Walk into Hogshead Brewery and you’ll see its English-style cask ales listed above the bar on a menu on the left. Let your eyes drift to the right, however, and you’ll see an even larger menu of more familiar, carbonated beer styles, like a pilsner, a Mexican-style lager and an IPA.
The line between the two is one that the new owners of this 11-year-old neighborhood brewery, at 4460 W. 29th Ave., plan to cross every day with confidence.
“We’ve neglected the keg side a little bit, and I’d love to grow the business that way,” said head brewer and co-owner Robert Bell about those familiar lager and ale styles. “But I don’t want to do it at the expense of what we have built and who we are. I’m a diehard true believer when it comes to the cask side. That’s what makes us different than everyone else.”
In May, Bell — along with longtime brewery general manager David Liechty and original investor and building owner John Cianci — bought Hogshead from a group led by founding brewer Stephen Kirby, who brought his love of cask-conditioned ales to Denver from England.
Unapologetically opinionated, Kirby’s primary goal in opening Hogshead in 2012 was to create a perfect pint of England’s most ubiquitous beer, a “bitter,” along with other cask-style ales. Partially fermented in the same casks that are used for serving the beer, cask ales are typically poured at around 52 degrees and dispensed with a hand pump, which gives them a creamy texture.
He accomplished that – and then some – by turning out multiple styles of cask ale while creating a pub-like feel inside the small brewery. While Kirby added a parking lot patio and more traditional carbonated beers over the years, the heart of Hogshead lay in its dedication to cask ales.
“Stephen took a bold leap at a time when no one was doing those beers,” Bell said. “He created a cultish following, which is invaluable. You can’t buy that. It was unique.”
Bell’s desire is to continue to brew cask ales while expanding the “keg side” of the business in an effort to draw in more customers. A former brewer at Diebolt Brewing in Denver and Los Dos Potrillos Mexican Restaurant and Cerveceria in Parker, he joined Hogshead two years ago (he also was an intern there in 2016), and says he gravitates toward traditional styles.
While cask ales do better in the fall and winter, lagers and lighter ales sell better in the warmer months, he said. Lighter lagers in particular are popular in spring and summer.
Expanding the menu will also help the brewery if it’s able to add a second taproom, something that Liechty said he hopes to do by the end of the year. He is currently looking at spaces in a one-mile square radius around Denver’s City Park, but will examine other neighborhoods as well.
During the restaurant and brewery shutdowns that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Liechty said there was a lot of desire for Hogshead beer in other parts of the city.
For now, though, Hogshead is focused on turning out the best beer it can and serving it on its recently expanded and beautified patio. Up next on the menu: a slightly hoppy English summer golden ale on ask. After that, Bell may add a fruit beer — a first for the brewery.
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