenticeships at each: "I want to see how [their brewers] approach the creative process, and how I can bring that forward as a brewer."

De Struise is known for high-gravity beers, he says, "big and strong with a lot of character but also nuanced and subtle." They do a lot of blending and barrel aging he hopes to study in particular. While Fantôme is "a really solid example of what a farmhouse brewery is ... wild and funky saisons... more consideration of artistry and flavor ... they don't worry about what the market demands because they're so small." And Cantillon leads with widely celebrated lambics.
Donner adding his magic touch. - KAITLYN BOWERS
  • Kaitlyn Bowers
  • Donner adding his magic touch.
 The three-month plan relates to a 90-day visa, unless he can find a way to get sponsored to stay longer, he says. He'll bring his chef knives with him — he's a trained cook as well — and do some restaurant stages by evenings if that helps open any doors. If he can't stay in Belgium longer, he says he can land with some family in Vienna and possibly glean some valuable brewing experience there as well. "My family is in the Springs, so I'll always come back," he says, but he's also clearly focusing on his growth as a brewer, which will likely lead him to larger markets, and possibly larger brewhouses if opportunities present, though he'd prefer to stay in smaller operations on the scale of Cerberus or a little larger.

"So much goes into being a brewer even at this small scale," he says. "Everything I know as far as professional brewing is built around what I learned here."

Stylistically, he says Cerberus is obviously hop-forward, and that he and head head brewer Josh Adamski built their portfolio of beers around styles they cared about that, that perhaps many customers hadn't tried. They sought to spin things, often using Belgian beers as a base from which to play with other flavors (for example a golden strong brewed with honey and apples and spiced with cardamom and pink peppercorns).

He believes they were the first locally to brew now-super-popular New England-style IPAs and hazy IPAs. "When we had free space, we wanted to push the envelope as much as we could."
Adamski (left) and Donner bringing home a bronze award in 2018 from the World Beer cup for their NBD Kolsch. - NO CREDIT
  • No credit
  • Adamski (left) and Donner bringing home a bronze award in 2018 from the World Beer cup for their NBD Kolsch.
Adamski credits Donner for a big part of Cerberus' direction and success (they won 12 Indy Best Of awards in 2017, including Best New Brewery), saying the two "complemented each others' styles."

"I was the brewer who knew the ins and outs of hops and grains and how they worked and basic styles," explains Adamski. "He had the experimental thing going, playing with Brett beers and lactose and stuff, doing things I hadn't been as involved in, that was starting to blow up." The two brewers would play together on Adamski's small homebrew system and Adamski says "he had ideas I'd never thought about ... it's his out-of-bounds thinking I enjoyed the most, that kept us going, when we were [otherwise] brewing the same beers week after week, it gets monotonous ... we'd talk, about 'let's do this or change that' ... it was fun to BS about beer, that relationship was the best part of being in the brewhouse."
Adamski (covering his face) credits Donner with much of Cerberus' style and success, as a co-conspirator. - KAITLYN BOWERS
  • Kaitlyn Bowers
  • Adamski (covering his face) credits Donner with much of Cerberus' style and success, as a co-conspirator.
Donner will be replaced at Cerberus by André Blyth, formerly of Triple S and JAKs, and both brewers will continue to get support from cellarman Matt Driscoll. Despite the mixed emotions around seeing Donner leave, there's so much excitement around Cerberus' expansion plans.

On July 29, new equipment arrives that will effectively double the outfit's brewing capacity. They're going from a 7-barrel to 15-barrel brewhouse, to include a canning line and new production facility across the street (east) in the Colorado Springs Bike Shop space, eventually. "We'll be able to brew some fun stuff we haven't had time to do," says Adamski. In the existing space, he says he'll likely place a small one-barrel system for experimentation as well as place a lot of barrels up for aging, for "sours and off-the-wall" beers.

Who knows ... maybe all the fun will lure Donner back around again in the future. For now, beer fans in the Springs wish him a fond farewell as he sets off for far horizons.

Go get knowledge. Bring us back some beer, of course. 
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Friday, July 19, 2019

A Grazing Life dinners stylishly celebrate local farms and fine food and drink

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 12:56 PM


There are only four A Grazing Life dinners left this season at Frost Livestock Ranch that aren't already sold out, as of this writing. Eight dinners total were planned and two have already come and gone. The second of which, on Sunday, July 14, I attended on a comped media ticket as a guest of event facilitator Dionne Roberts (also editor of Indy partner Rocky Mountain Food Report and an Indy contributor).

