After my partner and I made a spontaneous decision to fly down to Denver on Airmiles for a few days to see Sufjan Stevens in concert, we had to think of how else to spend our time to make the most of a mini-break. We were going on the cheap so we didn’t plan on renting a car, and given it was the end of October, we weren’t sure if the weather would be conducive to any serious mountain hiking. I did a bit of poking around on the Internet, and realized the ultimate thing we could do to spend our time (and money): drink craft beer. My parents travel for wineries all the time, so why not travel for beer?
Craft beer is a billion dollar business in Colorado, with 4.7 craft breweries for every 100,000 people, making it one of the US’s booziest states, second only to Oregon. With only three days and four nights to spend in Denver (with one day spent in Boulder), we knew we couldn’t possibly visit all of them (not without getting our stomach pumped anyway). Thanks to tips from beer bloggers, Trip Advisor, and random waiters, we managed to visit several Denver and Boulder breweries to satisfy our beer-craving taste buds. Here’s where we visited, and my opinion of them plus the beers I tried.
Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe
After travelling for most of the day (Airmiles did not provide us with a direct flight from Edmonton to Denver, rather diverting us through Minneapolis instead which is the opposite direction), we were weary and hungry, and not eager to navigate far from our AirBnB in the dark, in a city we were unfamiliar with. So I searched for nearby restaurants on Google Maps, and the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe appeared, just a ten minute walk away. The Lost Highway Brewing Company is adjacent to the pub, so I figured I’d try one of theirs, settling on a pumpkin beer (it was October after all). It was a nice pumpkin flavour without being overpowering.
The food at Cheeky Monk was okay – I ordered chicken and waffles and it was heavy, like most American food is (for my poor healthy Canadian stomach anyway). There were some hilarious Halloween decorations up, but it wasn’t too busy inside, given it was a Saturday night. The beer list was pretty long, but on the pricier side, and the kegs were broken on some of the other beers we asked for. On the plus side, the friendly server offered up some great local suggestions on where to go for beer – we only made it to one of them (First Draft), but we loved it and wouldn’t have known about it otherwise!
Beers tried: (only one, because we were tired)
-Lost Highway Pumpnik Pie-eyed (Pumpkin Beer): 4.5/5
Fiction Beer Company
This was my favourite brewery on our whole trip. This was largely due to the ambience – the bar was made of books, and each of the tables had a literary quote about beer on them, and even their logo is of books with beer as the bookends. Additionally, every beer was inspired by a book – for instance, Old Bums and Beat Cowboys was a pale ale based off of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Twilight Superstition was a Sour Ale based off of Sleepy Hollow. As a book nerd, this was up every alley I have.
The brewery is pretty far east on Colfax and not near much, and they don’t offer food other than free popcorn, but we could have easily spent much more time here sampling all of their beers. We were also newbies to this whole “checking out a bunch of breweries” thing, and thus got full-sized pints for sampling and not smaller servings, so we left feeling a bit tipsy. The brewery is pretty small and we didn’t see their beer anywhere else on our trip, but we bought a beer glass as a souvenir to remember it by.
-Twilight Superstition (Sour Ale): 3.75/5
-Sunny Boy (Saison): 5/5
-Old Bums and Beat Cowboys (Pale Ale): 5/5
-Third Eye Library & Herb (Cream Ale): 4.25/5
Great Divide Brewing Company
Great Divide offers free, small group tours of their brewery, which was what originally drew us there. Though this was because we thought we’d get free beer on the tour, and that was not the case…anyway, it was cool to learn about the brewery, and how they’re rapidly expanding – they’re definitely one of the larger craft breweries in Denver, and ship across the states and to the UK (no Canada sadly).
We were a bit tipsy from having just had full-sized servings at Fiction Brewery, so I only tried an IPA and a Pale Ale. But our tour guide was really knowledgeable about how craft beer is evolving in Colorado, and the tension between “selling-out” or keeping the brewery small and local. This was the only brewery tour we did, but the frequency of tours (and that it’s free) makes it a good one to check out.
-Titan IPA: 4/5
-Denver Pale Ale: 4/5
Falling Rock Tap House
We were definitely drunk by the time we concluded our first day at Falling Rock Tap House. I had a pumpkin beer by Elysian Brewing along with an incredibly greasy guacamole-chicken burger that I had to eat with a fork. I would have probably minded the greasy quality of the food if it weren’t for being hammered. I gave the beer a rating of 5/5 on Untappd, but I don’t actually know if it was honestly that good? They do have a pretty wide and varied beer list, mostly from other Colorado breweries, but I can’t give a super reliable review on everything else.
-Elysian Brewing Great Pumpkin Ale: ??/5
We spent our second day of the trip in Boulder, so by the time we got to our third day of craft breweries in Denver, we felt like seasoned pros. We knew not to order full sized pints of anything unless we were just having a beer with dinner, otherwise we got shitfaced too quickly. We rented bikes through Denver’s awesome bike share/rental group, B-cycle, and made our way to this brewery in the trendy Highlands neighbourhood.
