On Saturday, July 20, Longmont's Wibby Brewing will throw a huge beach party beer festival that comes complete with sand, a pool, tiki decorations and steel drum music. It's a standout party not only because of its size and scope, but also because of its beer: The festival, called Hoopla-gers, pours only lagers. Differentiated from ales (like IPAs, stouts and wheat beers), lagers are brewed with a different kind of yeast, one that gives the beer a cleaner taste.
And lagers have seen a resurgence of late. Almost every brewery makes at least one, from the American light lagers modeled on Bud, Miller and Coors, to the ever-present pilsner, to more interesting varieties like dunkels, dopplebocks and marzens (which are having a moment). This wasn't the case two or three years ago, however, for several reasons. For starters, since lagers typically take at least a month to ferment, as opposed to two weeks for ales, most quickly growing breweries focused instead on keeping their taprooms full of the more popular hoppy ales. Lagers can also be finicky if a brewery lacks specialized equipment, and they remind some beer drinkers of those mass-produced industrial light lagers that many craft brewers and their customers eschew.
Still, lagers are often few and far between, both on liquor store shelves and in taprooms, especially these days, when hazy IPAs have become so popular and brewers are constantly looking for the next big or fun style.
"I opened up a lager-only brewery because I wanted to prove to the craft-beer community that lagers are just as flavorful and diverse as ales, yet have a crisp clean, finish, leaving your palate wanting more," says Wibby Brewing co-owner Ryan Wibby. "It is our mission to change people's perception of what a lager can be."
Wibby's lagers, many of which have an American twist, range from light to dark to hoppy to malty, and the brewer is enjoying the renewed attention paid to craft lagers. "I feel like craft-beer drinkers are finally understanding the difference between lagers and ales. It's awesome witnessing someone trying a lager for the first time and realizing that lagers aren't just fizzy water from a multi-national brewery," he says.
Here are seven Colorado breweries that have stuck to their guns when it comes to brewing primarily — or in a few cases, only — lagers. Oh, and there's an eighth on the way: Pikes Peak Brewing in Monument is opening its own Lager House in Colorado Springs later this year.
2875 Blake Street
Bierstadt Lagerhaus owners and brewers Bill Eye and Ashleigh Carter maintain a singular dedication to lagers, mostly of the German style, that is almost breathtaking in its focus. They traveled to Bavaria before opening Bierstadt to buy a pre-World War II brewhouse, which they took apart, shipped and rebuilt in Denver. And they steadfastly refuse to brew anything other than the five to seven lagers that they love. These include Slow Pour Pils, a beer that has become revered in Colorado, along with Helles, Dunkel, Marzen and a few others. Bierstadt is the first stop for many beer-loving German visitors here, and it's probably the first stop for lager lovers of any kind.
3610 West Colfax Avenue
Seedstock is unique in that it regularly brews four of five Czech styles that will have you turning to Google for a lesson on beers from the Old Country. There’s the Bohemian pilsner, with a fuller hops profile than that of many German pilsners; a Czech lager that glows a ruddy red and exudes a bready flavor with a slight hint of caramel; and the polotmavy, or “half-dark” lager, which is crisper and sweeter than the others. Beyond that, Seedstock brews its own takes on Czech- and German-style pilsners and ales, such as dunkel, doppelbock, Kolsch and altbier. “Lager doesn’t mean flavorless," says co-owner Ron Abbott, and he's right.
2540 19th Street
Like Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Prost was built around an early-twentieth-century copper brewhouse imported, piece by piece, from Bavaria. It's no coincidence, then, that Bierstadt owner Bill Eye was involved. The founding brewer at Prost (before he left), Eye created similar versions of his favorite German styles here. Prost is now one of the only lager breweries in Colorado to regularly package its offerings, which include a pilsner, dunkel and helles. To complete the picture, Prost has an excellent biergarten and many German-themed events.
2001 Blake Street (inside Coors Field)
Although the Sandlot (owned by Coors) is most famous for being the spot where Blue Moon Belgian White was created in 1995, its brewers, John Legnard, Tom Hail and Mike Miller, have been creating some of the best German-style lagers in the country there for a couple of decades. In fact, of the 45 GABF medals that the Sandlot has won, more than two-thirds are for German-style lagers, like pilsner, helles, bock, marzen and dortmunder. That's quite a feat, considering the fact that the brewery only produces about 1,500 barrels of beer annually — all of it from a cramped basement beneath Coors Field.
Grimm Brothers Brewhouse
623 North Denver Avenue, Loveland
The oldest brewery in Loveland and the oldest independently owned lager specialist in Colorado, Grimm Brothers makes a wide variety of traditional and historic German-style beers, both lagers and ales. Heavy on the drier malts, these include dunkel, pilsner, schwarzbier, pale lager, marzen and more. In addition, they do a variety of German-style ales or lager/ale hybrids with similar flavor profiles, such as altbier, kolsch, kottbusser and hefeweizen. "Inspired by the famous German writers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm...we pride ourselves in not only telling you a fairy tale, but also a story about a beer," the brewery says.
4612 South Mason Street, Fort Collins
Brothers Eric and Kirk Lombardi, who opened Zwei Brewing in 2014, were inspired by a trip they took across Germany and the Czech Republic, and their fascination shows. The brewery has one of the largest selections of German-style brews on tap in Colorado. In addition to a pilsner (or two), a helles and a hefeweizen (ale), you can usually find a dunkel, a smoked rauchbier, a schwarzbier and a couple of barrel-aged weizenbocks. Zwei also makes its share of American ales (porters, pales and IPAs, among others), and it has also produced marzens, doppelbocks and a variety of other Eastern European lagers. Drinking at the Fort Collins taproom is an eye-opening experience that takes you to a place where lagers and flavor meet in harmony.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
209 Emery Street, Longmont
Wibby Brewing has made a name for itself throughout Colorado — not an easy accomplishment in a state with more than 400 breweries — because of its passion for lagers. The brewery makes a wide variety of styles, including hoppy beers and dark ones — some of which you might confuse with an ale in a blind taste test. And lagers were the plan from the beginning. "In order to execute this plan, we needed to find a large building where we could build a large lagering cooler and also raise enough capital to purchase enough equipment to keep up with demand," explains co-owner Ryan Wibby, explaining how the brewery was founded. "Choosing lagers only created a lot of challenges for our young brewery, but it has allowed us to stand out from the sea of craft ales."
The second annual Hoopla-gers All Lager Pool Party and Beer Festival, described by many as one of the best fests of the year in 2018, features lagered beers from more than fifty breweries, a commemorative mug, a "legit" beach party with oversized pools, a sandy beach and live music from the Pan Association Steel Drum Band. There will also be "a tropical silent-disco-arcade taking over our blacked-out, black-lit, air-conditioned taproom filled with bubbles and mystic steam," the brewery says.
The fest starts at noon in Longmont; tickets, $36 to $65, include access to artisan vending, interactive crafts, outdoor games, food trucks and more. To gain entrance, all attendees must bring one non-perishable food item, as the event is also a food drive. There will be two party trolleys running from Denver and one from Wheat Ridge (tickets are extra). Get more information and purchase tickets on Wibby Brewing's Facebook page.