Drink Up! Colorado's Vast Array of Liquid Assets

Inside the Family Jones Spirit House.
Inside the Family Jones Spirit House. Danielle Lirette
Since we live in an arid state, it's no surprise that Coloradans love their beverages, whether it's booze, beer or fermented tea. Not only do these liquids hydrate, but many locally produced drinks conveniently come in cans for easy transport on camping trips, hiking, rafting and fishing excursions, or anything else that involves activities in the great outdoors, where you might like to stop and have a refreshing sip of something other than water. Of course, not all vessels prove perfect for travel, but the contents all make for ideal tipples, no matter where you are.

click to enlarge Happy Leaf Kombucha, a refreshing and fizzy drink in flavors such as cranberry-lavender and rose. - LINNEA COVINGTON
Happy Leaf Kombucha, a refreshing and fizzy drink in flavors such as cranberry-lavender and rose.
Linnea Covington
Yes, there are some alcoholic bubbles being made in Colorado, including Infinite Monkey Theorem’s Bubble Universe, but there are a whole lot of fizzy booze-free beverages coming out of this state. For starters, kombucha began popping up here around 2011, and now close to a dozen Colorado companies make the fermented tea drink. One of the biggest names on the kombucha shelf is Happy Leaf, which started as an offering at a farmers' market stand in 2013 and can now be found not only in the company's Edgewater taproom, but canned for on-the-go enjoyment as well. Two more kombuchas widely available are Rowdy Mermaid and Upstart, both bottled and sold commercially in flavors such as Upstart's Lemon Ginger and Mint Green, and Rowdy Mermaid's Alpine Lavender and Strawberry Tonic.

Root beer, too, has garnered a following, and a lot of breweries make their own versions that you can try on draft at the taproom. It's a good alternative to alcohol and gives non-drinkers a treat that not only tastes good, but can fill you up and make you burp just like beer does. In Buena Vista, Eddyline Brewery and Taproom has a homemade root beer on its list that you can only try there. Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub in Idaho Springs is known for its vanilla-tinged root beer, which you can get on draft there or find bottled in many local grocery stores. One of the oldest breweries making craft root beer is Wynkoop Brewing Company in downtown Denver; it's a staple that many locals swear by, and goes great with the Wynkoop's hearty pub fare.

On the hard-seltzer side, Oskar Blues Brewery has been churning out Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water — a lime, melon and hibiscus drink found on tap in the company's restaurants and tasting room, and in cans at local liquor stores. The Heart Distillery out of Windsor also offers canned sparkling water with booze: Colorado Spiked Seltzer is made with vodka and real fruit juices, such as tangerine, lemon and lime.

click to enlarge GABF, and Colorado craft beers, are bigger than ever. - COURTESY BREWERS ASSOCIATION
GABF, and Colorado craft beers, are bigger than ever.
Courtesy Brewers Association
No one can dispute the popularity of craft beer in Colorado; it's one of the most spectacular aspects of mountain life, aside from skiing. It's also big hit down the hill: For over 35 years, Denver has been home to the Great American Beer Festival, a three-day fete of brews from every corner of the country.

This state's love of beer dates back to before Denver's founding in late 1858. Miners loved their beer, and brew halls popped up in and around what we know today as Larimer Square. One of the first breweries to open in the state was the famous Coors Brewery, which still operates in Golden as it did when Adolph Coors launched it in 1873. The first microbrewery in the state was Boulder Beer Company, which opened in 1979 and still produces plenty of bottles of Shake Chocolate Porter and Mojo IPA, now found in bars and liquor stores throughout the United States (although, as a sign of just how tough competition has become, Boulder will stop packaging its beers at the end of the year).

Today there are over 400 craft breweries in Colorado, though none have had quite the worldwide pull that Coors enjoys. But while Coors's simple brews remain popular, a lot of what beer seekers look for in this state are the specialties of particular craft brewers, whether they're sour beers from TRVE Brewing Company, the lineup of Yeti stouts at Great Divide Brewing, or the Colorado-grown fruit beers made by Crooked Stave inDenver and Fort Collins.
Although grape production doesn't reach the heights in Colorado that it does in other states, our vines have produced some tasty vino. Most of the wines made here come from the area around Palisade, where the fruit grows well, but there are eight more wine-growing regions stretching from the plains to the Four Corners. The varietals that do best in Colorado include merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet franc and riesling.

Taste these local fruits in bottles from BookCliff Vineyards, Colterris Winery and Two Rivers Winery. You can also visit urban wineries, which rely on grapes from both the Western Slope and other states. Infinite Monkey Theorem has made a name for itself with its cabernet franc, Blind Watchmaker Red and a selection of canned wines, all of which make visiting this hip tasting room in RiNo worth the time it takes to find parking. Other Denver-based wineries include Bigsby's Folly Craft Winery, Kingman Estate Winery and Bonacquisti Wine Company, to name a few.

click to enlarge Mythology Distillery head distiller Scott Coburn (left) and co-owner Scott Yeates. - LINNEA COVINGTON
Mythology Distillery head distiller Scott Coburn (left) and co-owner Scott Yeates.
Linnea Covington
The craft spirit industry in Colorado started around 2004, when Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey launched with Jess Graber and George Stranahan at the helm. It was the first micro-distillery to legally make whiskey in the state, though now it produces and sells its single malt on a much broader scale. Following closely on its heels was Leopold Bros., opened in 2008 by Todd and Scott Leopold; it remains one of the best distilleries in the state, churning out such sought-after tipples as Maryland rye, Navy Strength gin, absinthe and a variety of local fruit liqueurs.

In 2015, distillery laws regarding the size of an operation changed, leading to a boom in liquor production. By 2018, the industry was so big that the Colorado Spirits Trail was launched to bring awareness to operations around the state; the 45 tasting rooms on the map include such spots as Mythology Distillery in Denver, Deer Hammer in Buena Vista and Golden Moon Distillery in Golden. By the beginning of 2019, around 100 craft distilleries were doing business in Colorado. Now some distilleries make all of their goods in the tasting room so that they can showcase not only signature spirits, but full-on housemade cocktails, too. This group includes the Family Jones Spirit House in Denver, led by Rob Masters, and the Lee Spirits Co. in Colorado Springs, with Ian and Nick Lee at the helm.

click to enlarge Mellow Mint, a minty tea with CBD by Stillwater. - STILLWATER BEVERAGES
Mellow Mint, a minty tea with CBD by Stillwater.
Stillwater Beverages
In this cannabis-fueled climate, we can't neglect the drinks laced with CBD, or cannabidiol, a non-psychedelic component of the plant. Since the CBD boom started in late 2018, the substance has found its way into just about everything. Beverages such as sparkling water and soda with CBD were the first to show up, followed by beer and wine. You can enjoy CBD cocktails at the bar at the ART hotel, as well as at the Nickel in the Hotel Teatro; liquor stores also sell spirits with CBD.

There's even CBD in coffee, and local roaster Sträva Craft Coffee makes a few whole-bean blends that you can pick up for home brewing. Also check out Present, a canned sparkling water with CBD from the folks at Left Hand Brewing, and Colorado's Best Drinks' sparkling CBD beverages. Stillwater Brands makes two teas spiked with CBD, and Backyard Soda Co. recently launched a line of drinks including mango-jalapeño and lavender-lemon sodas with the trendy, full-spectrum hemp extract.
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Linnea Covington moved back to Denver after spending thirteen years in New York City and couldn't be happier to be home, exploring the Mile High and eating as much as possible, especially when it involves pizza or ice cream.
Contact: Linnea Covington