Colorado is very proud of its beer. You’ll often see the claim that they are the largest producer of beer in America, with the most Craft brews per capita. They also like to argue they are #1 for beer quality overall, but that seems a little personal. We’ll let that one be a fight between them and Oregon, with California, Seattle and Vermont barking at their heels. I know, the Vermont one surprised me too, but turns out that they take their beer very seriously as well (now, if we could just get a Magic Hat Lucky Kat on the west coast…).
Whatever the argument, Colorado does have roughly 100 Craft brewers in production. This term can be a little misleading: see, Microbrews come from small production breweries, typically limited to about 15,000 barrels a year. A Craft brewer doesn’t have to operate within a specific capacity. Instead, “Craft” signifies a brewer with higher aspirations for flavor, brewing with little or no adjuncts such as corn, which supplement the malted barley and help cut costs but don’t add flavor. But it’s tricky: some microbrewers such as Avery Brewery of Boulder, Colorado claim to make Craft brews even though they often add what might be considered adjunct sugars, but only with the intention of adding flavor. In comparison, Sam Adams of Boston, Massachusetts argues they are a Craft brewer, but their production of roughly 1.4 million barrels a year make them too big to be a Microbrew. So a Microbrew can be a Craft beer, but Craft beer can be made by large producers as well.
What does all this mean? It meant we had too many breweries of varying sizes and distribution to try in our short time in Colorado, but we already had our eyes set on what we thought might be the best of the bunch.
First off, we had to visit the antithesis of the Craft brew, in fact one of the reasons that Microbrews exist today… Coors!
Coors in Golden, Colorado is considered the largest single brewery facility in the world… too bad they are turning out cold piss. Sorry, I tried hard not to say it. We’d actually recommend Coors’ tour: the size of the facility is really something, the tour is free and they give you free beer. Quantity over quality folks, their beer is pretty awful. Luckily their samples include Blue Moon Brewing Company whom they own.
Strangely, Coors doesn’t hide their use of adjunct grains like corn: you’ll see big containers of the cash crop on the tour, but they fail to differentiate corn from the traditional ingredients for making beer. Corn is simply used to increase sugars in the beer cheaply, without adding color or flavor. Corn is exactly why Coors tastes like piss. See all this for yourself on their free self-guided tours which run about 5 days a week.
On the other side of the argument, just because Microbreweries have smaller, more personal production, doesn’t mean they are any good. In downtown Denver we tried locally famous Wynkoop (the Mayor’s a part-owner), but they kind of left us flat. The beers weren’t that exciting, the food was bland, and the bar was just like every other bar.
An unexpected surprise came from Breckenridge Brewery which actually has two locations in Denver. Downtown they are across from Coors Field, and cater mainly to game fans by serving the standards (no taster sets on game days, beware), but their other location in the Golden Triangle district has outstanding barbeque (woah nelly, and it’s cheap too) to go with their agreeable beers.
One of Eva’s favorite beers from the trip was Breckenridge’s Agave Wheat, a beer with notes of roasted grapefruit, bready wheat, and a slight but not cloying sweetness. This is a large-scale brewer that has managed to not mangle their suds too completely for mass consumption. Though nothing is a revelation, we wouldn’t turn down the Agave Wheat or the Lucky U IPA. Their 471 IPA Small Batch Series is their hoppiest brew, but with 70 IBU it isn’t off the charts. It is, however, pretty nice to drink just about anytime.
Great Divide is a young and modern little Microbrewery with a great minimalist design sense, and a four-free-samples-per-person policy. Their tiny little tasting room smells just like a brewery should, and they give a few weekly tours to show where their great beers are made (Tours take place at 3:00 pm and 4:00pm Monday - Friday and each hour starting at 2:00 pm to 7:00pm on Saturday and 2pm to 5pm on Sunday).
We tried a lot of samples here, like Claymore Scotch Ale, Hercules Double IPA (especially outstanding) and some Belgian-style ales like Hades and Double Wit. There’s also some less orthodox beer worth trying such as their Samurai (an unfiltered rice ale), Belgica (a Belgian-style IPA), and Old Ruffian (a Barley Wine-style ale).
