Sometimes life throws us a bone. I had always wanted to tour the breweries and pubs of Denver. Well, Claudinne's company sent her there on a business trip, putting her up in a hotel downtown, walking distance to more than a dozen beer places. She invited me to partake of her employer's generosity and check off one of the items on my bucket list.
Wednesday April 4th. We fly in on a sunny, cool day. Downtown Denver is crowded and polluted like any other big city. We check in, Claudinne goes to work, and I go to play. My first stop is Great Divide Brewing Company.
Apparently Colorado laws differ from those of Maryland because breweries in Colorado are allowed to sell beer for consumption on premises. There were 16 taps and several customers. I got a tour. They started in 1994 on a single-barrel system. They have expanded to 50 bbls and also have a 7-bbl pilot system. Their beers ferment for 21-35 days. They brew 5 days a week, 24 hours a day. They produced 29,500 bbls in the past year.
They have a nice bottling line. They don't can any of their beer because the air pressure in Denver, which is a mile above sea level, is lower than it is at sea level, and cans don't handle the pressure change as well as bottles do. They donate any low-filled bottles to charity. Below are a few photos of the bottling line, but to get the full effect you need to see it in action. You can do so here.
They have several large fermentation tanks outside, and plan to add 5 more.
After the tour I tried several of their beers. Their samples are 3 for $3, but you can only order 3 at a time. The ones I tried were:
Next it was on to Breckenridge Ball Park Pub. The beers are not actually brewed here. Breckenridge owns several pubs, and this one had the sort of big, generic atmosphere that did not make me want to drink there.
The same was true about the Blake Street Tavern, which is on the same street. I stopped there only because the place was listed in the Beer Mapping Project. They are not affiliated with any brewery, just a beer bar. The place is big and has a decent beer selection but nothing to write about.
A little further down the street is the River North Brewery. The place had just opened on February 18th, and occupies the space that had previously been occupied by the Flying Dog Brewery, now located in Frederick MD. The Beer Mapping Project had said that this place was open only Thursdays through Saturdays, but I stopped by because I was already in the area. Well, the beer gods smiled on me because this was the first time they had ever opened on a Wednesday (they were extending their business hours now that baseball season had begun).
They had 5 beers on tap, all of which were fermented with Belgian yeasts.
Claudinne showed up with a work colleague, Peter, and we all got a brewery tour. They use a 15-bbl system. The large space is mostly empty, with several tanks and a very small bottling line. The spent grain is picked up by a rancher for his cattle. Saison was aging in several barrels.
Afterward Claudinne and I went to the Falling Rock Tap House. They have about 70 taps and 3 hand pumps. Unfortunately they do not sell samplers but the bartender let us try several beers in order to help us decide what to order.
We got pints of Myrcenary and Wipeout, and also 4 dinners because were hungry.
Afterward we went back to the hotel and crashed. Beer + jet lag = alseep by 8 PM.
Thursday April 5th, 2:30 AM. Note to self: Lots of greasy food + jet lag = a trip to the porcelain convenience at a very inconvenient time. My insides reminded me of my first trip to Mexico. Anyway, several hours and several flushes later I met my homebrewing friend Kevin, who had recently moved to Denver from Baltimore, for breakfast at Illegal Pete's. We got some great breakfast burritos and tried some Upslope Brown Ale.
We walked to Denver's oldest brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing Company. We got there before they opened so we snooped around the place and snapped some photos.
We were joined at the bar by Kevin's friend Gerik, another homebrewer. Wynkoop sells 5-ounce samples for a dollar each, which is ridiculously cheap, so we tried everything they had.
Next we walked to the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery. The brewer was busy but I got him to give us a brief tour. He brews 14 barrels at a time. Boiling is done for 90 minutes, with flavor hops thrown in 20 minutes before the end and aroma hops near the end. The ChopHouse is a chain, with locations in Denver, Boulder, Cleveland and Washington D.C., and due to its corporate nature, the brewer is not allowed a lot of personal creativity.
We sampled all of their beers.
We briefly visited Old Chicago, which had a good beer selection but the sampler flights were fixed, meaning that you couldn't choose the beers, and the beers slated for the flights were not the best ones. We also stopped at Euclid Hall, which had a marginal beer selection and no samplers.
Next stop: Ale House at Amato's, which opened as a partnership between Breckenridge Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing Company. It was a beautiful day, and the open-air venue made the place refreshing. There were 4 different fixed flights, each with 6 beers. Two of the flights looked pretty good so we ordered them.
We then ambled over to Denver Beer Company, a brewery and biergarten housed in an old automotive garage. Hydraulic posts support the bar and at least one of the tables. They opened at 3 PM, and at 3:20 there were already 30 people there.
We tried all of their beers.
We then went to Strange Brewing Company, where Claudinne and Peter met us. We got a sampler rack of all the beers.
Claudinne, Kevin and I then went to Freshcraft, where Kevin's wife Loren met us for dinner. Things got rather hazy for me as I was feeling the effects of a full day of beer. In addition to food we got Victory Headwaters Pale Ale, which had a good hoppy aroma and flavor; and Dry Dock Triple, which had a good estery aroma and a pretty good sweet, semi-estery flavor. Afterward it was another early bedtime.
