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A Guide to Colorado's Microbrew Scene

Colorado is well known to have an unrivaled microbrew beer scene, and many Colorado visitors make a point to try locally brewed beer either at one of the restaurants and bars that serve Colorado craft brews or by visiting a nearby brewery. Even if you are able to purchase Colorado beer in your home town, it’s worth taking the time to try something new on your Colorado vacation.

Colorado’s beer scene can be overwhelming to visitors who are unfamiliar with it. From figuring out the different towns that are home to microbreweries to understanding which breweries offer tours versus which have a restaurant on site, there are a lot of different options. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, it also helps to be knowledgeable about the wide variety of types of beers available. Do you prefer porters and stouts? Sour beers? Unfiltered wheat beers? Your preferences may determine which breweries to visit and what to order while you’re there. If you’re not sure what you like, don’t be afraid to try a couple different options before ordering a pint or to ask plenty of questions about the beers on tap.
Colorado Microbrews
Finally, even if you know exactly where you want to go and what you want to try, you may want to check whether there are any beer festivals taking place in the area. A Colorado beer festival provides a completely different way to experience local brews and festivals can be found throughout the state at different times of year.

Getting Started with Colorado Beer

While Colorado has been a beer mecca for over a decade, in the last couple of years the opening of new breweries has sky rocketed, bringing the total statewide to over 200 by the end of 2013 and giving it the title of 3rd most breweries of any state (#1 is California, and #2 is Washington). As if that weren’t enough, more have continued to open in 2014, so no matter how many times you have visited Colorado and how many beers you’ve tried, there’s probably already a new beer waiting for you to taste it.

Colorado’s breweries range from macro operations like the Coors headquarters in Golden, CO to midsized breweries like New Belgium, to microbreweries and brewpubs all the way down to nanobreweries, exclusively producing small batches and often branching into more obscure styles of beer.

Where to Go in Colorado

Tasting Colorado BeerIf you’re new to the Colorado beer scene, there are a number of ways to get started. No matter where you’ve made your Colorado destination, you’re almost sure to find a brewery in driving distance. If you’re hoping to try a number of different breweries, it helps to choose area with a slightly larger population, like Denver or Fort Collins, but Durango, in southwestern Colorado, is also known as one of the top beer destinations in the country, and many mountain communities like Vail and Breckenridge are home to, or close to, multiple breweries.

Denver Beer

If you’re not sure where to start when planning your beer exploration of Colorado, Denver is a pretty safe bet. With roughly 50 breweries in town and plenty more in the surrounding suburbs, you’ll have no trouble finding local brews that will satisfy.

Longtime Denver favorites:

Wynkoop Brewing Company
Bull & Bush Brewery
Breckenridge Brewery

Interesting Denver up-and-comers:

Epic Brewing Company
TRVE Brewing Company               
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

One of the advantages to planning a beer-focused vacation in Denver is that you won’t have to worry about driving. From the light rail and bus system to plenty of taxi service and easily walkable neighborhoods, you’ll easily be able to venture from one brewery to the next without risking your safety.

Fort Collins Beer

Locals know that Fort Collins boasts some of the most successful breweries in the state, making it a major destination for beer lovers wanting to tour their favorite breweries and try samples that they can’t get back home.

Top Fort Collins Breweries:

New Belgium Brewing
Odell Brewing Company
Fort Collins Brewery

Fort Collins is also home to a number of smaller breweries that are well worth trying while you are in the area. Looking to check out a large-scale tour? Anheuser Busch brews Budweiser on the outskirts of town, as well, and offers regular tours of the facility.

Boulder Beer

Like Fort Collins, Boulder is home to some of the best known and beloved breweries in the state. In addition, it has a huge range of newer breweries that are quickly becoming household names.

Top Boulder Breweries:

Avery Brewing Company
Boulder Beer Company
Upslope Brewing Company

For a slightly different brewing experience, consider visiting New Planet, which brews a range of gluten-free beer, or Redstone Meadery for a taste of beer’s precursor, mead, a wine fermented from honey.

Colorado Springs Beer

Colorado Springs is often overshadowed by Denver, Fort Collins, and Boulder to the north, but its craft brew scene rapidly expanding. In addition to Colorado Springs’ established breweries, several new companies have opened in 2014, and the local brewer community is continuing to grow and build a reputation.

Favorite Colorado Springs Breweries:

Bristol Brewing Company
Colorado Mountain Brewery
Iron Bird Brewing

Beer on the Front Range

In addition to the major cities, many of the suburbs and towns of the Front Range offer amazing breweries from Greeley to Golden and just about everywhere in between. More than half of Colorado’s breweries are located along the Front Range, and while many are found in the cities already noted above, there are plenty more if you venture outside of city limits.

Favorite Front Range Breweries:

Left Hand Brewing (Longmont, CO)
Oskar Blues Brewery (Lyons & Longmont, CO)
Dry Dock Brewing (Aurora, CO)

Beer Along the i70 Corridor

Venturing into the mountains from Denver can be as simple as heading west on Interstate 70. As soon as you start to climb, you’ll find breweries popping up seemingly every mountain town you pass. Whether you’re 20 minutes outside of Denver or almost to the Utah border, you’ll find a variety of craft brews to whet your palette.

Favorite i70 Corridor Breweries:

Tommy Knocker Brewery (Idaho Springs, CO)
Broken Compass Brewing (Breckenridge, CO)
Crazy Mountain Brewery (Edwards, CO)
Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company (Glenwood Springs, CO)

Central Colorado

Looking to get a little further off the beaten path? The Rocky Mountain terrain in the center of the state means you’ll find fewer large highways and more back roads, but if you take the time, you’ll soon be rewarded by hidden gems – breweries tucked away in mountain towns where locals and visitors can’t get enough of their small-batch skills.

Top Breweries in Central Colorado:

Elevation Beer Company (Poncha Springs, CO)
Aspen Brewing Company (Aspen, CO)
Eddyline Brewery (Buena Vista, CO)
The Eldo Brewery (Crested Butte, CO)

Durango Beer

One of Coloado’s best known beer towns, Durango is home to several world class breweries, most of them located right downtown where you can easily walk from one to the next. The laid back vibe of the town is perfect for a leisurely beer tour or three.

Great Durango Breweries:

Ska Brewing
Steamworks Brewing Company
Durango Brewing Company
Carver Brewing Company

Beer in Southwestern Colorado

Venture just a little outside of Durango, and you’ll continue to find breweries in all directions. You may find it takes some time to truly hunt down great breweries in the southwestern corner of the state, but you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts with amazing beer surrounded by amazing scenery.

Notable Southwestern Colorado Breweries:

Telluride Brewing Company (Telluride, CO)
Pagosa Brewing Company (Pagosa Springs, CO)
Ouray Brewery (Ouray, CO)
Dolores River Brewery (Dolores, CO)

Finding Great Colorado Beer

Finding Great Colorado BeerThere’s no better way to find your favorite Colorado beer than to try a lot of different beer from a lot of different breweries, but that’s just not always possible. When in doubt, try to do some advance research to find out which beers are most popular and which beers have won awards. In addition to looking up breweries on standard travel sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, consider visiting some beer-specific websites like Beer Advocate, and in particular, local beer sites like Fermentedly Challenged, Denver Brewery Guide, Colorado Craft Brews, the Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado or even the site for the Colorado Brewers Guild.

You can also look up some of the larger beer festivals and review Colorado medalists. The Great American Beer Festival takes place in Denver every year and publishes the winners and runners up in 89 categories. The 2014 festival took place just one week ago, so you’ll find the most recent information online right now in addition to winner lists from previous seasons.

Tasting Colorado Beer

It may seem obvious – if you want to try Colorado beer, go to a brewery and order some. Some beer enthusiasts may decide that they only want to try a brewery’s IPA or current seasonal offering, but if you’re interested in exploring a variety of brews, consider asking if the establishment will do flights of beer or smaller “tasters” where you’ll get a few ounces at a lower price. This way you can try 4 to 10 beers without getting drunk.

It’s also a great opportunity to ask your bartender what beers are noteworthy or only available onsite. Especially at smaller breweries, some of the options may not be bottled or even distributed to local bars, so a visit to the brewery itself means you’ll get to try something that you can’t get anywhere else.

Touring a Colorado Brewery

Touring a Colorado BreweryTouring a brewery can be great way to learn more about the beer you’re about to try. If you’re new to Colorado microbrews, this can be a great way to learn about the basics of brewing. Even if you’re a longtime beer enthusiast, you’ll discover details you may not have been aware of or that are unique to the particular brewery you decide to tour. Whether it’s locally sourced ingredients, an obscure beer style, or history of the area, a brewery tour will give you a different perspective than just bellying up to the bar would. Tours can range from 20 or 30 minutes up to a couple of hours and often include a sample or even a pint, so do some research to find a tour that sounds like a good fit.

Several cities, including Boulder and Denver, offer walking tours that allow you to sample the goods at multiple breweries in the area. Other areas provided guided tours with transportation between breweries.

Festivals, Pairings and Other Unique Opportunities

One of the most exciting ways to explore the Colorado beer scene is to visit a beer festival. During almost any month of the year, you can find a festival taking place somewhere in the state. The fall offers an especially high concentration of events, with Colorado Oktoberfests taking place in different towns starting at the end of August and running until mid-September. The Great American Beer Festival also takes place during the fall, as does Denver Beer Week.

For those wanting something a bit more structured, beer pairings are a great way to enjoy Colorado’s microbrews in a totally different setting. Pairings often take place in conjunction with food festivals, but often local breweries will host pairing events as well, so it doesn’t hurt to call ahead to breweries that pique your interest and ask if they have any events coming up. Other great opportunities for beer pairings include Denver Restaurant Week, Keystone’s Savor the Slopes, and the Colorado Cheese Festival.

No matter how you decide to sample the world of Colorado beer, you’ll find plenty of options. From cities to mountain towns, breweries big and small can be found just about everywhere in the state. Do some research, decide what you want to try, and raise a glass!

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