That night's featured chef was Jacob Cheatham of Loyal Coffee, joined for drink service by Brass Brewing Co., Montana Horsfall of Craft Cocktail Inc., and Black Forest's Sette Dolori Winery. (Each event hosts a different chef and beverage makers, plus musical guest.) A respectably long list of local producers were represented, whose ingredients informed an awesome four-course family-style meal (read: feast) and a greeting spread of fine cheeses, meats and locally-baked bread. (See the above slideshow for a tour through who's who and what your money buys and supports.)


Read the above-linked article in this past week's Indy by Colorado Springs Business Journal Associate Editor Helen Robinson for an extensive look behind the scenes and missions of both A Grazing Life and Frost Livestock Ranch. Robinson speaks with AGL founder Mike Preisler about his mission to "reconnect consumers to their local farms and ranches" and rancher Jay Frost regarding challenges facing food producers today. On a positive note, Frost says, "We used to have this connection way back when. We’re coming back to the future.”

Rancher Jay Frost of Frost Livestock Ranch; 5 percent of A Grazing Life ticket sales also benefit the Palmer Land Trust. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Rancher Jay Frost of Frost Livestock Ranch; 5 percent of A Grazing Life ticket sales also benefit the Palmer Land Trust.

For my part as a guest who partook in all the bounty offered — yes I damn near overindulged, enchanted by the evening glow out in farm country as thunderstorms popped on the horizon all around us — I can vouch for A Grazing Life dinners feeling like a truly special occasion.

At $135 per ticket, they'd have to be to continue selling out, no?

So much of that money goes back into our local economy, direct to growers, ranchers and producers of all kinds; plus the Palmer Land Trust is the beneficiary of 5 percent of what's collected.

And there's of course the intangible part of the experience you can't quite hold a price tag to, but it's safe to say guests otherwise recoup a lot of their own costs with the abundance of food and drink offerings. The point isn't to pig-out, but good luck getting through hors d’oeuvres and all four courses plus just about as many adult beverages you wish to consume (responsibly, folks ... consider taking The Local Motive party bus down, operated by Preisler's wife Lacie) without feeling like a happy glutton.

Horsfall, for her part, designed lovely fruit-forward and/or herbaceous cocktails (a basil gimlet, whiskey cherry smash, and apricot brandy old fashioned); Sette Dolori Winery's samplings easily complemented the food courses (their Lora red table wine blend being my favorite) and Brass Brewing Co. brought some roundly bangin' beers.

Chef Cheatham showed that serving more than 100 guests in-style falls well within his and his crew's capabilities. It was the small culinary touches (that I overhead many other guests at the long community commenting on) that partly illustrate Cheatham's talent at letting the night's ingredients speak for themselves: light seasoning on the root vegetables, honey butter for the bread, hearty Bolognese with an initial pork punch, followed by a beautifully tender mojo-spiced Larga Vista Ranch pork loin, and grilled apricots and brandy compote on a concluding pound cake.

All in all, I experienced a pretty magical night. Just ask the dog driving the truck below — he gets it.
A night so special that even a dog drove the truck around for a farm tour. (Ok, not really.) - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A night so special that even a dog drove the truck around for a farm tour. (Ok, not really.)
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Armadillo Ranch replaces Ancient Mariner in Manitou Springs

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2019 at 4:17 PM

screen_shot_2019-07-16_at_4.13.29_pm.png

The longtime Ancient Mariner spot at 962 Manitou Ave. in Manitou Springs has become a new restaurant, bar and music space called Armadillo Ranch as of the Fourth of July.

Former Manitou Springs City Administrator from 2014 until early 2018, Jason Wells, is the owner-operator, and it’s his first foray into restaurant life. He calls the move a “total left hand turn” personally, which he couldn’t have taken without the help of several others, including his girlfriend Jenna Gallas, who’s the special events coordinator for Visit Manitou Springs, in charge of the big town events like Carnivale. But Wells quickly credits bar manager Willis Gray, formerly of the Townhouse Lounge and Stagecoach Inn for bringing “valuable Manitou experience to the team,” and he rests most of the venture’s weight on the shoulders of Chef Lyn Ettinger-Harwell, formerly of Seeds Community Cafe and most recently with Border Burger Bar.

