Colorado is the premier destination for a microbrewery enthusiast. It is truly overwhelming just how many breweries they have, with almost every small town having at least one brewery. We spent a month in Colorado and had the opportunity to visit a lot of different breweries. Today we bring you the Front Range breweries and on Thursday we will review the breweries on the Western Slope. This is by no means a comprehensive review of all of the breweries in this region. This post was co-written by Jay and Sharon.
Great Divide, Denver
Great Divide is not very old but is suprisingly large. We tasted nearly all of the beers here, starting with the Hibernation English style ale. This one was rich and malty with an 8% abv. It is Sharon’s new favorite winter beer. I started out by tasting the Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. This one is a full flavor beer with subtle oak and is not over powered by the oak. Most of their beers are high gravity (high alcohol content) and a sampler goes a long way towards getting you buzzed. Great Divide is notable for their ability to make beers that are over 8% ABV but are completely drinkable and not boozy. Really the only beer of theirs that we did not like was the Raspberry Ale, but we almost never enjoy fruit in beer.
We got to go on their tour. This brewery is hopping, lots of employees busily filling kegs and getting the beer out. They have plans for expanding their brewing capacity to double production over the next year or so. I look forward to seeing bottles of Great Divide available wherever we go.
Left Hand, Longmont
Perhaps best known for their elaborate label designs, Left Hand Brewing should also be known for being able to master several different styles of beer and having taproom that serves as a friendly local hangout. If you are ever in or near Longmont, Colorado (north of Boulder, south of Fort Collins), you should definitely drop by. They had more than 10 beers on tap, so we each did a different flight of four samples. One of the beers that stood out for me was the Polestar Pilsner. I never order a Pilsner, but crisp lighter beer, the Polestar is the one I would want. My favorite beer in the bottle, Fade to Black, is more complex fresh from the tap. The peppery side shows up more, which is interesting, but not my preference. The Black Jack Porter was better on tap and was a favorite of both Jay’s and mine.
It’s worth visiting the tap room to try their beers on cask or nitro. Jay ordered the Sawtooth Ale on cask and it was incredible. I tasted the Milk Stout on nitro, which is a really great way to present that brew. From what we could tell they often host events and feature specials at the taproom. Something to look for, they are now growing their own hops outside the taproom and may have some fresh hopped ales available in the future.
Oskar Blues , Longmont
I have always liked how this brewery puts all their beers into cans. I am a big fan of the can with its superior freshness consistency and convenience. Canning seems to always avoid all the problems bottling. This brewery is another relativly large one with a pretty big distribution. Unusual for a brewery that cans is that practically everything they make is high gravity, with over 8% abv. Since I had already tried most of their beers I just went for their limited release offering and the cask conditioned. The cask conditioned was good but it suffered from a common high gravity pit fall, it tasted a little boozy. The limited release was a thick stout that was strong in nearly every way. I felt like I should be sipping it out of a huge brandy snifter. It was good. It’s also worth noting that the tap room is called the Tasty Weasel and since we were there they have added a food truck called the Bone Wagon.
Yak and Yeti, Arvada
This brewery is truly unique, as it’s also an Indian restaurant. Apparently the brewery came first and when it went under the Indian family that bought it to start their restaurant decide to continue brewing beer. The food is what really stood out, as it was fantastic. The brews were also quite good. Naturally, they had a good India Pale Ale. Sharon had a Chai Milk Stout that was unique and surprisingly good.
The restaurant and brewery is housed in an old Victorian house which lends even more charm. It’s a great option for a date night.
Trinity Brewing, Colorado Springs
Trinity is an “eatery” and not just a tap room. They specialize in slow food and they even provide you with cheese to cleanse your palate in between tasting samples. We snacked on some lamb sliders that were quite good. The Nitro IPA stood out as did the Stout on nitro. This brewery also has many interesting Belgian Farmhouse Ale style creations which would be a fun reason to come back and taste new versions.
In addition to their own brews, Trinity has a large number of other microbrews on tap. Important note: you can only fill a growler with the Trinity beer.
Phantom Canyon, Colorado Springs
Phantom Canyon is in downtown Colorado Springs and has an old classic brewpub feel. One of the things we noticed right away was how professional the bartender was. She really new their beer and provided excellent service. The beer that stood out for me was the Ring of Fire Chili Ale. I (Sharon) can not handle hot, so usually I steer clear of a chili infused beer, but this one was Fire Roasted Mira Sol chilis that gave it a really interesting earthy flavor without the sting.
Another notable offering was the 1943 Burton Ale, which follows a recipe from World War Two when, “Due to wartime rationing, the alcohol content was reduced from a pre-war level of around 5.5% to a moderate 4.8%. There is a high proportion of oats in the grist as the government made them do so.” It is interesting that they would remake a beer that was a product of rationing, but it is actually quite good.
