Novel Strand Brewing Company
Novel Strand Brewing Company

With its big windows, potted plants and laptop-toting customers, Novel Strand feels more like a community center/coffee shop than a brewery. And it actually is a coffee shop for most of the day: Queen City Collective Coffee turns out steaming mugs from this adorable corner location in the Baker neighborhood all morning and afternoon. But in the back, the beating heart of the new brewery pumps out beer — really good beer. Balanced and elegant, with an easy likability, Novel Strand's brews are mostly hoppy (though there are some other styles) but very approachable. In the evening, the brewery turns into a cozy neighborhood spot, complete with food trucks.

The Grateful Gnome Sandwich Shoppe & Brewery
Jonathan Shikes

Beer is America's workhorse beverage, and sandwiches are its workhorse meal. Both have been taken apart, deconstructed, reconstructed, improved on, and sometimes over-thought and overwrought. But not at the Grateful Gnome. At this casual brewery/deli/sports bar, you'll find solid, straightforward beers like a blonde, a brown, a weiss and an IPA, along with a few simple variations like the session stout, the petite barleywine and the hibiscus saison. You'll also find a massive list of classic sandwiches — chicken parm, Taylor ham, turkey club, capicola and ham — done so perfectly that they'll end up in your sexy food dreams. The Gnome is Gno joke.

Baere Brewing Company

You can find breweries in just about any kind of building in Colorado — big and small, a century old or just a few weeks new. There are former hotels, auto shops and churches, an airplane hangar and a Buddhist temple. There are farmhouses, firehouses and schoolhouses, business parks, and, yes, strip malls. Probably no brewery has embraced that strip-mall ethos quite like Baere Brewing, however. Squarely in the middle of what is, sorry, a pretty ugly retail strip along Broadway, Baere tongue-in-cheekily brews a beer called Strip Mall Pale Ale and describes its location thus: "Next to Dunkin Donuts; across from 7-11. A great place to hang out while: doing laundry at Cycles; getting your car washed at Waterworks; preening at Paris Nails; having coffee at Sugar Bakeshop." Baere's beer, though, is anything but nondescript. While you can order traditional styles, like a brown, a saison, a dunkel and an IPA, give some of the more exotic beers a try, like the mixed-culture saison, the wild ales and the Berliner weisse.

Primitive Beer
Jonathan Shikes

Passion projects are typically full of vim and vigor, coming in fully carbonated and ready to bubble over. Brandon and Lisa Boldt's project is certainly full of vim and vigor, but carbonation is not in the equation — which might be considered a little strange in the beer world. Last April the couple, who both have full-time jobs at other breweries, opened Primitive Beer, a small blending facility and taproom that turns out uncarbonated sour lambic-style ales. Most of these unusual Belgian-style beers are aged in wooden puncheons for nine months to three years, and you can drink them by the glass or by the pitcher — or you can take them home in plastic bags secured inside a box. Yep, that's weird, too, but delicious, and also part of an old Belgian tradition. Wanna get really wild? Take the bag out of the box and give it a slap before drinking right from the nozzle. The gorgeous taproom is only open four days a month, so plan ahead.

Alternation Brewing Company
Courtesy Alternation Brewing Company

Alternation Brewing takes the cake for best vegan-friendly brewery without even serving food. Even though Alternation doesn't have a kitchen of its own, Wong Way Veg, Vegan Van, Migration Taco, Veggie Yeti and other plant-friendly food trucks are always around serving meat-free grub. Vegan events, such as dairy-free-cheese and beer pairings, beer dinners and vegan meetup groups, are hosted here as well. For its For the Animals milk stout, Alternation swaps in almond milk for the traditional lactose that gives the style its creaminess; the vegan-friendly twist has been done in many variations, including candy cane, gingerbread, Oreo, s'more and salted caramel.

Haykin Family Cider
Mark Antonation

You don't need a fancy tasting room to produce good cider. You just need good apples, a press and the patience to polish your craft over years of fruit harvests. Daniel and Talia Haykin learned about making cider from Colorado apples first, perfecting their recipes at home and winning awards along the way. Since opening their Aurora cidery in 2017, the couple has continued to win fans with single-apple varietals and blends from specific growers that have the complexity of wine and the terroir of Colorado's orchards. Visit the bare-bones Haykin tasting room to experience flavors ranging from butter to banana to rich tropical fruits and from tart to semi-sweet, or pick up a corked bottle at a specialty liquor store to pair with your favorite home-cooked meals. Even some of Denver's most lauded eateries are catching on, so you can sip Haykin cider along with food from a growing list of chefs.

Readers' Choice: Stem Ciders

Leopold Bros.

Although being nominated for a James Beard Award two years running already speaks highly of Leopold Bros., it's the careful creation of its products that's behind the Denver distillery's consistent excellence. No matter what kind of booze you crave, there's something for everyone, from gin to whiskey to fruit spirits. Brothers Scott and Todd Leopold even make an absinthe, an alpine liqueur and an aperitivo, and they use local ingredients for many of their products. For over a decade, Leopold Bros. has continued to elevate the Colorado spirits scene, and we can't wait to taste what the future brings.

Readers' Choice: Mythology Distillery

The Block Distilling Co.
Maria Levitov Photography

When brothers Kraig and Kameron Weaver opened the Block Distilling Co. with co-owner Michelle Flake at the end of 2017, the focus was on bringing seasonal gins and a three-grain vodka to the market. Each small batch gets handmade right in the industrial-meets-artsy RiNo space, and while the lineup is small so far, it's growing. Aside from gin and vodka, Block also plans to release a vermouth-style spirit made with grape skins from the neighboring Infinite Monkey Theorem. As warmer weather approaches, think about trying the Summer Gin, a citrus-forward tipple perfect for hot days and lounging by the pool.

The Family Jones
Danielle Lirette

Denver has an abundance (maybe even a surplus) of great tasting rooms, but the folks behind the Family Jones Spirit House really have gone above and beyond. Not only is the hard liquor all made in house, but each modifier also gets created right there. In fact, the distillery and tasting room act as a lab, and master distiller Rob Masters and bar manager Jason Randall are always coming up with new and innovative tipples. Think crawfish liqueur for a Bloody Mary, bright lemongrass distillate, cooling eucalyptus and a whole slew of other things. All of this gets integrated into cocktails on the menu, or you can sample the straight booze (gin, vodka, rum, whiskey) just as you would in a normal tasting room.

Lady Jane
Mark Antonation

Lady Jane makes the second casual cocktail bar for owner Jake Soffes after Hudson Hill, which debuted in 2016. And like Hudson Hill, this LoHi bar raises the bar on cocktail quality, even if the ambience is laid-back and low-key, coming in somewhere between tropical yacht club and '70s fern bar. We've long since lost the skill to separate millennial irony from earnest intentions, but the palm trees, gilt-edged barware and hunter-green furnishing feel distinctly like a wink at Tom Selleck, Christopher Cross album covers and swinger culture. And you know what? We love it. It's far easier to settle in among the throw pillows and enjoy a drink while music crackles from the turntable (of course) than to consider that it may all be just a joke played on anyone over 45.

Readers' Choice: Ironton Distillery and Crafthouse

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