Beer Man

C'mon, Time Magazine: Here's a Real List of Colorado Brewery Must-Dos

Hold our beer.
Hold our beer. Outer Range Brewing
I have nothing against The Beer Spa, the brand-new Five Points spot that lets people soak in malt and hops while they drink beer, and I have nothing against beer spas in general. In fact, I soaked in one a few years ago on a visit to Prague. But when Time recently put Denver on its list of the 100 World's Greatest Places 2021 (an honor I certainly won't oppose), the magazine noted that the Beer Spa was one of the reasons why — close to the only reason why.

Here's what Time had to say about Denver: "With the dramatic peaks of the southern Rockies to its west, action-packed Denver is one of the best cities in the U.S. to grab a local craft beer or watch some baseball — this year it hosted the MLB All-Star Game. A pregame stop at The Beer Spa that opened in February — where customers can sip a beer while soaking in a bath infused with hops, barley and herbs — is practically a prerequisite."

Practically a prerequisite? Colorado's foundational craft-beer scene dates back to 1979 and is possibly the deepest and widest in the country, as well as a destination for beer tourists from around the world. The Beer Spa probably wouldn't be in Denver if it wasn't for that scene — something that its owners would readily admit, I'm sure.

So here is a list of brewery-focused must-dos that visitors (and residents) of Colorado can participate in before they check out the Beer Spa — any one of which Time could have noted:

click to enlarge BIERSTADT LAGERHAUS
Bierstadt Lagerhaus
Wait for a Slow Pour Pils at Bierstadt Lagerhaus
You can order a beer at most bars and breweries. But at Bierstadt Lagerhaus, you get to experience it. The brewery takes its time with the aptly named Slow Pour Pils; the bartender spends several minutes preparing each elegant glass of this meticulously produced lager. First she fills the glass about two-thirds of the way. Once that beer settles, she pours more, slowly, this time letting some head build up. Finally, after another resting period of about a minute, the bartender returns and tops it off with a thick, foamy, two-inch head that resembles soft-serve ice cream. The result is a masterpiece, and one that local and visiting beer lovers, beer critics and brewers make sure they take the time to enjoy whenever they are in the neighborhood.

click to enlarge See Denver's brewery district by scooter. - SARAH COWELL
See Denver's brewery district by scooter.
Sarah Cowell
Scoot Through RiNo's Famed Cluster of Beer Makers
Now that you're at Bierstadt, you might as well take in the rest of the River North Art District, which has become one of the best brewery locales anywhere in the world, not to mention a hub for shopping, dining and street art. The best way to see it all is via scooter (hey, if you can't fight ’em, join ’em). Within a few blocks, you'll find eight other breweries, including standouts like Ratio Beerworks, River North Brewery and Our Mutual Friend (try Owlbear Barbecue next door while you drink). Just be careful in traffic: Not all drivers brake for beer.

click to enlarge The Empourium Brewing is one of five beer makers along Tennyson Street. - THE EMPOURIUM BREWING
The Empourium Brewing is one of five beer makers along Tennyson Street.
The Empourium Brewing
Drink Your Fill on Tennyson Street's Brewery Row
Outside of RiNo, there's no better place in Denver for a brewery crawl than lively Tennyson Street, a shopping, eating and drinking destination that continues to grow and change. Between 38th and 46th avenues, you can now find five independently owned breweries — FlyteCo, the Empourium, Grateful Gnome, De Steeg and Call to Arms — that each offer a distinct vibe and an enormous variety of beer styles. Not enough? The street also boasts one of the best bottle shops in town, Small Batch Liquors, as well as Hops & Pie Artisan Pizzeria, which always has a breathtaking list of the best, rarest or most delicious craft beers on tap from around the country, in addition to killer pizza and sandwiches.

click to enlarge OUTER RANGE BREWING
Outer Range Brewing
Ride the Bustang to Outer Range Brewing
Start your day with a beer at Wynkoop Brewing Co., where Denver's craft-beer scene was born in 1988. Then walk across the street to Union Station, through the concourse, out the back door and down the stairs to the gate for the Bustang, a bus that carries riders west through the foothills, up over the Continental Divide, and down into the town of Frisco (among other stops). Get out and walk a few feet to a brewery that truly represents where American craft beer is heading — toward luscious hazy IPAs, along with oak-aged lagers. Outer Range Brewing is one of the top producers of hazy IPAs in the state, and possibly the best. It definitely has an unbeatable view. Sit on the patio or upstairs and enjoy some Thai-style wings, a haze bomb and stunning scenery.