Harwell desired to “up the dinner menu game” says Wells, while still building an affordable menu that generally ranges between $9 and $11, topping out with a $14 shrimp scampi dish.
“Having worked here in the city, I saw lots of employees leaving Manitou for lunch — there wasn’t a quick, affordable deli-style lunch in town,” says Wells, noting an absence since Spice of Life closed years ago. “And there’s no Italian downtown, until you get to Savelli’s — and I love Italian food — so we filled two niches.”

The eclectic menu offers common starters like wings and a quesadilla, but also trendy plates like shishito peppers, while sandwiches made with Boar’s Head meats and cheeses include and Italian grinder, a “Manitou Muffaletta”, a BLT and more. Guests will also find burgers and barbecue plus familiar Italian entrées like chicken Parmesan, classic Alfredo and pasta Carbonara. A house signature dish, Braciole Neapolitan, rolls prosciutto, provolone and mozzarella with pine nuts, raisins, garlic, red onions and basil inside Callicrate Beef top round cuts, finished with tomato sauce over cavatappi pasta.

Wells notes late-night food-service hours, with the bar open officially 11 a.m. to close, often 2 a.m. on the weekends. He aims to have live music every Friday and Saturday night, to grow to Thursdays and Sundays too.

As for the name? “Well, there’s a story,” says Wells. “I tell people to come in and find me for a drink ... there’s a song behind it,” he offers, as a clue.
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Lulu's Downstairs grand opens with style in Manitou Springs

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 5:04 PM

Musician, producer and now Lulu's founder and owner, Marc Benning. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Musician, producer and now Lulu's founder and owner, Marc Benning.

Lulu’s Downstairs (107 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs) celebrates its grand opening on Thursday, July 11, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (the hours it plans to be open year-round). The following night, Sasami plays the venue, along with Inaiah Lujan.

The venue already has concerts listed out to October, with more shows surely to be added. But don’t file it in your mind as just a music spot; it’s an earnest bar as well.

Owner Marc Benning — who most recently helped launch The Side Door venue south of downtown as well as co-start Ivywild Music’s program prior to that, and has run Hideaway Studios for the last 25 years and toured as a musician for 15 years — says “I want to have a great bar that even if there’s no show, it’s still a bar people want to go to.”
A revamped stage with new sound dampening in the overhead ceiling, for optimal acoustics. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A revamped stage with new sound dampening in the overhead ceiling, for optimal acoustics.
Benning says he’s seeking more of “events” than trying to pack out his calendar: “I’m opposed to being a place where we put a band in the corner and they play but there’s nobody there to see them, where they’re underpaid and undervalued.”
That said, he envisions some free shows, and he’s strategically walled-off the bar area from the concert area — mind you we’re talking about the former Castaways, most recently Vibes spot — so folks at the bar will be able to socialize without having to scream in each others’ ears.

“I’m focusing on the bar,” he says, “that’s what will keep the lights on.”
Fine spirits are on hand for those seeking a sophisticated cocktail, though there will be well drinks too. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Fine spirits are on hand for those seeking a sophisticated cocktail, though there will be well drinks too.

What that focus looks like, aside from ‘70s lounge inspiration? Firstly, hiring seasoned bartenders to design an original menu. Principal’s Office alumni are well represented; familiar faces like Ashton Longwell (also of the Wild Goose Meeting House, serving as lead bartender here), and Camille Stellar and Brandon Allen, both of Chiba Bar as well. Benning says they’ll create a “nice approachable cocktail bar that’s affordable, with some higher end options.” He clarifies he doesn’t wish for Lulu’s to become a “drinking person’s bar, looking for $2 shots,” and that he’s “not going to serve gut-rot — our well is solid.”

Sexy booths. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Sexy booths.
He envisions drinks averaging $6-$10, featuring “smaller brands and newer companies — Jameson my be our only big-name booze.” And for beers, expect 15 canned offerings at a given time, “just good beers from all over the world — we aren’t focusing on being a Colorado craft brew bar.”
A random, less-typical selection of beers. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A random, less-typical selection of beers.

For eats, since the restaurant space above remains vacant, Benning has planned to serve simple items like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, plus corn dogs and appetizers, with vegan options too, with a blue plate special from 4-6 p.m. at some point soon.
“If you want to have dinner we’ll have options that’ll fill you up,” he promises. “But our motto is: ‘We’re not a restaurant.’”