Our two favorites were probably the Railyard Ale and the Zebulon’s Peated Porter. Both were great examples of their styles.
New Belgium, Fort Collins
New Belgium is one of the biggest and most successful microbreweries around. Everyone has heard of the flagship Fat Tire beer now that it’s distributed far and wide. Most of the beers at the brewery are available off site in bottles with the exception of the Home Plate Stout. This stout was a classic style and seemed to be well balanced with nice roasted malts giving a chocolate flavor. It was actually the winner in a local home brewer competition and the prize is that New Belgium will then brew the beer and serve it at their tap room.
Our longtime favorites are 1554, Mothership Wit, and 2 Below. Unfortunately we found out that they will not be brewing 2 Below for a couple of years because they just released a new winter seasonal, Snow Day that will be taking its place. We tried Snow Day in bottles after it was released and unfortunately we prefer 2 Below. So hopefully they’ll get back to making 2 Below eventually.
The brewery is very impressive with lots of oddities with little stories behind them as well as neat technical innovations. This is simply the best tour out there because there is just so much to see. Note: the tour is 90 minutes long and requires reservations. We ended up having to change our route a little because the next available tour wasn’t for five days. So book early! And dress for the weather because you walk all around the campus, going in and out of different buildings to see all stages of the brewing and bottling.
One of the most interesting things on the tour was learning about sour beer, which is a Belgium style that is just starting to be brewed in the United States. New Belgium is leading this trend with the Lips of Faith series of sours. A sour beer sits in barrels to ferment and will change taste as it ages. New Belgium is actually blending two sours together to make their sour offerings. I tried the Clutch in the tap room and enjoyed it but then tried it again on the tour and hated it. I tried it a third time on tap at the Hot Tomato in Fruita and liked it again, so it definitely requires a little more understanding to appreciate a sour.
Odell, Fort Collins
Walking distance from New Belgium is Odell. This brewery just offers a tap room with no restaurant. They have a huge line up of tasty beers on tap. Some of the highlights were Town Pump Pale Ale, Bourbon Barrel Stout, Nitro Cutthroat Porter, and Myrcenary Double IPA. Every brewery has a small brewing system used for tests, typically this just aluminum half barrel kegs with a propane stove burner or some other primitive system. Odell had a top notch “pilot” system as they refer to it. It’s all stainless and looks like a scale model of a typical production brew line. This is why they have so many experimental and ever changing beers in their tap room.
Sharon and I were lucky enough to get a short private tour. Thanks Kelly! I was glad we got to see their pilot system. We also learned that centrifuges are for beer not bombs. Rather than using a filter, the beer runs through a centrifuge to separate out the solids.
Fort Collins, Fort Collins
Another brewery that can really get points for both food and beer! In fact, the night we were there, they were hosting a beer pairing dinner there which employees from Odell Brewing were headed over for. Bacon wrapped pretzels. Just try them.
One beer in particular stands out, the Common Ground, because it is the first time I have tasted a coffee infused beer that wasn’t dark. It is a well balanced amber ale infused with “Jackie’s Java”. Other great choices on tap, the double smoked Doppel Bock and the Chocolate Stout.
Upslope is new but they are off to a good start. They are located in the northern suburbs of Boulder and cater to a local crowd. They are starting canning and plan to only distribute through cans. Since cans are preprinted (unlike bottles which are labeled), this somewhat limits their diversity of distribution. So it’s worth coming into the tap room to see what their latest creation is.
Upslope had the only pumpkin beer of the season that I actually liked. They use fresh local pumpkins which is probably what makes the difference. One unique beer that did not win me over was the Cabernet aged IPA. They take a regular IPA and age it in wine barrels which completely removes the hoppy bitterness and replaces it with a fruity but oakey taste that does not fully resemble beer. I would just stick with their Brown Ale, it’s solid.
Wild Mountain Brewery and Smokehouse, Nederland
If you are traveling the beautiful and famous Peak to Peak Highway south from Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure to plan a lunch stop in Nederland and check out the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. Delicious pulled pork and hand crafted beer, how can you go wrong?
They do not have a large selection, so I would recommend trying whatever their special is that week. I enjoyed a smooth oatmeal stout that was a great pairing for the smoked meat that drew us in.
Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Springs
We tried the sampler here which includes up to eight beers on tap. Since two of them were light and sweet, the Hanging Lake Honey Wheat and the Grizzly Creek Raspberry Wheat, it was a bit weak. Actually, I really liked the honey wheat as a smooth easy drinking choice. Their No Name Nut Brown Ale had a strong nut flavor, perhaps chestnuts. I know that the nuttiness comes only from the malt they use, but I could have sworn they dumped a package of nuts in their for good measure. The St. James Irish Red, Vapor Cave IPA, and Old Depot Porter were all decent and represented their styles well, but none of them stand out. It’s a good place for happy hour if your visiting this lovely tourist town, but not worth a special visit.