Friday, January 25, 2013

A Walking and Drinking Beer Tour of Denver -- the Mile High City

Denver brews more beer than any other city. Coors Brewery in nearby Golden is the largest single brewing site in the world and Denver’s annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest beer celebration on the planet with a staggering 2,400 different beers available for tasting. 

It is estimated that more than 200 different beers are brewed in Denver every single day, giving The Mile High City its claim as the “Napa Valley of Beer.”

After tea, beer is the second most popular beverage on the planet and there are hundreds of different ways of making it. On a beer walking tour of Denver, you have the opportunity to choose from dozens of different craft beers, offering a wide variety of styles and ingredients. 

With so many choices, where do you take your first sip?  Here are two easy beer walking tours visiting a selection of downtown breweries.  Both tours start from Denver’s oldest and largest brewpub – the Wynkoop. 

Tour 1, LoDo to LoHi

Wyknoop Brewing Company,, 18th and Wynkoop Streets

Colorado’s first brewpub opened in 1988 and was founded by a group of young urban pioneers that included John Hickenlooper, who went on to serve as Mayor of Denver for seven years and is currently the Governor of Colorado (the first former brewer to be elected as a state governor since Sam Adams in 1794).  Today, the Wynkoop is the center of LoDo – Denver’s hip historic district where century old warehouses have been turned into more than 90 bars, brewpubs, restaurants and cafes. 
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (center in tie)

The Wynkoop’s architecture is typical of the neighborhood with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls covered with artwork and big open windows.  The second floor of the huge pub has 22 pool tables, while there is a popular comedy club in the basement.   There are always more than a dozen craft beers on tap.  The flagship beer (available in cans) is Railyard Ale, a smooth amber with the malty flavor of an Oktoberfest lager.  For a true Colorado experience, try  Patty’s Chile Beer, a German style lager made with chiles and smoked Ancho peppers. 

DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Walk west on Wynkoop two blocks to the 16th Street Mall, then turn left and walk seven blocks to Curtis.

Rock Bottom Brewery, 16th & Curtis Streets.   Today, Rock Bottom Brewery is a major chain with 37 breweries that produce 700 different craft beers that have won 125 medals.  But their brewery in Denver is the “mother ship,” the first brewery of the chain when it opened in 1990.  Rock Bottom has one of the best locations on the 16th Street Mall, Denver’s mile-long pedestrian promenade.  There are 41 outdoor patios along the Mall, but the one at Rock Bottom is the largest and one of the most popular.  On summer weekends, bands play and hundreds of people gather to sip a craft beer on the patio under twinkling lights, as horse-drawn carriages clatter by.  The interior of the massive bar is built around towering glass windows displaying the brewing equipment.  It can be noisy, crowded and fun as the bar brings in an attractive crowd of young downtown office workers.  For a quieter experience, head to the back bar, which has pool tables and a staff that is knowledgeable about craft beer.   Rock Bottom features the standard IPAs, Red Ale, White Ale, Dark Ale and a Winter Tartan Ale, as well as the always popular local beer, Molly’s Titanic Brown Ale. The brewmaster at each pub creates specials, so check what’s on the current beer list, and especially look for the hand-pulled cask conditioned ales in the back room.
DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Catch the free Mall bus at the corner of 16th and Curtis and take it north to the final stop at the Light Rail station.  Walk back to 16th Street and over the Millennium Bridge (easily identifiable by the tall white mast).  Continue straight through the Riverfront development and across Commons Park to a second pedestrian bridge over the South Platte River.  On the other side of the bridge, walk one block to Platte Street and turn right.  Denver Beer Company is on far side of the street.

Denver Beer Company,, 1695 Platte Street
Although relatively new, the Denver Beer Company is already becoming one of the city’s favorite tap rooms -- a place that really captures the laid back feeling of the Mile High City.  Located in a former auto garage, on warm days the “walls” of the pub literally roll up, making the whole building open air.  There’s an outdoor patio with picnic tables next to a space where different food trucks park every day. 

