High Times in Denver

We travel to America's mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, to sample some of its 150 breweries.

Colorado’s capital city Denver combines old and new … and a tonne of craft breweries. Photo: Supplied

Colorado’s capital has its history in the Old West but the thoroughly modern city has stacks to offer including almost 150 breweries. From the artisanal and the arcane to the crowd-pleasers, here is our list of some of the top breweries to visit in Denver. 

1 Denver Beer Co
This was our first stop in Denver and we could happily have chilled there all day. Denver Beer Co has an awesome selection of beers on tap, from the smashable (raspberry kölsh) to the delectable (spiced porter). There’s a food truck outside, outdoor seating filled with young people, families and well-behaved pooches. Next door you’ll find the brewery’s side project, Cerveceria Colorado, which serves up Mexican-inspired craft beers such as Cocolimón Sour and Churro Stout.

Denver Beer Co. Photo: Emily Day

2 TRVE Brewing Co
Head-bangers will love this heavy metal brewery that makes darkly named craft brews such as the ‘Cosmic Crypt’ Farmhouse Pale Ale, ‘Exhumation’ East Coast Pale Ale and ‘Red Chaos’ Mixed Culture Golden Ale on Colorado Montmorency Cherries. Yeaaaaaaaah!

3 Liberati Brewery & Restaurant
This classy Italian restaurant has its own small brewery where they create beer-wine hybrids called ‘Oenobeers’ – defined as “beers with up to 49% of the fermentable sugars coming from grapes or a grape product”. The variety is astonishing with brews including a New England Oeno Double IPA, Botanical Belgian Farmhouse, Strong Oyster Oenobeer and (my favourite) a Port Oenobeer that needs to be sipped slowly from a small glass. The divine experience is backed up by contemporary Italian dishes and the staff and owners are super friendly and keen to chat about how they make these amazing beers.

Liberati’s ‘oenobeers’ are an intriguing range of beer-wine hybrids. Photo: Emily Day

4 Fiction Brewing Co
Nerds, assemble! This brewery combines a love of books and craft beer with beer names such as ‘Off Script’ Dry Pilsner, ‘Antiquarian’ American Golden Sour, and ‘Madame Psychosis’ New England Pale Ale. The owners are unashamed lovers of books and brews and also run Harry Potter Trivia nights.

5 Prost Brewing Co
Lovers of classic German styles will appreciate this brewery that sticks to traditional beers such as Pilsner, Altbier, Radler and Rauchbier plus some playful varieties such as the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dortmunder and Peach Kölsch.

6 Crooked Stave
This brewery is well known for their wild, sour and barrel-aged beers which often use local hops, barley and fruit. The Crooked Stave taproom in Denver is a must-visit, with brews such as Nightmare on Brett Dark Sour Ale aged in whisky barrels and Sour Rosé Wild Ale fermented in oak with raspberries & blueberries. Amazing.

Crooked Stave is known for its artisanal farmhouse ales. Photo: Emily Day

7 Mockery Brewing Co
Blatantly disregarding the centuries-old German Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law, that forbids brewers using ingredients other than barley, water and hops, Mockery loves to experiment and break the rules with beers such as the Tequila Barrel Aged Sour with Strawberry & Lime, Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Chocolate Macadamia Nut Oatmeal Stout, Pina Colada Cream Ale, Peach & Sage Braggot, and Salted Scotch Ale. Suddenly the rules don’t seem so important after all.

8 Woods Boss Brewing Co
This brewery’s name had us stumped at first, but owner Jordan Fink told us that ‘Woods Boss’ was his job description when he used to work in the wilderness on school camps. Jordan’s athletic lifestyle is evident in the brewery – he uses a kayak paddle to stir the mash – and the brewery bar is set up to look like a wood cabin. A cosy spot with plenty to enjoy on tap from a chardonnay barrel-aged saison to a blonde ale with strawberries and mandarin orange.

Jordan Fink, owner of Woods Boss, named his brewery after his former job.

9 Epic Brewing Company
Not the New Zealand one – this Utah-based brewery has a brewery and taproom in Denver. The beers are certainly epic, such as the Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist, made by ageing coconut and Colombian coffee beans in fresh whiskey barrels, which is then blended with imperial stout aged in rum and whiskey barrels. Dang *wipes off drool*.

10 Wynkoop Brewing Co
This brewery in downtown Denver has a fantastic history. It was opened in 1988 by four guys, including John Hickenlooper, who went on to become Colorado’s governor (and is now running for the US Senate). When it first opened the downtown area was sketchy as heck but the area has since undergone a transformative makeover. The brewery, which also has a billiards hall, serves 40 different styles of beer including Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (not made with oysters … look it up!), a golden ale with chilli peppers and a smoky schwarzbier.

Hot tip: You will need a designated driver to get you around town, and there are plenty of tours available. We can also recommend going on an open-air tuktuk (etukride.com) brewery tour as the most fun option!

Exploring Denver’s craft breweries on an electric tuktuk. Photo: Emily Day

Five cultural and fun things to do in Denver (so you can pretend you’re not just there for the beer):

1 Check out the sporting stadiums and cheer like a local to any of Denver’s SEVEN sporting teams, including NFL (Broncos), basketball (Nuggets), baseball (Colorado Rockies), hockey (Colorado Avalanche), soccer (Colorado Rapids), lacrosse (Denver Outlaws) and rugby (Glendale Raptors).

2 Pick up some new and vintage clothes at Rockmount Ranch Wear which sells Wild West gear from snap-button shirts to cowboy boots, hats and ties (it’s where the cowboy outfits for the movie Brokeback Mountain were sourced).

Channel your inner cowboy/cowgirl at Rockmont. Photo: Emily Day

3 Check out the many museums and art galleries including the History Colorado Centre, American Museum of Western Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Black American West Museum, and the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Toys & Dolls.

4 Go gourmet and check out Denver’s epic foodie scene. There is plenty of top-shelf cuisine on offer from so many nationalities – as well as 680 food trucks. For something extra special, try the mind-blowing food at Acorn restaurant at The Source Hotel + Market Hall, and for some fun options check out Denver Union Station’s bars, cafes, restaurants and chill-out zone with couches and free shuffleboard. 

Delectable delights at Acorn restaurant. Photo: Emily Day

5 Colorado legalised weed for recreational use in 2012, and there are now about 500 dispensaries in Denver selling pot in various forms, including edibles, tinctures and even beers. (Keep in mind that you’ll need to be over 21 and show ID such as a passport to enter the dispensary, and you also can’t consume the drug in the dispensary or in public. Also be aware marijuana is still illegal in the neighbouring states so don’t be leaving Colorado with it in your bag. Check out the rules online to avoid any legal hassles!)    

Emily Day went to Colorado as a guest of Colorado Tourism. For more info on breweries and activities in Denver, visit www.denver.org