Chug-a-lug? Not in Denver. Thanks to its wide array of microbreweries, brewpubs and beer cafés, discerning beer drinkers are making pilgrimages to The Mile High City to sample some of the world's greatest brews.
Here's a look at Denver's must-visit destinations for beer aficionados, almost all within walking distance of each other!
WYNKOOP BREWING COMPANY
Denver's first brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing Company (co-founded in 1988 by former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, now Colorado's governor) produces more than 4,000 barrels of fresh beer annually, earning it a place among the largest brewpubs in the country. Housed in LoDo's 1899-built J.S. Brown Mercantile building, Wynkoop is packed with 22 pool tables, multiple dart boards and other bar games, but the beer is the main attraction for suds aficionados. Start with their flagship brew, the Rail Yard Ale, a smooth, amber beer that combines the malty goodness of an Oktoberfest lager with the slight fruitiness of an ale.
TIP: Ask what's on the cask-conditioned rotator tap. Wynkoop rotates cask-conditioned ales such as Quinn's Scottish Ale, the Churchyard Ale and the Splatz Porter, each with its own cult following among in-the-know beer drinkers.
ROCK BOTTOM BREWERY
The minds behind Rock Bottom Brewery, with locations on the 16th Street Mall and in the Denver Tech Center, believe that the best beer is the freshest beer. All of Rock Bottom's beer (40,000 barrels yearly, the highest volume of beer in the restaurant brewery category) is handcrafted on-site by dedicated brewmasters with a reverence for the rich traditions of brewing. As a result, beer experts have piled on the accolades, naming it the "Brewpub Group and Brewpub Group Brewer of the Year" at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival®. Try Molly's Titanic Brown Ale (so named for Denver's famed "unsinkable" Molly Brown), an English-style ale that finely balances malt flavor and hops.
TIP: On Friday evenings in the summer, Rock Bottom on the 16th Street Mall hosts a rockin' outdoor concert series, featuring beloved local bands.
Like so many brewpubs, Breckenridge Brewery started out modestly in a home brewer's basement. Today, Breckenridge Brewery satisfies the thirsts of discerning beer drinkers in Colorado with such unique brews as Agave Wheat (created using the nectar of Salmiana Agave), Breck IPA (a Colorado-style India Pale Ale) and Oatmeal Stout (a bold, smooth-bodied concoction that magically combines dark-roasted coffee aromas and flavors of espresso and semi-sweet chocolate). Opened in 1992, the downtown location is just a block from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, while the new brewing location in Littleton includes the Farm House restaurant and a sprawling lawn for drinks and dining.
TIP: Ask about Breckenridge's 471 Small Batch series — big tastes in limited releases — or pick up a seasonal like the Ophelia Hoppy Wheat or Summerbright Ale.
GREAT DIVIDE BREWING CO.
Eighteen Great American Beer Festival® medals. Five World Beer Cup awards. Fourteen spots on BeerAdvocate‘s “Top Rated Beers: Colorado.” Named "Top Brewer in Colorado" by RateBeer.com in 2013. Yes, Denver's Great Divide Brewing Co. 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. At Great Divide's Tap Room in downtown Denver, sample any of their beers on tap or in bottles, as well as the occasional Tap Room-only special release. Grab a seat on the patio and toast Denver's beautiful skyline with some of Colorado's finest beers. Or get some Great Divide to go: choose from a full selection of bottled beers, or bring in a growler and the brewers will fill it to the brim.
TIP: Great Divide's new Barrel Bar in RiNo features a state-of-the-art packaging facility, canning line and barrel-aged and sour beer storage, as well as a tap room where you can try anything on the current lineup.
BLUE MOON BREWING COMPANY
Ice-cold brews and baseball — a match made in heaven. Just behind right field at LoDo's Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies) sits the Blue Moon Brewing Company at the Sandlot. A bit of a contradiction in terms, this is a microbrewery that's run by a mega-brewery: MillerCoors. But the beer served is mainly of the craft variety, centered on Blue Moon beers, which were first brewed right here in Denver. Their Belgian White Ale was their first claim to fame when it took top prize at the World Beer Championships. It's an unfiltered Belgian-style wheat ale with deep flavor and a uniquely cloudy appearance. The brewers suggest you try it with a slice of orange to bring out the natural spices and subtle fruit flavor. Blue Moon's newest location is in the River North Art District (RiNo).
