After staying coastal for a few weeks, I was pretty jazzed to make my first trip ever to Colorado, and better yet, to Denver. Regarded as one of the best beer cities, I knew I was in for something amazing and the Centennial State definitely delivered.
All I can really say about Colorado is this: there is a spirit in the beer community there that I feel is unmatched anywhere else (and I don’t think it was the altitude talking). Nothing seems to be off limits or unexplored. If there is something you want in a beer, you can probably find a brewery in Colorado that does it. The breadth of interest and variety in beer is mind blowing, not to mention the incredible folks that comprise the beer community. Without further ado, the highlights…
Upon arriving in Denver, I drove straight from the airport up to Fort Collins to visit New Belgium Brewing, the third largest craft brewery in the US. I am lucky enough to know one of the head brewers (and sour beer guru) Eric, who has been at New Belgium for 16 years, and was kind enough to give me an epic tour of the ins and outs of the brewery.
They are rockin’ a serious operation up in Fort Collins, as one might expect at 680,000 barrels annually. New Belgium’s signature Fat Tire Amber ale headlines their array of classic brews along with the Ranger IPA, Sunshine Wheat and others. In addition there is a seriously impressive line-up of complex and intriguing brews coming out of New Belgium. La Terroir is a dry-hopped sour ale that has a sort of citrusy and earthy sourness. Another, La Folie, is a sour brown ale aged in oak barrels and has some granny smith apple flavors happening. Sour as hell and totally delicious.
Eric also introduced me to a little (seriously little) and very young brewery down the street called Funkwerks, which focuses on saisons. This place is super tiny, rocking a taproom in the front and a baby brewing space in the back. We tried their classic saison as well as their chardonnay barrel aged saison, which adds some oaky and vanilla flavors to the sour base.
A little bit older and wiser, Great Divide has a really cool space in a cool part of town, and a great tour. They started in 1994 with no commercial brewing experience and produced 300 barrels in their first year. Now they are up to 20,000 barrels a year and hope to up that to 30,000 for 2011. The Colette Saison offered a really great spicy, herbaceous flavor, while their Oak-aged Yeti Imperial Stout came out with the big roasty, carmelized flavors and vanilla notes.
I also spent some time in Boulder, starting at Avery Brewing Company. What started as a father-son homebrewing team has grown into a brewery best known for Ellie’s Brown Ale, White Rascal, or even their DuganA IPA. All great stand-bys, but I had the chance to try some special stuff that I hadn’t seen before: the Out of Bounds Stout on cask, and their 17th Anniversary Dry-hopped Black Lager. The stout was so crazy silky, nutty, and chocolatey, and had this great almost piney bitter finish. The Black Lager was a oaky and hoppy ending with a super clean finish. Amazingly balanced in all.
Twisted Pine is a little spot owned by a guy affectionately known as “Twisted Bob,” a homebrewer who opened Twisted Pine 15 years ago. This place for me was a bit of a surprise, off the beaten path and hosting what seemed to be a steady stream of regulars. Great beer though, including a brew called Billy’s Chilies brewed with jalapeño, habanero, fresno, serrano and anaheim chilies, as well as the Hoppy Knight Black IPA, with a beautiful balance of piney bitterness and roasty malt flavor.
Finally my friend in Boulder introduced me to Mountain Sun, a cool little brewpub that may have taken the cake for some of the best beer I tried in Colorado. Their Old School Dry Irish Stout was super dry and clean with that lovely roasty burnt character balanced by a hoppy tinge at the end. Their FYIPA (a local favorite as I understand) is a pretty basic but über delicious IPA, with that citrusy and piney hop flavor that is kinda hard to beat. They’re making the kind of beers you come back to again and again.
All in all, the beer culture in Colorado was fantastic, complex, varied, and awesome enough to convince me to move to Denver. So perhaps I am a little biased, but I’d bet that if one were to try a craft beer from Colorado, one wouldn’t be disappointed. That’s the beauty of this state: there is a little something for everyone, and in this surge of craft beer excellence there has never been a better time to raise a pint.