Thursday, June 2, 2011

Colorado Beer Travel Guide

Another beer travel guide. This one is for Colorado and was certainly quite an undertaking to write since you could spend 2 weeks in Colorado and not see and taste all of the beer related sites (when I find someone willing to take on the Portland one, we'll see a guide that's even tougher to write). To do this, I enlisted the help of one the newest Gents, Brad (it should be noted that this is not an all inclusive list of beer sites, just the most recommended). Brad was a resident of Colorado, as you'll read, and contacted me some time ago as a fan of the blog. He has since moved to KC and currently works at Rimann Liquor. We had a discussion about Colorado breweries and visiting them at the last Gents at Boulevard. I thought he would be perfect to write this guide and he really delivered. I give you Brad Hargrave's Colorado.

With over 120 craft breweries, a growing number of bars and restaurants dedicated to better beer, the Brewers Association, the Great American Beer Festival, and a beer-crazed general population, its no surprise that Colorado has become synonymous with craft beer. Below is a list of some of my favorite breweries, pubs, and liquor stores in Colorado. Many locations simply did not fit on this list, so please consult Beer Advocate's Beer Travel Guide for more information. Also, I only lived in Colorado for three years and spent most of my time in the Denver area, so this list has a heavy Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins influence. While there are places worth seeking out in Durango, Salida, Palisade, and many other communities, that's just not my area of expertise.


Denver/Boulder/Golden:

Breweries:

Great Divide - No food, very small, just one bartender and they rarely have beer on tap that you can't find at every liquor store in town. But that doesn't matter. Its still one of my favorite places to grab a beer. The people are great, they will almost always give you a tour if you want one and you can get more good beer here for $5 than just about anyplace I've ever been.

Denver Beer Company - One of many Colorado breweries to open in the past year and the location at the heart of downtown Denver is hard to beat. Charlie brewed for Wynkoop, Great Divide and O'Fallon among others before finally opening his own place. Not much else I can tell you, its still very new but probably worth checking out.

Dry Dock - I'm telling you, this could be Colorado's next great brewery. Five years ago they made the jump from homebrew supply store to microbrewery and they've been winning awards ever since. The 2009 GABF Small Brewery of the Year recently doubled its brewing capacity (to 3000 barrels) and added a bottling line in November of 2010. Dry Dock is the rare brewery that seems to brew every style well, from Vanilla Porter to Hefeweizen to Double IPA. In fact, those are three of my favorite Dry Dock offerings. Every Friday brings a new Firkin tapping, which brings out even more followers to one of the area's busiest brewpubs. They just did another expansion, adding a new fireplace, larger barrel program and additional seating at beautiful large wood tables. No real food, but they do have an old school popcorn machine, which combined with their board game collection seems to make this a great place for kids. I always see families here. Mom and Dad get beer, the little ones get a bowl of popcorn and all the Connect Four they want and it all just seems to work out.

Avery - Fans of Avery beers would be shocked to see where it is made. Not that its not a nice place, but they have been forced to expand in piecemeal fashion, buying up neighboring businesses and knocking out walls one at a time until they nearly took over the industrial park. They really squeeze a ton of beer out of a small space, its quite impressive. They do some fun beer fests in their parking lot and have a really cool barrel room. No food, but they will order a pizza for you. The last time I visited before I moved back to Kansas City, I told the bartender to bring us a sample of every beer on tap. We got 27 glasses of beer and our tab was $27, beat that! They always seem to have multiple experimental beers that you may never get to try elsewhere. One of the few Colorado breweries that refuses to do growlers to go, but they will sell you bombers and 6pks.

Bull and Bush - Its honestly like walking into an old English pub or so I assume, I've never been to the UK. They brew all sorts of beer and usually have 6-10 on tap. Food is good with great happy hour deals. Be sure to ask for the vintage beer list and checkout their massive whiskey selection.

Wynkoop - A Colorado institution founded by current CO governor John Hickenlooper. Food isn't bad, beer is average to very good, but the space is killer. Its in an old brick warehouse and has a pool hall on the top floor and a comedy club in the basement. Wynkoop hosts many of the best beer events in town and it is conveniently located across the street from Union Station and the light rail.

Yak and Yeti - Nepalese/Indian buffet/brewpub located inside an old Victorian house. The food on the buffet is darn good if you like that sort of thing. Beer is solid too, though typically limited to 5 or 6 options. The IPA won a medal at GABF in 2010, but my favorite is their Chai Milk Stout.

Mountain Sun/Southern Sun/Vine Street - Three locations in Boulder and Denver with good beer made in house, as well as a nice selection of guest beers. Affordable food, live music, hippie vibe, CASH ONLY. Try to go during Stout Month, its pretty awesome.

Golden City Brewery - If you find yourself near Golden, CO, I highly recommend visiting Jeff and the crew at GCB. This tiny little brewery operates in a glorified shack behind an old house just down the road from the School of Mines and the heart of Golden. They typically have 6 beers or so and will throw a frozen pizza in the oven upon request. Their shaded beer garden and sessionable brews make this a very popular local hangout, especially on a nice day.

Beer Bars:
Falling Rock - Though the competition has increased significantly in recent years, Falling Rock is still probably Colorado best beer bar. I've had mixed experiences with their food, their pricing is not posted anywhere and seems to vary every time I go, and their service typically leaves something to be desired. But Chris Black has built the best beer selection in the state and its not even close. They are the place that got the first Pliny the Younger keg when Russian River started distributing beer in Colorado. They are the place that has half the Fantome Saison collection just sitting in a fridge waiting for you. They actually have Isabelle Proximus listed on their beer menu. And Falling Rock during the GABF? Forget about it. They park a refrigerated semi out front because they can't fit all the specialty kegs inside.

The Kitchen - Of all my nights out on the town in Colorado, the night we went all out at the Kitchen in Boulder was easily my favorite. I have had no dining experience that mixed the pleasures of beer and food more perfectly. The Kitchen is a fine dining restaurant that incorporates ingredients from local producers, features a large wine list AND large beer list AND has a knowledgeable staff that will capably pair either with your meal. Ray, the GM, took the time to hand pick a different beer to pair with each of our many courses and his selections blew us away. I can't say enough about the Kitchen, truly remarkable.

Rackhouse - This was my local in Denver. The Rackhouse is in the same building as Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. As you might expect, they are huge supporters of local breweries and local distilleries. They have a large cocktail menu that takes full advantage of the thriving Colorado micro-distillery movement to whip up some tempting treats. They feature 20 Colorado beers on tap and Chris does a good job of scooping up rarer kegs of brews like Avery Meph Addict and Russian River Sanctification. Be sure to ask about barrel aged beers that aren't on the menu as they have a habit of sending old Stanahan's Whiskey barrels to local breweries and getting kegs of whatever the brewery makes with them in return. Great Divide produces a Stranahan barrel aged, brettanomcyes doped version of Hades that is available exclusively at the Rackhouse. Food is reasonably priced and very tasty. They are famous for their mac and cheese, which is freaking awesome.

Uptown Brothers - Eventually these guys want to brew their own, but for now they'll settle for one of the best draft selections in Denver. A nice mix of craft standards, seasonals, and limited release beers. Tons of TVs make it a perfect place to catch a game (I watched the Chiefs ugly playoff lose to the Ravens at this bar and drowned by sorrows with several glasses of The Abyss from Deschutes). Their Southern cuisine will feed your need for fried food, I recommend the fried green tomatoes, but if you see it on the Uptown Brothers menu and its fried, its probably good.

Cheeky Monk - Belgian beer bar that offers a growing number of American craft beers on tap as well. This is my favorite lunch in Denver: they have a $5.99 lunch menu and half off all drafts. For less than $10, I got a pulled pork sandwich, their delicious frites and a glass of Supplication from Russian River. True story.

Euclid Hall - Great beer list plus beer oriented cuisine. They make sausage, pickles and mustard in house and have a large if pricey bottle list that usually includes some rare stuff.

Freshcraft - Solid bar food and a massive beer list with tons of goodies on tap. My first trip I had Odell Bourbon Barrel Stout, Russian River Temptation and Avery Dugana, all on draft.

Hops n Pie - Gourmet pizza place with plenty of good beer. You are bound to spend every dime you have, but you won't regret it.

Ale House at Amatos - Just opened, I have never been, but they are supposed to have over 40 beer on tap and they are located in downtown Denver.

