They say there are more microbreweries in Colorado than any other US state… or maybe it’s that there are more microbreweries per capita than any other US state. Have enough of these barley pops and the distinction seems trivial – suffice to say that there’s a helluva lot of brewin’ doin’!
Start at the Wynkoop Brewing Co. Wynkoop’s Rail Yard Ale is the city’s most celebrated red ale, and beer fans file into to this spacious brewpub to knock them back while tossing darts, shooting pool or taking in the breeze on the wide porch. The taps change with the season and the menu offers passable pub standards. Call ahead for Saturday brewery tours.
Make a right at Wynkoop St, left onto 19th and the Denver Chophouse & Brewery is in the historic Union Pacific Building across the street. The Chophouse Brewery has other sites in Boulder, Cleveland and Washington DC. Chophouse brews are mostly European in style – pilsner, ales and lagers – and there’s a good American pale ale.
Walk down 19th and swerve left at Blake St for the Falling Rock Tap House. There are – count ‘em – 75 beers on tap and the bottle list has almost 150. While Falling Rock is not itself a brewer, it does showcase the best, most boutique and craftiest craft beers in Colorado and beyond.
Continue up Blake St for the Breckenridge Blake St Pub, also known as the Breckenridge Ball Park Brewpub. Breckenridge’s portfolio of beers is long and includes an unusual vanilla porter. The Trademark American pale ale is the signature brew and probably a good place to start.
Stagger a few blocks down 22nd to Arapahoe St and the Great Divide Brewing Co. This excellent local brewery does well to skip the same-old burger menu and fancy digs, keeping their focus on what they do best – crafting exquisite beer. Bellying up to the bar, looking onto the copper kettles and sipping Great Divide’s spectrum of seasonal brews is an experience that will make every beer drinker’s eyes alight.
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery is back down in the 16th St Mall area – walk down Arapahoe St, turn left at 16th and slither a block toward the corner of Curtis. The gleaming sheen of stainless-steel brew kettles is dazzling as you enter this chain brewpub. It’s outgrown 'micro' status, and is not as niche as the smaller craft brewers in the region, but the award-winning Red Rock Red is worth stopping in for.
Drag yourself down 16th, take a soft right on Broadway, then left on East Colfax. The brothers of Uptown Brothers Brewery were just getting their brewing operation off the ground when we dropped in, but looking at their selection of taps, vats, kegs and bottles we’re keen to come back and sample their brews.
By now you’ll be needing a lil’ nip. Hail a cab (it’s too far and you’re likely already a danger to yourself) and ask for Stranahans distillery. Stranahans Colorado Whiskey produces only a dozen barrels of whiskey at this family distillery each week. And they’re damn good. Using water from the Rockies, Colorado barley and white oak barrels, it’s a rare taste of quality over quantity. Short tours of their facility are available, though limited space means its best to sign up online.
Further south in Denver is the Del Norte Brewing Co which makes a range of lightly hopped Mexican-style beers as well as the stunning 7.8% Luminaria Bock. All have won awards. You can buy direct from the sales room on Friday afternoons only.
If you’re in Denver in early September get along to the Great American Beer Festival. This hugely popular event sells out in advance. More than 500 breweries are represented, from the big players to the home-brew enthusiasts.
If you’re keen to try more, the Colorado Brewers Guild maintains a website listing many of the state's affiliated microbreweries at www.coloradobeer.org.