Here's a few more early looks at Lulu's — named for Benning's daughter — ahead of the opening:
From the opening cocktail menu, the fresh Sunray mixes Four Roses Bourbon with Lustau Vermut Blanco and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, plus OJ. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • From the opening cocktail menu, the fresh Sunray mixes Four Roses Bourbon with Lustau Vermut Blanco and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, plus OJ.

70s decor everywhere. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • 70s decor everywhere.
A wall of oddities. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A wall of oddities.
When there's no show, Benning hopes the bar will still "keep the lights on." - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • When there's no show, Benning hopes the bar will still "keep the lights on."
Cool hand-painted walls. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Cool hand-painted walls.
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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pikes Peak Brewing Company Lager House to join South Tejon Street

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 10:05 AM

UPDATE:

Following the big announcement on June 26, Chris Wright sent a rendering of the new Lager House: 
COURTESY PIKES PEAK BREWING CO.
  • Courtesy Pikes Peak Brewing Co.
And here's a few more details from a press release:
The market, being developed by Niebur Development, will be a community of independent Colorado businesses collectively offering a place to eat, drink, shop and connect - a new and innovative concept for the growing community of Downtown Colorado Springs, and offer a
vibrant live music venue.

The Pikes Peak Brewing Lager House will feature a view into the age old process of creating unique and historical lager beers and include a 2500 square foot rooftop patio with amazing vistas of the Front Range and Downtown Colorado Springs.

—— ORIGINAL POST, 6:02 P.M., WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26 ——

This food news courtesy Indy partner Rocky Mountain Food Report:

Chris Wright, brewer/owner of Pikes Peak Brewing Co. in Monument, just announced the opening of Pikes Peak Brewing Company Lager House in early winter of 2019, on the burgeoning 500th block of South Tejon Street, a key part of a collaborative food, beverage and craft marketplace concept coming to Colorado Springs.

“We’re going to anchor this market,” says Wright. “It’ll be a food court type of deal with independent operators, similar to the Milk Market or Stanley Marketplace in Denver, and a live music venue with regular performances in the common area.”

The new location will present 15 taps (10 of which will be lagers), five signature beers (ales) courtesy of its Northern counterpart, large foeders to lager on oak and a sprawling 2,500 square-foot rooftop patio. Wright says that he is already “beginning to experiment with different lagers,” sharing the release of a Mexican lager at their recent 8th anniversary celebration — and says patrons can expect to “start seeing more.”

“I wanted something unique and special and I think craft lagers are going to be the next big thing in beer,” says Wright. “No one else in this area is focused just on lagers and it’s just another way to differentiate ourselves.”
Expanding from Monument to downtown Colorado Springs this winter. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Expanding from Monument to downtown Colorado Springs this winter.
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar expanding into Springs

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 2:39 PM

COURTESY JAX FISH HOUSE & OYSTER BAR
  • Courtesy Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar

Boulder-based Big Red F Restaurant Group recently announced it’ll open (as of fall, 2019) its sixth Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar location — this one in Colorado Springs, in the former, longtime Il Vicino space at 11 S. Tejon St.

Big Red F, a 25-year-old assemblage, also operates Lola Coastal Mexican, The Post Brewing Co., The West End Tavern, Zolo Southwestern Grill, and Centro Mexican Kitchen. Jax also has locations in Boulder (the original spot), Fort Collins, Lodo Denver, Glendale, and Kansas City.

The eatery specializes in sustainably sourced seafood, and boasts of being the first restaurant in Colorado to be certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Executive Chef Sheila Lucero also serves on their Blue Ribbon Task Force, “working with other chefs from around the country to learn and share the very latest information on the state of our global fish stocks as well as the most progressive use of seafood in our restaurants,” according to her bio.

COURTESY JAX FISH HOUSE & OYSTER BAR
  • Courtesy Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar
Jax has repeatedly won Best Seafood Restaurant in publications like 5280 and Westword, and chef/founder Dave Query says he’s been waiting for the right Springs location for 20 years. “The Springs is a natural next progression for Jax,” he says. “We’re excited to have found a location we think suits the brand and allows us to do something in the way we do it well — which is small.”

By that, he clarifies that this spot has “almost the exact footprint as Jax in Boulder,” meaning room for 72 seats and tiny open kitchen — “small, functional.”

