On an overcast Saturday afternoon in the Five Points neighborhood in Denver, people packed out Goed Zuur in celebration of the sour beer taproom’s one-year anniversary. The occasion not only marked a successful calendar year of serving beers, bread, butter, cheese, and charcuterie, but the fact that among all the concepts and pairings of food and beverage out there, there’s still only one Goed Zuur.
While being a sour taproom draws the headlines and brings customers in from all over the world—people occasionally show up with suitcases in hand, fresh off a plane—Goed Zuur’s ability to seamlessly mesh high-end customer service and an extensive and impressive menu together is really what makes the place worth going back to again and again.
Goed Zuur manages to cleanly walk the tightrope that is providing a quality experience to people less adventurous while leaving educated drinkers feeling taken care of as well. It’s the product of experts being given the creative freedom to put together a menu while wanting to educate customers on the Goed Zuur experience.
“It’s been tough because nobody’s made a template for this before. If I was going to open another cafe or pizza place I could go to 100 other places doing the exact same thing,” says co-owner and head chef Anthony Lopiccolo. “For us, we needed to figure out how to trickle somewhere between a wine bar, which sometimes can get too pretentious, and a beer bar, which I don’t want my place to smell like urine.
“I was looking for something aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time really made you feel like you were having a special night without having to drop that special night kind of money.”
The “special night” quality Lopiccolo refers to for customers is unique in that it offers people an opportunity to hear an expert dish on an unusual menu item they might never hear about from anywhere else while paying as little as three bucks for a beer and $10 for a cheese board. It offers one of the great low-cost high-reward nights out in town. Selection aside, hearing a server, a co-owner, or a server rave about a food and beverage pairing and offer a peek into the story behind something like the Jester King Spon Methode Gueuze (a terrific, natural wine-obsessed brewery outside Austin) or an upcoming vegan salami option is unlike what customers might find at another taproom. The content itself can be a little tedious to the unenthused, but the joys of watching a person gush about their passions is translatable for anyone.
Powered by Lopiccolo’s extensive experience as a chef, co-owner John Fayman’s exquisite taste in sours, and cheesemonger Rachel Smith’s expertise, along with a team of servers and individuals intent on delivering an experience that goes beyond dropping off food and drink to each table, Goed Zuur’s presence could be the start of a larger trend toward more niche that only caters to a few and less toward the common brewery trying to cater to all.
Styled somewhere between Viking hall, industrial warehouse, and traditional taproom, the interior setup of Goed Zuur features a tower of taps with a wraparound bar, warm glowing lights hanging down, long family-style seating by large windows, individual tables for more intimate nights, and the best seat in the house: the chef’s table.
While sitting at the chef’s table, customers can expect a show. Various meats being sliced with precision, dishes being delicately prepared on an island in the kitchen, fresh bread being pulled out of the oven, and usually a friendly face willing to chat. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s a peek into the whirring parts of the machine that can get overlooked.
With almost no recipes in the kitchen, Goed Zuur’s offerings are tied more to moments of inspiration than what perhaps most customers are accustomed to. This can often lead to menu pairings changing throughout the week and even throughout the day, but it gives customers as many ways to taste a cheese or charcuterie board as they can stomach. Lopiccolo is not shy about his confidence in the taproom or in his staff, but it is not a self-assurance that is unwarranted. He is aware that what they’re doing scratches an itch that a common sour beer or cheese board cannot reach, and being the first sour beer taproom comes with the responsibility of showing customers there is more to the place than just the beer.
“There’s people that slice meat better than us and there’s people that cut cheese better than us, but I feel that the way we present it to customers is very unique,” says Lopiccolo. “That’s our big thing: the time we put in outside of here talking to creameries and talking to different reps. We’re getting real in-depth knowledge about all of these creameries and charcuterie houses.
“Every time we drop a board, we don’t just go ‘here’s your gouda, here’s your blue.’ We give you very intricate details about each one. it’s not just about the flavor profile.”
With natural wine in the works, Goed Zuur has an opportunity to be a hot spot for even more drinkers in the area, in a city whose natural wine scene in only just emerging. It is true that not everyone will have their comfort food and beverage at Goed Zuur, but upon giving the menu a chance, some people might even conclude that natural wine and sours are closer to kissing cousins than given credit for.
This is part of the point of the taproom: sours can be currant or grape-heavy, they can taste and look like a cider, or they can be easy to sip on during the warm summer months, and it’s fun to explore the variations. Some good things are happening at Goed Zuur, and it’s probably some combination of the beer, the menu, the atmosphere and the staff. It’s a sour beer taproom, but give it a chance to decant a little, and it becomes so much more.
Ben Wiese is a freelance journalist based in Denver. This is Ben Wiese's first feature for Sprudge Wine.