Long before Colorado had legal weed, it had craft beer. The state's first craft brewery opened in 1979; since then, the craft-beer scene has exploded, with 360 breweries now pouring in Colorado. Add to all that great beer our sparkling blue skies, stunning scenery and plenty of places to hike, bike and otherwise work off our beer bellies, and there's no place in the world with better beer fests. Here are ten of the best, in chronological order.
Snowmass Rendezvous Craft Beer Festival
Snowmass' beer festival is surprisingly civilized.
Courtesy Two Parts Facebook
Beer festivals that cap the number of attendees are a rare commodity these days; since Coloradans have a seemingly insatiable need to throw back pints with several hundred of their nearest and dearest, there's always more money to be made — even if it comes with stagnant lines and massive crowds. That's one of the reasons we like this festival so much: Tickets are capped, so the crush of humanity is manageable and there's plenty of room to enjoy the early-summer mountain air. This year, breweries from Winter Park, Basalt and Salida as well as Front Range favorites will join the lineup, and the aptly named Drunken Hearts will perform.
The Pressed Fest serves ciders of all stripes.
Thompson Park, Longmont
This cider festival reminds us of beer festivals of yore: It's intimate and relaxed. Cider is gaining popularity — after just two years, Pressed Fest moved to bigger digs — but you'll still enjoy short lines and big pours from over twenty cideries serving everything from apple to pear to cucumber ciders, in styles ranging from sugary- sweet to bone-dry to George Clinton-level funky. Whether you can't drink beer because of that pesky gluten or you want to get in on the trend's ground floor so that in five years you can grouse about how much better the cider scene used to be, this is an event to start paying attention to now.
Vail Craft Beer Classic
Vail Craft Beer Class takes over the town on Father's Day weekend.
Tickets start at $55
Plenty of festivals let you drink with your favorite brewers, but how many will send you on an early-morning fly-fishing expedition with them? Since you can't drink beer for three days straight (we've tried), it makes sense that brewers and drinkers alike would take advantage of Vail's outdoor activities when they're not imbibing. In addition to the usual festival trappings (a pair of tastings, brewer's dinner and lunch, and a small-plates pairing), guests can hike, bike or fish with a brewmaster; if you're lucky, you'll even get a taste of their favorite post-adventure beers.
Attack of the Big Beers
Grilled cheese improves beer by a factor of brie.
Courtesy Attack of the Big Beers Facebook
Copper Mountain Resort
Tickets start at $20
Not only will your tastebuds be in heaven at this fest, but your senses of sight and sound will be just as engaged, as the weekend promises not only beer, but music and movies. The high-gravity beers on tap pack a punch in ABV as well as flavor — think barleywines, Belgians and imperial IPAs — and will be accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches. That's right: Cast off your pretzel necklace and dig in to something that can stand up to those big brews. And the weekend doesn't end when the kegs are kicked; filmmakers will also be in attendance, screening their movies at the state's only craft beer, grilled cheese and film festival.
Brewers from all over Colorado enjoy the Salida's Brewer's Rendezvous, now in its 22nd year.
Courtesy Mile High Brew Review Facebook
Riverside Park, Salida
It's worth a few hours on the road to reach one of the state's most scenic beer festivals. Every July, brewers from across Colorado transform Riverside Park into a shady oasis on the banks of a river of beer. The mellow vibe and beautiful scenery put everyone in a good mood, and there's plenty of hiking and mountain biking to keep you occupied when you're not downing ales. Our favorite way to round out the weekend? Get provisions for breakfast at the Alpine Park farmers' market, where you can pick up foodstuffs like tamales and local goat meat, then hit the nearby Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for a soak.