The Denver Beer Company serves only delicious homemade pretzels and beer, but you’re welcome to bring your own food or purchase food at the rotating food trucks.  Dogs are welcome too, and it’s a rare day when there aren’t at least a half dozen pups at the bar or on the patio.  Owners Charlie and Patrick began as home brewers and are dedicated to making the finest and most inventive beers in the city.  There are usually a dozen small batch beers on tap that rotate regularly.  Check the chalk board to see what’s available.  If Graham Cracker Porter is on tap, make that your choice.  It’s been described as “a campfire in a glass with notes of vanilla, smoked cedar and mulling spices.”  This is a neighborhood bar where people stop in after a bike ride or a run.  Even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is a fan.  He helped Patrick and Charlie make a pumpkin ale here to kick off Denver Beer Fest in 2012.

DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Turn right from the pub and in a half block, head west over a third pedestrian bridge, which crosses I-25.  Immediately on the other side of the bridge is the next stop.

Ale House at Amato’s,, 2501 16th Street
After crossing the bridge, you’ve entered LoHi, one of Denver’s newest and fastest growing neighborhoods.  Amato’s is a great introduction to this hip section of town.  While no beer is brewed here, the restaurant is owned jointly by Wynkoop and Breckenridge breweries and features 42 craft beers on tap, including several rare and hard to find Colorado microbrews.  The staff is beer savy and will work with you to find the perfect selection, whether it’s light, hoppy, malty or complex (and your beer, of course, will be poured into the appropriate style glass).  The entire roof of the bar is an open air beer garden with outdoor fireplaces and sweeping views of downtown Denver.  It’s especially pretty at twilight when the sun sets over the visible Rocky Mountains to the west. 
Want a break from beer?  There are 30 wines to choose from, including Monkeyshine red and white, available here on tap, exclusively from the local Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery.  Or take a different break and walk two blocks uphill on 16th until you see a 30-foot high milk can.  This is the legendary Little Man, where they produce hand-made, small batch ice cream, created with some of the finest local ingredients.  Relax with a triple scoop in their outdoor ice cream garden.  For those poor souls who have trouble with milk?  They sell a Lactaid pill for 50 cents!DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP: Exiting Amato’s, turn left and walk four blocks northeast along Central Street.
Prost Brewing,, 2540 19th Street
As you would suspect, with a name like Prost, this new brewery specializes in traditional German beers… and they do everything traditionally, from serving the beer in appropriate German beer glasses to making it in authentic 72.5 barrel copper kettles from Germany.   The kettles were made in 1963 and used until two years ago by a 350-year old brewery in Germany. 
When that brewery went out of business, the kettles were purchased and lovingly shipped to Denver, where they continue to make Weißbier - a Bavarian Hefeweizen, Altfränkisches Dunkel Bier - a dark amber lager, and Marzen - an Oktoberfest brew.  The flagship beer is Prost Pils, a crisp, pale and well hopped, gold colored brew capped with a dense white collar of foam.  It’s served in a tapered glass with a gold rim that will have you crying, “Prost!”  The Prost beer hall is decorated with authentic antique German beer signs and blue and white check Oktoberfest bunting and is filled with long communal tables.  Have a liter of beer, bite into an authentic German pretzel, and meet new friends as this LoHi neighborhood tap room.

DIRECTIONS:  Return to the Light Rail station the same way you came.  From here, you can catch the free shuttle to anywhere on the 16th Street Mall.

Tour 2:  LoDo to RiNo

Wynkoop Brewing Company (see Tour 1).

DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Exiting the bar, turn left, walk a 100 feet to Wynkoop Street and turn right.  Proceed one block to 20th Street.

Denver Chop House,, 1735 19th Street
Coors Field from LoDo's Bar & Grill
Built in an old brick Union Pacific railroad station, this is Denver’s most upscale brewery and one of the city’s top sports bars.  The Denver Avalanche team celebrated their Stanley Cup victory here; so did the Denver Bronocs after their Super Bowl win.  It has a clubby, dark wood feel with booths, old railroad photos and a long wood bar.  If you want to see Denver sports heroes relaxing, this is a good bet. 

There are usually up to 10 craft beers on tap.  While long on history and atmosphere, the Chop House is short on creative names for their beers, going with “Red Ale, “Pale Ale,” “Wheat beer,” etc.  But try the Wild Turkey Barrel Conditioned Stout, or any of their specials.   If you’re dreaming of a great Colorado steak and craft beer, this is your place.  There’s always a good crowd at the lively bar area.  If you’re flying out of Denver, there’s also a Denver Chop House with the same craft beers at Denver International Airport.

DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Walk south on 19th Street two blocks to Blake and turn left.

Falling Rock Tap House, , 1919 Blake
This is one of the great beer bars in America with 75 craft beers on tap, 130 beers in bottles, and a collection of 2,200 different beer bottles decorating the walls (most of which were drunk by owner and local beer legend Chris Black).  While no beers are brewed here, this is the place to talk craft beer. 

During the Great American Beer Festival, this is ground central for every top brewer in the nation. There’s a large outdoor patio that is popular when the Colorado Rockies are playing in nearby Coors Field, but the primary reason to visit is beer.  The bartenders are beer-knowledgeable and will help you find a good choice. The walls are decorated with historic beer signs and bottles.  Falling Rock is often crowded, noisy and fun and is one of the most popular of the 90 bars to be found in LoDo.

DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Continue down Blake three blocks.

Breckenridge Colorado Craft,, 2200 Blake Street. 
Opened in 1992, this is one of Denver’s first brewpubs and features 32 American craft beers, including all those of Breckendridge Brewery as well as many other Colorado specialty beers, including some rare and hard to find.  There’s a large menu of American favorites and the staff knows their beer.  Breckenridge Brewery has been one of Colorado’s success stories.  Originally, Breck opened as the state’s third craft brewer in 1990 on Main Street in the ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado.  Today, there are five restaurants/pubs and you can purchase Breckenridge beers in 32 states.  This large, friendly and ideally situated pub (it’s across the street from Coors Field) was a LoDo institution before there was a LoDo (it opened before the ballpark did in 1995, in what was then considered the hinterlands of downtown).  Today, it is surrounded by bars and restaurants, but with its exposed brick walls and wood floors, Breckenridge Colorado Craft offers an essential Denver experience and the perfect stop before or after a Colorado Rockies game.

DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP:  Head south on 22nd Street for three blocks to 2201 Arapahoe Street.

Great Divide,, 2201Arapahoe
Brian Dunn started Great Divide in 1994, working as the brewery’s only employee, brewing, bottling and selling the beer himself.  Today, it has expanded to 45 employees and is one of the most popular of Colorado’s craft beers, having won 15 medals at the Great American Beer Festival.  The brewery is located here, in an old brick dairy, as is the always crowded Tap Room, open Tues.-Sunday.  While they don’t serve food in the Tap Room, you can usually find some of the city’s best food trucks parked outside.  And then there’s the beer.  There are 17 beers on tap, available in samplers and served by people who know and love Great Divide beer.  Tours of the brewery are available at 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm Monday thru Friday. Saturday and Sunday tours take place between the hours of 2:30 and 5:00 pm, running regularly every 30 to 45 minutes.  No reservations are required.  Great Divide prides itself on exciting beer styles and an ever changing array of brews. Their signature beer is the one that boldly takes on the name of America’s greatest beer city – a Denver Pale Ale (DPA, as it is known to locals). 

DIRECTIONS TO LAST STOP:   Return down 22nd for three blocks to Blake, turn right and walk two blocks to 24th and Blake.

River North Brewery,, 2401 Blake
Matt Hess, founder
Located at the tip of the River North neighborhood (RiNo for short), this is typical of the small breweries that are springing up all over Denver.  The tiny taproom has big windows and serves as a neighborhood pub, attacting locals mixed with beer aficionados from throughout the region.  No food is served, but restaurants and food trucks are nearby.  River North specializes in brewing Belgian-style ales and American style ales with a Belgian twist.  But the truth, as brewer Matt Hess admits, is they just brew the type of beer they like to drink. 

Whether you like Saison or a Belgian-style triple IPA, stop in and consult the chalk board to see what’s on tap.  You can also see the beer being made through windows overlooking the brewery.  Likely as not, the person pouring your beer could be one of the brewers, who will love talking to you about what’s fresh as he pours you a tray of samplers.  River North… like other small Denver brewers Renegade, Black Shirt, Hogshead, Del Norte, Strange, Crooked Stave and Golden City…offer an intimate tap room tasting experience that show why Denver is such a fascinating beer town.  Don’t be surprised to see the majority of the patrons ordering trays of four ounce samplers.  Always talk to the bartender about different styles of beers, and have them match a sample to your preference. 

For more information on beer and everything else in Denver: