More beer is brewed in Denver than in any other American city.
Not only is the Mile High City home to the world's largest single brewery, but it also has the nation's largest brewpub, the highest number of home brewers and is host to the Great American Beer Festival, the brewing industry's most prestigious event of the year -- the "Super Bowl" of beer.
And Denver is not alone. Throughout Colorado, there are over 80 brewpubs, 18 microbreweries, and 2 major breweries, making Colorado the "Napa Valley" of beer. It is possible to tour the state, visiting the major ski resorts of Aspen, Telluride, Vail, Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs and enjoy a new brewpub in each town. On any given day, there are more than 200 beers that are made and sold only in Colorado.
Why Colorado? Well, as many beer connoisseurs will state, water is crucial to a good tasting beer. And just as the water that flows across the moors of Scotland has added indelibly to the taste of Scotch whiskey, so too has the water cascading down from the great Rocky Mountains added to the taste of Colorado beer.
Here then is a brief tour of some of the great beer tasting opportunities in Denver.
The World's Largest Brewery
With production of more than 17 million barrels of beer a year, the MillerCoors Brewery in Golden is the largest single brewery in the world.
Located 12 miles from downtown Denver, the brewery has free tours Thursday through Monday that cover every aspect of the brewing process, from germinating barley to bottling.
The brewery was founded in 1873 by a young German brewer, Adolph Coors, who came to America as a stowaway aboard a ship. Working his way across the country on the railroad, he finally arrived in Denver, where he began work in a bottling company. On his day off, he loved to walk around the town of Golden, particularly in the Clear Creek Valley where there were an abundant number of cool, clear springs among willow trees.
Having learned the brewery trade in Germany, he knew the importance of water and so he took a partner, raised $18,000, purchased the natural springs in his beautiful valley and opened the "Golden Brewery."
Today, MillerCoors is the third largest manufacturer of beer in the U.S., but they are still using the same 44 natural springs that dot the company property. Most breweries have to treat water before it can be brewed, but because the water at Coors has come down from the Rocky Mountains through miles of rock, gravel and sand, it has had a natural filtration and the mountain spring water can be used as is.
The MillerCoors tour is a quick, self-guided course in the complete art of brewing beer and at the end of the tour there is, of course, a chance to sample the product. Besides the famous Coors and Coors Light, the company also brews several smaller beers including the Irish red ale Killian's, Coors Gold and the popular Winterfest at Christmas.
The "Super Bowl" of Beer
For more than 16 years, Denver has been home to America's largest beer festival -- the Great American Beer Festival. This event is so huge that just to imbibe a one ounce sample of every beer offered would mean drinking over 108 regular 12-ounce bottles of beer! Over 325 American brewers participate in the festival, serving over 1,700 different beers, ales, stouts, porters and lagers, all competing for the most coveted medals in the industry. More than 30,000 beer-lovers are expected at the 2008 event, taking place in early October at the Colorado Convention Center. (303) 447-0816 or www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com.
Denver: Home to America's Largest Brewpub
The first permanent structure in Denver was a saloon, so it is fitting that today there are fifteen brewpubs and microbreweries in downtown Denver including the two of the largest in the nation: the Wynkoop Brewing Company and the Rock Bottom Brewery.
What exactly is a brewpub?
A brewpub is a restaurant that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer a year and serves food as well as hand-crafted brews. In most cases, the brewpub does not bottle the beer, so it can only be tasted fresh, directly from the keg. If the brewpub does bottle the beer, then technically it becomes a "microbrewery," of which there are nearly a dozen in the Denver area.
What separates brewpub beer from the major breweries is its freshness. Often described as "liquid bread," a brewpub beer is a wholesome product made with the finest grains and hops, naturally carbonated, and preservative-free. In all brewpubs, patrons can actually see the large stainless steel tanks in which the beer is made.
Of course, the fun of visiting a brewpub is sampling a wide variety of beers, many of which have names connected with Denver's history. Each of the pubs offer "samplers," a four-ounce tasting of the five or six beers they have on tap. When sampling, start with the light beers and work up to the strong, dark stouts.