Friday April 6th. A beautiful sunny day. I walked to East Denver to meet Kevin for breakfast at Spices Café. The food was good and not greasy. Then we walked to Argonaut Wine & Liquor where I bought a couple of beers that I can't find back East to take home.
Our first pub stop of the day was the Vine Street Pub & Brewery. It is an affiliate of a couple of places in Boulder, called Mountain Sun and Southern Sun, which opened in 1993 and 2002, respectively. Vine Street had just gotten the paperwork squared away to begin brewing the day before. The beers they had were actually brewed at Southern Sun. We sampled most of their beers, and since all but one were 6-ounce samples, we sure could have used some help.
They gave us a tour of the virgin brewery. It is a 12-bbl system. Mounted above is a New Belgium Brewing bicycle, which the proprietors found in the warehouse when they got there. (Each New Belgium employee receives a free bicycle after one year of employment.)
On our way to the next place on our agenda we stumbled upon the Denver Bicycle Café. The concept is neat: they fix your bicycle while you drink and/or hang out. Almost everyone there was using a laptop. It's an open-air venue reminiscent of Denver's breweries, although there is no brewery there. (But what a great place to put one!) We tried three of their draughts and one can:
Next we hit the Cheeky Monk, a bar that specializes in Belgian imports. There is a good bottle selection and a fair number of draughts, the latter of which are half price from 11 AM to 2 PM. We got there during that time window so we were in luck. The sampler flights were fixed so we just ordered a few draughts.
We then went to the Yard House, a bar located in a Sheraton Hotel. One of the employees said that they have the world's largest selection of draught beer. The list did top 100 but was certainly not the world's largest. However, this chain has dozens of locations throughout the country, so I suppose if you included all the beers at all the locations, you might have the world's largest selection. Anyway, there were several thick pipes leading from the keg area to the taps; I assume these were chilled beer line housings. Oh, and each person was entitled to 2 free samples, so when Claudinne met us after work, that gave us 6 freebies. Oy! Such a deal!
We had dinner at the Paramount Café. At this point I was starting to drift in and out of consciousness, as I am wont to do, but thankfully I recorded our beer selections on my handy little digital recorder.
After dinner we stumbled (or at least I did) over to River North because Kevin hadn't been there yet. The only evidence I have of that visit is the following photo that Claudinne snapped because I was too out of it to use either my camera or my recorder.
Loren swung by after work to retrieve Kevin, then Claudinne and I made our way over to Great Divide Brewing Company for her first visit there. It was 6 PM and it was crowded. We tried some beer of course.
I suppose I don't need to tell you that I crashed early that night.
Saturday April 7th. Another beautiful sunny day. Claudinne and I had a hearty breakfast at Sam's No. 3 Diner, then rented a car and drove to Pikes Peak. When we got there, we were informed that only 13 of the 19 miles of Pikes Peak Highway (the road leading to the top) were open due to snow and ice, so we would not be able to reach the top for the 360-degree view, but they still wanted the $10-per-person entrance fee. On the way up we stopped at Crystal Lake. Note how our cameras produced photos with different shades.
We went up to the Glen Cove area, as far as we could go. There was an obligatory overpriced gift shop and some trails. We walked for a while in the snow to a spot that was beautiful and completely quiet except for the occasional bird. Our photos really don't do the place justice but here they are. Again, our cameras produced different shades (top left photo is from hers; all others are from mine).
After a scenic drive back down, stopping for some nice views, we went to nearby Garden of the Gods. We snapped a few cheesy photos in which we pretended to be holding up rock formations, then walked to and climbed some nice rocks and got some views whose beauty our cameras couldn't fully capture.
Right nearby in Colorado Springs is TRiNiTY Brewing Company, from which you can see Pikes Peak. They had many beers on tap besides their own, and we ordered a sample flight of their brews. Their sample glasses were all being used by other customers, so ours were served in tulip glasses, which resulted in considerably larger samples than we'd expected. Not that we complained.
I had heard that they made sour ales. I asked but they didn't have any at the time, so they let us try a little Odell Shenanigans, which had a nice malty, somewhat sour aroma and a good semi-sour, malty flavor.
They happened to be brewing, which was good because the place smelled nice, but bad because the brewer was too busy to give us a tour. The bar top contains bottle shards from all the beers that were consumed during construction. The name TRiNiTY refers to the trio of artisanal beer, slow food, and conscious people.
We drove onward to the Colorado Mountain Brewery, a generic-looking place in Colorado Springs that had been open for under 2 years. They let us walk briefly through the brewery before sampling their beers.
Our last stop before heading back to Denver was Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Company in Castle Rock. It was another generic-looking place but it had a great smell of steaks cooking. Why does burning flesh smell so good? Anyway, they wouldn't let me in the brewery so I snapped one photo through the glass. We tried all of their beers.
We had thought about going out that night in Denver but we'd had such a full day that it was all we could do to return the rental car and walk back to the hotel. Plus we had to get up very early the next morning to fly home.
Not a bad trip: 10 breweries/brewpubs, a few bars, 120+ beers, the great outdoors, friends, and memories to last a lifetime, all in less than 4 days. Thanks for reading.