A quick weekend jaunt to Colorado left us begging for more. We only planned a long weekend to the Denver/Boulder area. Everyone seems to be talking about Colorado. Let’s get out there and join in the fun. With a short time frame we decided to focus on just one aspect of this lively playground. Colorado Craft Breweries with a little mountain hiking sprinkled in was the recipe for this trip.
We consider ourselves beer aficionados, we are from Wisconsin after all. Wisconsin, home of Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz in days gone by and currently home of over 120 craft breweries. Our 26 year old traveling companion, our youngest son, is a home brewer with a taste for the non-traditional. Duly armed we flew out to Denver with the ambitious four day plan of hiking each morning and hitting 3 breweries each afternoon in Denver, Longmont, Fort Collins and Boulder. We would throw in some great eats a museum or two and a trek around the University of Colorado. This itinerary would give us a good feel for the Colorado craft breweries’ culture.
I am an overachiever when it comes to travel planning. With years of experience I know that we will never get to everything on my list, but we will also never be bored. Exhausted, very likely; lost, most definitely; but never bored. What I had not planned on was how much bigger, cooler and more prolific the breweries would be in Colorado. Never mind about all that smack from Wisconsin. Colorado is the real deal. WOW! Our reality ended up being 9 breweries, 2 hikes and 1 museum in 4 days. We barely scratched the surface of any experience or any town on our list.
We agreed to judge breweries on these 4 criteria:
Tour or Access to behind the scenes
Brewery Vibe ( including service and fellow patrons)
Here are the Colorado craft breweries we loved:
#1 Left Hand Brewing in Longmont
BS=4, BQ=5, Tour=5, Vibe=4.5
Tour- We had a scheduled tour here and loved everything we saw, heard and tasted. The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable about their beers and facility. The passion for great beer was evident everywhere from the bar to the mash tank. The tour was thoroughly informative and responsive. We felt like Tony the tour guide was our new best friend in Colorado. The brewing facility was modern and clean.
Beers- They had a strong selection of well crafted mostly traditional styles. This isn’t to say that they weren’t playful and innovative because they were, but they stayed true to what most drinkers would identify as beer.
We tried their: Introvert, Extrovert, Good Juju, Sawtooth Ale Nitro
#2 Avery Brewing in Boulder
BS=5, BQ=5, Tour=3, Vibe=5
Tour-They only give a tour once a day and we missed it. They were set up for a self tour which was good for our home brewer but does not give the regular visitor a real feel for the brewery personality.
Beer selection-The crazy innovative selection is what put Avery near the top of this list. They had an unbelievable array of Sours, Wilds and interesting flavor combos.
Vibe-This was obviously a chosen hangout spot for all ages, with it’s many levels of seating and bars and a lively biergarten sporting a welcoming selection of outdoor games. Families and friends and furry companions all mingling and having a blast.
Food-This was one of the very few places that had a kitchen. Online the menu looked pretty sparse but in person it was a very exciting and eclectic selection. Go for the vibe, stay for the beer and food!
Beer Tasted: Perzik Saison, Raja IIPA, Piglet Purgatory, Twenty-three, Dionysian Series #4
#3 New Belgium Brewing Fort Collins
BS=4.5, BQ=4.5, Tour=5, Vibe=4
Vibe-The vibe here was crazy. The taproom was huge with 3 different bars that were packed. Groups of merry makers everywhere drinking and playing outdoor games while they waited for their tours. The fun included a “beerstream” station and the Belgian game of feather bowling, just to highlight a couple.
Beer selection- was huge and almost overwhelming. It was so busy that you could not kibitz with the servers about what beer would fit your tastes.
Beer Quality-All of their beers were of good quality but some are beginning to verge on the mass-produced feel that craft brewers try to avoid.
Tour-The tour was what had drawn everyone to the campus. We had tried to book a tour 2 months in advance and it was already booked full.
Before arriving I found this hard to believe but upon seeing the place I realized that it is a “must do” for anyone visiting the area. Thanks to Heather the tour coordinator, she had responded to my email plea and graciously put aside 3 tickets for us.
We ended up paired with a bus tour of very senior tourists from Oklahoma. This made the tour slower and less innovative as they labeled many of the tastings “nawt like any beer I evah tasted before”. The tour was thorough and our guide, Sarah, was patient and informative. There was plenty of tasting as the tour progressed and by the end of the 90 minutes we happily had some of those seniors trying out the 2 story slide back into the taproom.
Beer Tasted: Rampant, Juicy Mandarina, Ales for ALS,1554 (black lager), La Follie (sour)
As you can see by our homemade rating system, these top 3 are in very close competition with just a tenth of a point between each one. And it is with great chagrin that I must admit all 3 would blow any of our Wisconsin breweries out of the water.
Beyond these top three we enjoyed 6 other Colorado craft breweries that were differing sizes and quality. Listed in descending order.
#4 Odell Brewing Fort Collins #5 Jagged Mountain Brewery
BS=4,BQ=5, Tour=NA, Vibe=3 BS=4, BQ=4, Tour=0, Vibe=4
#6 Great Divide Brewing Denver
BS=3, BQ=4, Tour=2, Vibe=3
#9 Wynkoop Denver BS=3, BQ=1, Tour=1, Vibe=1 Overall it was a waste of time and money
Beyond our serious task of rating Colorado craft breweries, we had an excellent adventure and left with a taste for more!! Stay tuned for the Wisconsin side of this throwdown.