Back to basics at BJ’s

Brewhouse seems to aim for the mainstream


“From Avery to here?” Elizabeth asks. “Oh my God.”

Ten minutes into our visit to BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, our tour of Boulder County breweries becomes a roller coaster. We’re going from an East Boulder warehouse to the 29th Street Mall; from a local favorite to a national chain; and from Peter Forsberg-level flair to Adam Foote-level dependability.

Where Avery and many others in Boulder take risks, BJ’s plays it safe. The key word here is most definitely “clean.” A majority of the brewhouse’s beers carry their flavors through without lingering aftertastes, unusual risks or unexpected twists of any kind.

In cases like the P.M. Porter, the result is an ideally sweet, smooth dark beer with moderate malt tones. And the Harvest Hefeweizen is clean and unadorned by citrus, coriander, fruit or any of the other additives that can sneak into wheat beers.

Other brews practicing BJ’s apparent Clean Flavors Doctrine are the Piranha Pale Ale, where hops take a backseat to drinkability; the apple-like Belgian Grand Cru; the Bud-Light-but-better Lightswitch Lager; and the Brewhouse Blonde. BJ’s Jeremiah Red was the favorite, light on the hops and amber-like in maltiness.

The beers aren’t vanilla, exactly. But when the menu asserts beer “doesn’t get much more intense than” the Tatonka Stout, we have to disagree. The super-smooth stout hardly moves the needle on our intensityometer.

“It’s good for beginners,” Elizabeth says of the whole beer list.

In this town that’ll draw scoffs. But it’s a valuable addition to a beer scene where memorizing hops varieties appears to be a pastime.

One exception to the rule was the brown ale, Nutty Brewnette, with its distinctly Belgian floral flavors. Brown ale standards like Ellie’s or Upslope’s bear no resemblance to this beer.

But the brew that got us talking the most wasn’t a beer at all. It was Berry Burst Cider ­— and “burst” hardly even covers it. The sugary sweetness is Halloween night in a glass.

“It tastes like when you’re sneaking wine coolers from your mom’s fridge in high school,” Abby says. “It tastes like a couple Jolly Ranchers.”

“It’s fun and flirty,” she declares.

Whether you call it good for beginners or buy into Abby’s more cynical take — “It’s corporate and mainstream. They don’t want to turn people off ” — BJ’s is a starting point in the long, strange journey into craft beer.

And the hefty menu is a reminder: BJ’s isn’t banking on its beer. This isn’t the place to taste the cutting edge of brewing. It’s more like a vision of what those ubiquitous chain restaurants could be, if they’d drop the neon-bright cocktails with names like Bahama Blast and make something worth drinking.

This week we’re off to Niwot’s Bootstrap Brewing, which opened in June. Instead of food pairings, Bootstrap provides music matches for each of its beers. Time to put some calypso on the iPod.


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