Many years ago, David Axelrod taught skiing in Germany. And while he was there, he noticed something unusual when it came to the social scene. Everyone always seemed to gather at the local beer halls—including families. Patrons sat on long benches at tall tables and talked to each other. It was real. It was right.
Axelrod, who has lived in Summit County for 21 years, made a point to remember that as he transitioned from being a ski instructor and raft guide to becoming a brewer. When he and Jason Ford opened Broken Compass Brewing in Breckenridge in 2014, they eschewed wall-mounted televisions streaming sports and the predictable mountain town brewpub vibe for something akin to the German beer hall, albeit with picnic tables. It catapulted Broken Compass into its own realm of popularity—a no-frills hangout where everything revolves around the beer and the people you’re drinking it with.
Last fall, Axelrod bought Frisco’s Backcountry Brewery intending to open another Broken Compass taproom, but the founders parted ways, and Axelrod, 45, instead reinvented Backcountry as HighSide (partnering with brewing and restaurant veterans Carrie Knose, 41, and Chris Galceran, 57).
Yet once you walk into HighSide, it becomes clear he hasn’t lost his zeal for creating a unique place to prost. The 2,700-square-foot space feels at once cozy and expansive, with a new 300-square-foot stage, a contemporary Port Orford cedar canopy over the bar, and three distinct hangout areas. You can sidle up to a high-top, nestle into the fireside nook in the middle of the room, or sit at one of the long, Hofbrauhaus-style tables overlooking the Continental Divide. Outside, a beer garden offers stunning views of Mount Royal and Peak 1. Dogs, of course, are welcome.
“I want this to be the Summit County version of a traditional beer hall,” Knose says, echoing Axelrod, “where you come with your friends and you know everyone.”
The team at the helm (“HighSide” comes from a boating term, after all) brings a wide range of experience and expertise. Knose founded Living the Dream Brewery in Highlands Ranch four years ago, and Galceran owns and operates three restaurants in Breckenridge: Briar Rose Chophouse and Saloon, Empire Burger, and the former Park and Main, soon to be a taqueria. In addition, Dave Simmons, a colorful mountain brewer who worked at Pug Ryan’s for 20 years, will serve as brewmaster; and Jason Wiedmaier, formerly of Broken Compass, is the executive brewer.
HighSide debuted nine beers at its opening in May, ranging from an imperial session IPA and Vienna lager to a farmhouse ale and Baltic porter. Axelrod says customers should expect frequent rotations and ample experimentation, as well as collaborations with other breweries (both he and Knose serve on the board of the Colorado Brewers Guild). “That’s what craft beer is all about—having fun and playing around,” he says. “You can’t be afraid to fail, and we won’t be.”
The brewery is the fifth to open in Summit County in the past four years, and the second in Frisco. But unlike some craft breweries with Anheuser-Busch ambitions, the owners don’t plan to distribute their beer in cans or bottles any time soon. “We want people to come visit us in Frisco and have a unique experience. And freshness is a big deal to us,” Axelrod says.
As for food, Galceran, a restaurateur for 30 years, crafted a menu that includes pretzel knots, flatbreads, poutine with duck-fat gravy, and charcuterie boards. Everything is meant to be shared, like the beer, which the chef incorporates into marinades as well as his homemade mustard. Must-try: the barbecue chicken flatbread with bacon, red onions, smoked Gouda, and jalapeños.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, however, Galceran makes one thing clear: “This isn’t a restaurant that serves craft beer. This is a tasting room that serves food.”
720 Main St, Frisco