Feature

The Ultimate Guide to Craft Brewing in Denver

If drinking beer is good, drinking freshly brewed beer straight from the source is even better. Pull up a stool and taste the revolution.

February 2013

 

Copper Kettle Brewing Company

Head southeast on Leetsdale Drive, and not far from the Aurora border, in a nondescript strip mall, you’ll find Copper Kettle Brewing Company. Local beer lovers should make the short trip because Copper Kettle feels a little like Cheers, if Cheers were an indie nanobrewery in a slightly out-of-the-way location. Everyone seems to know everyone else’s name; the barkeeps are genuinely friendly; and, well, the beer is surely better than whatever Sam was pouring. Check out the award-winning Mexican Chocolate Stout—brewed with dark chocolate cocoa nibs, cinnamon bark, and three different kinds of chiles. It’s as delicious and complex as just about any beer you’ve ever tasted. Trust us.
You’re Drinking: Mexican Chocolate Stout, or CKBC’s Black IPA, which isn’t as aggressive as many of the palate wreckers out there
You’re Listening To: The Rolling Stones; Crosby, Stills & Nash
If You Go: 1338 S. Valentia St., Unit 100, 720-443-2522, copperkettledenver.com

 

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

The Crooked Stave taproom and barrel cellar, located in a warehouselike building north of the Highland neighborhood, isn’t going to win any awards for ambience. Webs of metal protect the outside of the room’s two small windows, and the cream-colored walls and low-slung ceiling are about as inviting as a doctor’s exam room. Pull up a chair at the bar, however, and you’ll soon forget about the stolid atmosphere, because Crooked Stave makes some riotously good beer. Brewer Chad Yakobson specializes in sour brews, which he ages in just about any kind of barrel he can find—bourbon, Cognac, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay. The results are often nothing short of divine. Fair warning: Craft beer newbies might find some of the offerings to be an acquired taste.
You’re Drinking: A single sip of the golden sour L’Brett d’Or compelled us to declare, “This might be perfect.”
You’re Listening To: Jack White
If You Go: 1441 W. 46th Ave., Unit 19, 720-508-3292, crookedstave.com

 

Blue Moon Brewing Company at the SandLot

You could drink a Silver Bullet at the next Rockies game—it is Coors Field, after all. But why would you when you’ve got a microbrewery right in the stadium? Beer snobs will point out that the now mass-produced Blue Moon was created here, but the taps are constantly changing and these brewers love to experiment. On top of that, you can’t argue with the 40 medals this unique little operation has garnered at the Great American Beer Festival. We only wish it were open year-round, instead of just during baseball season.
You’re Drinking: Our favorite from last season was the Farmhouse Red Ale, which the brewery plans to release this year under the name Short Straw.
You’re Listening To: The Rockies game
If You Go: 2197 Blake St., 303-298-1587, bluemoonbrewingco.com

 

Prost Brewing Company

It was only a matter of time until someone opened a German-style brewhouse in Denver. This past summer, Bill Eye, the former brewmaster at Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewing, did just that—and he nailed it. Prost’s brewing equipment is from Germany; the taproom feels like an indoor, European-style beer garden, with German flags draped from the ceiling and long, communal tables; and the kegs are filled with no-nonsense German-style suds. The crowd is nonchalant—on a recent visit we found two dudes playing Yahtzee at the bar—and the best seat in the house is on the patio, from which there’s a striking view of the Denver skyline.
You’re Drinking: Prost Pils, one of our favorite local takes on this classic beer style
You’re Listening To: Journey
If You Go: 2540 19th St., 303-729-1175, prostbrewing.com

 

Denver Beer Co.

