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.
Last week we detailed the state’s early history and the Denver area scene.
History Outside Denver Region
The state’s second brewpub, Carver Brewing, was opened only a few months after Hickenlooper’s Wynkoop became the state’s first in October of 1988. The big surprise here is that Carver is located in Durango, the Southwest corner of the state, enabling a strong craft beer scene to develop in the region, with Carver picking up 3 GABF medals (among many other awards) along the way.
In the complete opposite corner of the state, a movement was brewing in Fort Collins. In 1989, both CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewing and Odell Brewing opened, the latter as the second packaging craft brewery in the state. These two pioneers set off a craft beer boom in Northern Colorado so significant that the area became known as “The Milwaukee of The Rockies” in the mid-90’s.
Within just a few years was born what became the largest craft brewer in the state, fourth largest in country and 8th largest overall, New Belgium Brewing. With the largest barrel-aging program outside Belgium, 100% employee ownership and a B Corp certification status with a focus on sustainable energy, New Belgium has not only thrived, but set a high bar for what a successful craft brewer in American can be. They’ve won a total of 28 GABF medals, nearly one every year since 1993.
Opened just one year after New Belgium, H.C. Berger was my favorite brewery while residing in Fort Collins in ’95-’96. Their Indigo Pale Ale (dormant), Red Banshee and Chocolate Stout were all quite popular then and while the original owners sold the company in 1996, it still exists today as Fort Collins Brewery, distributed in 20+ states.
More Breweries You Should Visit in Greater Colorado
Funkwerks(Fort Collins) – A relative newcomer in the state having only been open since 2009, Funkwerks has prided themselves in crafting unique versions of classic Belgian styles. Finding success with their award-winning Saisons, this artisan brewer has already set itself apart in the state with their big, luscious offerings.
Left Hand Brewing(Longmont) – Originally incorporated as Indian Peaks Brewing in 1993, the name was changed shortly afterwards as it was already in use, thus changed to Left Hand in honor of Chief Niwot (the Arapahoe name for “left hand”), a tribe that wintered in the area. In their 22 years they’ve had much success in winning 22 GABF medals and brew over 65,000 barrels a year.
Oskar Blues Brewery(Longmont) – Just up the road from Longmont, this brewery was started as a brewpub in 1997, then became one of the first craft brewers to can their own beers starting in 2002. Known for their infinitely quaffable Dick’s Pale Ale and big Ten Fidy Imperial Stout, which are light years apart, yet perfect examples of the excellent, consistent variety Oskar Blues pursues.
Paradox Beer(Divide) – Founded in 2012, Paradox brings an adventurous, barrel-focused artisanship to the outskirts of the Colorado Springs area. They consistently create limited series of sour, feral and wild ales, most inoculated with their own house-grown Brettanomyces, which are aged anywhere from 4 months to several years. Sour freaks won’t want to miss these guys.
Ska Brewing(Durango) – Following the success of Carver, Ska opened their doors in 1995 and are the most colorful characters in the state’s already colorful scene. Garnering a steady haul of 12 GABF awards for their Buster Nut Brown, Steel Toe Stout and True Blonde Ale, Ska is a diamond in the rough and one more reason we go out of our way to visit Durango.
Trinity Brewing (Colorado Springs) – Trinity was founded in 2008, focusing on a “Triple P” approach, focusing on People, Planet and Profit, in that order. Known for wild creations like their Sour IPA Red Swingline, their Elektrick Cukumbahh Cucumber Saison and Damn it Feels Good To Be A Gangsta Wild Ale, it’s clear they have a thing for Office Space and seriously tasty beer.