TIP: Every summer, Blue Moon makes a handful of special brews that are exclusive to Coors Field. Ask the brewers what's on tap, and enjoy a cold one while the Rockies play.
Euclid Hall's beer list was named among the five best in the country by Esquire Magazine in 2011. The writers raved: "Sessionable kolsches and pilsners hang next to porters and nitro-carbonated milk stouts on the Colorado-centric tap tower. A mathematical-themed bottle list spans from the introductory ("Arithmetic": Del Norte Orale Light Lager) to the more advanced ("Quantum Mechanics": Lost Abbey Lost & Found), with smart choices everywhere in between."
TIP: Soak up the beer with an order of Euclid Hall's much-raved about Poutine, an inspired take on the Canadian dish.
Fresh food and craft beer — what more could you want? Located in the heart of LoDo, Freshcraft boasts an ever-changing selection of the best craft beers in Colorado and beyond, not to mention some great eats.
TIP: Not in the mood for a beer? The bartenders at Freshcraft also mix a mean cocktail — and the wine list is nothing to sneeze at, either!
THIRSTY LION GASTROPUB & GRILL
If you haven't yet visited the revived Union Station neighborhood, Thirsty Lion should be your first stop. In addition to offering a worldly menu with local and seasonal ingredients, their taps have over 50 brews flowing — roughly half of which are from Colorado.
TIP: After dinner and drinks, take a stroll through the restored Union Station and stop into another neighborhood hot spot, like Terminal Bar, located inside the train station's former ticketing office, for a nightcap.
DENVER BEER CO.
Good beer is best enjoyed with friends, fresh air and a bit of adventurous spirit to sharpen the palate. Located in the Riverfront neighborhood just west of downtown, Denver Beer Co. 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. They're all fantastic examples of great Denver beer. The patio is always a happening place to enjoy great beer and some Mile High City sunshine.
TIP: Keep an eye on Denver Beer's website for future Beer Dinners, when the brewery teams up with a local foodcart, providing them with four hand-crafted brews to use as ingredients, as well as partners for the dishes.
ALE HOUSE AT AMATO'S
The first thing you'll notice is the view. Located in the Lower Highlands neighborhood west of downtown, Amato's rooftop patio boasts a stunning panorama of Denver's skyline. Next, of course, you'll notice the beer. A collaborative effort by Breckenridge Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing Company, Amato's is a tribute to Colorado craft brewing, with 42 Centennial State beers on tap. The beer lineup changes daily, so stop in often to try the Colorado craft industry's latest and greatest.
TIP: Beer is just the beginning. Amato's boasts a handcrafted cocktail list, with drinks that are built with small-batch, Colorado-made liquors and other local ingredients.
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! One sip of their flagship brew, Redacted Rye IPA, and you'll be a believer, too — the citrusy hops and spicy rye are irresistible.
TIP: Renegade brews up laughs on Saturday nights with their weekly Open Mic Comedy Night. Grab a beer at the bar and then stake out your spot for the 7 p.m. show.
DENVER CHOPHOUSE & BREWERY
Housed in a beautifully restored historic building just across from Coors Field, the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery offers outdoor decks, live music and fine dining. The beers the ChopHouse brews are fantastic, too. There are twelve craft beers on tap, including German favorites like a Dopplebock, a Dortmunder Lager and a Dark Munich Lager. Cuisine ranges from burgers to filet mignon — meaning anyone's tastes will be satisfied here.
TIP: The ChopHouse also has a location at Denver International Airport, in case you're in need of a great craft brew before (or after) a flight.
BLACK SHIRT BREWING CO.
This family-run brewery was founded with one maxim in mind: "Do one thing and do it better than anyone else." In Black Shirt's case, that one thing is the red ale. But if you think that means this brewery's lineup lacks variety, think again. This RiNo staple has a red ale for every palette, from red saisons and kolshes to red porters and IPAs. Every beer is handcrafted in small batches. Raise your glass in the tap room, on the patio or in the beer garden.