Maybe it’s the rotating list of imaginative brews. Maybe it’s the prime Platte Street location. Or perhaps it’s simply the no-brainer name. Whatever it is, Denver Beer Co. has developed a reputation as the Mile High City’s hippest new brewery. With ample patio space, a long L-shaped bar, and plenty of tables, the brewery is bigger than most of the city’s newer purveyors of suds. The crowd is a blend of flannel-shirt-wearing guys and fleece-clad gals mixed with the occasional post-work suit. Beerwise, expect the unexpected.
You’re Drinking: The omnipresent Graham Cracker Porter, a rich brew that tastes like a s’more roasted over a campfire
You’re Listening To: Mumford & Sons
If You Go: 1695 Platte St., 303-433-2739, denverbeerco.com

 

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery

Yes, Rock Bottom is a chain with 34 locations in 16 states. Sure, the place looks and feels more like an Applebee’s than an archetypal craft brew taproom. But don’t jump to conclusions. On a recent visit to the 16th Street Mall location (the original Rock Bottom), we found more than 15 solid brews on tap. The pumpkin ale was impressive, there were a few nitro selections, and we were surprised to find that Rock Bottom dedicates a tap to a rotating IPA. (Frankly, we wish more breweries would do this.) Plus: There’s a full menu, and the restaurant’s sunny, mallside patio offers some of the best people-watching in the city.
You’re Drinking: The latest IPA
Did You Know? Rock Bottom’s brews have won more than a dozen medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
If You Go: Multiple locations, rockbottom.com

 

Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew

The creativity and breadth on display in Denver’s breweries is stunning, and Our Mutual Friend, which opened last year, is no exception. This small spot in the Five Points neighborhood sources 100 percent of its barley, and many other ingredients, from Colorado growers to serve a rotating list of eight brews. On a recent visit, OMF was offering everything from an easy-drinking saison to a boozy dark ale dubbed Winter Warmer. The space is unassuming, with concrete floors and a vaulted, corrugated steel ceiling, and instead of a fancy traditional backbar, OMF simply has a bookcase, which lends to the homey vibe. It’s the ideal place to meet—yes—your good friends for a brew or two.
You’re Drinking: OMF’s Brown Ale, which is a little roasty and a little chocolatey—and dangerously drinkable
You’re Listening To: Jazz on the record player
If You Go: 2810 Larimer St., 720-722-2810, omfmb.com

 

Hogshead Brewery

Located just around the corner from Sloan’s Lake, Hogshead Brewery is more polished than your typical Denver neighborhood nanobrewery. The space is bright thanks to several panels of floor-to-ceiling windows, and the picnic-style tables are perfectly positioned to maximize the small area in front of the bar. At first glance, the clean, radiant look and the neighborhood crowd seem at odds with Hogshead’s mission to serve all English-style ales—brews that are often relegated to dark, masculine bars—and yet it works. Try one of the rotating cask-conditioned ales, or choose from a few regular offerings such as an extra special bitter (ESB) or a creamy London porter.
You’re Drinking: Gilpin Black Gold, a robust porter that’s as smooth as a baby’s...well, you get the idea
Food Pairing: A rotating cast of food trucks offers everything from thin-crust pizza and Cuban sandwiches to spicy tamales and tortas.
If You Go: 4460 W. 29th Ave., 303-495-3105, hogsheadbrewery.com

 

Wit’s End Brewing

Tucked into an industrial office park just south of Highway 6 between Federal Boulevard and I-25, Wit’s End Brewing isn’t exactly following the location-location-location axiom. And yet the brewery—which is more reminiscent of a residential garage than your average taproom—has a cheery vibe, which is attributable to the fact that brewer Scott Witsoe (see page 47) greets each patron with a handshake and a smile. The tap list will please the beer-geek crowd (how often do you see a Belgian oatmeal IPA?), but you don’t need a Ph.D. in brewing to drink at Witsoe’s joint—only an open mind.
You’re Drinking: Ambition, Witsoe’s alcoholic ode to a strong cup of black coffee
You’re Listening To: Arcade Fire
If You Go: 2505 W. Second Ave., Unit 13, 303-459-4379, witsendbrewing.com

