In mid-February, just before beer lovers George Rapko, Daniel Hess and Gary Brown were scheduled to hit a slew of breweries in Summit County, the Vail Valley and Glenwood Springs, they got word of a little problem: Several car-sized boulders had rolled down from the cliffs above Glenwood Canyon, blocking Interstate 70 in both directions.
So the three men, who call themselves the Colorado Beer Barons, had to change plans. “We were disappointed, and then just rerouted the road trip,” Rapko says. “I think that we were hoping that I-70 would open...and then just decided to switch it up when it didn’t.”
Flexibility is important when you’re on a mission, and these guys were on a very important mission. Members of an elite cadre of intrepid beerventurers, the Barons are among the very few people who have had a beer at every brewery in Colorado — all 300 of them.
Rapko, Hess and Brown began their quest at Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs on January 16, 2015, and ended with Cerberus Brewing, also in Colorado Springs, on October 19, becoming, respectively, the fourth, fifth and sixth person to publicly claim the accomplishment. During their 642-day tour, they took several weekend trips, rented a plane — a Beechcraft Baron — and logged 837 miles on one particular trip in October that took them to Aspen, Palisade and, yes, finally Glenwood Springs.
Stephen Adams, a satellite engineer by day and craft-beer hobbyist at all other times, has also visited every brewery in the state. He first got serious about visiting breweries in January 2013, when he went to Wit’s End Brewing with a friend. By the end of that year, he had been to 58 Colorado breweries and decided to make it his goal to drink at all of the rest. To help keep track of the ones he’d been to — and the ones that hadn’t yet opened — he created the persona of the Colorado Beer Geek on Facebook.
By October 2015, Adams had accomplished the task — but then new breweries kept opening. His current tally is 300 breweries; his most recent visit was to Kettle and Spoke Brewing in Boulder. “I think that most people can finish ‘the quest’ if they put their minds to it and don’t try to cram it all in a year,” says Adams. “However, I will grant that it definitely does help to be single or have a partner who enjoys going to breweries as much as you do.”
Since Adams lives in Denver, the hardest breweries to reach were in southwestern Colorado, but he notched all fifteen in one four-day trip. “It takes seven hours to drive to...Cortez, down in the Four Corners. However, some of these faraway places are wonderful. The road between the breweries in Ouray and Silverton is one of the most beautiful drives in Colorado,” he says. As for the breweries themselves, “There is so much variety in beer and atmosphere from brewery to brewery. One thing that is fairly constant is the friendly owners and brewers that you will meet.”
While Adams was completing his quest, his Facebook page became the go-to spot for others who wanted to keep track of breweries. (His list of breweries can now be found at coloradobrewerylist.com, a beer website Adams joined up with.) Although Colorado has issued more than 360 brewing licenses, there are only about 300 taprooms where people can actually drink; the number varies slightly depending on how you count them. The Beer Barons have one system, Adams has another. But Adams wasn’t only interested in cataloguing his brewery stops: He wanted to catalogue other people who’d completed the same feat.
The first person he found was Kevin Harris, a Highlands Ranch beer aficionado and a frequent commenter in the Facebook group Colorado Let’s Talk Craft Beer. Harris became interested in craft beer during college in Fort Collins and began visiting tasting rooms in other parts of the country while traveling for work. A few years ago, he decided to visit every brewery in Colorado Springs, and later, after encouragement from a friend, expanded that to every one in Colorado.
“Most of the trips were weekend travel — or for the Denver metro area, I would just head out after work. For a couple of them, I used some vacation days so I could get several in one fell swoop,” Harris explains. Although he liked visiting new breweries and sampling different beers, he admits to becoming fatigued: “Toward the end, I found myself feeling like I was in a solo race, up against nothing but future openings and being fairly done with it all; the excitement for some of the breweries wasn’t there anymore, and I just wanted it over.”
Fatigue hasn’t been a problem for Patrick Malone, possibly because he has taken his time visiting every brewery in the state. He started in the mid-’90s with Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing, one of only a few beermakers back then. Over the next twenty years, he visited more and more as they opened, often during business travel or on camping trips with his wife, Ruth.
“The hardest ones to hit are the small-town ones that have limited open days/hours,” Malone says. “Who finds themselves in Cedaredge or Paonia at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday or a Thursday? And often there aren’t any hotels, even if you wanted to stay.” Even so, beer tourism is “a great way to see the state and see places you might not ordinarily see,” he adds.
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“Ruth and I take turns driving so the other one can sample, so we kind of approach it that way,” he explains. “We normally split a flight, so that limits the intake as well. While on tour, we normally try to bring along an awesome charcuterie or a nice lunch, something kind of special. Stopping for a gourmet picnic along the way is one of the joys of beer touring. It should be about more than just the destination.”
Ruth Malone is now only about fifteen breweries shy of completing her own run of every Colorado brewery. “We are planning a West Slope run in the next couple weeks, and she should be up to speed after that,” Malone says. “As far as we know, she would be the first lady to do so.”
In November, all six successful questers tried to meet at Lakewood’s Green Mountain Brewery on the day it opened, but Harris couldn’t make it at the right time. “Unfortunately, we were missing one, but I was finally able to meet the Beer Barons, so that was cool,” says Malone. “I’m sure it will happen soon.”
And since a new brewery opens almost every week in Colorado — the next one will be Mash Lab Brewing in Windsor — there will be another chance...and another one after that...and another....