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Thursday, April 8,2010

Otis and a beer

By Clay Fong

Poor Otis. Otis is the cartoon pig mascot of Nederland’s Wild Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery, seemingly oblivious to his likely fate as a barbecued entrée here. The sign above the front door shows him quizzically contemplating a spilled mug of beer. But more ominously it also superimposes his bone structure upon his rotund body, hinting, perhaps, at the inevitability of his becoming a savory slab of ribs.

Even the beer at this hospitable ski lodge-styled brewpub hints at Otis’ end. While the Six Feet Under Extra Special Bitter was ostensibly brewed to commemorate Nederland’s Frozen Dead Guy Days, the tap depicts Otis perched atop a coffin. Not so incidentally, this is a fine brew. Friend Andrew and I thought this $4.25 pint of ESB possessed full-bodied flavor reminiscent of San Francisco’s legendary Anchor Steam Beer, one of the longest-running domestic microbrews.

Anyone who’s ever set foot in a microbrewery won’t be surprised by the menu’s staples of burgers, entrée salads, sandwiches, chicken wings and nachos. Less expected are the meaty smokehouse offerings and premium treats like prime rib. There’s also a decent allocation of full-meal salads, and a smattering of meatless items, such as smoked tofu and Caprese sandwiches. All of these selections seemed equally popular among a packed house of predominantly locals during a recent Saturday lunch.

The signature smoked meats are available by weight, and Andrew opted for an $11.25 platter of a half-pound of beef brisket sided with baked beans and garlic mashers. The brisket was fallapart tender with a correct level of seasoning, and more important, a sublime, smoky perfume. The mashers were thick and buttery, with a measure of potato skin to add textural interest. Sadly, most BBQ joints phone in their bean preparation by doing no more than opening a can. Happily, the Smokehouse’s were a surprisingly satisfying combination of mixed beans boosted by an ample ration of pork. This meaty addition contributed deep flavor and enough heft for this side to stand on its own as a potential entrée.

A $12.95 half-rack of St. Louisstyle pork ribs (poor Otis!) was as close as I’ve found to proper barbecue in the Rockies. Most of what passes for barbecue these days is saturated with salt, and ribs are often stringy and stingy with the meat. Like the brisket, smoke enhanced rather than detracted from the meat’s flavor, and it wasn’t too salty. The ribs provided plenty of tender yet still somewhat firm meat to gnaw on, with a fine texture consistent with the correct slow, low-heat application of smoke.

Wild Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery 70 East First Street Nederland, 303-258-WILD

With respect to sauces, I found the Memphis-style sauce overly vinegary, and it reminded me more of something out of the Carolinas. In retrospect, I would have preferred Andrew’s choice of the Atomic sauce, a sweeter Texasstyle topping, hopped up with red chile.

My side of cole slaw was crisp, but the flavor could have been enlivened with a splash of vinegar or citrus to contribute needed tang.

Barbecue never seems to be cheap in these parts, although this Smokehouse’s meals are a few bucks less than similar eateries. While it may not approach the level of the seminal Corky’s in Memphis or Arthur Brown’s in Kansas City, Wild Mountain will still fulfill a barbecue aficionado’s craving for smoked meats in an informal mountain setting.


Clay’s Obscurity Corner Steaming suds

Steam beer is associated with the West Coast, particularly San Francisco and that city’s Anchor Brewing brand. What “steam” refers to is ambiguous, although one theory suggests it is derived from the steam vapor that results from the brewing process. Making steam beer didn’t require refrigeration, and it lent itself to producing cheap beer popular with California Gold Rush miners. Call of the Wild scribe Jack London wrote that some of his earliest imbibing experiences involved drinking steam beer while working as a pin-setter in a California bowling alley. He later eschewed this cheap brew in favor of more refined beverages.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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