Jax’s menu is uniform across locations. Menu items include: a raw bar, hot oysters, starters like calamari and mussels, chowder, crab, lobster, caviar, jambalaya, entrées like bass, tuna, salmon and scallops with various alluring sauces, and an award-winning Niman Ranch burger.

“Our commitment to sustainability doesn’t come easy or without added expenses,” he adds. “We do oysters as well as anyone in the country, whether on the coast or not — we take a lot of pride in that. We’re excited about doing an oyster bar in a way that hasn’t been done prior in the Springs.”

As for whether we should expect more Big Red F expansions into the Springs? “It’s too early to say,” says Query, “we’ll start with Jax and see.”

Check out photos provided by Jax from other locations for a taste of what's to come:
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Friday, May 24, 2019

Bristol Brewing Company's Birthday Box #2: wheat gone wild

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2019 at 11:37 AM

MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
It's hard to believe that Bristol Brewing Company has been around for 25 years, but here we are. In 1994, Mike Bristol and company joined the then-burgeoning microbrew scene, debuting beers that remain iconic in this city. To celebrate, the brewery has and will continue to release mixed 12-pack birthday boxes celebrating its flagship beers.

Birthday box #2 spotlights Beehive Honey Wheat, a summer seasonal that the brewery simply kept brewing once summer was over. Each box features three Beehives, plus three bottles of Bristol’s wit, three of Bristol’s hefeweizen and three of a newly-created Simcoe hefeweizen.
We recently received a promo box of these beers. Here’s what we thought.

The Beehive honey wheat remains a reliable go-to summer beer. The honey adds a subtle dryness as well as flavor, and as easy as this beer goes down, it’s by no means thin or insubstantial. We’ve put more than a few pints of this one back over the years, but it’s nice to take a moment to reflect and appreciate the details in a familiar beer like this.

Bristol brews their witbier with coriander and orange peel, which both stand out in the beer. We’ve had more than a few wits wherein the citrus peel and lemony spice vanish, but not so here. Further, the Belgian yeast character stands strong and unmistakable on nose and sip, powerful but proportionate. Add in how this beer sips rich with substantial body, it could sell the box on its own.

Arguably, so could the hefeweizen. The beer articulates style-specific banana and clove notes well, with banana adding subtle fruitiness and clove notes standing out more in this unfiltered beer. It’s a good example of the style.

Adding Simcoe hops, though, changes things up. The Simcoe hefe bears grassy, dank notes on the nose. The yeast still plays a little, but the hops upstage it, a little sticky but not cloying and more piney than fruity. To be clear, we like this beer a lot, but — bear with us for a peculiar comparison — the best description we can find for its particular stickiness and substantial mouthfeel is to think about cleaning cannabis resin off of a pipe. Again, we like this beer. It’s weird and interesting in a far more modest way than even the most pedestrian of sours or farmhouse ales.

Of note, the circumstances of our tasting session left us with four opened, unfinished beers, so rather than risk wasting them, we threw them into a single growler for transport. The resulting four-beer suicide tasted pretty good too. (Don't hate us, Mike and team.)

Birthday box #2 can be found on liquor store shelves now. It’s limited edition, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. These beers are also on draft at Bristol’s taproom at the Ivywild School. Look out for two more birthday boxes to release later this year.
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Monday, May 20, 2019

Phantom Canyon's Game of Thrones finale banquet quite a feast, even if show disappoints

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2019 at 11:00 AM

Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. hosted a Game of Thrones finale watch party and banquet on Sunday, May 19.

The brewery packed out its third floor for a feast that included a crispy and delicious suckling pig; rich, crab-cake-like cod cakes; piquant smoked rabbit and rattlesnake sausage; and tangy elk meatballs with blue cheese. Featured beers for the night included a dark and divine Take the Black Schwarzbier and a smart smoked Helles brew — both of which felt apropos given the final episode's thematics and plot points. (... a smoldering city, and "There's still a Night's Watch?")

Many fans were disappointed by how the show concluded, as more than one meme captures well. The crowd at Phantom Canyon grumbled through several scenes and plenty of cussing could be heard as the credits finally rolled. Still, everyone seemed to have a great time sharing their misery with company, over a fine feast.

If the wrap-up to one of the greatest TV shows ever produced is going to end up sucking, you may as well be sucking down some good beer over a plate of suckling pig. (Yes, that's about the best I can do here for a takeaway.)
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