click to enlarge Rooftop views and craft brews are a must. - JOYRIDE BREWING
Rooftop views and craft brews are a must.
Joyride Brewing
Hit the Roof on These Sloan's Lake Brewery Patios
With its 300 days of (at least partial) sunshine a year, Denver was built for patios, and the best of them are located on rooftops. At Sloan's Lake Park, which is among the city's finest green spaces, you'll find two rooftop patios, located roughly at opposite corners. Start by taking in the views from Joyride Brewing, which holds down the intersection of 25th Avenue and Sheridan and has a breathtaking patio in the sky. Then walk through the park and count the activities that Coloradans partake in, from zip-lining, Frisbee and spike ball to city fishing, boating and dog training. You'll definitely see some pick-up soccer matches and maybe even catch a practicing tuba player or a marriage proposal. (I once counted over 35 different activities in one afternoon at Sloan's.) Make your way to Odell Brewing's amazing new spot at West 17th Avenue and Perry Street, where you can once again climb the stairs with beer in hand and gaze out over the city.

Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales
Taste the Terroir on Broadway
If you really want to know what makes Denver tick, then you need to drink in the very particles that float in its rarefied air. Beer lovers who love ales produced by naturally occurring yeast and bacteria through spontaneous fermentation know where to go for a sip of the wild (or sour) side: Broadway. Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales brews all of its beers this way, and the extremely small-batch alehouse has won worldwide attention because of it. Up the road, TRVE Brewing also makes some of its beers through spontaneous fermentation while offering a wider lineup of carefully crafted wild and sour beers. Not into sours? TRVE, which is themed around heavy-metal music, also has a stellar array of excellent lagers and nuanced IPAs.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Catch a Ball Game and a Blue Moon Where Blue Moon Was Created
About 26 years ago, the folks at Coors had two great ideas at the same time: put a small brewery inside Denver's brand-new baseball park, and create a beer that was very, very different from what Coors drinkers were used to. The results were two big hits. Blue Moon Belgian Wheat is now one of the best-selling non-lagers in the world — and it was created right there in the Sandlot (formerly called Blue Moon Brewery at the Sandlot), a gem of a small brewery in the basement of Coors Field. Head to the stadium, take in a game, and have a few beers in the Sandlot: The brewers there have won more than 45 Great American Beer Festival medals over the years and are known for their small-batch German-style lagers, in particular.

click to enlarge BULL & BUSH
Bull & Bush
Sink a Pint or a Pour of Whiskey in the Bull & Bush's English-Style Warmth
Built by twin brothers Dean and Dale Peterson in 1971 on an empty plot of land in Glendale, a tiny town surrounded by Denver, the English pub-style Bull & Bush was passed on to Erik and Dave, Dale’s sons, in 1996. The two added their own brewery but kept almost everything else the same — and that, as Erik told Westword recently, has been "the secret sauce" to their success. Bull & Bush will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in August with a blowout bash, and the pub's longevity is a testament to doing things right. Sit on the patio in the summer or on the leather couches in the winter and revel in the comfort of an English-style IPA made on site or a lengthy whiskey menu that will warm both your insides and your outsides.

click to enlarge SANITAS BREWING
Sanitas Brewing
Hike Mount Sanitas, Then Admire Your Work at Sanitas Brewing
Mount Sanitas is one of the most iconic Boulder hikes, but it's not easy. As Your Boulder describes it, "Though Sanitas stands at a mere 6,863 feet, the trail is steep, strenuous, and dotted with false summits," but "views of snow-capped peaks to the west and sweeping plains to the right make it worth your while." Then recuperate at Boulder's Sanitas Brewing, where you'll find one of the most welcoming backyard-style patios in all of brewerydom. Here you can enjoy a view of the Foothills (and the brewery's namesake) on a gorgeous Colorado day, enjoy some tacos at the outdoor bar, and play a few rousing games of bocce ball or cornhole on a court that overlooks a greenway and train tracks. Your leg muscles will thank you later.

click to enlarge ODELL BREWING
Odell Brewing
Get Back to Craft Beer's Roots in Fort Collins
You can't truly dig down to Colorado's craft-beer roots until you've been to Fort Collins and visited the homes of New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing, two of the oldest, largest, most well-known and most well-loved breweries in the state. Both have expansive patios where they serve a wide selection of beers — everything from history-making beers on tap, like Fat Tire and 90 Shilling, to more modern interpretations of beer styles, including hazy IPAs and tart or fruited sours. Before COVID, New Belgium's tours were a point of pride and reason alone to visit. Although they have not yet returned, the brewery says they might be back soon.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes