Wood's High Mountain Distillery

As any whiskey snob knows, "single malt" is a bit of a misnomer. Wood's Tenderfoot Whiskey is actually a combination of three barley malts, with a pinch of rye malt and wheat malt — but all blended at a single distillery, aged in American oak and bottled at 90 proof. Since that distillery is in Salida, "local" is admittedly a term of art, too. But since you can get this distinctive, smooth-but-smoky high-country libation at a number of local liquor stores, there's no need to drive 140 miles to the tasting room for a sampler of Wood's whiskey, rye and gin — although that does sound like a tasty idea.

Golden Moon Distillery
Courtesy Golden Moon

In the early 2000s, distiller Stephen Gould became fascinated with absinthe. When the U.S. government allowed the infamous herbal spirit to be made and sold in America, in 2007, he began to distill it on antique stills that he had accumulated in his garage. That hobby distilling business eventually turned into Golden Moon Distillery, founded in 2008, and its current line of eighteen spirits, including the original absinthe. Those spirits represent an eclectic family — Golden Moon distills products that most distillers don't, such as crème de violette, amer dit picon and grappa. All of Golden Moon's spirits are made with Gould's skillful hand, with no artificial ingredients and a painstaking adherence to traditional distilling methods, often dating back to the 1800s. Gould cleverly planned his production so that his entire line of spirits would make up a complete backbar, which is exactly how they're used to make craft cocktails across town at the Golden Moon Speakeasy.

Readers' choice: Leopold Bros.
Ratio Beerworks
Danielle Lirette

Opening in brewery-hot River North in February 2015, Ratio Beerworks combined all the right elements in just the right way. The owners started off with a big twenty-barrel brewhouse, an ethos steeped in music, and a mod interior design featuring retro-diner bar stools, a striking wall covering, copper pendant lights and neon touches. Topping it off is a beer menu that looks like a concert-venue marquee. Since then, they've only built on their success, adding a carefully detailed patio, live music, bottle releases and an electric vibe. But the beer is the glue that holds Ratio together; the tap list includes a mix of solidly produced classics, like Dear You (a French saison) and Hold Steady (a Scotch ale), along with a variety of specialties, like Genius Wizard (a Russian imperial stout) and One Great City (a Belgian-style quadrupel) that show both good brewing technique and creative flair.

Readers' choice: Fiction Beer Company
Station 26 Brewing
Danielle Lirette

Station 26 opened strong in December 2013 in an old firehouse in northeast Park Hill with a tap list that ranged widely across styles and ingredients, but with a consistent quality and reliability that made the brewery seem like it had been around for years. Since then, owner Justin Baccary and head brewer Wayne Waananen have scored hit after hit, whether with one-off collaboration beers, their Dark Star Imperial Stout, or seemingly endless variations on pale ales, IPAs and double IPAs — each one better than the last. In 2015, the brewery debuted the first two in what will be a series of canned single-hop IPAs, Citra and Chinook, and both deserve to be mentioned with the best IPAs made in Colorado.

Readers' choice: Ratio Beerworks
Spangalang Brewery

To consider why the atmosphere at Spangalang Brewery is so good, one must first consider how far the building in which it is located has come: Until last year, it was a busy, busy Division of Motor Vehicles office where people from all over the city gathered to wait in long lines, argue with beleaguered DMV employees and cough on one another. But the ambience at Spangalang is truly the result of careful work by its owners, who invested a jazz theme into the brewery as an homage to the history of Five Points. And although that history also includes several recent decades of neglect, that's changing in a big way as developers pour into the old neighborhood to redirect its future. Spangalang, with its long bar, excellent beer and recognition of its surroundings, will be a big part of that future.

Readers' choice: Ratio Beerworks

Best Suburban Brewery Tap Room — Ambience

Grist Brewing

Grist Brewing

Rob Kevwitch opened Grist Brewing in Highlands Ranch for two reasons: "I grew up here," he says, and "this neighborhood needed a brewery." With a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, Kevwitch studied "photodegradable dendrimer/polymeric systems" under a guy who studied under a Nobel Prize winner. Now he runs a brewery. Overqualified? Hardly. Making beer, especially good beer, takes a balance of science and creativity, and Kevwitch pours his heart into both — something symbolized by an actual balance (his grandfather's) that hangs on the wall. And speaking of creative decor, Grist is packed with charm. A huge rectangular bar sits as the centerpiece of a tap room that includes flat-screen TVs, a multi-colored neon sign, a counter-pressure growler filler, a Crowler machine and fermentation tanks that sit so close to customers that they can touch them — but please don't. Drink at Grist: You'll feel smarter.

Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Mark Antonation

Sometimes less is more, and Black Shirt Brewing has done the most with the least, turning what could have been a gritty blacktop into a hidden oasis out back. The owners of Black Shirt have always embraced the workaday industrial feel of River North, and the patio reflects that — with a view (for now) of nearby railyards. But the space — loaded with picnic tables, sun shades and hop bines that rise from planters made of reclaimed boxcar planks — is cozy and cool, boasting a stage made entirely of old wooden pallets. Enjoy it now, though: With construction slated to take place all around Black Shirt, reality could soon intrude into this oasis.

Tivoli Brewing Company

For nearly seventy years, a brewery operated inside the historic building that now serves as the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus. The beer kept flowing until 1969, when the Tivoli Beer Company closed, leaving just the old equipment behind. But history has a way of repeating itself, and in 2012, Corey and Debbie Marshall bought up several historic Denver beer trademarks, like Tivoli, Zang's and Neef's, and began contract-brewing updated versions of their German-style lagers. In 2014, they announced that they'd struck a deal with the Auraria Higher Education Center to build a new version of Tivoli — now Tivoli Brewing — right next to the old one. The reborn brewery has since installed its thirty-barrel brewhouse beside and below the two original 250-barrel, copper-plated brew kettles that the old Tivoli used and opened its own restaurant and tap house. The brewery is also being used to train the next generation of brewery operators as part of Metropolitan State University of Denver's hospitality program, making sure that Denver's history is poured into its future.

Finkel & Garf Brewing

Brewery tap rooms have gotten innovative when it comes to food. Most of them welcome the ubiquitous food trucks, while others have co-located in buildings with eatery options. A few offer popcorn machines, pretzels or candy. But Finkel & Garf goes way beyond that. The brewery contains a massive snack wall, with cubbies for enough options to make just about anyone happy. You can find chips, pretzels, peanuts, Chex mix, beef jerky, corn nuts, Goldfish crackers, Twinkies, sunflower seeds and Spam — yes, Spam. Oh, and if it's just beer you want, grab a six-pack from the wall of snacks and take it to go.

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew
Oskar Blues

Until a few years ago, the only way to take home beer from your favorite non-packaging brewery was if it sold growlers — typically 64-ounce glass containers filled at the tap. But these vessels are too big and unwieldy, and they often leave beer flat after a day or two. More recently, breweries began offering smaller containers made of different materials, which helped. But last year, Oskar Blues revolutionized carryout beer with the Crowler machine. These allow bartenders to force oxygen out and then seal a 32-ounce can of any beer a brewery has on tap — and although they aren't reusable, Crowler cans are easier to carry and recyclable, and keep beer fresher longer. Oskar Blues has now sold hundreds of the machines to breweries all over the country; in the Denver area, you can find them at Cerebral, Lost Highway, Black Shirt, Dry Dock, Wonderland, Grist, and Great Divide's Barrel Bar, among others. Look for more soon.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of