Colorado maintains a solid reputation for craft beer, but long before the extreme hops arrived, the Wynkoop Brewing Company in downtown Denver produced foam and casual fare to go with them. Now he’s making the 34-year-old stalwart even better with a new culinary team, event space and tasting room.
Executive chef Chris Collins, who joined the brewery in late 2021, has kept the menu accessible, but there’s also a little more adventurous food available, according to vice president of operations Amanda Young.
“I think you’d be surprised if you could get something like coffee-rubbed beef brisket or some of the specialties that chefs make,” Young said. “We try to elevate our dishes and our beers.”
In fact, often the dishes are raised with Beer. For example, Rail Yard Ale is used in barbecue sauce for ribs, fish and chips are made with any draft beer, and Patty’s Chile Beer, named after Patricia Calhoun, the founder of the alternative weekly Denver Westword, was mixed with mussel broth and made into a lightly spiced version of cookies and gravy. The daily menu also includes foods that don’t contain beer but go great with a pint or two. It’s what you’d expect from a brewpub – wings, burgers, fries, nachos and salads – plus surprises including bison burgers, panzanella salad and a bowl of roasted mushrooms with cheese goat cheese with herbs and a citrus tahini sauce. The check per person including beer is around $20-$30.
The menu also has an element of waste reduction, as some by-products of beer production end up in the food.
“You’ll find spent grains in just about everything from bread to crackers, and we use beer in salad dressings and sauces,” Young said. “We like to think outside the box, and using spent beans gives them a second use that is unique to a brewery.”
It’s not just chefs who get creative. Brewmaster Todd Bellmyer joined the team at the end of 2021 and he played with old and new recipes. For example, Wynkoop developed a special promotional beer for a local climbing chalk company where chalk dust was used in the brewing process.
The brewery has a history of quirky beers, like the signature Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, a beer brewed with bull testicles, which are euphemistically called “Rocky Mountain oysters,” in Colorado. Originally it was an April Fool’s joke, but 10 years later it has become a cult classic and appears on the menu every April, along with a plate of thinly sliced and fried Rocky Mountain oysters.
“Over the years that I’ve worked with the company, there have always been collaborations between chef and brewer, whether it’s food in beer or beer in food,” Young said. . “We once made a donut beer with Habit Donut Dispensary [in Denver] and I made a donut bread pudding to go with it.”
After more than 30 years, the brewery also intends to expand the basement space into an event venue and tasting room. But adding to the historic JS Brown Mercantile Building isn’t easy.
“There are infinitely more hurdles to jump through and approvals to get when you pursue a landmark renovation project, and it’s challenging but rewarding,” said Alex Bunn, vice president of brand strategy and the growth of the Breckenridge-Wynkoop restaurant group. “In the case of Wynkoop, we strive to balance our modern business interests with those of preservation. We love this building and the role it played in LoDo,” she said, referring to the neighborhood. Lower Downtown where the brewery is located. .
This isn’t the first time the Wynkoop’s basement has been used for something other than storage. The building has been around since 1899, after all. There is a rumor, Bunn said, that the basement connects to the city’s main train station, Union Station, which is now also a food hall, via underground tunnels. Whether that’s true or not, she added, it’s still a popular spot for ghost hunters. The ground floor also housed a comedy club and a makeshift climbing wall.
“It’s amazing to see the things people come up with when you have over 30,000 square feet to play,” she said.
Even without the basement space, the brasserie is large, sporting a main dining room and large circular bar on the first floor, and a slew of pool tables and seating on the second. As the flavors on the menu have evolved, this quirky layout harkens back to when Wynkoop Brewing first opened in 1988.
The place was launched under the leadership of Jerry Williams, Mark Schiffler, Russell Schehrer and John Hickenlooper. If that last name sounds familiar to you, it’s because not only was Hickenlooper the 43rd mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado from 2011 to 2019, but he also briefly ran for president in 2020. Currently, he serves as a junior US senator from Colorado and is no longer with Wynkoop. Just before entering politics, the senator sold his shares in Wynkoop Brewing to Wynkoop Holdings. The business is now under the Breckenridge Wynkoop Holdings umbrella after LoDo Brewery merged with Breckenridge Brewery in 2010.
Breckenridge Wynkoop Holdings also owns Ale House at Amato’s, Breckenridge Ale House, Breckenridge Colorado Craft, the Cherry Cricket, Mainline, and Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. They hope to complete Wynkoop’s renovations by late 2022 or early 2023.