There’s no shortage of breweries and brewpubs in Boulder, and the first recommendation I got from my hotel was Walnut Brewery.
Walnut has a familiar feel. There was something about the way they branded each beer, the menu, even the space. It wasn’t until a regular sat down next to me at the bar and explained Walnut’s roots that it all made sense — this was the original Rock Bottom Brewery, or at least, it’s the brewpub that they modeled the franchise after. Craft Works, the parent company, is also responsible for other brewpub chains including Old Chicago, as well as a set of one-off concepts around the county.
It’s strange to get a chain vibe from the place that actually started it all. But Walnut makes up for that with a healthy dose of legacy in a college town. A lot of regulars and old timers still frequent the space, even if only to relive the pubs former glory days.
Like Rock Bottom, Walnut’s brews cover a wide range of styles, including a kolch, IPA, stout, wheat, etc. —and they’ve collected numerous awards over the years. The most decorated beer, The Old Elk Brown, was well above average. Where most browns lack commitment, Old Elk is sparkly and fresh, with clear chocolate tones, but also an unusually refreshing, almost fruit note at the finish. On the other end of the quality spectrum is Buffalo Gold ale, a light, watery mess of a beer without much flavor to speak of. Even Rock Bottom knew enough to retire this one.
For some reason, Walnut put the Gold on cask as well, but when I inquired, the bartender made a discouraging face and shook her head. Even she knew it was a bad idea. Instead, she recommended the Devil’s Thumb Stout if I was after a cask beer, which turned out to be delightful, roasty brew to end my session.
It’s not the best hang in town, but with a few award-winners, honest and friendly staff, and a bit of brewing heritage, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.