Passion Still Counts
Wolf Tongue was an immediate favorite for us. Whether you take the Peak-to-Peak drive to Nederland or approach through Boulder Canyon, it’s a wonderful trip to a cozy mountain town. Parker refurbished Wolf Tongue, making it just the place for people who were looking for a brewpub that’s more pub than restaurant. The pub was once an assay office, then a veterans’ Bud bar. It remained very much a “local,” selling 17 cases of Budweiser a week and providing a comfortable place to hang out, play darts, shoot pool, play foosball and video games or grab a controller for NTN (the interactive television service that features trivia and sports games). It was rustic, with a pot-bellied stove, a fine moose head, lots of wood, and furniture that looked like it was made out of logs.
Unfortunately, Wolf Tongue wasn’t Wolf Tongue for long. Parker moved to Oregon to head the Oregon Brewers Guild. As was his habit, Knight sold his interest in the brewpub. New ownership wasn’t interested in brewing and—gloriously—New Belgium bought the brew house, moving it back to Fort Collins, mostly for display purposes though it could be used for pilot batches.
One thing that hasn’t changed since 1996, or since we began keeping our list of good places to drink beer, is that establishments we like can close. In fact, Wolf Tongue has opened and closed since 1996.
While there are more brewpubs now than there were then, and microbreweries sell more beer than in 1996, the Oklahoma land rush clearly ended. Here are our notes about a visit to a Massachusetts brewpub during that 1996 CBC road trip:
“Nice post-industrial design, airy layout, brick walls, big windows looking out onto the street, brewing equipment and brewers on display behind glass. It’s the kind of place we want to see succeed. We arrive on a Friday around lunchtime. It’s busy, so rather than wait for a table in the dining room, we sit at a tall table in the bar.
“Ten minutes for a waiter to spot us. He asks us if we are ready to order, then discovers we don’t have menus. Ask about the sampler policy and order three samples: a Scotch ale, a stock ale and a stout. Another 10 minutes and he returns with three beers, apologizing profusely and saying it’s busy (though it isn’t that busy). None of the beers looks like a stout, so we ask which is the stout. He points to the darkest one, an amber-red colored brew.
“None of them tastes like commercially available examples of the styles they are supposed to be, all are light on malt. Looking at other tables, it appears some drinkers have a stout-colored beer. Not seeing our waiter, Stan visits the bartender and gets ignored for about 5 minutes, finally telling him we ordered a stout sample and didn’t get it.
“‘Haven’t poured a stout all day,’ he says testily, apparently not about to then. ‘I’ll work it out with the server,’ Stan says, starting to walk away. ‘Wait,’ the bartender says, pouring about an ounce for a sample.
“When our food arrives, one dish is fine, but the Cajun chicken is under-spiced and the fries aren’t even routine. The waiter comes back and apologizes several times for his earlier lack of attention and the slow food service (the only thing that wasn’t slow). We’d rather he spend less time apologizing and more time learning about the beer. Overall: Incompetent server, unpleasant bartender, mediocre beer, average food.”
A few days later at CBC, Daria heard one of the brewpub’s employees say they’d been so busy, the owners were planning to open two more places. Our note: “They should concentrate on making the first one matter, while the novelty factor is still in their favor.”
We take no joy in reporting that the brewpub closed within a year, but it is reassuring to know that performance and success are sometimes linked. The fact is that we visited plenty of other brewpubs in 1996 that we figured could go either way. Obviously, we can’t revisit the ones that failed. When we return to those still operating, most often we find it’s not an accident. The beer is technically better than when we were first there, and usually more interesting. The menu may have improved. At least some of the staff is more beer literate.
We’d be happy to put their bumper stickers on our car.