Tag Archives: brewery tour

Colorado Breweries 1 of 2: The Front Range & Glenwood Canyon

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

Tour at Great Divide Brewing

Tour at Great Divide Brewing

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.

Great Divide sampler

Great Divide sampler

Left Hand, Longmont

Left Hand Brewery

Left Hand Brewery

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.

Sampler at Left Hand Brewery

Sampler at Left Hand Brewery

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

Tasting card at Oskar Blues

Tasting card at Oskar Blues

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.

Taster at Oskar Blues

Taster at Oskar Blues

Chai Milk Stout and IPA at Yak and Yeti

Chai Milk Stout and IPA at Yak and Yeti

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

sampler at Trinity Brewing

sampler at Trinity Brewing

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.

Phantom Creek Brewery

Phantom Creek Brewery

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

Tour at New Belgium Brewing

Tour at New Belgium Brewing

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.

Inside New Belgium Brewery

Inside New Belgium Brewery

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.

Heat Exchanger at New Belgium Brewery

Heat Exchanger at New Belgium Brewery

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.

New Belgium bottling line

New Belgium bottling line

Barrels used for sour beer

Barrels used for sour beer

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

Centrifuge at Odell Brewing

Centrifuge at Odell Brewing

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.

a unique growler filling machine at Fort Collins Brewery

a unique growler filling machine at Fort Collins Brewery

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, Boulder

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

Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery

Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery

sticker for Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery

sticker for Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery

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.

50 Breweries in 9 Months – Our Favorites

Sharon sampling beer

the author samping beer

Well we have fallen behind in writing about breweries, but we have been visiting more than ever since we entered Colorado.  This week we hit the milestone of visiting 50 different breweries in the past 9 months on this trip.  Here are our picks for the top 3 in several categories.  We’d love to hear your opinion and recommendations for the best breweries to visit in the United States and Canada.  We are headed to Arizona and California next, so we are particularly interested in breweries in those states.


Best Brewpub (good food and good beer)

  1. Mad Fox Brewery, Falls Church, VA – Order a bacon cheeseburger or duck pizza, they make their own mustard, bake their own bread, and cure their own meats
  2. Fort Collins, Fort Collins, CO – The bacon wrapped pretzel is an amazing starter!  Fort Collins hosts beer and food pairing dinners which are worth the splurge.
  3. Trinity Brewing, Colorado Springs, CO – This is the only sampler I’ve ever had that comes with cheese to eat in between each brew.  They are serious about their food here and even grow their own herbs to flavor with.
Sampler at Trinity Brewing

Sampler at Trinity Brewing

Best Happy Hour

  1. Barrio Brewery, Tucson, AZ – $3 pints with at least 10 beers on tap and great affordable food, how can you ask for more?
  2. Left Hand, Longmont, CO – Left Hand is clearly a locals hangout and they are always hosting an event for the community, everything from art openings to concerts to political information nights.
  3. Yazoo Brewery, Nashville, TN – Unfortunately the taproom is only open on weekends, they are packed on Saturdays and deservedly so with great specials and a fun vibe.
Yazoo Tasting Room

Yazoo Tasting Room

  1. Odell, Fort Collins, CO – Odell is special because of its pilot system.  While you may be familiar with the 90 Shilling or Cutthroat Porter I can guarantee you have not heard of half of the brew line up available at the tasting room.  They are always experimenting with new styles and you can design your own flight to suit your interests.  Be aware, they close early so get there for happy hour!
  2. Great Divide, Denver, CO – Best advice for this tasting room is to get a cab or come on your bike.  Great Divide specializes in high gravity beers that are seriously drinkable and a basic sampler will put you down for the count (especially if you come in from sea level and are new to mile high elevation).
  3. Starr Hill, Charlottesville, VA – Dress for the weather – this tasting room is right next to their bottling line and it is not insulated.  However, the beer and good company will keep you warm.  This is a really fun place to hang out with a great staff.
flight at Great Divide Brewery

flight at Great Divide Brewery

Most Scenic

  1. Blue Mountain Brewery and Restaurant, Afton, VA – Blue Mountain has just expanded an opened up an event space that is available for weddings.  It is that pretty.  Come in the fall for beautiful color, tasty pizza and delicious beers like the Dark and Evil.
  2. Jasper Brewery, Jasper, Alberta – Jasper and Banff Ave Breweries are owned by the same guy and are really unique that they are actually within National Parks.  As such, they can not distribute their beer, so you will have to stop in during a vacation to the Canadian Rockies.  I know you needed another excuse to go see one of the most beautiful places in North America.  Highly recommend the porter.
  3. Wild Mountain Brewery and Smokehouse, Nederland, CO – Located along the famous Peak to Peak highway in Colorado (south of Rocky Mountain National Park), this is a perfect lunch stop.  The smoked meats are excellent and the beer is great too.  I also particularly love their logo.
blue mountain brewery