Star Bar - One of the best kept secrets in Denver. A few buddies invited me out to this place and knowing that they were professional brewers I thought they were joking. It looked like just another dive bar with Karaoke and Coors Light. Well, they are a total Karaoke bar and they did have Coors Light, but they also had Russian River Sanctification, Avery Collaboration Not Litigation, New Belgium Le Terroir and Ooh La La on tap and an excellent selection of craft cans like Dale's Pale Ale and Modus Hoperandi. Proof that in Colorado, you can find great beer in even the most unlikely locations.

Fort Collins/Longmont/Lyons:
Breweries:
Oskar Blues - The original OB location, the heart and soul of the company, is located in Lyons, CO and is the perfect place to grab dinner on your way back to Denver after a day spent hiking Rocky Mountain National Park. Cajun food, live blues music, an old school arcade in the basement and a small brewing system used for pilot batches and the beer sold on tap. The newer OB brewpub, Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids, is located in Longmont and features over 40 beers on tap including rotating guest selections and OB rarities. Featuring a large menu, live music, fun atmosphere and patio seating complete with boccie ball, its easy to spend all day here. Just blocks away is the OB brewery where all their beer is brewed and canned. Inside the brewery is a small bar called the Tasty Weasal. No guest taps here, but you may find rare OB batches like Stranahan's barrel aged Ten FIDY or Belgian Dale's Pale Ale. Of course, they have live music here too.

Odell - Odell recently completed a huge expansion that not only increased their brewing capacity significantly, but it also made the brewery one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. They do not have food, but they have a large bar, outside seating, tons of merch, board games and tons of Odell beers on tap including many brewery only releases. Take the tour if you can, its really an amazing facility.

New Belgium - Like Odell, New Belgium has a very attractive brewery. Take the tour if you can, but plan ahead, you need reservations and they are usually booked weeks in advance. Most brewery tours are pretty boring, after you have been on a few they get repetitive and dull. Not here, they spend their time telling you about their awesome, innovative company and its story, not explaining how beer is made. When it comes time for your free samples, be sure to ask about Lips of Faith and other rarer offerings. They usually don't make it on the menu, but the bartenders will frequently give you a pour if you ask.

Funkwerks - Funkwerks is a new brewery located in a building that used to house the Fort Collins Brewery. Brad and Gordon just started bottling in early 2011 and focus on organically brewed farmhouse ales. Their Saisons, Wits and Biere di Gardes are worth the trip even if you're not a Belgian nut.

Crooked Stave - Chad brewed for Odell before starting his own brewery, currently located in the same building as Funkwerks. The two breweries share equipment, a bar for serving customers, and a love of Belgian style brewing. Crooked Stave is as new as new can be, they are yet to sell a single bottle of beer, but be sure to check them out if you are in the area. Chad is an expert on barrel-aged brewing and brewing with wild yeasts and he opened Crooked Stave to exercise these passions. This is a must for fans of sour beers.

Beer Bars:
Choice City Butcher Shop And Deli - Choice City is a butcher shop and deli and its beer list is currently ranked the 9th best in the world by ratebeer.com. What more do you need to know?

Colorado Springs:
Trinity Brewing - Located on Garden of the Gods road, this little brewpub was one of my wife and I's favorite day trips. We would spend the morning hiking through Garden of the Gods, then head over to Trinity for lunch and beer. Fans of the Slow Foods/Local/Organic movement, this is possibly the most vegetarian/vegan friendly pub in the state, but have no fear carnivores, the bison sliders are superb. Trinity brews its own beers and received a medal at the GABF for its TPS Report (great logo with a guy kicking a copier by the way), a wild Wit aged on rose petals and oak chips. I particularly like their Saison which is brewed with a different recipe nearly every time, reflecting the seasonal availability of local fruits, vegetables and spices. They offer several house beers on CO2, Cask, and Nitro, as well as an impressive array of guest beers. They rarely bottle beer and when they do it is only sold at the brewery. If you are a beer trader and you visit Trinity, I would recommend trying to buy some bottles, they tend to be sought after.

Colorado Bottle Shops:

I worked as the beer manager for a retail store in CO and I'm sure I have some pretty biased views about the shops there. Rather than give descriptions, I think its best that I just list some of the better shops.

