Getting Ready For GABF, Colorado-Style
Fall is a big deal in Colorado—it's a time of harvest festivals, aspens turning and the final countdown to ski season. But it's also when the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) comes to Denver. Now in its 35th year, GABF—held this year from October 6-8 at the Colorado Convention Center—draws thousands of attendees and industry experts from all over the world. Coloradans live for GABF too, because it could get exhausting trying to visit the 300-plus craft breweries scattered around the state (not to brag or anything…).
In honor of GABF, the Centennial State’s billion-dollar craft beer industry, and Edible Aspen’s inaugural Colorado Craft Brewery Guide, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite Colorado beer-centric lodging, bike tours and taprooms. Add them to your post-GABF itinerary, or incorporate them into a ski trip (check websites for dates, as some packages and activities are seasonal). Cheers to beer, y’all.
GABF may be sold out but you can still make a beer pilgrimage to Denver, which is home to dozens of craft breweries (according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association, this unregulated term describes “small, independent and traditional” brewers with an annual production of 6 million barrels or less). You won’t need a car; brewery-populated areas like RiNo and the “Beermuda Triangle” are walkable or bike-friendly.
No wheels of your own? The very lovely Hotel Teatro—located less than half a mile from GABF—offers a year-round complimentary Craft Beer Concierge service that includes vintage cruiser bikes and a Denver brewery map. The historic boutique hotel also has a Bike & Brew Package that includes a custom “beer-lover’s welcome” charcuterie and cheese plate and local craft beer, a curated map and reserved transportation to and from the city’s best breweries, and more. If all that biking and beering has you tired, Teatro’s destination restaurant, The Nickel, serves up rustic, satisfying Rocky Mountain Cuisine (pair it with a selection from the well-curated Colorado craft beer menu).
Nearby, in the spectacularly restored, 135-year-old Denver Union Station, is the 112-room Crawford Hotel. A stay means close proximity to one of Colorado’s most impressive taprooms: Terminal Bar, located on the ground floor in the former ticketing office. A rotating list of 30 Colorado craft brews on draft—many of them esoteric—will keep you buzzing.
Denver hotels are even developing their own craft beers via collaborations with local breweries. The Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center—a renovated historic property dating back to the early 20th century—teamed up with Former Future Brewing Co. to create Countinghouse, a pre-Prohibition-style Cream Ale. It’s named for the bank that originally occupied the building, and is only available at the hotel’s The Teller Bar and the brewery’s taproom.
Boulder County is home to over 20 of the nation’s top breweries, including Oskar Blues, Left Hand Brewing and Avery Brewing Company. The latter has partnered up with Boulder’s St. Julien Hotel & Spa on a fall Boulder Brew Package that includes welcome beers, guided tours and tastings (upcoming dates are October 9 or 10 and November 13 or 14). Cap off your day with a Colorado craft brew (you’re sure to find something unusual on draft) from Next Door, one street over from the St. Julien.
The City of Boulder also has a dedicated bike-to-beer trail; if you’d prefer a guided excursion, BeerandBikeTours.com offers bike-to-brewery tours in Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins.
If Denver is Ground Zero for GABF, ski towns have the rest of the year covered. Few people appreciate sinking a cold one more than après skiers, bikers or hikers. Whether you’re a local or just taking in the fall foliage, here’s what’s on tap in my three favorite mountain regions:
In the Roaring Fork Valley, look for new releases in October from Aspen Brewing Company (Double Conundrum, an Imperial Red Ale that uses hops from Paonia’s Highwire Hops Farm; an aged version made with Woody Creek Distillers rye barrels is slated for spring release) and Roaring Fork Beer Company’s Hatch Chile Lager. The brew will debut October 7th at the East vs. West Coast Oyster Throwdown and Clam Bake, when local chefs Mark Hardin and Flip Wise duke it out. Other great places to get your beer buzz on: HOPS Culture (with 230 offerings, you can’t go wrong) and 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, small-batched, hoppy ales from newcomer Idylwilde Brewery.
Even if you don’t hike or ski West Maroon Pass from Aspen to Crested Butte, you’re still entitled to a beer. I love Purple Mountain Bed & Breakfast, located in downtown CB. Owners Chris and Mollie Haver purchased the early-20th century mining office in 2003 and turned it into a cozy, tastefully-decorated (read: no frills, dolls or stuffed animals in sight) accommodation but the best part is the daily Colorado craft beer tasting.
Chris—an avid longtime homebrewer and impressive amateur beer historian—loves to seek out hard-to-find brews and talk about during the informal gatherings. On my visit, a group of us tried Bridging the Divide, a seriously great collaboration beer from Telluride Brewing Company and Elevation Brewing Co. An Imperial Red Ale aged in bourbon barrels, it’s redolent of mocha and toasted nuts, with a thick, creamy head and smooth body. In town, hit up Brick Oven Pizzeria & Pub, which has 30 craft brews on tap.
Despite its small size, Telluride boasts two breweries, including the aforementioned—and award-winning—Telluride Brewing Company. The Lawson Hill brewery also has a small tasting bar that serves up seasonals, collaboration beers and local faves like GABF gold winner Facedown Brown. Beware: co-founder/brewer Chris Fish’s heady, hoppy brews pack a punch. The best way to visit the tasting room in winter is via fat bike; you can take a guided tour with Paragon Sports that traverses the scenic valley floor (over-indulgers can opt to take the outfitter’s shuttle back to town). Come dinnertime, try the small-batch offerings from Smuggler’s Brewpub, or sample the Colorado craft beer menus at Oak or the historic New Sheridan Bar (next door to the hotel of the same name).
Looking for more Colorado beer tours, taprooms, and beer history? Find them here in our statewide craft brewery guide.