Leaving aside the large number of breweries and brewpubs in the city, Denver would qualify alone for hosting The Great American Beer Festival, a monster of an annual event, perennially sold out, drawing close to 50,000 attendees and pouring tastes of more than 2,000 brews. At the same time, the city hosts the Denver Beer Fest, which showcases the city’s homebrewed specialties.
The state’s beer history is dominated by Adolph Coors, who founded his brewery in 1873 in Golden – just about twenty miles west of Denver. While the craft beer revival began somewhat west of Colorado – with Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, founded in 1896 revived in 1971, the development of American Cascade hops in Oregon in 1972, and the short-lived but influential New Albion in Sonoma in 1977 –Colorado wasn’t too far behind. The state’s oldest craft brewery still in operation, Boulder Beer, was founded in 1979, and the state’s oldest brewpub, Wynkoop, was founded in Denver in 1988.
In total, Colorado is now home to 118 breweries, most of these in Denver – making it the state with the fourth-most breweries per capita.(PDF)
In other words, if you love beer, you've got your work cut out for you in Denver. Here's where to begin:
- Wynkoop: 1634 18th St., Denver. Also a restaurant with an extensive and family-friendly menu, as well as an entertainment venue, with pool tables, dart boards and many events. Brewery tours are available on Saturday afternoons, although it’s wise to call ahead. (303-297-2700). Try the cask-conditioned beer. Also, when you say you're visiting Wynkoop, everyone will feel compelled to mention that the man who founded Wynkoop, John Hickenlooper, went on to become Denver’s mayor and Colorado governor.
- Star Bar: 2137 Larimer St Denver. More like a dive bar, and no kitchen, but takes local drinking very seriously. An ever-shifting variety of 14 beers on tap, many not to be repeated, and canned beer. (Fact: aluminum beer cans were introduced in Colorado by Coors in 1959.) Additionally, a huge selection of Colorado-distilled spirits.
- Falling Rock Tap House: 1919 Blake St. Denver. More than 75 beers on tap, and over 130 bottles, with strong local representation but also quality beer from elsewhere. Like Wynkoop, in the LoDo neighborhood, Falling Rock serves lunch and dinner.
- Great Divide Tap House: 2201 Arapahoe Street. Brewery tours available, no food, but food trucks occasionally on scene. Philosophy: “In short, we’d like to think of Great Divide as an example of everything that makes Denver, and Colorado, so great.” Bryce Eddings, About.com’s Guide to Beer, recommends Great Divide’s Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti.
Informal research has shown that craft beer drinkers also tend to appreciate spirits, like whiskey. For those with dual track minds, a couple of additional stops on the itinerary:
Leopold Brothers is a small batch distillery in Denver responsible for whiskey, gin, vodka, absinthe, and liqueurs. No tours available to the public, but there are regular tasting events which you can keep track of here. The full line is also available at Star Bar.