Denver's Craft Beverage Boom
By the time you read this, there's a good chance this number will have gone up - but as of early 2015, there are more than 40 craft breweries within Denver's city limits. And that's without mentioning the dozens more craft breweries you'll find just a short drive away along the Rocky Mountain Front Range.
However, beer is just the beginning of the craft beverage boom in Denver. From handcrafted whiskey to wine, you'll never go thirsty in The Mile High City.
Denver Craft Breweries (highlights)
It's not a coincidence that the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has been held every fall in Denver for more than three decades. GABF, the Super Bowl of craft brewing, is recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest beer celebration on the planet with a staggering 6,700 beers available for tasting. It is estimated that more than 200 different beers are brewed in Denver every single day.
Denver's first brewpub, The Wynkoop Brewing Company (co-founded in 1988 by former Denver Mayor, now Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper) produces more than 4,000 barrels of fresh beer annually, earning it a place among the largest brewpubs in the world.
Thirteen Great American Beer Festival medals. Four World Beer Cup awards. Ranked 14th in Ratebeer.com's 2008 "The Best Brewers in the World." Ranked seventh in Beer Advocate's 2008 "All-Time Top Breweries on Planet Earth." Yes, Denver's Great Divide Brewery has racked up its fair share of awards and acclaim since its founding in 1994 - so many that it has become a must-visit destination for beer lovers worldwide.
Falling Rock Tap House takes beer appreciation seriously with more than 69 beers on tap and even more bottled beer, including what is probably the most extensive selection of Colorado-brewed beer under one roof in the world. All beer on tap is craft brewed -- "no contract brews or megaswill" they proudly state on their Web site.
Located in the Riverfront neighborhood just west of downtown, this new craft brewery specializes in artisan and seasonal varieties of premium ales and lagers made from the best ingredients around. The tap list is constantly changing - you may get the fan-favorite Graham Cracker Porter, the delectable Peach Saison or the hoppier-than-thou Fresh Hop IPA.
Maybe Denver's Art District on Santa Fe should change its name to the Art (and Beer) District on Santa Fe. Renegade Brewing is that good. Founded by Brian and Khara O'Connell in the summer of 2011, the brewery's "offensively delicious" brews were homebrewed initially. But friends and family encouraged the O'Connells to take their beers to the people.
DENVER DISTILLERIES (highlights)
In recent years, the art of distilling spirits has become a passion for upstart Denver distilleries.
Stranahan's lays claim to being the first Colorado-born whiskey, and they remain committed to making the smoothest, most distinctively flavored whiskey on the market. How do they do it? By using handcrafted distilling techniques and Colorado's finest natural ingredients. The connoisseurs of the beverage world are taking notice, too: Stranahan's Batch 49 was voted artisanal whiskey of the year in 2010 by Malt Advocate magazine.
One of the country's premier private label and custom brand distilleries, Mile High Spirits (MHS) is located in the heart of downtown Denver. MHS is one of three distilleries in the world to use an all-glass still for distillation which means that no metals or impurities are picked up throughout the distilling process, allowing for the most pure, crisp, and high quality product possible. Beyond private label, Mile High Spirits offers its own products to the mix, including Elevate Vodka, Fireside Whiskey, Peg Leg Rum, and Denver Dry Gin.
A family owned and operated small batch distillery located in Denver, Leopold Bros. specializes in hand-crafted whiskies, liqueurs, gin, and Silver Tree Vodka, the highest rated vodka distilled and bottled in America according to the Beverage Tasting Institute. The San Francisco Spirits Competition which is the largest of its kind in North America agreed and awarded Silver Tree a Gold Medal. Their new location features an orchard where they grow fruits and herbs that they use in their spirits.
Downslope's goal is to produce and sell the highest quality distilled spirits available, to do so locally, and to make those products first available to the Colorado community. Their fine and unique products include Cane Vodka (made from the juice of Maui sugar cane before it is processed into sugar), Pepper Vodka (infused with New Mexico dried red chilies and black pepper from Indonesia), and Gold Rum (created in the same barrels that are used for tequila).
CRAFT COCKTAILS (highlights)
Try some of Denver's best spirits at some of the city's top restaurants and lounges, in cocktails created by expert mixologists.
Downtown Denver's new (but old school), speakeasy-style watering hole, Green Russell (1422 Larimer St.), offers the Jalisco Sour: blanco tequila, mescal, Leopold Bros. peach whiskey, fresh grapefruit and lime juices, and black-pepper syrup.
The Squeaky Bean's (3301 Tejon St.) bracing Cowboy Coffee cocktail consists of Stranahan's whiskey, Angostura bitters, coffee beans, Demerara simple and lemon peel.
Head to the Ship Tavern in the historic Brown Palace Hotel (321 17th St.) for a Colorado Sidecar, made with Stranahan's Whiskey, Grand Marnier, simple syrup and lime juice.
The curiously-named-but-delicious Corpse Reviver at Jax Fish House (1539 17th St.) is a mix of Leopold Bros. American small batch gin, cointreau, cocchi Americano, fresh lemon juice with a rinse of absinthe.
Get adventurous at ChoLon Bistro (1555 Blake St.) and order the Old Saigon, with Stranahan's Whiskey, muddled Thai basil, Luxardo Cherries and house-made bitters.
Blackberry Sage Manhattan
Duo Restaurant (2413 W. 32nd. Ave.) offers the enticing Blackberry Sage Manhattan, with Leopold Bros. blackberry whiskey spiked with sage and lemon.
MILE HIGH WINE
Although most of the state's vineyards are on the Western Slope, there are more than 40 wineries that operate in the Denver-metro area.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem is a "counter culture Urban Winery" located in the River North District in Denver, with a very cool open-to-the-public tasting room known as the Wine Lab. Sourcing fruit from Colorado's fertile Western slope, all of Infinite Monkey's wine is made in Denver. Recently, the winery made headlines by doing the unthinkable - canning its wines. But the results of this experiment, a lightly carbonated Syrah, were almost universally acclaimed in the wine world.
Mile High Winery is located near downtown Denver and features hand-crafted red and white wines made on site. The tasting room reflects the art influence of the River North (RiNo) arts district. Special events, food trucks and live music combine to make a perfect atmosphere for sipping wine.
A vineyard in the middle of Denver? Yes. It started as a flower farm in 1969, but in 1998, the Balistreri family decided to plant some grapes. Since then, the Balistreris have been making wines in the Italian tradition. The award-winning wines at Balistreri include Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Zinfandel, Port and Colorado cherry wines. Whites include Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat. Their wines are made from 98 percent Colorado grapes, including many grown on site.
It's a family affair at Bonacquisti! Winemaker Paul Bonacquisti is a second generation Italian American who learned to make wine from his dad, who learned to make wine from his dad. Located in the Sunnyside district of northwest Denver, The Bonacquisti Wine Co. tasting and tap room is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday for tastings and tours of the wine-production area.