Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Review: Paradox Beer Company

“What a great hike! Now, where’s the nearest brewery?”

Thankfully, in Colorado, you’re never far from either a top-notch hiking trail or an adventurous craft brewery, and I’ve found since moving here that the two go very well together — provided the hike comes before the beer.

And so it was for us after hiking the Crags on a sunny Saturday near Divide on the back side of Pike’s Peak. I was skeptical that a small blip on the map like Divide would have a brewery, but Colorado came through for me, and Paradox Beer Company didn’t disappoint.

Over a barrel

Stepping inside the tasting room, we notice right away that barrels are the name of the game here at Paradox; wooden staves line the walls and the bar, and in-use barrels rest on floor-to-ceiling racks, beers transforming in the wood. Looking at the menu board, our suspicions are confirmed, as we read the tempting list of wild sours and barrel-aged beauties.

Tart Noire Paradox Beer Company Divide Colorado

Tart Noire, deliciously deep crimson

We grab a flight of the four beers on tap today: a mundane (for this place) IPA, a mild golden sour, another light sour aged in a Oaxacan mezcal barrel, and an intriguing dark sour aged in a red wine barrel. In other words, not your grandfather’s beer — unless your grandfather was raised by monks in a forward-thinking, experimental Belgian Trappist brewery.

The Centennial Hoptogram IPA is approachable and just a little bit dank, as the description suggests. I’d enjoy this any time I’m hankering for a refreshing pale ale, and I presume this is the go-to beer for the less adventurous beer fans coming out to Paradox with their beer nerd buddies like me. I am most intrigued by the Tart Noire, a fruity sour made just a little bit tannic by the red wine barrels. I keep sniffing and tasting it, trying to find all the little smells and flavors floating around in the blood-red beer.

While we mull — like the red wine, get it? — over the beer selection, we take a look at the grilled offerings on the Paradox food menu. It seems they are the masters of the spicy slider, and we can’t resist trying the elk-and-jalapeno bratwurst sliders with homemade potato chips and French onion dip. The burn is just right, complementing my 10 oz. tulip of the Tart Noire perfectly.

After lunch, I meet with head brewer Jeff to see the Paradox operation. We talk about what normal, well-adjusted people always talk about: yeast and bacteria cultures, coolships, and farmhouses.

Solera barrels Paradox Beer Company Divide Colorado

Solera barrels

Jeff walks me through the sour beer process, an ancient style that has seen a recent resurgence in America. Sours, unlike most mainstream beers, undergo multi-organismal fermentation — the standard brewer’s yeast (S. cerevisiae) is helped out by other yeasts and bacteria, including just a little bit of S. paradoxus, from which the brewery gets its name. The acids and flavor compounds produced by these other organisms give the beer a sharp, sometimes astringent, taste that, when done well, is both challenging and delicious.

In the back, Jeff shows me where they are planning to build a large coolship — a shallow, open vessel into which fresh, unfermented beer (wort) is poured. The sweet wort captures wild microbes in the air, inoculating it with a truly local flavor — the microfauna profile at Paradox will be totally different than that of the breweries in Belgium or the sourdough bakeries in San Francisco, even that of the breweries in neighboring Woodland Park just a few miles up the road. To make the wild microbial inoculation more efficient, Jeff tells me that they plan to build a wooden “chandelier” over the coolship to encourage oak-loving critters like Brettanomyces into the young beer.

Moving on to the fermenting room Jeff points out the exciting variety of fermenters and barrels used to make the unique Paradox beers, from conventional stainless steel to an oaken white wine fermenter brought in from California. He walks us down the row of barrels, most of which have already been used to age another drink, like the red wine barrels used for my Tart Noire and the Mexican mezcal barrels which housed their Cerveza Provisional.

Beer barrels Paradox Beer Company Divide Colorado

Beer barrels on beams

By combining different beer styles (including a dizzying array of sours) and barrel aging (in wood infused with the flavors of other drinks), Jeff and the team at Paradox are creating fresh, new, exciting beers unlike most of what you’ll see on the liquor store shelf. (Jeff admits that they distribute bottles to 15 states, but their product often sells out as quickly as it’s stocked.) As we step out of the busy tasting room into the bright Saturday sun, I make a mental note to come back soon to try their salted watermelon, and their pineapple upside down sour, and their cinnamon pear, and their…

Nuts and bolts

  • Paradox Beer Company is located at 10 Buffalo Court, Divide, Colorado, roughly an hour from Colorado Springs west on Highway 24.
  • The tasting room and grill is open 12:00–20:00, Thu–Sun*. Try their beers on tap, in bottles, or in a takeaway crowler — a value-priced, 32 oz. aluminum can. Play a round of horseshoes in the yard and don’t forget to try the selection of sliders.
  • There is a viewing area into the brewery, but brewery tours are by request or reservation only. Check with the staff before your visit.
  • Big thanks to Jeff, Ryan, and the rest of the Paradox team for taking us around the brewery — and for making some adventurous, and delicious, beers.

*Hours are subject to change. Check the Paradox website before your visit to confirm opening times.

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