Edible Aspen's Colorado Craft Brewery Guide
COLORADO BOASTS OVER 300 LICENSED BREWERIES in what’s become a billion-dollar industry, so it’s not surprising that the Denver Post recently noted we “consume craft beer at twice the rate of the rest of the nation.” Since 1859, Colorado has been at the forefront of the craft brewing movement—the result of thirsty miners, a pure water supply and favorable post-Prohibition state legislation. Combined with our love of outdoor adventure and related tourism industry, it’s no wonder a cold one is so intertwined with the high-altitude lifestyle.
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(Scroll down for the listing of Colorado breweries)
WHAT DEFINES CRAFT BEER?
According to Steve Kurowski, marketing director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, “It’s a self-regulated term within the brewing industry that’s replaced ‘micro.’” The Boulder-based Brewers Association further defines American craft brewers as “small, independent and traditional,” with an annual production of less than 6 million barrels. From farm-to-keg, barrel-aging and wild yeast fermentation to sourcing fruit, grain and hops from Colorado family farms, our craft brewers meld Old World production methods and styles with a progressive ethos that’s pushing boundaries. We’ll drink to that.
Coors Brewery workers in the old basement bar area, 1894.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF COLORADO BREWING
Our first breweries were established before the territory became a state. In the Denver area, Rocky Mountain Brewing Company (est. 1859) and Sigi’s Brewery (1864; it later evolved into Tivoli Brewing) supplied beer to miners, cowboys and pioneers; by the time statehood was granted in 1876, there were 36 breweries, including industry giant Coors. Prohibition temporarily halted production, but by the 1970s the craft revolution had begun. Boulder Beer, Carver Brewing, Wynkoop Brewing and Odell Brewing Co. put Colorado on the burgeoning American craft beer radar thanks to diversifying styles and more complex flavor profiles. It wasn’t so long ago that Fat Tire was an obscure brew found only in a handful of locations; today, New Belgium and other Centennial State success stories like Oskar Blues, Ska Brewing, Left Hand Brewing Co. and Avery Brewing Company distribute nationally, in addition to some international export.
Craft beer has become an economic juggernaut in Colorado, instrumental in building jobs, revitalizing communities and creating opportunities for farmers. Does this mean our craft beer market is saturated? Absolutely not, says Steve Kurowski of the Colorado Brewers Guild. “Are there too many restaurants or bars?”
High Wire Hops, Paonia.
HOP TO IT!
The Pacific Northwest is the nation’s hop-growing epicenter, but hop farms have quietly been gaining traction on Colorado’s Western Slope and Front Range. While yields are small—the perennial climbing plants are slow-growing, labor-intensive and expensive to cultivate, requiring specialized equipment like drip irrigation systems, trellises, picking machines, drying rooms and pelletizers—farms like High Wire Hops and Rising Sun Farms (Paonia), Misty Mountain Hop Farm (Olathe), LaRusso Hop Farms (Welby), Voss Farms (Arvada) and Niwot Hops are finding a niche with select Colorado craft breweries (even Miller-Coors subsidiary AC Golden has gotten in on the act, using local hops for its Colorado Native amber lager). Then there’s High Hops Hop Farm in Windsor, which produces farmstead brews from their 54 varieties of hops.
Want to try a craft brew made with Colorado hops? Here are a few to check out: Colorado IPA Nouveau (Tommyknocker Brewery), Colorado Wild Sage Mountain Saison (Crooked Stave), Wet Hopped American Summer (Telluride Brewing Company), Colorado Stock Ale (Little Machine Beer) and anything by Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company and High Hops Brewery.
New Belgium Brewing's wood-aged beer.
DOES SIZE MATTER?
Confused by terms like nano, micro and macro? Not to worry: They’re not regulated. Nano refers to a very small brewery; macro denotes industry giants like Coors. “There’s a misperception that quality can suffer as a brewery grows, but we’ve experienced the opposite,” says Bryan Simpson, New Belgium Brewing’s media relations director. “Growth allows you to invest in your quality programs, give back to communities and be more diverse with production. Having scale [New Belgium produced just under 1 million barrels in 2015 and sells less than 1 percent of the beer consumed in the U.S.] allows you to do meaningful work in an impactful way.”
