The announcement this week that the Falling Rock Tap House, the legendary purveyor of all things made with hops and barley, was closing after almost a quarter of a century of boozy bacchanalia in the LODO neighborhood of Denver, my heart fell for a moment. Reflecting back on what it meant to me, I was saddened, but at the same time, my heart lifted.
From the moment it first opened its doors, this temple to all beer was and could become was a must-visit for any lover of suds to the Mile High City. It had over ninety draft lines, each one dedicated to the one thing that brother Al and Chris Black deemed their mantra-No Crap on Tap.
Known for having a head-spinning array of hard to get and one-off beers, along with a fantastic cellar of perfectly aged bottles, it hosted amazing GABF parties. It was the place you went to bump into the luminaries of the craft beer movement. Sam Calagione would fly in special kegs of Dogfish Head to roll out to friends. Vinny Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing always made sure there was a keg of Pliny the Elder on tap there. Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada made it a point to stop in when in town.
I made my first visit there in 2000, not long after moving to Colorado from Kentucky. I had heard through friends that had been out the year before that I had to find this wild place in Denver. It was a place that would blow my mind, they said. When I finally found it after driving around the somewhat sketchy streets of the area-Denver was a bit grittier then-I was overwhelmed upon walking it. Never before had I seen so many taps. It seemed impossible. I struggled for a bit scanning the beer list before finally settling on a beer from New Belgium, I think.
For the next hour, until I had to leave to drive back to Nederland, where my young family was living, I marveled at the wide array of people that filled the place. The neon signs filled my eyes, there were funky stickers everywhere, and everyone talked about beer, not sports and such. I felt like I had finally arrived, that I was in Colorado, that anything was possible.
I didn’t make it back for another five years. Life got complicated, and time slipped away. When I did make it back one late Saturday afternoon, it was a clandestine rendezvous. My marriage was falling apart, and I really wanted to go back to places that made me happy. I swung by on my way home from work, stealing a few minutes to myself before heading back to an unhappy home. I remember sitting there and savoring each sip of some unremembered IPA. I was shocked at what was in my hand, that someone could make a beer so remarkable.
By the time I moved to Boulder in 2010, I was a full-fledged craft beer nut. I carted several cases of mixed bombers around with me, filled with my selection of aging beers. When I went out to meet friends, it was to one of the plethora of craft beer taprooms that seemingly popped up overnight across the state. When a buddy of mine suggested in 2014 we head downtown to go to the GABF in a few months, he had tickets; I eagerly leaped at the opportunity. I only had one request. That we stop into Falling Rock beforehand.
I had made it a point to visit a few times over the last years whenever I was in Denver, but its siren call had dimmed over time. I could get some pretty unique beers close to home. The drive was a hassle, and I did not feel the need to head to the Denver bar scene. My new wife was wonderful, and my kids took up most of my free time. But she was still there, and if I was in town, I needed to see her again.
It was a memorable night, one that has faded into a hazy background. There were pints both before and after our session at the GABF. The evening was a blur that left me smiling like a madman when I got home and a little ragged the next day. I vowed to go back to Falling Rock again the next time I was in Denver. But I didn’t. Instead, I ended up living in Europe for two years and then hit the road as a digital nomad with my wife. Where ever I went, I searched out the local brewpubs to sample their wares. That love of fine beer first stoked at Falling Rock never abated. In fact, it grew.
My story resembles many of the ones I have read online the last few days. The ones of people tell when something that connected to their soul shutters. We lament the loss of something so precious, yet at the same time smile at the memories we forged there. The Black brothers created something extraordinary when they opened their tap house. They showed people that there were terrific beers out there. That there was something better than what we were used to. It inspired so many to search for better beer. We are the ones who have supported our local brewpubs, have scoured our favorite liquor store shelves for bombers, and have shown up at cookouts with the strange six-pack.
So here is a toast to Falling Rock. You may have left us, but you won’t be forgotten. Your fans will still keep drinking good beer.