Rows of hops on the front lawn of Blue Mountain Brewery with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge mountains

Best Spot for a Growler Fill

  1. Kettlehouse Brewery, Missoula, MT – Kettlehouse has a lane at the bar designated for growler fills.  They also are the only brewery we’ve been to that sold Nalgene growlers made to withstand a river trip.  In addition to growlers they fill party pigs and kegs.
  2. Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins, CO – Fort Collins is a small young brewery, but they have a nifty piece of equipment that makes them stand out for brewery fills.  This automated filling machine is supposed to keep the beer fresher.
  3. Mad Fox, Falls Church, VA – Mad Fox is a fun place to bring your growler because they take a picture and often tweet those pictures on their twitter account, @MadFoxBrewing
growler machine

growler machine

Top 3 Brewery Tours

  1. New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – New Belgium is the ultimate in brewery tours.  They have a 90 minutes tour that requires reservations and includes 5 tasting samples.  The entire brewery route is designed for tours with art and restrooms along the way!
  2. Yeungling Brewery, Pottsville, PA – Anyone that is interested in American craft beer needs to take a trip to Pottsville.  Yeungling is oldest brewery in the United States and the tour takes you through history, seeing how Yeungling survived prohibition and how they have remained a family business and an institution in Pennsylvania.
  3. Franconia Brewery, McKinney, TX – If you’ve got questions about the science behind brewing, I encourage you to take a trip to McKinney and meet Dennis Wehrmann.  He is the most knowledgeable brewmaster that we have met and he gives the tours himself on Saturdays.
tour at New Belgium

tour at New Belgium

Top 3 Towns for Breweries

  1. Fort Collins, Colorado – With 7 breweries in a town of 144,000, this is a city that requires more than one day to explore.  Luckily, Fort Collins is also very bikeable, they even have a bicycle library that allows you to check out a bike and return it with a basic deposit.
  2. Flagstaff, Arizona – Flag (as locals refer to it) is really just a large town and it is home to 5 breweries.  The newest addition, Mother Road is home to the Alpine Pedaler, a human powered bicycle tram that is available for rent for brewery crawls (particularly easy in Flag since all of the breweries are downtown near each other).
  3. Durango, Colorado – Durango has fewer breweries, only 4, but they have a longer history of brewing.  Durango is also small enough that you can get around to all of the breweries  without too much trouble.
Mother Road Brewing Company

Mother Road just opened in Flagstaff, bringing the total number of breweries to 5 in a town of 60,000

Brewery Reviews: northern U.S.

Not sure how this has happened but I am very far behind on our brewery posts…. Oh yea it probably had something to do with spending a bunch of time mostly out of cell phone range with no internet connection. With so much catching up to do this post is huge and there will be another one about Canadian breweries we visited.

Roy Pitz, Chambersburg, PA

Roy Pitz Tasting Room

A small operation you have probably never heard of. For those of you who are in the northern Virginia area and on the way to Raystown Lake to mountain bike, stop in, it’s well worth the stop. We had the pleasure of trying everything they had on hand and getting our growler filled. Highlights are Ludwigs Revenge, Daddy Fat Sacks, Best Blonde and, Chicken Legs. Ludwigs Revenge is a dark German lager with German sourced ingredients. It has got a ton of flavor for a lager and flavor-wise is more like an ale. It’s a tasty and unique creation. I think this is what we picked for our growler fill. Daddy Fat Sacks is an IPA – it’s a strong IPA, but in my book its not over the top hoppy. It’s aged with big sacks of hops aged in for this part of the process. I liked it a lot. Best Blonde is a light and crisp beer, good for a very hot day, it is a very good blonde ale but blonde ales are not a personal favorite. Chicken Legs is a good old fashion stout, a classic really, flavorful like a stout should be with out much bitterness at all.  One unique seasonal beer that Roy Pitz is known for is the Lovitz Watermelon Lager, flavored with fresh watermelon.  While I dislike fruit in beer as a general rule, this one wasn’t bad and could be refreshing on a hot summer day.

Birreria, New York, NY

Birreria sign

This one is our most recent visit from just last week while we were visiting Sharon’s sister, Nora in New York City. It’s very New York, trendy with higher than average prices, but don’t let this deter you. The roof top patio is a nice escape from the filthy crowded streets below you. They brew four beers at a time and are connected with Dogfish Head, as the President of DH is helping the brewer here get going. I sampled two of the three beers available while were there, Wanda and Lisa. I had a full pint of Wanda which is a chestnut ale. Its a rich chestnut ale that is sweet and nutty. The Lisa has a big head and lots of carbonation. It reminded me of a light Belgian beer.

Thanks to Sharon’s mom for the tip to check this place out.  She read about it in this recent Washington Post article.

birreria seating

Marquette Harbor Brewery, Marquette, MI

brewery sign with view of Lake Superior

brewery sign with view of Lake Superior

Yes those are blueberries in the bottom of that beer (see picture of sampler below). I am normally not a fan of fruit in beer but this tried hard to win me over. Its also noteworthy that the fruit is added to the beer after its poured kind of like a slice of orange or lemon on a wheat beer. The result is much more subtle.

Truthfully, neither Sharon nor I remember much more about the beer here.  The brewery is part of a restaurant overlooking Lake Superior which is probably its most noteworthy feature.  A nice place to sample some local beers and relax with a great view.

Sampler at Marquette Harbor Brewery, Marquette, MI

Kettlehouse Brewery: Missoula, MT

Kettlehouse Tasting Room

The Cold Smoke Scotch ale is the stand out here, no wonder why it has won several awards. It’s hard to say what I really like about it, but I can say for sure I wanted more of it. It is one of those beers you could just drink all day long and not want anything else. In true Missoula fashion they had plastic Nalgene growlers for river trips available. They also have cool hand made growlers that are works of art by local potters. Another oddity is their Ginseng Pale Ale. Missoula is home to the well known mycology expert and proponent of sustainable forest products, Larry Evans. We had read an Outdoor magazine article on our way to Missoula and were surprised to see him mentioned on the beer description.  Larry literally had tons of ginseng sitting around so its only natural that someone started brewing with it. This stuff apparently has a cult following which I attribute to the ginseng buzz, since it was not my favorite. I also sampled one of their Old Bong Water beers with hemp in it.  It had a nutty flavor.

Beer list at Kettlehouse

Northern Ales Brewery, Kettle Falls, Washington

northern ales sampler

the sampler at Northern Ales

Sharon here, I am going to step in and review the last brewery, Northern Ales, which was a favorite of mine.  Northern Ales reminds me strongly of a small town Pennsylvania brewery even though it is days of driving away, in the small eastern Washington town of Kettle Falls.

Smelters Ash Imperial stout and a brat

Smelters Ash Imperial stout and a brat

It’s industrial looking, nothing fancy.  You can order from a small menu featuring sausages.  There are peanut shells all over the floor.  The delivery entrance stays open, so you have fresh air as you eat and drink and a view of the back alley.  And the beer tastes great.  They have a good variety here, with 10 brews on the sampler ranging from a classic lager to a dark imperial stout.  They seemed to specialize in the darker ales, with 2 smoked porters to try.  We both liked the Smoked North Porter and the Smelter’s Ash Imperial Stout.  Jay enjoyed the Honey Basil Ale, but I was weirded out by basil in beer.  Another good choice was the Highlander Scotch Ale, which was just a classic smooth scotch.

Oh, and the bratwurst is AWESOME.

Brewery Reviews: The Wellhead & Franconia

While staying in Artesia, NM and escaping some wicked high winds we discovered a brewery. As some of our geology/science inclined folks know, an artesian well is a geologic formation that causes the well to have pressure of its own and water rises with out the need for pumping. Artesia New Mexico likely got its name from another type of well, the oil well. It’s a town based on petroleum extraction, so the towns only brewery has an oil theme. We had a decent lunch with some respectable freshly brewed beers.Sampler at the Wellhead

Sampler at the Wellhead

The crude oil stout was our favorite and is thus pictured in our growler below.  We’ve been disappointed that most breweries do not do growler fills, so we were stoked to finally get ours filled up.

The Wellhead

The Wellhead Brewery in Artesia, NM

The next brewery has a name as German as its brewmaster, Franconia, named after the region of Germany that the brewmaster hails from. Many German immigrants have settled in Texas, and it would not have good bbq or beer without their worthy contributions. Franconia was suggested to us as a tour while attending the Wimmer-Osborne wedding in McKinney Texas.

Franconia Brewmaster

the Brew Master for Franconia brewing

brewery tour Franconia brewing

Brew master standing next to the mash ton explaining the brew process.

The brew master Dennis Wehrmann studied beer and food science for seven years in Germany and is the 4th generation of a family of brewers. All the Franconia beers are done in the German tradition with only four ingredients, malts, hops, water, and yeast. It was remarkable how much flavor the beers we sampled have given that all the great taste comes only four ingredients.

Jay at Franconia Brewing

Jay enjoying the Wheat beer at Franconia

The wheat turned out to be everyone’s favorite with a huge flavor and smooth drinkability, the dunkel and lager were also good. But that wheat was in a league of its own.

The Saturday we toured the brewery turned out to be an event for a greyhound adoption league.

greyhounds at Brewery

Greyhounds at the Brewery

Even a dog track does not have as many greyhounds in one place!  They really were remarkably calm and quiet dogs.