Boulder - Liquor Mart
Denver - Mondo Vino, Lukas, Mile High, Argonaut, Davidson's
Loveland - Liquor Max
Fort Collins - Wilbur's

I hope this guide gives you some ideas for your next trip to CO. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me.

Cheers!

Brad Hargrave

If you would like to write a beer travel guide for your city/area and promote your own blog/site shoot me an email at bullevard73@gmail.com.

14 comments:

  1. Great article, but not mention of Left Hand? Pretty major oversight ;)

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  2. And why isn't Boulder Beer Company mentioned? (Maybe all of Colorado was too much for one person to cover)

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  3. Interesting timing on this post. The wife and I just returned from a week in Colorado. We hit 14 breweries and sampled over 100 beers.

    Aside from the previously mentioned omission of Left Hand and Boulder Brewing, a couple of other breweries were left off of the list (I know, it can't be comprehensive, but these aren't little no-name places either):

    Fort Collins Brewery. They started in the same building that Funkwerks is now in, but have since moved to a new facility just up the street (on the way to Odell and New Belgium). The beer is all very grain forward. It's like you're eating a handful of grains. Interesting.

    Walnut Brewery in Boulder, owned by CraftWorks, the same folks that own Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom, Old Chicago, etc. The beer is very... corporate. Nothing to brag about.

    Flying Dog is a block away from Great Divide. Hard to find, but worth it.

    Breckenridge Brewery (and BBQ) is also near downtown Denver.

    For what it's worth...

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  4. "a list of some of my favorite breweries, pubs, and liquor stores in Colorado. Many locations simply did not fit on this list"

    It's no surprise that Breckenridge, Left Hand, and Walnut Brewery weren't on his list. There are way to many better options in Boulder to ever go to Walnut and Breckenridge and Left Hand have never been real impressive.

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  5. I would add Twisted Pine in Boulder to this list as well!

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  6. It's impossible to fit them all in, but the only one I think should be on there is Wild Mountain in Nederland (just outside of Boulder). It is outstanding.

    And I'd recommend avoiding Left Hand all together. Rudest experience I've ever had a brewery (worse than Crown Valley even). I plan on never buying a LH beer again and haven't for over four years.

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  7. Thanks Brad and Bull E. Vard for the comprehensive list of brewers, pubs and bars along the front range. Boulder's Twisted Pine is east of 30th on Walnut, and Upslope is north & east off of Broadway before you shoot up to Lyons for another great canned beer, Oskar Blues. As you continue north into Fort Collins, be sure to visit the Equinox, a pub much like Mountain Sun on Pearl St in Boulder. I'll have to check out Wild Mtn next time I'm passing thru Nederland. Years ago I worked at the Pioneer Inn!!

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  8. One more recommendation if you're in Colorado Springs: Bristol Brewing makes very good beer, but did not offer a food menu. A brewer came out to discuss beers and offered up a very tasty IPA while we were there!

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  9. Brent, that sounds like quite a trip! You mention Flying Dog, which rang a bell, so I looked it up and see they're located in Frederick, Maryland. Are they expanding into Colorado, or is that a different company?

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  10. Check the Flying Dog Wiki. Started in Aspen, moved to Denver. Now brews in Maryland, but still maintains a tap room in Denver. I think they still brew there too, based on what the bartender said, and given the building. It was NOT a full-fledged bar. It was a tap room with two taps and some Flying Dog bottles. 4 tables. $5 gets you a pint of whatever is on tap and you can keep the glass. Mmm, Bourbon Barrel-aged Gonzo Imperial Porter! Good beer, no shit.

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  11. Buffalo chili at Tommyknocker. Awesome stuff. Really love grabbing a beer at Golden City, a relaxing day in some guys backyard.

    In Ft Collins try 2 new ones, Equinox next to a great Homebrew shop(like Dry Dock) and You and Pateros Creek Brewing Company opening in a couple of months but with one of the best porters around (sorry Bully).

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  12. to not upset denver locals, Amatos is in the lower highlands

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  13. good article, think you nailed most of it. I have been in CO (Denver Highland)for 17 years and have seen the rise of craft beer to it's current status, too many to write about in one sitting, unless it's a novel. Wynkoop and Breckenridge merged in March, and also include Phantom Canyon in Colorado Springs. If you have the time I highly recommend a beer tour from Denver to Grand Junction (I-70).

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