By Eric Peterson | Feb 22, 2017
Twin brothers Dean and Dale Peterson opened the Bull & Bush in Glendale in 1971. They modeled the place after the famed Old Bull & Bush in North Hampstead, England, and started selling traditional pub fare and beer and whiskey from the U.K.
It was a big hit. Glendale was the nightlife center of Denver at the time, decades before LoDo hit the big time. The "city within the city" grew up around the pub as condominiums came to surround the once wide-open pasture along Cherry Creek.
In 1996, Erik, Dale's son, graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in food science and an ultimatum: Let's open a brewery at the Bull & Bush, or I'll go become a winemaker.
But Dale and Dean liked the idea, so Erik set up shop in a onetime dairy that sat on the property and started brewing in 1997.
He enjoyed near-instant success, winning gold medals at both the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 1998, with The Tower E.S.B.
The Tower E.S.B. remains a year-round mainstay, along with the bestselling Man Beer IPA (which took gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup), Allgood Amber Ale, and Big Ben Brown Ale.
Production hit 1,500 barrels in 2016. "It slowly goes up every year," says Erik. "I don't want to build a beer factory. I kind of like the size we're at. It keeps it manageable and it keeps it fun."
Bull & Bush started bottling in 2013, and now sells about one-third of production to outside accounts. The pub accounts for the remainder of sales, about 1,000 barrels in 2016, through a 42-line draught system that usually includes 19 Bull & Bush taps and 23 guest taps.
The pub's "Barchive" is a point of pride, where Erik stockpiles different vintages of the house beers in bottles, barrels, and 5.2-gallon sixtel kegs, plus a host of rare beers from breweries all over the world. "It's comparing how the beers age out," says Erik. "That's part of the fun."
Speaking of fun, it's hard to miss the Bull & Bush crew at GABF: They're the ones in the neon orange jumpsuits. "When we first started in '97, for being a beer festival, I thought it was pretty stale," says Erik. "It was kind of like a trade show."
Thus, the orange jumpsuits. Depending on the year, Bull & Bush has sported fez hats and lab coats, towed a beer dolly with a sound system for impromptu dance parties, and offered fest-goers red-tinted decoder glasses -- just like the ones from the cereal box -- to see the hidden beer menu. "I want everybody walking out to say, 'Who were those guys?'" explains Erik. "It makes it interactive and fun to talk to people."
Back at the pub, Erik spearheads brewing and manages the restaurant with his brother, David, who helped him get the brewery up and running. Head Brewer Gabe Moline has likewise been at the Bull & Bush since the brewery's beginnings.
Erik says he's glad his uncle and late father decided to open a British pub instead of a wine bar, which was under consideration. "British pubs are timeless," he explains. "We've never remodeled in here."
He adds, "We have to be one of the oldest -- if not the oldest -- family-owned restaurants in Colorado. . . . It's cool. The Bull & Bush has a special place in people's hearts. People come here and say, 'My parents met here in the 1970s.' . . . It's special for the people who met here because it looks exactly the same."
Erik's title -- his business card reads "Minister of Progress" -- reflects his prime duty of "moving forward, which can be challenging in a business that's 46 years old."
The $100 question: "How do you keep the tradition but innovate so you don't get stale?" Erik says the answer is "slow and steady change."
He adds, "My Uncle Dean said, 'Anybody can open a pub or a brewpub or a restaurant for three, five, 10 years. The true art is keeping it going every day for 30, 40, 50 years.' When you're doing it every day, it's not like you're brewing in your garage on the weekends."
"The Bull & Bush is its own beast, for sure," he adds. "She keeps wanting to open at 11 a.m. every day, whether I want it to or not."
Favorite beers: "My favorite beer we make here is The Tower E.S.B.," says Erik, describing the balance of hops and malt as "the crossroads of drinkability."
Beyond Bull & Bush beers, his local favorites are Golden's Cannonball Creek Brewing and Comrade Brewing in Denver. "I really like what the Comrade guys are doing," says Erik. "The last one I had was More Dodge Less Ram" -- a hoppy IPA named for the truck that plowed into the taproom in late 2016. (There were no injuries.)
Challenges: Consolidation in craft brewing is one headwind: "That's the conundrum: Most guys started craft brewing to stick it to the man. What happens when you become the big guy?"
The increasingly crowded market presents another challenge. "There are now good local breweries around the country," says Erik.
Within the boom, he sees a bubble inflating. "I don't know if we're going to see little bubbles popping, rather than a big bubble," says Erik. "As a brewery, just finding your niche and being able to do that niche very well, those will be the ones that will survive."
Opportunities: Erik says the full kitchen is Bull & Bush's big differentiator. "Everything is made in-house," he says. "For beer tours, this is their stop for lunch."
"We're getting more sixtels in the next few weeks, which will open up more draft accounts," adds Erik. The slim 5.2 gallon kegs offer variety without a big commitment or need for space: "A lot of these bars that are opening up are putting in huge draught systems, but they're not thinking about the back of the house."
Needs: "Access to capital," says Erik. "I'd like to upgrade some equipment to make [brewing] less labor-intensive."
But patience can be a virtue: "We could just add more fermentation and double or triple [production capacity]. A lot of it is how much you want to go into debt."