A taste of Colorado through Rocky Mountain brews
The tasting room of the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, the first wind-powered brewery in the US.
Some thank the crystal clear Rocky Mountain water. Others claim it is the altitude. Or maybe everything goes down better when paired with mountain views. Whatever the reason, Colorado has some of the best tasting beers in the country, with 491 Brewers Association medals to prove it – more per capita than any other US state.
With a designated driver and a taste for beer before noon, it is possible to see some of the best of Colorado’s 130 breweries on a long-weekend road trip.
Start in Denver, the capital, at the Wynkoop Brewery in lower downtown. The state’s current governor (and former Denver mayor) co-founded the sprawling two-story brewpub in 1988, long before the LoDo area underwent a revitalization that made it the trendy spot it is today. After sipping on a pint of the malty, amber Rail Yard ale (named after the historic Union Station train depot across the street), walk a few blocks east to Great Divide Brewing, housed in a former dairy processing plant. The pub has landed on multiple “top brewery in the world” lists for its barrel-aged brews. Saddle up to the bar in the newly expanded tap room for a pint of the hoppy, yet caramely Yeti Imperial Stout that tops out at 9.5% alcohol by volume. Between April and July, try the Chocolate Oak Aged version of the beer, which tones down the hops in favour of adding cocoa and cayenne pepper. While the tap room does not serve snacks, Denver’s best food trucks make regular stops here to nourish those who have a long day of drinking ahead.
After sobering up, drive about 90 minutes north to the city of Ft Collins; then ditch the car. The humble cruiser bicycle, —the logo of the New Belgium Brewing Company and its most popular Fat Tire amber ale --, is the best way to see this college town’s best breweries. The Fort Collins Bike Library offers free bike rentals and a “Bike the Sites” brewery tour map, which guides visitors to seven local breweries. Try the strangely spicy Green Chilli Ale at Coopersmith’s Pub in Old Town, the 90 Schilling Scottish-style ale at Odell’s and the you-will-never-guess-it-is-organic, citrus-flavoured Mothership Wit at New Belgium.
From Ft Collins, head 60 minutes southwest to the hippie-turned-high-tech town of Boulder. Board the funky Banjo Billy’s bus (equipped with sofas and saddles as seats) for the Boulder Brew Bus tour, which runs on a regular schedule every Sunday evening (advance reservations are recommended). The bus leaves from the West End Tavern restaurant and makes stops through the night at the Upslope, Twisted Pine and Avery breweries. A West End bartender or manager serves as the tour guide and shares the inside scoop on each brewery between stops. To cleanse their palates, tour goers also get to sample the West End’s famous smoked BBQ along the way.
A straight shot 30 minutes south of Boulder sits the small, secluded suburb of Golden. The original capital of the Colorado Territory, Golden also served as the 1873 birthplace of the Coors Brewery (now Miller-Coors after a 2008 merger). Though the small town looks nothing like the snow-capped mountains featured in Coors Light commercials, the hovering mesas and rolling foothills are an equally beautiful backdrop to the largest single-site brewery in the world. Free daily tours of the facility showcase the scale necessary to produce 22 million barrels a year, and give visitors the chance to try freshly brewed original Coors Banquet, Blue Moon wheat and other styles sold nationwide. Unlike most other breweries which offer small samplings along the tour or a chance to buy pints at full price, Coors offers three full glasses of beer for free at the end of the tour in the lower-level tasting room.
Just 30 minutes west into the Rocky Mountains, make a pit stop in the small mining town of Idaho Springs to check out the Tommyknocker Brewery, known for its smooth, maple syrup-infused Maple Nut Brown beer. Named after the leprechaun-like creatures who would steal miners’ food and tools, Tommyknockers is a favourite among kids as well for their home-brewed root beer and strawberry crème sodas.
Further west, Breckenridge Brewery in the eponymous ski town serves up their not-too-sweet, not-too-smoky Vanilla Porter, which has turned many light beer drinkers over to the dark (beer) side.
For a more stationary sampling, hit up the annual Great American Beer Festival held every autumn in Denver’s Convention Center, where these Colorado breweries (and 2,000 others from around the country) serve up samples of their most innovative beers in one place.