In Boulder we went straight to Avery Brewing, following another beer lover’s strong recommendation. With roughly twenty different and more often than not, radical beers to try, this brewery is what happens when you combine mad scientist experimentation with jock-level competition.
Examples of beers worth trying and possibly fearing, are their limited release barrel-aged sour ale Depuceleuse or their over-the-top Demons of Ale series, all of which are over 14% ABV. Jeremy’s favorite of the series was The Beast: six hops, six malts and six sugars to get 14.9% ABV. Come by for one of their free daily tours (4pm weekdays and 2pm weekends).
Being fans of Polish Mead, we made the mistake of trying Redstone Meadery, which it turns out, is nothing like Polish Mead. Their mead is more like hard cider, sharp and sugary, and instantly gave Team Rees splitting headaches. Your experience may vary.
The nearby town of Fort Collins held two breweries of considerable interest to us. First off was Odell, an interesting mid-size Microbrewery offering a quick tour(Free; Monday-Saturday 1, 2, and 3pm) and a nice site to spend some time.
The standard IPA, Stout, Pale and such were drinkable, but we found their more innovative brews like India Barleywine with its strong hop profile, and Saboteur, a really sour brown ale smoothed by caramel-y malts, more to our liking. We weren’t able to sample them, but the oak-aged Woodcut series looked worth a try.
The second brewery in Fort Collins, only a short distance from Odell, was New Belgium. Their ubiquitous Fat Tire Ale may not be our favorite, but it’s a decent Belgian-style ale and their Mothership Wit had made some appearances in our fridge… that’s about all we knew about New Belgium.
Hanging out with the Ranger IPA
This midsize Craft brewer produces about 500,000 barrels a year, which are available most anywhere in the Western states. We found that they were so popular we had to book our tour long in advance of our arrival; it was well worth our planning. The tour is free, gives out plenty of samples and shows you one of the most interesting and fun breweries we have had the pleasure of knowing. Sometimes it’s an experience like this which can grow our appreciation exponentially — now we want to work at the brewery just to get their employee bicycle.
Currently we are working our way through trying their Lips of Faith series, a nicely designed explorative effort featuring a couple of sours (a style which is experiencing a lot of hype lately). Unfortunately, with New Belgium’s sizable selection, not all of their beers are on draft at the tap room.
Located in the little town of Lyons, sort of between Boulder and Fort Collins (so unfortunately in the middle of nowhere), you’ll happen upon Oskar Blues, a small scale brewery decidedly worth your time.
They have become a force in the beer world recognized for canning their beers while others laughed at the idea. Tours are held every Saturday & Sunday at 2pm, 3pm & 4pm. It turns out, Oskar Blues was one of our favorite breweries. Their beers were great: complex, powerful, inventive without alienation. Our favorites were their hoppiest suds Gubna, an Imperial IPA, and Gordon, an Imperial Red slash double IPA. They have three tap rooms, each comfortable and neighborhood-y, and both serving down-home Southern-style comfort food.
On a quick aside for visitors, Colorado does not allow the sale of any alcohol, be it liquor, wine or beer in their markets, so all such sundries are sold at liquor stores which in turn don’t seem to be able to sell any food or soda.
There are some really great liquor stores/bottle shops that were worth our time such as Argonaut Liquors in Denver and Supermarket Liquors in Fort Collins. Both have huge selections of Colorado brews and extremist beer staff on hand.
We don’t mean to ramble on about Denver’s breweries, after all this is a little long of a post for us… but we were really excited about this region’s Microbrews. We loved the people and the aggressive, fearless way they brewed their beers in the dark shadow of the Coors Empire. The brewers were bold and excited about what they were doing. Most breweries claimed that every employee had participated in every job done daily on site at some time in their career. The folks showing us around weren’t just hired tour guides but beer fanatics, which is what we were by the time we left Colorado. This is a really intoxicating brewing region, in more ways than just drinking the stuff. Viva la Beer!
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