Prost Brewing is German-style beer, and its German influences are noticeable in the decor, with German flags and art everywhere. My partner is especially a fan of German style beers (whereas I gravitate towards Belgium), so he was very happy with this brewery. I was a big fan of the CollaboRyeZen beer, which was a collaboration between Prost Brewing and Dogfish Head, and had a distinct rye flavour to it.
-Weißbier (Hefeweizen): 3.5/5
-CollaboRyeZen (Roggenbier): 4.25/5
-Märzen (Oktoberfest): 5/5
Denver Beer Co.
We didn’t intend to visit Denver Beer Co., but when we realized it was on the way to where we were biking to next, we decided to stop and check it out – it seemed like it’d probably be the quintessential Denver brewery, given the name! The interior is very cool – like being in an industrial garage, with the smell of pretzels emanating in the air.
Between the two of us we were allowed to sample 8 beers at a time, which was almost their entire list of beers minus an IPA and a stout. I don’t usually go for porters or stouts, but they had some really unique flavours for their darker beers – one was a Graham Cracker Porter, while another was a COCONUT Graham Cracker Porter. Both of those would be the absolute perfect companion to roasting s’mores by a campfire. They also had an interesting Black IPA, and their Pumpkin offering was super tasty too, with a nice lightness but decent spice to it. In the summer time, this place’s patio would be great, and apparently they also host food trucks in fairer weather.
-Graham Cracker Porter: 4.5/5
-Coconut Graham Cracker Porter: 4.25/5
-The Wilderness (Stout): 3.75/5
-King Ink (Black IPA): 3.5/5
-Incredible Pedal IPA: 3.75/7
-Australian Hopped Pale Ale: 3.25/5
-Sundrenched (White IPA): 3.75/5
-Hey! Pumpkin Beer: 4.75/5
First Draft Taproom + Kitchen
First Draft was recommended to us by our server at Cheeky Monk, and I was immediately sold by the concept. When you arrive, you open up a tab, you’re given an electronic wristband, and you select a glass to start pouring. You swipe your wristband on the screens of whichever beer you want, and then pour as much as you want into your glass. The computer keeps track of how much you’ve poured, charging you by the ounce, and cutting you off once you’ve poured a certain amount! There are also rinsing stations so you can reuse your glass when you move on to your next pour. Each screen has information about the beer as well, so you sort of know what you’re getting into – and if you’re uncertain, then just pour a sip into the glass and then see if you want more!
The food was delicious too – my partner had a lamb sausage dish that was delicious, and I had milk and cookies – the cookies were so fresh out of the oven that the chocolate was melting and they were barely staying together, just like when I’m too inpatient for my cookies to finish cooling before I eat them, and they were served with a milkshake stout (though it came in a bottle with too narrow of an opening for proper dipping). The girl working there was super friendly and attentive to us, and was really glad we had stopped by (First Draft is only a few months old).
My only complaint would be, and we knew this going in, was that they were celebrating a pumpkin beer week, and so 90% of what they had available to try was Pumpkin-flavoured – nevertheless, I’m definitely good on pumpkin beer until next year!
-Platt Park Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale: 4/5
-Coronado Brewing Company Punk’in Drublic: 4/5
-New Holland Brewing Company Ichabod Ale: 4/5
-Upslope Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale: 4/5
-Epic Brewing Company Fermentation Without Representation (Pumpkin Beer): 4/5
-Avery Brewing Company Gored (Pumpkin Beer): 3.25/5
-Ballast Point Brewing Pumpkin Down (Pumpkin beer): 4.25/5
-Trinity Brewing Co. Emma’s Pumpkin Saison: 4.25/5
-New Belgium Pumpkick (Pumpkin beer): 4.25/5
(ever notice how if you type something over and over again it looks like it’s spelled wrong? That’s how I feel about “pumpkin” right now…)
Wynkoop Brewing Company
While Wynkoop had been on my list, we weren’t sure we were going to make it there until we realized we had time to kill before our dinner reservation, just enough time for a beer. We each ordered a different beer and sampled off the other’s glass. I was impressed by Patty’s Chile Beer, which was flavoured with chilli and spices. We have a chilli beer from our local Edmonton brewery, but I find its spice overpowering. This was a nice compromise of spice and drinkability. We also tried their Salted Caramel Apple Cider, which was not too sweet with a nice flavour. The bartender was very friendly, and we could have easily spent more time talking with him were it not for our dinner reservation.
-Patty’s Chile Beer (Chilli beer): 4.25/5
-Salted Caramel Apple Cider: 3.75/5
Evidently, we missed a lot, and will certainly have to look for Denver beers in liquor stores in Canada, as well as plan a trip back to try the rest! Have you tried some of Denver’s craft beers? What were your favourites?