Soaking up the suds in Colorado
Craft beer scene surges in popularity
As we pedalled up the hill away from the second winery, the hot sun beating down on our shoulders, I couldn’t help but think that a cold beer would be much more refreshing than another wine tasting. It was early summer in Palisade, Colo., Grand Junction’s peach and wine country, 400 kilometres west of Denver.
It was hot, I was hot and for someone who’s not a big wine drinker, I couldn’t imagine one more sip. On our way to the third vino stop, we came to a fork in the road: to the left, the winery; to the right, in the middle of wine country — a brewery. We opted for the road less travelled.
Drinking that cold, light Laid Back Blonde at Palisade Brewery, I realized that in the state of Colorado, finding such a spot isn’t outside the norm. Coloradans love their beer and produce it by the masses. And what validates a statewide love of beer more than electing a former brewer as your governor?
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — founder of the Wynkoop, Denver’s first brew pub — is the first brewer-turned-state governor since Sam Adams in 1793.
Colorado brews more suds than any other state, and the Denver metro area more than any other city in the U.S. You can thank Coors, the world’s largest singlelocation brewery, for that, as it produces more than 1.5 million gallons of beer each day in Golden, about 20 minutes west of Denver. There are more than 200 breweries in the state of Colorado; 100 in the Denver metro area alone.
Brewers here focus not just on quantity, but quality, too.
“Colorado first attracted brewers because of the quality of the water,” says Rich Grant of Visit Denver. “Just as water in the Highlands of Scotland formed the basis of some of the world’s great whiskies, Rocky Mountain spring water adds a special quality to our beer.” So, maybe it’s in the water. Or maybe it’s in the culture. Coloradans always come up with reasons to throw back pints. Case in point: Every May, four hours west of Denver, games are played and beer is served on Mike the Headless Chicken Day. Mike was a chicken in the 1940s that, so the tall tale goes, lived for two years after his head had been cut off. I’d drink to that.
And if honouring a headless chicken doesn’t do it for you, the state of Colorado hosts more than 100 other beer festivals each year. From the spring Burning Can Festival in Lyons (celebration of craft beer in a can) to the What the Funk? festival in Denver (sour, funky beers), there is something for every type of beer lover. Denver also hosts the largest beer festival in the world every fall: the Great American Beer Festival. Last year, more than 3,000 beers were available for tasting at this mammoth event.
With craft brewing surging in popularity across North America, it comes as no surprise that last year, a new craft brewery popped up in Denver literally every other week — with a total of 26 opening their doors.
With all these craft suds cascading through Colorado, it’s important for breweries to set themselves apart. Ska Brewing in Durango, 500 km southwest of Denver, is known for its fun, relaxed vibe, serving brews on the lawn next to a Mexican food trailer. Try the smooth, refreshing Mexican Logger (pairs well with all the tacos you’ll be eating) or the golden honey True Blonde (good with barbecue).
New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins started in the late 1980s with the founder delivering beer on his bike. That original environmental, community spirit has survived: the brewery is committed to clean water and waste diversion and has donated more than $6 million US in grants. Throw back a pint of Fat Tire, its hoppy amber ale, and reminisce about your days spent backpacking through Europe.
There are so many reasons to go to Colorado: skiing the Rocky Mountains, rafting the Colorado River, hiking the National Monument. Now you can add visiting the outpouring of microbreweries and brew pubs.
From the lively patio at the Denver Beer Co. (try the Graham Cracker Porter: a dark, mild pint dubbed “campfire in a glass”) to Longmount’s Left Hand Brewing Company (I’m still swooning over its street art bottle graphics and well-balanced 400 Pound Monkey IPA), after biking through wine region or kayaking whitewater — in this, the most physically active state in the U.S. — you’ll never have to reach far for a cold one.