Neighborhoods often times change their identity from when they were first established. The ebb and flow of ethnicity, religion, economics, and race leave indelible marks on the identity of an area. The transitions can be gradual or dramatic, an osmosis of the inevitable, or an artificial seizure based upon how it is perceived, and how desirable the location.
The Highlands of Denver, generally categorized as the blocks northwest of downtown and north of Interstate 25, has seen more than its share of change, not only in ethnicity, but also prosperity. For years it was the heart and soul of the city’s Italian community, home to not only the restaurants and markets exemplifying the old world, but also cultural and religious centers as well. The Potenza Lodge, begun as a fraternal organization, still resides there, supporting both the Italian community and the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church with its fundraising and cultural outreach.
Over the years an influx of Hispanics began to alter the identity of the demographic makeup, perhaps drawn by the shared deep Catholic roots of their new neighbors. Maybe it was the reasonable property values. Regardless of the impetus, over the past 40 years, the faces have changed, and they are changing still.
The Highlands now are becoming the place to be for all. Everyone from urban hipsters to young families are moving in, creating businesses and identities to rival any heyday that once held sway. Many of the old ethnic restaurants and markets have been closed or sold, making way for development or becoming links in chains of dining cartels. But sometimes new businesses have sprung up, having nothing to do with the past cultures, but contributing greatly to the sense of a new community.
Since June, one of those recent additions, Hogshead Brewery, has quickly become a center for craft beer lovers in the Lower Highlands neighborhood, satisfying locals and cask beer hounds alike. Occupying an imaginatively refurbished gas station, the renovation keeps much of the original 50s/60s styling, while expertly marrying a modern sensibility that’s at once inviting and retro nostalgic.
A dedicated parking lot, such a rarity for an urban brewery, welcomed us as we pulled up one Friday afternoon. Even though it was early for Happy Hour, the taproom buzzed with drinkers already half filling the space. Nearly floor to ceiling windows surround the room, sunlight filtering through, lighting the drinking and conversation within.
As we bellied up to the bar, a punk/ska/new wave soundtrack from the late Seventies and early Eighties filled the air, further luring us in with our memories of living through that era. My cask-conditioned Boys Bitter and the Wife’s Barge’s Mild satisfied from the first sips, showing a British sensibility rarely found this side of the Pond.
Hogshead’s claim to fame is their preponderance of cask-conditioned ales, meaning beers primed with sugars or gyle to provide the carbonation, rather than CO2 or Nitrogen at tapping as is common with tap beer the world over. As any homebrewer will know, the amount and type of priming sugars can greatly affect the body and taste of the final product, too much and the beer will have a fizzy, soda pop head, too little and it’ll taste flatter than a Kansas landscape. HB has it just right, the priming enhancing the taste and providing just enough bubbly.
As we sat wrapping ourselves around the complex, luscious brews, we chatted up Tony, our initial server of the day. We learned while talking music, that he’s a member of the band Nuns of Brixton, and would be playing at Ska’s Anniversary shindig. We had been on the fence about legging it down to Durango for the bash, but pretty much made up our minds to go after the conversation.
Meanwhile the traffic came and went throughout the taproom, the ghosts of the previous tenants nowhere to be seen. Ages ranged the gamut, from those who were just being introduced to craft beer to seasoned drinkers who’ve been savoring for decades. Young couples on bicycles with kids in tow pulled up, while young women and old men alike perched upon barstools under the dimensional Hogshead logo hanging behind the bar.
The logo, a stylized boar’s head emblazoned upon the end of a cask, represents a size, as well as a beast. The brewery is named after a hogshead cask which has traditionally held tobacco, sugar, or wine in addition to our favorite malty beverage; generally about 250 liters, or 54 gallons when used for beer. The symbol hanging in the taproom was crafted to be in scale, its benevolent gaze looking out to all who entered.
As the room filled and the pace picked up, Tony was assisted by the very capable Janelle who filled our pints speedily and conversed with us with a genuine smile and affability. You can now enjoy her service at Prost Brewing as well, handily serving up beers to the faithful.
In the months since that visit we’ve encountered the Hogshead gang frequently – Janelle at Prost, Tony at Ska’s anniversary party, and Steve the head brewer at GABF. Each instance has bolstered the impression that they are passionate and friendly ambassadors for both HB and craft beer. It’s lucky we don’t live in the neighborhood; chances are they’d have to throw us out each night, the urge to make it a home away from home would be that strong.
All of the new breed of Denver neighborhood breweries can incite these feelings. The breadth and quality of local craft beer draws us to visit as many as often as possible; the selection precludes a desire to frequent any one brewery more than another in most cases. Too many outstanding breweries, too little time.