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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Westy Craft Brew Fest
Christopher Fields, Westminster
You don't have to head for the hills in order to enjoy a satisfying afternoon of tastings and tipples. At Westminster's West Craft Brew Fest, over 55 breweries will be pouring their best. While the setting is expansive, it isn't the most scenic — the fest is set up on the municipal softball fields — but the number of beers on tap here are a definite hit. Established Denver favorites to lesser-known outfits from Louisville, Loveland, Lafayette and Erie will be in attendance, proving that RiNo isn't the northern border of the Napa Valley of Beer.
Colorado Cider and Beer Circus
Copper Mountain Resort
If you've been to a bar anytime in the past decade, you know that some joints qualify as free daycare, given the number of children darting around. Craft beer and cider is family fun these days, and this fest embraces the child in all of us, with stilt-walkers, aerialists and acrobats performing alongside stands of ales and ciders. While cideries outnumber breweries, there's a strong beer presence here, so everyone — except maybe your kiddo — will find something delicious to drink. Whether to bring your toddler to a park full of tipsy tightrope walkers is up to you, but there will be plenty to entertain them if you do.
Tour de Fat
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins
Denver's 2017 Tour de Fat encountered so much controversy that the beer and bike bash was canceled at the last minute. It's back in the Mile High City this year, but without the costumed bike parade, which is why we're willing to make the trek to Fort Collins for the original, homegrown version of the fest, complete with grown men dressed in tutus slowly weaving down the street on their two-wheelers. Coupled with New Belgium brews and tunes from headliner Phosphorescent, the event is well worth the $15 admission, which goes to offset the cost of putting on the party and will ensure that more of the proceeds go directly to local bike nonprofits.
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Great American Beer Festival
Colorado Convention Center
It's strange to think of the GABF as a summer event, but the granddaddy of ’em all officially closes on the last day of the season, and no list of Colorado beer festivals would be complete without mentioning the largest fest in the U.S. Attendees from around the globe sample from 3,800 brews; the array is so vast, there's even an app to help you plan your drinking by beer style, jot down tasting notes and keep track of the breweries you visit. Tickets go on sale August 1 and will sell out, so if you want to make it to the big show, plan accordingly.
September 21-23 and September 28-30
2000 to 2200 block of Larimer Street
If you've tasted one Oktoberfest beer, you've tasted them all. There, we said it. And while drinking a dark, malty brew is indeed one of life's great joys, the true test of an Oktoberfest are the extracurricular activities surrounding the beer tent. That's why our favorite German beer festival in the state is Denver's own; with music galore (including a dedicated German stage), keg bowling, a brat-eating contest (first place wins $500, so start stuffing your face at those backyard summer barbecues) and the Long Dog Derby (where Denver's wiener dogs face off for the title of fastest waddler in the West), there's a wealth of entertainment for everyone.