Beer Man

The ten best Colorado brewery patios

"Once you've had a few beers, it's hard to leave a German beer garden without making some friends," says Patrick Crawford, who opened Denver Beer Co. with Charlie Berger in August 2011. In advance of that opening, Crawford and Berger had gone to Germany -- and came back with the idea of adding a beer garden. "We loved the communal atmosphere of the big long tables there," Crawford says. "And at the time, I don't think there was anyone else who had that style of tables in Denver."

Denver Beer Co.'s Bavarian-style beer garden soon set the standard for brewery patios from Boulder to Golden to Denver. Dozens of new breweries have opened in the metro area over the past four years, and on a warm summer day, there's no finer place to be than on one of their patios. There's no finer place to be on a perfect summer night, either.

See also: Nearly 1,400 breweries register for GABF, 81 percent higher than last year

Or, for that matter, at any time during this state's three and a half seasons of outdoor drinking weather -- whether the patio is an intimate, backyard-like space illuminated by strings of white lights or an expansive, park-like atmosphere that feels more like a party. Some have views of the mountains or the city skyline, while others simply look over alleys and train tracks. And although a few are modeled after Germany's storied biergartens, the beer that is imbibed on Colorado's patios is all-American.

Which makes the ten patios listed alphabetically below ideal spots for celebrating our independence on July 4. Or any other day.

Black Shirt Brewing 3719 Walnut Street, Denver The owners of Black Shirt Brewing have never shied away from the industrial nature of the River North neighborhood. Instead, they've embraced it, installing tables and a bar made from reclaimed wood that once served as flooring in boxcars, and working long hours to the sounds of trains that rumble by within view of the brewery's back door.

That gritty view is in marked contrast to the tiny oasis that Branden, Chad and Carissa Miller have created outside the brewery, one that goes particularly well with the variety of carefully crafted red beers they brew inside. Open five nights a week (there's a patio in front, too), the backyard beer garden seats 36 and features cornhole games, strings of white lights at night, and three-year-old hops plants in garden boxes alongside barley and crimson clover.

"We don't have any plans to use these ingredients in the beer, but rather to create an interesting and informative ambience, and to educate people on what beer's ingredients look and smell like," says Branden Miller. "Over time, we'd like to grow more back there -- herbs, flowers, etc. -- and keep making the ambience better and better."

Boulder Beer Company 2880 Wilderness Place, Boulder Some things get better with age, and the 2,300-square-foot patio at Boulder Beer Company, Colorado's oldest microbrewery, is certainly one of them. Although the patio isn't as ancient as the brewery itself -- Boulder Beer was founded in a goat shed in rural Boulder County in 1979 before becoming the first tenant at its current location on Wilderness Place -- it dates back to 1984, which means that some of the University of Colorado students who were catching rays and downing brews under the sun back then now have kids who are old enough to do the same.

With seating for 100, the lush patio's greenest feature is the Cascade hops plants that were planted in 1994 and are harvested every fall for Boulder Beer's Patio Ale, which is only served in the pub. Dog-friendly, cyclist-friendly and with views of the Flatirons, the spot also hosts live music on weekend evenings -- a great time to enjoy the rotation of flagship and seasonal brews, including a few new canned varieties.

And the patio even carries a hint of romance, says Boulder Beer marketing director Tess McFadden: "Ellen Leonard, one of our longtime admin employees, was married on the patio in 2006."

Denver Beer Co. 1695 Platte Street, Denver Like Denver Beer Co., many restaurants and breweries -- old and new -- have added Bavarian-style communal tables to their patios, but few of them can also claim the location, location, location that this brewery boasts on hip Platte Street, just steps from both the Millennium Bridge, which crosses I-25 to the Lower Highland neighborhood, and the Highland Bridge, which crosses the South Platte River in lower downtown.

The dog-friendly patio features big, shady umbrellas, stellar people-watching, and a vibe that alternates from lazy on summer days to electric at night; the brewery's Kaffir Lime Wheat tastes great at any time of the day or night. Denver Beer Co. also grows hops plants here, which it uses each fall in a special neighborhood hop-swap pale ale. Oh, and in the winter, brave drinkers can earn a dollar or two off the price of a pint if they sit in the snow.

