With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. The sixth state we’re tapping is The Centennial State, Colorado. While the state is known for the Rocky Mountains, the wildlife and year-round outdoor sports, it’s now become a craft beer mecca. It ranks 22nd in total population (5.35 million), is backed by the Colorado Brewers Guild and at last count houses roughly 235 breweries. The bulk of the state’s breweries are found on the East or “Front Range” of towns stretching from Fort Collins in the North to Colorado Springs in the South. As of 2014, the state ranks 3rd in total breweries and 3rd in breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation.
Much like the origins of Alaska and North California’s brewing histories, Colorado also started brewing when a gold rush brought thirsty miners to Denver around 1859. In 1873, A German immigrant named Adolph Coors set up a brewery among 44 natural springs in the canyons of Golden, just outside of town; his golden amber beer was aptly named “Miner’s Banquet.” What many don’t know is that even as late as 1971 Coors was still only distributed in 11 states, yet only began distributing nationally after their Silver Bullet took off in the late 70’s.
The birth of craft beer in the state begins with the visionary Charlie Papazian who brought his knowledge of home brewing to the suburban college town of Boulder. He founded both the American Homebrewers Association and the Association of Brewers in 1978, all of which eventually came under the banner of the Brewers Association in 2005. Papazian is still the President of the Association today and still based in Boulder.
In 1979, with home brewing laws relaxed, his inspiration motivated three physics professors at CU-Boulder to start Colorado’s first microbrewery, Boulder Brewing Company (now Boulder Beer Company). Having started their operation in a goat shed on the periphery of town, they were supported early on by Coors who sold them hops, grains and offered their expertise.
The third and final piece of craft beer history in the area lies with the success of Wynkoop Brewing -one of the first brewpubs in the state, opened by former Denver Mayor and current Governor John Hickenlooper in 1988. The success of this destination brewpub – along with other new businesses and the opening of Coors Field in 1995, helped revitalize the Historic LoDo District of downtown Denver and thus accelerated the growth of craft in the metropolitan area.
Since 1981, Denver has hosted the Great American Beer Festival, the oldest and largest beer festival in the nation. The metropolitan area of greater Denver, from Castle Rock to Boulder, now boasts over 100 breweries and is among the top destinations in the world for craft beer enthusiasts.
More Breweries You Should Check Out in the Greater Denver Region
Avery Brewing (Boulder) -In operation since 1993 and are one of the most established brewers in the region, especially since they’ve moved into a brand new brewery with a capacity of 85,000 barrels annually. We’re huge fans of their big beer releases The Holy Trinity (including Hog Heaven Barleywine and the Reverend Quadrupel) and the Dictator Series (Maharaja Imperial IPA and The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest). One of many reasons you need to see Boulder when visiting Denver.
Breckenridge Brewery (Ballpark, Denver) – Colorado’s third craft brewery was founded by Richard Squire in 1990, in the ski town of the same name, who then moved their main operations to Denver in 1992. The only Denver-based brewery to crack the Top 50 Craft Brewers (by volume) in 2014, they still craft such unique delights as their tasty Vanilla Porter, classic Oatmeal Stout and their popular Christmas Ale. Operating 5 brewpubs throughout the state and producing over 62,000 barrels each year, their beer is now found in 32 states.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (River North, Denver) – One of leaders of the Brettanomyces revolution in Colorado, founder Chad Yakobsen began crafting his funky creations in a small industrial park in 2010. Crooked Stave has since taken the wild/sour world by storm creating over 130 varieties, with series of barrel and fruit variations under the monikers of Surrette, Vieille, St. Bretta and Nightmare on Brett. Arguably one of the best and most consistent brewers of these wild styles in the world today.
Great Divide Brewing (Ballpark, Denver) -Flourishing for 21 years and one of the most prolific craft brewers in Denver, Great Divide has always thrived on variety, unique offerings and surprising simplicity. From their delicately refreshing Colette Saison or Hoss Rye Lager to their amazing varieties of IPAs to their big series of Yeti Imperial Stouts or Old Ruffian Barleywines, it’s no wonder they’ve won 18 GABF Medals and have become a mecca for craft heads.
Jagged Mountain Brewery (Ballpark, Denver) – Open since November of 2013, these brewers pride themselves in the thrill of being adventurous. With the vast majority of their offerings clocking in at over 7% ABV, such as their Brettbagger White IPA (10%+) and Lunar Eclipse (17.3%) which we tried at last year’s GABF, and a focus on giving back to the community, it’s easy to understand why their taproom is regularly overflowing with adventure seekers.
TRVE Brewing (Baker, Denver) – Another relative newcomer to the neighborhood, TRVE derives its name from a slang term that mocks the excessive fandom of Black Metal fanboys. To them, they represent “being a part of a counter culture without immersing yourself to the point of taking it too seriously.” We were lucky enough to catch a tap takeover they did at CBC and were impressed with their light, flavorful Belgian sour/wild and IPA masterpieces.
Upslope Brewing (Boulder) – Another big player in the Boulder area, Upslope has been growing like mad since their opening in 2008. Now operating two breweries in town and having doubled production from 2012 to 2013, they are one of the fastest growing brewers in the region. They take pride in their fresh and ecologically sound cans-only packaging. We love the deliciously easy drinking styles they’ve created like their Craft Lager, Brown Ale and Thai Style White IPA.
Next We’ll Feature Colorado’s Remaining Breweries Outside of Denver/Boulder.