The bottom line? Don’t get hung up on marketing hyperbole, just drink what you enjoy. If you want to support Colorado’s craft beer industry, your options are ever-expanding whether it’s picking up a sixer of Oskar Blues or patronizing a neighborhood brewery that produces a barrel a week.
Telluride Blues & Brews
BEST BEER FESTIVALS
Snowmass Craft Beer Rendezvous | The Roaring Fork Valley’s inaugural beer festival will feature a Grand Tasting with 50 Colorado breweries, as well as homebrew workshops and a concert.
June 11, GoSnowmass.com
Boulder Craft Beer Festival | This late-summer event brings together breweries from Boulder County and beyond. August 20, BoulderDowntown.com
Telluride Blues & Brews | In a town known for festivals, this is one of the best. The Grand Tasting features suds from over 50 breweries throughout the Southwest. Major national artists provide a soundtrack to all that sipping. September 16–18, TellurideBlues.com
What the Funk, Denver | The folks at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project are the force behind this celebratory tasting of “wild, sour, funky barrel-aged beers, cider, wine and spirits.” October 4, WTFInvitational.com
Great American Beer Festival, Denver | Named “one of the top 1,000 places in the U.S. to visit before you die,” GABF, now in its 34th year, is the premier gathering of American breweries. Get your tickets ASAP. October 6–8, GreatAmericanBeerFest.com
Big Beers Festival Belgians & Barleywines, Breckenridge | This winter event features world-class international breweries, as well as seminars, dinners and more. January 5–7, 2017, BigBeersFestival.com
Denver's Union Station bar.
TOP TASTING ROOMS, BEER PROGRAMS & BOTTLE SHOPS
Some of our favorite spots to taste (and buy) beer, Colorado craft et al: We love the friendly, small-town, jam band vibe at Telluride Brewing Company and the punk rock ethos and urban industrial tasting room at Ratio Beerworks; the plentitude of brews by the tap, can and bottle at Falling Rock Taphouse, Terminal Bar, The Kitchen Next Door and HOPS Culture (the latter boasts 230 offerings, many of them esoteric); the abbreviated but thoughtful draft selection at sister establishments Meat & Cheese Restaurant•Farm Shop and Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar (both of which exclusively feature the exquisite, smallbatched, hoppy ales from newcomer Idylwilde Brewery); the hard-to-find Colorado brews sold at retailers Mr. B’s Wine & Spirits and Four Dogs Fine Wine & Spirits; at Sundance Liquor & Gifts you can assemble your own Colorado craft brew six-packs.
The iconic bicycle outside of New Belgium Brewing.
BIKES BREWS & THE BEERMUDA TRIANGLE
Cities including Boulder have created dedicated bike-to beer trails (BoulderColoradoUSA.com), while Denver and Fort Collins have organized walk- and bike-to-brewery tours via various outfitters (EatDrinkDenver.com; BeerAndBikeTours.com), as do mountain towns like Telluride (BootDoctors.com) and Durango (AtYourPaceBiking. com). There’s also the three-mile “Beermuda Triangle” that spans Denver’s RiNo to Westside neighborhoods and includes Wit’s End Brewing, TRVE Brewing Co. and Renegade Brewing Co. Even hotels are getting in on the beery bike action. Denver’s Hotel Teatro, for example, offers a Craft Beer Concierge service to guests, which includes a brewery map and free cruiser bikes. Whether you hoof it or pedal, there’s a tap in just about every town.
COLORADO CRAFT BREWERIES
Please note: We would have liked to include what we love about every Colorado brewery in this guide but it simply wasn't possible for our writer, Laurel Miller, to visit them all. This listing begins with a curated cross section of 30 breweries to illustrate the range of brewery sizes, geographic locations and types of beer, and follows with a comprehensive listing.