The Denver Beer Triangle
You’re not going to disappear in the Denver Beer Triangle, but it is easy to get lost in the fine, handcrafted beers, ales, stouts and porters found along the way. 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 has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest beer festival on the planet. A staggering 2,200 different beers were available for tasting at the suds fest last year. Winning a medal at GABF is regarded as the ultimate trophy among American craft brewers and is a prize that Colorado brewers take home more than any other state.
Even politicians get into the act; Colorado’s current Governor 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 and 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 also visiting Colorado’s picturesque high, rolling plains with distant snowcapped peaks always in view.
Denver – the Mile High City
T-shirts in town proclaim, “Hey dude, I think everyone in this city is high!” No doubt, and they also love good beer. Two downtown bars (Falling Rock and the Yard House) each offer more than 140 draft beers, and even the smallest restaurant has a sophisticated craft beer list. Not to miss locations include:
Wynkoop Brewing Company: Started by Governor Hickenlooper, this is the oldest and largest brewpub in the state. Try Patty’s Chili Beer (made with actual Colorado green chili) or sip a Railyard 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. www.wynkoop.com
TOUR INFO: 1-5 p.m. on Saturdays. Please call ahead (303-297-2700) to verify a brewer is available.
Great Divide Brewing: Great Divide's downtown Tap Room is the go-to locale for many of Denver's beer aficionados, where they can sample any of the beers on tap or in bottles including the 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 the Great Divide's free brewery tours, in which bartenders walk beer lovers through every step in the creation of their award-winning beers. www.greatdivide.com
TOUR INFO: 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. Monday thru Friday, and between the hours of 2:30 and 5:00 p.m., running regularly every 30 to 45 minutes, on Saturday and Sunday. Great Divide doesn't accept advance reservations, and space is limited.
Rock Bottom Brewery: All of Rock Bottom's beer (40,000 barrels yearly, the highest volume of beer in the restaurant brewery category) is handcrafted onsite, by brewmasters with a reverence for the traditions of brewing. Sit on the patio on Downtown’s 16th Street Pedestrian Mall and enjoy Molly's Titanic Brown Ale (so named for Denver's famed "unsinkable" Molly Brown), an English-style ale that balances malt flavor and hops, or a Red Rocks Red Ale, named in honor of Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. www.rockbottom.com/denver-downtown
The Rack House Pub: Not only is Denver beer booming – its fine craft alcohol scene is picking up steam as well. The two worlds meet at the Rackhouse Pub, located next to the Stranahan’s Distillery, where one can sample Colorado beers and micro-distilled spirits, surrounded by decor created from used Stranahan’s whiskey barrels and the cedar beams from the original Stranahan’s rack house. www.rackhousepub.com
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. www.millercoors.com/golden-brewery-tour.aspx
TOUR INFO: Summer (June 1 to Labor Day): Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Winter (Labor Day to May 31) Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday, noon-4 p.m., Closed Tues., Wed., and major holidays.
Boulder – the Happiest (and Hoppiest!) City in America
Directions: 27 miles northwest of Denver on Hwy. 36.
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, but Boulder is the perfect next stop in the Beer Triangle. Must see stops include:
Boulder Beer Company: With groovy, tie-dye inspired labels and beers like Hazed & Infused American Pale Ale and Mojo IPA, Boulder Beer Co. was founded in 1979, making it Colorado’s very first microbrewery. www.boulderbeer.com
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.
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 expertise and just a touch of eccentricity – check out the wonderful labels on the bottles. Try the New World Porter or Ellie’s Brown Ale. www.averybrewing.com
TOUR INFO: Tour the brewery Mon.-Fri. at 4 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. Friday is an especially good time to visit - the brewers tap an exclusive beer at 5 p.m.
Upslope Brewing: The newest addition to Boulder’s microbrew scene, Upslope taps into Colorado’s active lifestyle by offering superior quality handcrafted ales in cans for the on-the-go beer enthusiast. The no-frills brewery has already won raves for its IPA and Brown Ale. www.upslopebrewing.com
TOUR INFO: Tues.-Thurs., 2-8 p.m.. Fri.-Sat., 2-9 p.m.
Longmont – The Beer Lovers’ Best Kept Secret
Directions: 16 miles northeast of Boulder on the Diagonal Highway (119).
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 town is a sure sign of a suds paradise.
Oskar Blues Brewery: These brewers 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 & Solids restaurant/brewery/music venue (home of the aforementioned oversized beer can) or the nearby Tasty Weasel brewing facility for a Dale’s or a Gub’na Imperial IPA. www.oskarblues.com
TOUR INFO: Everyday at 4 p.m. Fri., Sat. & Sun. at 2, 3, 4 & 5 p.m.
Left Hand Brewing Co.: Located on the banks of Longmont’s St. Vrain River, the patio here is perfect for relaxation and beer appreciation. Since its founding in 1993, Left Hand’s Milk Stout and Sawtooth Ale have wowed beer connoisseurs, racking up 15 medals and one honorable mention at the Great American Beer Festival, eight medals at the World Beer Cup and a Gold Medal at the International Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Festival. www.lefthandbrewing.com
TOUR INFO: Sat., 1 and 2 p.m., or by appointment; Sun., 1 p.m.
Fort Collins – Best Place to Live
Directions: 30 miles north of Longmont on U.S. Hwy. 287 North.
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, is located here and their flagship beer, Fat Tire, is now available in 28 states. Tours of New Belgium are de rigueur; other stops include:
New Belgium: Founded by homebrewers Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan in 1991, this Fort Collins institution is now a microbrew behemoth, brewing up to 150,000 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 new Ranger IPA or the Abbey Belgian-Style Ale. www.newbelgium.com
TOUR INFO: Register at www.newbelgium.com for a free tour of the "Liquid Center,” a 90-minute stroll around the brewery.
Odell Brewing Co.: With more than 20 years of brewing experience under its belt, Odell brews everything from handcrafted classics to small batch beers that please even the hardiest of beer snobs. While here be sure to try Odell’s 90 Shilling Ale or the Cutthroat Porter – or a rotating line of experimental brews in their Pilot System, available exclusively in the tap room. www.odellbrewing.com
TOUR INFO: Mon.-Sat. at 1, 2, and 3 p.m. Tours are given on a first come first served basis within a half hour of the start time. Reservations or tickets are not necessary.
Fort Collins Brewery: Just steps from the Cache Le Poudre River, this brewery turns out such acclaimed beers as the 1900 Amber Lager and the Chocolate Stout. It’s not quite as big as Odell’s and New Belgium – not yet anyway! www.fortcollinsbrewery.com
TOUR INFO: Every Sat. at 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 p.m.
Anheuser Busch Brewing Co.: Head north on I-25 about five miles and take a complimentary tour, during which guests discover how the “king of beers” crafts its world famous brews. A visit to the Clydesdale Hamlet, where more than a dozen of these majestic horses reside, completes the experience. http://www.budweisertours.com/toursFTC.htm
TOUR INFO: June 1- Sept. 30, daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Oct. 1-May 3; Thurs.-Mon., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.