TIP: This "music-driven" brewery doubles as a concert venue, with a one-of-a-kind stage made from wooden pallets and barrels. Check the calendar for upcoming shows.
DENVER MICROBREW TOUR
Find out why Denver has been dubbed the "Napa Valley of Beer." The Denver Microbrew Tour is a 1.5-mile guided walking tour in downtown Denver's historic LoDo (lower downtown) neighborhood. The tour includes 10 samples at four of downtown's best breweries and tap rooms, including Wynkoop Brewing Company, Breckenridge Colorado Craft, Falling Rock Tap House and Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery. The guides are bona fide Denver brew aficionados, so you'll come out of this tour knowing more about beer than you ever thought possible.
ASPIRE TOURS' DENVER RINO CRAFT BREWERY TOUR
In no other neighborhood is the Denver craft beer culture more visible than in the River North Art District (RiNo). Located just north of downtown, RiNo has transformed from an industrial landscape into one of the hippest spots in Denver, featuring art galleries, innovative businesses and a variety of craft breweries. Aspire Tours highlights a few of the microbreweries that stand out for innovation, quality and their unique perspective on craft beer, including Epic Brewing Company and Black Shirt Brewing Co.
MILE HIGH TAP TOURS
Sit back as a 12-passenger van drives you and your friends along South Broadway and Santa Fe Drive on a four-hour tour to three breweries. Mile High Tap Tours currently partners with Breckenridge Brewery, The Brew on Broadway, Saint Patrick's Brewing Company, Dead Hippie Brewing, Locavore Beer Works and 38 State Brewing Company.
DENVER BREWS CRUISE
Being driven from brewpub to brewpub, from microbrewery to microbrewery, with VIP treatment at every turn? Not a bad way to spend a few hours! On the Denver Brews Cruise, you'll experience the distinct tastes and styles of three of downtown Denver's fine craft breweries: Pints Pub, Breckenridge Colorado Craft and Strange Craft Beer Company. From porters and stouts to Belgians, pale ales and lagers, Denver Brews Cruise is sure to satisfy everyone's craft cravings.
BANJO BILLY'S DENVER BREWERY TOUR
Banjo Billy's Bus Tours now offers an insider's look at Denver's craft brewing scene! Banjo Billy's private Denver Brewery Tour includes visits to three local breweries aboard an old school bus redesigned to look like a hillbilly shack, with three pints of beer included. Check out the list of breweries and make your private tour request online or by calling 720-938-8885.
DENVER BIKE & BREWS GUIDED DAY TOUR
If there's one thing Denverites love as much as a cold, locally crafted beer, it's bicycling. Luckily, with At Your Pace - Freestyle Cycling Adventures' Denver Bike & Brews guided day tour, there's no need to choose! This leisurely, four-hour cruise through either the Highlands or Ballpark neighborhoods spans six to eight miles and takes you to "hop" spots like Prost Brewing, Denver Beer Co., Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery and more. Request a tour online or by calling 970-776-0181.
MORE GOOD THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT DENVER'S BEER SCENE
THE BIGGEST BREWERY IN THE WORLD
With production of more than 17 million barrels of beer a year, the Coors Brewery in Golden is the largest single brewery in the world. Located 12 miles from downtown Denver, the brewery experience includes a 30-minute, self-paced tour through the malting, brewing and packaging processes, generous samples in the hospitality lounge and shopping in the Coors & Co. gift shop. Samples are available only to guests 21+ with a valid ID. Non-alcoholic beverages also available.
THE GABF® + DENVER BEER FEST
For decades, 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 nearly 300 regular 12-ounce bottles of beer! Over 700 American brewers participate in the festival, serving over 3,500 different beers, ales, stouts, porters and lagers, all competing for the most coveted medals in the industry. More than 30,000 beer-lovers come to the event each year, which takes place in October at the Colorado Convention Center.
Coinciding with the Great American Beer Festival® every year, Denver Beer Fest, a celebration of all things beer, includes beer tastings at local Denver restaurants, beer-paired dinners, "meet the brewer" nights, beer tappings, Denver brewery tours and a variety of entertaining beer events throughout the city.