Ever since its official opening over Memorial Day weekend, HOPS Culture, has been, well, hopping. Aspen's long-awaited "craft beer-focused restaurant" on the Hyman Ave. pedestrian mall immediately established itself at the place to be when you're craving a cold one. In addition to an alleyway side patio, there's the controversial, 45-foot beer garden situated in the center strip dividing the mall. Eater attended the Grand Opening Party on June 7 to scope out the scene, as well as find out what "little piggies" are, and why people keep raving about them.
The vibe: Owner/general manager Bill Guth was on hand to greet guests. Business has been brisk, surpassing expectations. Says Guth, "My goal was to offer incredible craft beer, great value wines, and delicious, high-quality food in a well-designed, unpretentious environment, by highly-trained and enthusiastic staff. I think we've knocked this goal out of the park, So far, 90% of our business has been from locals, and most of them have returned for a second, third, or even a fourth visit since we opened." As Guth points out, the genuinely friendly staff are a key component in HOPS Culture's appeal. Perhaps they'll become jaded and burned out after a summer season, but Eater found their exuberance, beer, and menu knowledge refreshing.
The space: HOPS Culture has a decidedly industrial feel, accented with rustic touches like a half-beer cask host stand and reclaimed wood accents. Cement floors, exposed brick, eggshell accent walls, and white oak bars and tables keep things spare and stylish without trying too hard.
There's a small bar seating area upstairs in the foyer (folding windows create an open-air connection to the patio bar in good weather). Downstairs, gray leatherette banquettes, a spacious, L-shaped bar, and a smattering of tables provide the majority of seating; growlers cleverly repurposed as water bottles are stationed on every table. A small lounge area consisting of a fireplace, couch and two cushy armchairs, a coffee table, area rug, and flat-screen TV makes for a cozy nook. Local rock band The Natural Disasters provided tuneage.
The booze: Most guests hunkered down at the bar, the better to take in the staggering selection of beers on tap (30, representing "the best of every style from across the country"). There are also 15 wines available by the glass, and 12 craft spirits. The signature cocktail is the Moscow Mule; HOPS Culture offers six different variations on the refreshing beverage. Served in the traditional copper mugs, they're shaken up with crushed ice and spirits ranging from Woody Creek Distillers vodka and Montanya Rum, to Del Maguey mezcal.
The glass-fronted reach-in stocked with 200 different bottled offerings is the beery equivalent of perusing a jeweler's case at Tiffany. Domestic and international styles include Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels, sours, Scottish, porters, stouts, wheats, barleywines, smoked, ryes, and limited releases. There's even a rotating list of dessert beers (Hello, Lindeman's Kriek cherry lambic). This ain't no PBR tall boy-and-a-shot joint.
The eats: Chef Sarah Helsley, formerly of The Little Nell, and the Cheese Shop, turns out upscale comfort and pub fare, and bar snackies like sweet, savory, smoky popcorn served in little galvanized buckets. Servers passed around platters of braised short rib sliders; "Buffalo mac & cheese," with spiced breadcrumbs and blue cheese; Thai chicken tacos; chorizo deviled eggs, and skewers of golden beet cubes with feta, endive, and Kalamata olives. As for the aforementioned "little piggies," they're bite-size, pretzel-dough-wrapped "hot dogs" made from Emma Farms Wagyu beef and served with a housemade spicy ketchup and whole-grain mustard.
The regular lunch and dinner menu will change seasonally, but staples include "huge salads," and soups, to roast half-chicken, "melts" (think tomato jam and sharp cheddar on country white, to pulled pork with ham, Mojo mustard, Swiss, and pickles on a sweet potato bun) and variations on mac & cheese (with smoked Gouda or Tender Belly bacon, jalapenos, and cream cheese; there's even a vegan and gluten-free version made with tofu and shiitake mushrooms).
The beer garden, with its 11 umbrella-shaded communal tables makes for excellent people watching. A dessert station set up for the party sported HOPS Culture's signature S'mores (during regular service, they're served with a flaming cauldron for DIY-toasting, and housemade graham crackers with chocolate-mint ganache). There were also platters of addictive Trashy Treats- bars of chocolate, peanut butter, caramel studded with Cheerios, Honey Graham's, and Rice Krispies. Conveniently, there's a retail dispensary around the corner, so if stupendous beer lists every go out of style, these stony squares of goodness will keep HOPS Culture in business.
--- By Laurel Miller
· HOPS Culture Will Bring Craft Beer and Wine to Aspen This Spring [Eater Denver Archives]
· 15 Most Anticipated Spring & Summer Openings [Eater Denver Archives]
· Twisted Pine Brewing Company on Beer and Food Pairing [Eater Denver Archives]