Colorado makes more beer than any other state (23.4 million barrels), has the highest per capita number of craft breweries (92), and is home to both the biggest beer bash of the year (the Great American Beer Festival) and the largest single brewing facility in the nation (Coors). Oh, and we elected a then-brewpub owner as mayor. But the Wynkoop Brewing Company, which John Hickenlooper co-founded in 1988, is just one of dozens of brewers that make Colorado the best place in the world to drain a draught. To really get a taste of this state's beer culture, you have to visit a couple of them — and get all wet and sudsy behind the scenes. Here are some of our favorite breweries and the 411 on their brewery tours.
A rite of passage for 21-year-old Coloradans and a popular stop for tourists and business travelers, the Coors brewery tour in Golden gets more than a quarter million visitors per year — most of whom sample its wares for free (three beers only, please!) in the post-tour tasting room. Although the mega-brewery switched formats earlier this spring from guided tours to self-guided ones (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday, with new Sunday tours starting at noon), it didn't fiddle with that free beer. Just the company's way of showing a little Rocky Mountain hospitality.
1221 Ford Street, Golden, 303-277-2337, www.coors.com
Wynkoop Brewing Company
When the Wynkoop Brewing Company was founded in an old warehouse in lower downtown, the area wasn't much more than empty buildings and bums. Today the Wynkoop is Colorado's largest brewpub, and the heart of the unbelievably busy LoDo. Known for its wide selection of English-style ales, including standards like RailYard and Light Rail that are brewed on location, the Wynkoop is no longer owned by the mayor, but it still carries a lot of clout. Oh, and try Patty's Chile Beer for a real taste of the West. Tours are offered most Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. if a brewer is available, but a couple of hours at the bar usually are entertainment enough.
1634 18th Street, 303-297-2700, www.wynkoop.com
Blue Moon Brewing Co. @ the Sandlot
You'll have to buy a ticket to a Rockies game to get into this unusual macrobrewery-owned microbrewery, which is open only on home-game days, two hours before the first pitch. Controlled by Coors, the Sandlot brews and serves its beer right on the main concourse of Coors Field, and over the past decade, its concoctions have made even the biggest beer snobs pause, undergo a crisis of conscience, then take another swig. While the rotation changes frequently, the Sandlot is currently serving nationally known Blue Moon, as well as a summer seasonal, a new brew called Pale Moon and two experimental beers, Rightfield Red and Wild Pitch Hefeweizen.
2161 Blake Street, 303-298-1587
Some people like their beer light and easy, some like it dark and difficult, but for beer drinkers who like to push their tastebuds and their tolerance to a whole new level, there's Great Divide, which makes some of the biggest, best beers in the country. Start in this craft brewer's cozy Tap Room, but not with the Hercules Double IPA — that's the one you'll want to finish with. Right before you call a cab. Great Divide also offers tours Monday through Friday at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and every hour between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays.
2201 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-9460, www.greatdivide.com
This established brewery saves beer lovers the drive to its namesake ski town by having two Denver locations that serve its flagship, Avalanche Ale, as well as other handcrafted brews like Vanilla Porter, Summerbright and Oatmeal Stout. The Kalamath Street outlet is also a brewery and offers walk-in tours Monday and Thursday at 11 and 3 or by appointment.
471 Kalamath Street, 303-573-0431, www.breckbrew.com
Fortunately for Denver beer fans, some of Colorado's best breweries are clustered in nearby cities, and no tour would be complete without a trip to Boulder, where two University of Colorado professors founded Boulder Beer, the state's oldest existing microbrewery, in 1979. Boulder Beer offers a number of classics, such as Singletrack Copper Ale and Buffalo Gold, along with recent innovations, including Mojo IPA and Hazed & Infused, which have joined Colorado's legion of heavily hopped delights. Tours are offered at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday or by appointment. And nearby Avery, known for its IPA and 14'ER E.S.B., offers tours at 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and at noon on Saturday.
Boulder Beer, 2880 Wilderness Place, Boulder, 303-444-8448, www.boulderbeer.com
Avery Brewing, 5763 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-440-4324, www.averybrewing.com
Though very different, these two breweries share one thing in common: great beer. Left Hand, in Longmont, is the older of the two and scored a marketing coup with its simple red-hand logo, which shows up on the backs of bumpers throughout the state, and a brewing coup with its ubiquitous Sawtooth and Jackman's ales, as well as the popular JuJu Ginger, Black Jack Porter and Milk Stout. Just up the road is Oskar Blues, which has a brewery in Longmont and a restaurant in Lyons. Oskar Blues not only makes great beers, like Dale's Pale Ale and Old Chub, but it puts them in cans! Although beer fans looked askance at this at first, today it looks like Oskar Blues may be leading the way into the future (see New Belgium). Left Hand offers tours at 1 and 2 p.m. Saturday; Oskar Blues does tours by appointment.