But the fourteen communal tables are the stars of the show. "Charlie and I made every one of those tables ourselves," says co-owner Patrick Crawford, adding that they had a little help from friends and family. "We screwed each one together, sanded them and polished them. Three years later, they're still going strong. There are a couple of wobbly legs now after all that time. But still pretty good for a couple of yahoos." FATE Brewing 1600 38th Street, Boulder When he opened FATE Brewing in January 2013, Mike Lawinski had a hunch that his two patios might be ideal for watching July 4 fireworks blasting off over Boulder's Folsom Field. "We almost marketed it last year, but we wanted to test our theory first," he says. The theory turned out to be correct, and this year, Fate will make an Independence Day beer that you can enjoy on one of about 200 of the best seats in town for oohs and aahs. "When the sun goes down, we will be a perfect spot," he says.

FATE's patios feature cornhole games, flat-screen TVs, a trellis with hops growing on it, a few patio armchairs, and heaters in the winter; there are views of the base of Chautauqua and the Flatirons year-round. Customers can order food or just beer -- say, the refreshing Watermelon Kolsch. "We really want people to just enjoy it, push a few tables together and be as comfortable as possible," Lawinski says. "I don't think we skip a beat from inside to outside, which is something that places can have trouble with."

Golden City Brewery 920 12th Street, Golden If spending time on the patio at Golden City Brewery makes you feel like you're drinking beer in someone's back yard, that's because you are. Charlie and Janine Sturdavant started the brewery in their home back in 1993 -- a time when this space was a lawn with a swingset and a trampoline. But after the grass died, around 1998, the Sturdavants decided to cover it in gravel, add some landscaping and begin the transformation that has resulted in one of Colorado's oldest and most loved brewery patios.

"It's not stuffy or uppity. We have umbrellas and pop-up tents, some trees and the big apple tree that everyone loves," says the Sturdavants' daughter, Tamara Munroe. "There are seats for 42 people, but when people really pack in, we've had up to 300 in there."

Golden City -- which only has room for fourteen people inside -- recently added a couple of stools made out of old kegs to complement the benches and the picnic tables on the patio, along with a couple of fire bars that give off a gas flame and some ambiance. To get a beer, you just walk up to the outdoor window that looks in on the tap lines and pick from a variety of year-round favorites and seasonal specialties.

The brewery is no longer serving food -- something it had done for years -- but Golden City has begun welcoming food trucks on the weekends. "And the Golden Natural Market across the street took our pizza ovens and sandwich stations, and they deliver their sandwiches and pizza over here now," Munroe says.

The Post Brewing 105 West Emma Street, Lafayette There are nights when Lara Vann-Dagenhardt, general manager of The Post Brewing in Lafayette, has to congratulate herself while she's hanging out on the expansive patio, gazing into the flames in the outdoor fireplaces. "The chef and I have looked at each other many times and said, 'Good job,'" she admits.

The Post and GoodBird Kitchen, a fried-chicken joint, are located inside a former VFW Hall; the Big Red F restaurant group opened the place in January, with former Dogfish Head brewmaster Bryan Selders in the brewery. The patio didn't come online until April -- but it's already become a hot spot, and it's easy to see why.

For starters, there's a covered outdoor bar with seating for seventeen people, where you can try any one of Selders's creations, including East County Brown, a new beer that works particularly well on cool evenings. The patio also has ten covered tables and a slew of community tables that are under umbrellas and surrounded by mature trees. No room at the tables? Try one of the Adirondack chairs around the brewery's grain silo.

"People love to sit in those and watch their kids play cornhole or ring toss," Vann-Dagenhardt says. Speaking of kids, they can pick peppers, strawberries, kale or tomatoes from the three on-site gardens.

"It's really a fun place to be, especially on the weekends," she adds. And on July 4, the Post will host a massive pig roast. "We imagine that people will ride down and get some pig and some delicious brews and then head off to see the fireworks."

Prost Brewing 2540 19th Street, Denver Communal tables, a gravel floor and big, frothy steins of Bavarian-style beer, like dunkel, maibock and weissbier; food trucks serving brats (or at least hot dogs). If you squint and use a little imagination at Prost Brewing, you might think you're in Munich. That was the idea when Prost opened in August 2012, complete with a fifty-year-old, seventy-barrel copper brewing system acquired in Germany. And the theme is still holding strong at the brewery, which sits atop a rise at the edge of LoHi, with a great view of downtown.

