Liberati Osteria & Oenobeers is an Italian experience the likes of which Denver has never seen. Owner Alessandro (Alex) Liberati was born and raised in Rome where he opened his first restaurant, Brasserie 420 (older and wiser, he now has some regrets about the name) when he was only 22. Since then, Liberati kept his pedal to the metal in the Roman food scene and played a key role in the evolution of Italian craft beer. Liberati has brought executive chef Marta Biasotti and executive baker Federica Ansani with him to Denver. The team made their way to Colorado after joining forces with artist and Denver beer veteran Paul Vismara — who wrote the book on Italian Craft Beer — to bring a modern take on an Italy that is no longer the old country.
Liberati Osteria & Oenobeers is so stimulating and unusual you can walk away with the exhilaration of a toddler. You know when little kids get so excited about something that they forget to breathe and almost pass out? That is how beer and wine fans are reacting to Liberati. This is because Liberati is one of the few breweries (if not the first, according to them) in the world focusing entirely on oenobeer (or oenobier).
Oenobeer (pronounced, EH-no-beer. Oeno: prefix, of or having to do with wine) is a type of beer brewed with up to 49 percent wine grapes. For those unaware, this might sound like a cheap marketing schtick or the brainchild of an obnoxious frat guy who throws a splash of Franzia into Bud Lite “for the ladies.” But no matter how much cynicism you bring to your first oenobeer, just a few sips is enough to pump you up to Charlie Bucket levels of enthusiasm.
The beer menu is separated into three sections: Leggera (Light), Scura (Dark) and Strana (Strange). A wonderful jumping off point for a leery drinker is the Parvus Titan: a light, crisp farmhouse brew made with 20 percent Viognier grapes (white), bright wine on the nose and clean, snappy beer on the palate. After your first drink, when you start feeling a little more confident, it’s time to cross into the dark side with the luxurious Verba Volant. Verba Volant is 49 percent wine and 51 percent beer (Malbec and Dubbel), the aroma is that of blueberry yogurt and tastes like malty stone fruit.
By this point, you and oenobeer will be well acquainted and ready to take your relationship to the next level; It is time for the opulent Recioto Denveris. Recioto Denveris is a dessert oenobeer and maybe the most vivacious drink on this menu (with the exception of Oxi Monstrum which tastes like Port mixed with Fernet Branca. Oxi isn’t officially on the menu yet, but it is so good you will be ordering glasses of it in your sleep). Recioto Denveris is blackish-brown, has the viscosity of cough syrup and is served with a side of dark chocolate. It looks intimidating, but the drink’s bright, playful acidity immediately betrays its tough-guy exterior.
Oenobeers aside, Liberati is also a restaurant. Alex and his team have an approach to Italian food that is a bit different than what Americans are used to; this is because they aren’t American. Liberati does not serve chicken parmesan or meatball subs, its enticing menu is by Italians for Italians. The menu has some familiar items like Bruschette ($3), Ravioli ($22/ $12) and Lasagna ($24) (all made in-house), but Liberati also serves dishes that are not often found out of Italy.
Polipetti Affogati ($25/ $13) is a Neapolitan favorite, tender baby octopus drowned in the juices of slow-cooked tomatoes. Also, try the Rana Pescatrice ($30) — made with pecorino romano encrusted monkfish served on creamed leeks and potatoes with sautéed fava beans and homemade guanciale (guanciale is cured pig cheek; it makes pancetta look like bacon and makes bacon look like bologna).
In addition to Italian classics, Liberati offers several dishes with their own special twist. The Cannoli di Couscous ($16) — a creation by executive chef Biasotti — is a savory, “couscous-encrusted cannoli” filled with a thick blend of sea bass and monkfish served beautifully on a splatter of sweet pepper sauce and edible flowers, topped with toasted almonds. Or the Tortelli di Zucca ($24/ $14) — Liberati’s “secret family recipe” of home-made tortelli (what we Americans would call “ravioli”) — a stuffed pasta filled with pumpkin and a compote of pear, plum and mustard seed topped with melted butter and fried sage.
To finish off the meal, executive baker Ansani makes, among other things, a wonderful Pastiera di Riso Molisana. The pastiera is a small, rice-based cake served on a light custard and garnished with flowers and dehydrated raspberries — in keeping with Italian tradition, this dessert is sweet enough to end your meal on a high note without filling your mouth with cavities. But if that’s not your thing, there is always home-made gelato.
Liberati stands out. Its design, drinks and food are set up to make an impression, and they do just that. With retro-futuristic posters covering the walls and an array of stimulating flavors on the menu, Liberati is the kind of place to be celebrated with good company. Have a bite, take a drink and embark on an Italian vacation without leaving Denver.
Liberati Osteria & Oenobeers. 2403 Champa Street, Denver, CO 80205. Mon-Thurs 4:00 p.m. -10:00 p.m. and Fri-Sun, 12:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
All photography by Lukas Crosby.