 

Denver ChopHouse & Brewery

If it’s possible for a bar to feel both chaotic and intimate at the same time, the vibe at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery is just that. Although a well-heeled LoDo crowd bustles about and the large HD TVs display the game du jour, the ChopHouse’s low lighting, long granite bar, and ’30s-era jazz and blues tunes keep things cozy. Situated a block south of Coors Field in the historic Union Pacific Building, this longtime citadel of steak is often overlooked when locals think about craft beer. But during a time when obscure pours seem to be the new norm in Denver, the ChopHouse’s more obvious and approachable lineup (pale, red, and wheat ales) can taste refreshing.
You’re Drinking: The easy-drinking Red Ale
You’re Listening To: Jazz, from the likes of Duke Ellington
If You Go: 1735 19th St., 303-296-0800, chophouse.com

 

Wynkoop Brewing Company

The fact that our governor founded this LoDo institution in the late ’80s makes this place endlessly cool. Even without its historical cachet, Wynkoop Brewing Company would be easy to like. There’s the large pool hall and bar upstairs; a bar with abundant seating and TVs downstairs; and a dinner menu packed with pub-style comfort food like bangers and mash. And—and!—the ’Koop has roughly 14 rotating taps, which range from approachable (Rail Yard Ale) to hoppy (Mile HiPA) to adventurous (Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, anyone?).
You’re Drinking: Mile HiPA, a pleasant India pale ale
You’re Listening To: Classic rock
If You Go: 1634 18th St., 303-297-2700, wynkoop.com

 

River North Brewery

Technically, River North Brewery isn’t located in Denver’s up-and-coming River North neighborhood, but we’re not keeping score—especially since this year-old spot captures much of the zeitgeist of Denver’s thriving brewing scene. Like other breweries in Denver—many of which have been erected as neighborhood gathering spots more akin to your local coffeeshop than a rowdy sports bar—the crowd has that I’m-here-because-they-just-tapped-a-new-Belgian-ale atmosphere. Simply stated: It’s a bit beer nerdy. But River North is also casual and friendly, and the beer...well, there’s a sticker on the wall that sums it up nicely: No crap on tap.
You’re Drinking: The straightforward J. Marie Saison, a great introduction to the style
You’re Listening To: The Beatles
If You Go: 2401 Blake St., Unit 1, 303-296-2617, rivernorthbrewery.com

 

 

EXPLAINER: What's a Firkin?

 

❉ At some point, you may have seen a smallish, keglike container sitting on the bar at your favorite watering hole and thought, What the f$#& is that?! Turns out these aren’t kegs at all; they’re firkins (the name is a reference to an English unit of measurement that equals 10.8 gallons). Brewers love this small container for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it allows them to experiment with different, sometimes odd, flavors. Vine Street Pub & Brewery brewer Brad Landman says he once added candy atomic sourballs to a batch of his beer. “With firkins you can be experimental,” Landman says. “This firkin was for a candy store party and it was perfect. But, what works in one instance doesn’t always work for another.”
There are other differences from traditional brewing, too. Firkin beer, or cask ale, goes through a “second fermentation” that produces a lighter carbonation than unfirkined beer, which gets an infusion of CO2. Less carbon dioxide means more flavor, less bitterness, and an overall smoother mouthfeel.
When the beer is ready, brewers hammer a tap into the cask with a mallet—and the beer starts flowing. Quick tip: Firkin beer isn’t pasteurized and only lasts a day or two after being exposed to oxygen, so drink up. —Lindsey R. McKissick

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Vine Street Pub & Brewery

 

Vine Street Pub & Brewery has a reputation for being a hangout for the Phish-obsessed, but this Uptown pub caters to a young professional crowd and families, too. The third in a trio of locations spawned by Boulder’s Mountain Sun, Vine Street is always packed with beer-seeking parents with kids in tow. And why wouldn’t it be? The food is straight-ahead, reasonably priced pub grub perfect for the kids while the ever-changing beer list makes it easy for both mom and dad to find something to quaff.
You’re Drinking: Colorado Kind Ale, an amber ale with an earthy hop bite
Bonus: February is Stout Month at Vine Street. This celebration of the consummate dark brew features an impressive selection of stouts from around the world.
If You Go: 1700 Vine St., 303-388-2337, mountainsunpub.com

 

Pints Pub

It was our love of whiskey, not beer, that first brought us to the cozy British-style Pints Pub, located in the Golden Triangle. With more than 260 varietals, Pints boasts the largest selection of single malt whiskey outside of Great Britain. Turns out, Pints brews darn good beer, too. Keeping with the British theme, Pints offers two different cask-conditioned ales, which are served at “cellar” temperature—about 50 degrees—like much of the beer in England. If you’re interested in a more American beer-drinking experience, don’t fret—Pints also brews a few cold, fizzy beers such as the Airedale Pale and the Alchemy E.S.B.
You’re drinking: The smooth, chocolaty John Bull Brown Ale
Food Pairing: Pints Pub has a full menu replete with English fare good for soaking up the alcohol.
If You Go: 221 W. 13th Ave., 303-534-7543, pintspub.com

 

Caution: Brewing Co.

Thanks to Denver’s awkwardly drawn eastern city limits, Caution is officially part of the Denver beer scene. This new taproom is also home to a bit of Colorado brewing history: Owners Danny and Betty Wang are crafting their unexpected beers using Odell Brewing Company’s old five-barrel pilot brewing system (hence Odell’s 5 Barrel Pale Ale), which they purchased on a whim after they heard the equipment was available. Caution’s flagship brew is the Lao Wang Lager, a clean, golden beer concocted with Asian spices, but the real gem is the Hippity Hop, an offbeat IPA brewed with chrysanthemum and Chinese rock brown sugar, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “floral hop character.”
You’re Drinking: Hippity Hop, which, at 7.5 percent ABV, is easier to drink than it should be
You’re Listening To: The sounds emanating from the classic, arcade-style Space Invaders video game in the corner
If You Go: 12445 E. 39th Ave., Unit 314, 970-315-2739, cautionbrewingco.com

 

Great Divide Brewing Company

Great Divide has been around for 19 years, a veritable eon in craft brewing time, and the taproom, which underwent an expansion in 2011, displays the trappings of being the big boy in town. The crowd is well scrubbed and professional, the decor leans upscale industrial chic, and the myriad awards the brewery has won over the years are hung prominently on the wall. Grab a seat at the bar—if you can find one—and ask the bartender what sort of rarities and one-offs are on tap.
You’re Drinking: Our favorite of Great Divide’s offerings is the Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, a complex, roasty 9.5 percent ABV beast of a beer.
You’re Listening To: Loud indie rock
If You Go: 2201 Arapahoe St., 303-296-9460, greatdivide.com

 

Renegade Brewing Company

The first time we walked into Renegade, it just felt right—which is why we’ve been back so many times. Others apparently feel the same way: Located within the Art District on Santa Fe, the sleek, smallish space is consistently packed. So much so, in fact, that Renegade has plans to open a new spot, the Renegade Publik House, near the University of Denver next month. Can’t get to one of the tap houses? Renegade cans its flagship brew, Ryeteous Rye IPA, in 16-ounce tallboys and distributes them to select liquor stores around Denver.
You’re Drinking: At 5 percent ABV, 5:00 Afternoon Ale is a session beer you can drink well into the evening.
You’re Listening To: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
If You Go: 925 W. Ninth Ave., 720-401-4089, renegadebrewing.com

 

