As Mark, Bard, Jill and I sat back at our table, enjoying the dry kick and smooth finish of our Old School Irish stouts and contemplating the Vine Street universe, a helpful Sun employee stopped by to see how things were going and ask if we had any questions. Timothy M. McMurray is probably one of the easiest-going, friendly people I've met, and he and I have met several times over the years, mostly at Boulder's Mountain Sun. He's also been working with the Mountain Sun family of pubs since 1996, when he was initially hired as a line cook, and is now a Managing Partner as well as the Sun Pubs' Talent Buyer. In other words, we were about to get some answers...and Tim was about to get grilled.
First of all, we wanted to know, why'd they pick the name "Vine Street Pub" as opposed to, say, "Urban Sun" or "Denver Sun" or "City Sun" or "some-kind-of-Sun", especially with the immense popularity of the Sun Pubs in Boulder and the fact that Vine Street's opening was such an eagerly-anticipated event in Denver? The Vine Street Pub, Tim explained, was named to be kind of contrary to the Mountain Sun Pubs in Boulder, to ensure its own identity while continuing to serve the best beer in the Front Range. When the Pub expands to a full-scale brewery, it will be the largest of the Sun Pubs' family of breweries, with plans for a 15-barrel brewery operating at Vine Street (the Mountain Sun and Southern Sun have 6- and 10-barrel breweries, respectively).
As we wondered aloud, Tim answered easily: what's the best-selling stout during Stout Month at Vine Street? (Coconut, Cream, which is actually the fastest-selling at all three pubs, with the Girl Scout taking second place.) We found out that the 7 brewers themselves are the judges of the homebrew contest, now in its fourth year, although that number recently dropped to 6, a number which could present a difficulty in determining a tie-breaker next year. That Tim discussed this particular subject for as long as he did with us stressed clearly the importance the Sun Pub family places on their brewers: they are appreciated, praised and publicly upheld as the reason for the Pubs' success. While this might seem a no-brainer, the brewers here always seem happy, excited, and energized, and it makes one feel good--as a patron and a critic--to know they're well-treated and greatly appreciated. A happy brewer makes for a happy brew. 'Nuff said.
We found out that, should you want to go brew a batch of beer with the brewers, you could do so by contacting Head Brewer Brian "Hutch" Hutchinson, who would be happy to take anyone interested through the brewing process start-to-finish. When I asked if a woman had ever been crowned Chop Month champion, I was surprised to find that one came in 2nd place 3 years ago. When one of my hop-happy companions asked about having some kind of month to celebrate hops, Tim answered that they'd tried it, but its popularity wasn't great enough to keep it going, although they were considering a Belgian beer month at the Vine Street Pub. The possibilities just keep expanding...
Before we let our former Eagle Scout (Tim earned his Eagle Scout ranking while in high school in Dallas, TX) and Sun Pubs' Managing Partner go, we wanted to know: what were Tim's top 3 stouts? Easily answered, 1) Coconut Cream, 2) Addiction, and 3) Cabernet Oak Barrel Aged Nihilist, a relatively unknown but excellent stout with a lot of body, a pleasantly smooth finish and a whisper of fruits trailing in the aftertaste. When Tim turned the question back to us, he got a considerable variety of answers: Mark's were Addiction, Stone Imperial Stout, and Nihilist Imperial Stout; Bard's were Addiction, Girl Scout, and Young's Double Chocolate; mine are (currently) Korova Cream, Addiction, and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, and Jill's are Korova Cream, Cherry Dip, and Addiction. This is what keeps the Sun Pubs' popularity growing, I think, as well as Vine Street's, which was rapidly filling even as we departed around 6:30p.m.: the staff cares, from the much-beloved brewers to the considerate and friendly waitstaff to the management, who will happily pull up a chair for a chat with their patrons. We all left feeling appreciated as well as pleasantly, dreamily full of the darkest, richest brews available to the Front Range.
Stout Month lasts through the end of February, and if you're visiting the area, you really owe it to yourself to have a brew or two at the Vine Street Pub in Denver or one of the Sun Pubs in Boulder. Not a drinker? The food itself is worth a trip as well...not something one often hears about pub food, but Tim's Blackened Chicken Quesadilla is just too good not to mention, and the menu boasts dishes from uber-healthy salads and wraps to the have-a-heart-surgeon-nearby Junk Burger, and does a good job with everything in between.
For more information, check out www.mountainsubpub.com. To contact the Vine Street Pub directly, call (303)388-BEER (2337).