Some of Denver's Top Brewpubs:
Wynkoop Brewing Company: Located in a turn-of-the-century historic building across the street from Union Station, this was Colorado's first brewpub. Today, it is the largest in the nation in terms of the amount of beer produced. The 34,000 square foot pub has a comedy club and an upscale pool hall with almost 30 tables, as well as an excellent restaurant. Best brews include Railyard Ale, an award-winning Octoberfest style ale; Light Rail, an English style ale; St. Charles Extra Special Bitter, a strong English ale served warmer than most American beers; Sagebrush Stout, a dark, full-bodied stout with a creamy head; and Wilderness Wheat, a traditional German summer ale. Specialty beers often available include: Elvis Brau, Pattie's Chili Beer (made with green chili peppers) and Splatz Porter, named after the pub cat. The Wynkoop was founded by Denver's current Mayor, John Hickenlooper. www.wynkoop.com
Rock Bottom Brewery: Located on the 16th Street Mall, Denver's mile-long pedestrian promenade, the Rock Bottom has one of the city's largest outdoor cafes and frequently features jazz groups on an elevated stage area above the brewing kettles. Best Brews: Red Rocks Ale, an Irish red ale named after Denver's famous amphitheatre; Molly's Titanic Brown Ale, a dark ale that honors one of Denver's most famous residents, Titanic survivor "Unsinkable Molly Brown"; Black Diamond Stout, which pays homage to black diamond ski runs, the supreme skiing experience; and Rockies Premium Draft, named after America's most popular baseball team. Rock Bottom is now a national chain, however this was the first. www.rockbottomrestaurantsinc.com
Breckenridge Brewery: Located almost directly across the street from Coors Field, the new 50,000 seat Major League baseball stadium that opened in 1995, this is a microbrewery that serves food--and, of course, beer. Four of the beers are bottled and marketed throughout the Rocky Mountain west, but they can also be sampled from the keg at the brewery or at many other bars in the Denver area. Best brews: Avalanche Ale, a malty, rich, creamy ale made with caramel malts; Mountain Wheat, a lighter beer made with 60% malted wheat; India Pale Ale, a full-bodied, hoppy and bittersweet ale; and Oatmeal Stout, a dark stout with a smooth, chocolate coffee flavor and aroma. www.breckbrew.com
Sandlot Brewing Company: This is the only brewpub in the world located inside a baseball stadium. The brewpub is built right into Coors Field with its own entrance into the ballpark. The brewpub is owned by the Coors Brewing Company, but features hand-crafted small batch beers. Beers include: Right Field Red, an American Style red ale; PowerAlley ESB, a heavy malt, low hops Scottish style ale; and Slugger's Stout, a rich, ample body stout. (303) 298-1587.
The Denver Chop House: Housed in an old office building of the Union Pacific Railroad, this latest addition to the brewpub scene has a bit of everything, with outdoor decks, live music, fine dining, and one of the city's most popular clubs, "Sing Sing" that features dueling pianos. Beers include a premium mild, pale ale; honey wheat; nut brown ale; oatmeal stout and extra special bitter.
BEER SIDEBAR: MAN'S OLDEST FOOD
The world's most ancient known recipe is a formula for beer, written on a Sumerian tablet 10,000 years ago. Since then, beer has played an important role throughout history. The Pilgrims originally planned to sail south to the Hudson River, but landed at Plymouth Rock because, "We could not now take time for further search, or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer."
George Washington liked porter, Thomas Jefferson had his own brewery and Queen Elizabeth I's maids were each given a daily allotment of two gallons of ale for breakfast.
Some definitions of beers: Lager: A higher carbonation beer using bottom fermentation at cool temperatures that is usually aged for at least four weeks. Most of the big American breweries produce lagers. Ale: A beverage that is top fermented at warmer temperatures and usually not aged. In brewpubs it is often drawn by handpump directly from the barrel. Bitter: A traditional English-style ale, also called Extra Special Bitter or ESB, that is very dry and heavily hopped. India Pale Ale: The name given to a fine pale ale first made for export to British troops in India. Often has the flavor of wood chips to simulate the wood barrels in which it was shipped. Stout: A full-bodied, dark bitter beer prepared with the bitterness derived from the burnt, blackened malts used in the mash.