"We tried to stay true to the theme of the German beer gardens with the communal tables, the pea rock. It just ties in with what we do," says Prost co-owner Troy Johnston. The biergarten out front can seat ninety to 100 people, but it can hold up to 140 beer lovers. Prost recently planted hops and installed a garage door that opens up onto the patio, and it plans to add some shade sails later this summer, although Johnston says the south side of the patio gets natural shade beginning around 4 p.m. in the summer.

Despite the German theme, however, you'll know you're in the United States over the July 4 weekend, when the patio fills up each night with people who are hip to the fact that this spot has one of the city's best views of fireworks shows not just at Coors Field and Sports Authority Field at Mile High, but as far away as Glendale and the Denver Country Club. Sanitas Brewing 3550 Frontier Avenue, Boulder Like your best bud's back yard, there's something about the two-level patio at Sanitas Brewing that is instantly welcoming and relaxing. Maybe it's the views of the Foothills (and the brewery's namesake, Mount Sanitas), or the train tracks lined with green grass, or the cornhole and bocce ball courts, or the indoor/outdoor bar, where you can order a saison or black IPA or a "train beer" through the window.

"One fun thing we do is our Train Beer series, which are all session, or lower-alcohol, beers," says co-owner Zach Nichols, explaining that whenever a train rolls by on the tracks, which are about 100 feet away, customers can order a pint for $2.50 for the next fifteen minutes. The current offering, Train Beer #5, is a pale ale brewed with New Zealand hops. The next one will be a summer ale made with orange peel and Mosaic hops.

The patio is filled with picnic and communal tables and can hold about 100 people, which it does on some weekend nights. The owners just planted apple trees and a garden with corn, pumpkins and hops that they hope to use in a beer this fall. They also planted wildflowers and did some landscaping to keep rainwater from pooling in the bocce ball courts. "We had ducks on it last September," Nichols says.

And on July 4, the McDevitt Taco Supply truck, which is stationed on the patio as well, will be serving up burgers, brats and hot dogs -- backyard style.

Station 26 Brewing 7045 East 38th Avenue, Denver The huge garage doors still go up and down every day at the former Station 26 firehouse in northeast Park Hill, but the only emergencies now are when someone's glass gets low on double IPA. Station 26 Brewing opened last December inside this renovated fire station (the Denver Fire Department's new Station 26 facility is located in nearby Stapleton), and the south-facing cement patio sits where the fire trucks used to roar in and out of the garage.

But that flat surface isn't going to waste. Food trucks now visit the brewery on a regular basis, selling grub that complements owner Justin Baccary's wide variety of beers, including a Colorado Cream Ale made with Colorado malt that he describes as "an easy-drinking patio beer that hits the spot when it's ninety degrees out." With seating for 88, the patio has room for more people than the tap room itself, but less shade -- something Baccary says he plans to fix. "We will add shade and hops and lights and some games," he explains. "The patio will be a lot cooler by the end of the summer."

Not that the sun is stopping the thirsty denizens of Stapleton and Park Hill from descending on Station 26, which is located smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. "In the afternoons, there are families and kids running around. And at night, the crowd kind of shifts," Baccary says. "We get a lot of people who walk here who say they live just a few blocks away."

Vine Street Pub 1700 Vine Street, Denver The Vine Street Pub works on many levels: as a weekend brunch spot for meeting friends; as an after-work hangout; and as a saving grace when you need a beer and the kids need a distraction. But the best way to enjoy Vine Street may be during the work week, when a one-hour lunch on the patio turns into a two-hour "business meeting" that quickly evolves into a situation in which you text the boss that you'll be spending the rest of the afternoon "working from home." Not that we'd know anything about that.

Laid out along a vibrant stretch of East 17th Avenue, Vine Street has a long, thin patio that seats sixty people under honey locust trees. "Sometimes you walk into the pub and it's empty inside, but then you look outside and see that the patio is full," says general manager Caroline Duffy.

If the wait for dinner is long, Duffy suggests heading around the corner to the brewpub's second patio -- this one without food service -- where you'll find a couple of cornhole games, a smoking section, easy access to the restrooms (or the cash machine, since Vine Street doesn't take credit cards), and the occasional band.

And sunny days aren't just for summer anymore, Duffy adds: "This is Denver, so you have to be able to open your patio in January if it's seventy degrees outside."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes