TRVE Brewing
Danielle Lirette

TRVE Brewing has a love for heavy-metal music, and the divey space may be one of the darkest you'll enter in Denver. But the staff is one of the most welcoming, and it's the beer that's truly metal. Over the past year, owner Nick Nunns and head brewer Zach Coleman have turned out a series of beers that are packed with crisp flavor and tightly constructed. They include the lower-in-alcohol Scorn, a dry-hopped wheat, and Wanderlust, a Belgian-style pale ale, as well as the more powerful Atma, a Belgian golden strong, and the Tunnel of Trees IPA. TRVE is also on the leading edge of Denver's sour- and wild-ale scene, releasing a variety of barrel-aged beers with puckering power. In 2015, TRVE will open a second — but not public — brewhouse dedicated to this side of the business. They must have made a deal with the devil.

Readers' choice: Great Divide Brewing Company

When Joyride Brewing opened last summer, it came at the expense of Edgewater's most recognizable piece of ambience: a mural depicting the tiny burg's history on the edge of Sloan's Lake Park. But the change was worth it. The brewery renovated and opened up a prime corner spot, providing a cheery gateway to the town. Cementing that position are the six — count 'em — glass garage doors that look out across Sheridan Boulevard to the park. Find a spot in the busy but well-staffed brewery at the thirty-foot bar — made from the floors of Coors boxcars from the early 1990s — or at one of the tables along the door rails and enjoy the views. Next year, Joyride plans to add a rooftop patio.

Readers' choice: Denver Beer Co.

Stem Ciders

Tucked behind the Mile High Winery in the RiNo district, Stem Ciders boasts of "being just hard enough to find" for cider fans. But the real find here is the rotating series of Tuesday specials — pairings of ciders and cheeses, ciders and pies, an open-mike night that encourages performers with a free glass of cider, and so on. In a town awash with happy hours and wine tastings, Stem Ciders has become a hotbed of real ferment.

Golden Moon Speakeasy

Sure, there are lots of great bars in Denver, but how many of them distill all the spirits that they stir and shake? Duck into a tiny passageway off Golden's main drag and you'll slip into a place that does: the cozy, Prohibition-era Golden Moon Speakeasy. All of the booze on the back bar is distilled across town at Golden Moon Distillery — thirteen spirits, with more coming very soon. "We hit the classics pretty hard," says bar manager Noah Heaney: Twenty-five of the sixty cocktails on his drink menu range from classic Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds to lesser-known vintage libations such as the absinthe-based Brunelle or even punches. The bar team here is one of the best around — highly trained, dedicated, and steeped in the classics that their grandparents probably enjoyed.

Readers' choice: Williams & Graham

Session Kitchen

Les Baker V is one of those mad-scientist bartenders, intrigued by the alchemy of cocktails and the magic of mixology. Dry ice? He'll use it. Scorpion venom? He'd probably find a way to work it into a drink. In 2014, he stuck a finger in the eyes of all the snooty, elite bartenders who take cocktails too seriously by creating a bright-blue sapphire of a cocktail: the Blue Negroni. Based on the classic Negroni recipe of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, Baker's version uses gin, dry vermouth and a deconstruction of the Campari portion. He cunningly crafts it with a base of vodka and blue curaçao, then adds ginseng root, orris root, eucalyptus, coriander and black peppercorn. The other ingredients are a secret, of course. Order it by name at Session Kitchen, because it's not on the menu — yet.

Leopold Bros.

The way that Scott and Todd Leopold make their gin tells you a lot about how the dynamic duo does things: First, a spirit is distilled using Colorado-grown grain. Then, unlike many gin producers, Todd individually distills each botanical in separate runs — keeping each of them isolated — to blend later, according to his exacting standards; that way, no one flavor can overpower another. The result: a spirit with delicate layers of flavor. Since 2008, when they moved their operation here from Michigan, the Leopolds have been known as the guys who not only make great spirits, but do so with eco-friendly techniques: organic ingredients, intelligent management of water and waste products, even a reliance on gravity to drain vats instead of using electricity. No artificial ingredients are used in any of their many products, and all spirits are barreled and bottled by hand — an impressive feat handled in Leopold's new, 1,900-square-foot distillery, located just outside Denver.

Readers' choice: Stranahan's

Laws Whiskey House
Danielle Lirette

Jake Norris loves whiskey. He was head distiller at Stranahan's when it opened in 2004, running operations for one of Colorado's most-loved spirits. In 2011, when the ownership of Stranahan's changed hands, Norris stayed on for a few months to assist with the transition, then parted ways with the new corporate honchos. When he met Al Laws, he found that they shared a true passion for making small-batch whiskey with no compromises on quality. The two made some booze and put it into barrels, where it sat for more than two years. Norris waited for the day when he could finally release the bronze-colored liquid he'd carefully brought into being. That day arrived in October, when he delivered bottles of A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon to bars, restaurants and liquor stores in the Denver area. Welcome back, Jake.

Ace Hi Tavern

Since alcohol put Golden on the map, it's not surprising that metro Denver's best dive bar is in this once-sleepy foothills town. Bar fans have been living it up at the Ace Hi Tavern since Leo Stillman purchased the old Opera House restaurant on historic Washington Avenue and opened the bar back in 1961. Today it's run by Leo's grandson, Sid Stillman, and it's still a place where workers getting off their shifts at Coors plop themselves next to Colorado School of Mines students preparing for a tough day of class. The place is Western-themed and Colorado-proud, with maps of the state and "Native" signs adorning the walls, and old-fashioned steer horns fancied up with Mardi Gras beads stationed above the cash register. You can sink into a cushy booth if you don't feel perky enough to perch on a bar stool, and the tavern has plenty of distractions for drinkers who need to rev up for another round, including a pool table. But at a true dive, you don't need more than good company and good drinks for a winning hand — and Ace Hi deals plenty of both.

Readers' choice: hi-dive

After decades of operating bars and restaurants in Grand County, Mike Ayre and Charles Wessels had gotten out of the business — but then they found a spot in Denver that was just too good to refuse, in the heart of Five Points, a part of town that was once jumping with joints. A deal had just gone south on the 115-year-old house and fifty-year-old storefront next door that had been occupied by Dunbar's barbershop; Ayre, who was working in real estate, persuaded Wessels to get back in the game and help put the "bar" in Dunbar. The result is a casual, comfortable spot with exposed-brick walls and a bar made from old wood reclaimed from the house; the original barbershop sign hangs on an interior wall, near old photos of the barbershop and other old Denver scenes. Nearly all of the beer and liquor offered here is local; the food menu is a nod to Wessels's roots, with Southern specials that include a pimento-cheese appetizer. The big Sunday brunch is one of the best-kept secrets in town — almost as big a find as the new patio out back. All in all, Dunbar is a great neighborhood hangout — in a great neighborhood that's making a strong comeback.

Readers' choice: Asbury Provisions

If she's not behind the bar at Williams & Graham, Allison Widdecombe is probably winning a cocktail competition somewhere in America. Not content to simply be a part of the stellar team at Williams & Graham — which was recently honored as one of the fifty best bars in the world — Widdecombe has her sights set on even higher summits. In January, she took first place in a national Manhattan competition in New York City...but that's only one of her many victories. Whether it's whiskey, tequila or you name it, Widdecombe can craft a winning recipe with the spirit. The Hawaii native loves Denver, and while on the road, she does her best to rep our city. Not just a skilled and knowledgable bartender, she's also one of the most genuine, gracious and charming people you'll ever meet. Cheers!

Readers' choice: Kari Cummings

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