Bull & Bush Brewery

The neighborhood brewpub trend may have exploded in the Mile High City over the past couple of years, but the Bull & Bush has been serving cold craft brew since 1971. The pub is modeled on an English watering hole of the same name that dates to 1645 and comes complete with exposed wood beams and a copper bar that’s warped just enough to keep your pint slightly off-kilter. Bull & Bush always has a number of brews on tap (they’ve been brewing their own suds since 1997); see what best fits your palate, and enjoy a taste of Olde England in southeast Denver.
You’re Drinking: If a place has the cojones to name one of its brews Man Beer, they’re almost daring you to down a pint of this 7.5 percent ABV English-style India pale ale.
You’re Listening To: The Killers, Oasis, Garbage
If You Go: 4700 Cherry Creek Drive South, 303-759-0333, bullandbush.com

 

Strange Brewing Company

Strange Brewing—the name is a reference to the classic 1983 screwball comedy Strange Brew—has a strange little taproom (the brewery could benefit from a feng shui consultant) in a strange location (an industrial strip mall in the shadow of Sports Authority Field at Mile High) that, somehow, always seems to have a steady crowd. We figured it had to be the beer. And we were right. Founded by two IT guys who lost their jobs at the Rocky Mountain News when the paper folded in 2009, Strange turns out solid brews from a rotating list of 12 tap handles: everything from fruity Belgians to pale ales brewed with rosemary.
You’re Drinking: Strange Pale Ale, a straightforward American-style pale ale
Winning: Strange garnered a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in its second year of existence, 2011, in the gluten-free category with its Gluten-Free Lemon Pale.
If You Go: 1330 Zuni St., Unit M, 720-985-2337, strangebrewingco.com

 

Breckenridge Brewery

The term “micro,” as in microbrewery, is almost too small to do Breckenridge justice. Distributed in 33 states—and with a parent company that owns places like Wazee Supper Club and LoHi’s Ale House at Amato’s—Breck may not be a behemoth like Coors, but it’s a different beast from the indie breweries popping up around town. Breck’s Ballpark neighborhood pub recently underwent its first big renovation since it opened in 1992 (it doubled the number of tap handles, to 32), but when we’re looking for a fresh pint of 471 Imperial IPA, we head to the tasting room on Kalamath Street, where you’ll find old-time beer lovers and solid barbecue eats.
You’re Drinking: The Oatmeal Stout, a creamy, slightly bitter brew fit for a cold winter’s night
You’re Listening To: A solid lineup of jam bands
If You Go: Multiple locations, 303-573-0431, breckbrew.com

 

Black Shirt Brewing

Walking into Black Shirt feels like being let in on a secret. Craft brew connoisseurs will dig the taproom: From the filament light bulbs and custom glassware to the bar and tabletops, which are made from reclaimed train-car floors, Black Shirt feels like our version of the perfect place to drink a few small-batch beers. The four-month-old brewery only makes red ales, which may sound unnecessarily restrictive, but head brewer Branden Miller has done remarkable things with the typically malt-focused beverage.

You’re Drinking: BSB Red Ale, Black Shirt’s flagship brew, which is buttery and balanced

You’re Listening To: The Shins on the record player

If You Go: 3719 Walnut St., 303-993-2799, blackshirtbrewingco.com

 

Trve Brewing Company

If the Denver craft brewing scene were a high school, Trve would be the brooding metalhead who always sat in the back. Tucked into a narrow storefront on Broadway near Second Avenue, Trve’s bartenders wear all black; heavy metal growls from the speakers; and the black walls are decorated with trippy artwork. But don’t let that scare you away: Trve is the perfect nanobrewery for its counterculture-friendly Baker location. The bartenders and customers are affable, and the beer is brewed in extremely small batches without, not surprisingly, much care for traditional styles.
You’re Drinking: The 4.2 percent ABV Hellion American Table Beer
Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Trve offers 32-ounce growlers (half the normal size) to members of its “Cvlt.”
If You Go: 227 Broadway, #101, 303-351-1021, trvebrewing.com