Denver Beer Triangle
You're not going to disappear in the Denver Beer Triangle, but it is easy to get lost in the handcrafted beers, ales, stouts and porters from the fine local breweries inside.
Located at the base of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the area between Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins is often called the "Napa Valley of Beer." Here you'll find Coors Brewery, the largest single brewery in the world, as well as some six dozen other award-winning brewpubs and microbreweries.
It's no surprise that the national Brewer's Association chose Boulder as their headquarters, and their annual Great American Beer Festival® (GABF®) in Denver every fall was recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest beer festival on the planet. A staggering 3,800 different beers will be available for tasting at the suds fest this year. Winning a medal at GABF® is regarded as the ultimate trophy among American craft brewers, and it's a prize that Colorado brewers take home more than almost any other state.
Even politicians get into the act. John Hickenlooper opened Denver's first brewpub in 1988 and at one point owned eight beer-centric saloons before giving them up to enter politics. He served as the city's mayor for eight years and was inaugurated governor in 2011, often stating that running a city or state is much like operating a brewpub.
A tour of the Denver Beer Triangle (designated driver firmly at the wheel) offers an opportunity to sample some of the best handcrafted beers in America while visiting Colorado's picturesque high, rolling plains with distant snowcapped peaks always in view.
Denver — The Mile High City
Two downtown bars (Falling Rock Tap House and the Yard House) each offer more than 100 beers, and even the smallest restaurants usually have sophisticated craft beer lists. Not-to-miss locations include:
Wynkoop Brewing Company
Started by Governor Hickenlooper, this is the oldest brewpub in the state. Try Patty's Chile Beer (made with Anaheim, serrano and ancho peppers) or sip a Rail Yard Amber Ale while gazing out at Denver's historic Union Station. Housed in LoDo's 1899-built J.S. Brown Mercantile building, The Wynkoop is packed with 22 pool tables, multiple dart boards and other bar games, but the beer is still the main attraction.
TOUR INFO: Complimentary brewery tours Tues.–Sat. at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Great Divide Brewing
Great Divide's downtown Tap Room is the go-to locale for many of Denver's beer aficionados, where you can sample any of the beers on tap or in bottles, including the popular Denver Pale Ale and Yeti Imperial Stout, as well as the occasional Tap Room-only special release. The Tap Room is also the first stop on Great Divide's free brewery tour, during which bartenders walk beer lovers through every step in the creation of their award-winning beers. The company's new Barrel Bar and packaging facility in RiNo also offers free tours. In addition to another tasting room, this location — which opened in 2015 — is host to a state-of-the-art packaging facility, canning line and barrel-aged and sour beer storage area.
TOUR INFO: Both locations offer complimentary tours Mon.–Fri. at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sat.–Sun. at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Great Divide doesn't accept advance reservations, and space is limited.
Rock Bottom Brewery
All of Rock Bottom's beer (40,000 barrels a year, the highest volume of beer in the restaurant brewery category) is handcrafted on-site by brewmasters with a reverence for the traditions of brewing. Sit on the patio on 16th Street Pedestrian Mall and enjoy a Molly's Titanic Brown Ale (so named for Denver's famed "unsinkable" Molly Brown), an English-style ale that balances malt flavor and hops.
Not only is Denver beer booming, but its cider scene is picking up steam as well. The two worlds meet at The Rackhouse, where you can sample Colorado brews from Bierstadt Lager and ciders from C Squared Ciders in the restaurant's new Blake Street locale.
Golden — Taste of the Wild West
MillerCoors Brewery in Golden
The legendary Coors Brewery in Golden can brew up to 22 million barrels and package up to 16 million barrels annually, making it the biggest single-site brewer in the world. Take a free 30-minute, self-paced tour of the brewhouse, malthouse and packaging complex to view firsthand how more than 100 work teams make some of the most popular beer in the world.
TOUR INFO: Thurs.–Sat.: 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun.: 12 p.m.–4 p.m., Mon.: 10 a.m.–4 p.m June 2–Aug. 15, 2016, Mon.–Sat.: 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun.: 12 p.m.–4 p.m. Please call ahead (303-277-2337) to confirm days and hours of operation.
Boulder — Happiest (and Hoppiest!) City in America
In 2010, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index named Boulder the No. 1 happiest city in America, based on residents' assessment of their jobs, finances, physical health and emotional state of mind. Good thing they didn't ask about beer. The sibling rivalry between Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins over who has the best beer can be intense, making Boulder the perfect next stop in the Beer Triangle. Must-see (and must-drink) stops include:
Boulder Beer Company
With groovy, tie-dye inspired labels and beers like Hazed Hoppy Session Ale and Mojo IPA, Boulder Beer Co. was founded in 1979, making it Colorado's very first microbrewery.
TOUR INFO:Tours are given Monday through Friday at 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The free tour lasts approximately one hour and includes some generous pours.
Avery Brewing Co.
One of Boulder's most popular brewers, Avery is rapidly making headway on the national beer scene thanks to its blending of Old World beer tradition and modern-day innovation. Push up to the bar at their new $27 million "dream brewery" in North Boulder and for an Out of Bounds Stout or a pint of Ellie's Brown Ale.
TOUR INFO: Join one of Avery's "Craft Czars" for a free one-hour tour of the new facility. Brewery tours are offered Mondays at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., Tues. – Fri. at 4 p.m. and Sat. – Sun. at 2 p.m. Reserve your tour time online here.
Upslope taps into Colorado's active lifestyle by offering superior-quality handcrafted ales in cans for the on-the-go beer enthusiast. The brewery has won raves for its IPA and Brown Ale, but we also love their creative limited-release brews, like the Blood Orange Saison and the Thai Style White IPA.
TOUR INFO: Flatiron Park Tap Room: Saturday and Sunday beginning at 3 p.m., Lee Hill Tap Room: Friday and Saturday beginning at 4 p.m.
Longmont — Beer Lovers' Best-Kept Secret
Located halfway between Boulder and Fort Collins, this city is a necessary stopping point on any tour of the Beer Triangle. The giant-sized Dale's Pale Ale can that greets motorists as they enter Longmont is a sure sign of a suds paradise.
Oskar Blues Brewery
Oskar Blues kicked off the canned craft beer revolution in 2002 with their Dale's Pale Ale. Why cans instead of bottles? For one thing, cans keep beer fresh by protecting it from light and oxygen. Drop into either the brewery's Homemade Liquids and olids restaurant/brewery/music venue (home of the aforementioned oversized beer can) or the nearby Tasty Weasel brewing facility for a Dale's or an Old Chub Scotch Ale.
TOUR INFO: Mon.–Thurs. at 4 p.m. and Fri.–Sun. at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Left Hand Brewing Co.
Located on the banks of Longmont's St. Vrain River, the patio is perfect for relaxation and beer appreciation. Since its founding in 1993, Left Hand's brews, including its iconic Milk Stout and Sawtooth Ale, have wowed beer connoisseurs, racking up dozens of medals at events like the Great American Beer Festival, the United States Beer Tasting Championships, the Brussels Beer Challenge, the World Beer Cup, the International Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Festival and more.
TOUR INFO: Mon.–Thurs. at 12:15 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 3:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. and Fri.–Sun. at 1:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. Reserve your tour spot here.
Fort Collins — Best Place to Live
They may be happier in Boulder, but Forbes, Money and CNN consistently pick Fort Collins as one of the top 10 places to live. Home to Colorado State University (the arch rival of Boulder's University of Colorado), Fort Collins is a laid-back college community with great bike paths, bookstores — and beer. New Belgium, the most successful of Colorado craft brewers and the fourth-largest craft brewer in the country, is located here, and their flagship beer, Fat Tire, is now available in 38 states.
Founded by homebrewers Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan in 1991, this Fort Collins institution is now a microbrew behemoth, brewing more than 945,000 barrels a year. It takes a lot of energy to produce all that beer, but New Belgium hasn't forgotten about eco-friendliness during its rise to the top — the brewery is 100 percent wind powered. Fat Tire is the flagship beer, but don't miss the Ranger IPA or the always-changing Lips of Faith series.
TOUR INFO: Register at newbelgium.com for a free tour of the "Liquid Center," a 90-minute stroll around the brewery.
Odell Brewing Co.
With more than 25 years of brewing experience under its belt, Odell brews everything from handcrafted classics to small-batch beers that please even the snootiest of beer snobs. Be sure to try Odell's 90 Shilling Ale and the Cutthroat Porter, then sample from a rotating line of experimental brews, many of which are available exclusively in the Tap Room.
TOUR INFO: Daily at 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tours last about 30 minutes and can be reserved in advance here.
Fort Collins Brewery
Just steps from the Cache Le Poudre River, Fort Collins Brewery turns out favorites like Far Away IPA, Major Tom's Pomegranate Wheat and Shot Down Chocolate Stout. This local gem isn't quite as big as Odell and New Belgium — not yet anyway!
TOUR INFO: Every Sat. at 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Mon.–Fri. by appointment.
Budweiser Brewery Tour
Head north on I-25 about five miles and take a complimentary tour at the Budweiser Brewery to discover how the "king of beers" crafts its world famous brews. A visit to the Clydesdale Hamlet, where more than a dozen of these world-famous horses reside, completes the experience
TOUR INFO: Free tours run daily every 45 minutes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are not required for groups smaller than 15 guests. Or upgrade to the two-hour Beermaster Tour, which offers an in-depth look at the brewing process, multiple beer samples and commemorative gifts for $35. Reserve a spot on the Beermaster Tour here.