Last month, we pilgrimaged to the mile high city with our husbands for our first ever Great American Beer Festival—a legendary festival pouring over 3,800 American brews, now in its 35th year. Check out our Top 5 Beer Trends from the fest, and where you can taste them in Canada, here.
The city will leave you breathless—literally. Perched atop a plateau at the foot of the rocky mountains, we struggled to catch our breath after a gym workout the first morning. Yes, we might have been a tad hungover from our first night in town, but we were also 1.6 km higher than usual. Once you master the elevation though (settling down with a pint of Juicy Banger at Falling Rock helps), you’ll be ready to hit the breweries. The state of Colorado, unofficially known as the Sonoma County of beer, has more than 300 breweries, a number that’s doubled in only four years, with Denver at the epicentre of it all.
Here are our top 7 things to do on a Beer-Cation to Denver
Spend the day brewery hopping in RiNo
Denver’s River North District (nicknamed RiNO) became a brewery hotspot because of it’s close proximity to the downtown, and the wide open spaces that allow breweries to build big facilities (like the massive new Great Divide facility). The hood is in full on gentrification mode, with funky townhouses, restaurants and a ton of breweries popping up all over. You hit alot of great breweries in this small strip – there’s 12 taprooms directly connected to or associated with breweries, plus First Draft (which features 30 rotating taps), a winery and two cideries.
Taste traditional lagers at a beer hall Bierstadt Lagerhaus.
Sip sours and wild ales from Crooked Stave’s tasting bar at The Source (an artisan food and drink collective housing a bunch of tasty stuff).
Grab a seat and a tasting paddle on the massive patio at Ratio Beerworks.
Sample the barrel aged brews at the Great Divide, hello Yeti!
Take a beer break at Stem Cider, they specialize in dry, hard cider.
Bike off the beer belly
With over 135 km of paved bike trails throughout the city, cycling is the ultimate way to do Denver. Take a Denver b-cycle for a spin, with over 80 locations throughout the city and gigantic baskets for all your stuff, it’s easy (and cheap) to get around on two wheels. We loved the winding, flat Cherry creek bike path. Try biking to a few breweries (and remember to return the bike once you’re buzzed and opt for a taxi home).
Tick the Great American Beer Festival off the bucket list
Try to schedule your trip to coincide with the GABF (usually the last weekend of September or 1st weekend of October). Yes it’s big, but it’s also awesome. You can try some of the best new beers in the US under one roof, wear a necklace made of pretzels, and meet the wizards behind some of your favourite brews. The GABF is a very festive, perfectly executed beer fest with something for everyone: a beer and food pairing session matching up breweries with restaurants from around the country, to home brew section to State Guilds pouring beers from very small state spots that you’d never be able to try.
Drink at one the best bars in America
Beer bar king Chris Black opened Falling Rock in 1997 with the goal of being the best beer bar in the US, and well, it happened. He’s in tune with the beer scene, and carefully selects beers from across the country, with lots OF local brews on offer too. BTW his draught lines are super clean too.
Make sure to gawk at the oddest Rodenbach ad to ever exist and ask if there’s a keg of Pliny the Elder kicking around.
While you’re there try some beers from Chris’ favourite breweries:
Spangalang Brewery: for the collab IPA, Fortnight in France
The Great Divide Brewing Co.: for the Belgian-style farmhouse ale, Colette
Comrade Brewing: for the “it” IPA, Superpower
Station 26 Brewing Co.: for the other “it” IPA, Juicy Banger
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project: for the approachable, but serious, wild ale, Surette
Bierstadt Lagerhouse: for the dynamite Lagers, like the Slow Pour Pils
Rest up in a Sweet Suite
With so many conferences held in Denver, the hotels are on their a-game. We were treated to a suite at Hyatt Regency (thanks Visit Denver and the Hyatt) and it was amaze-balls. Spacious (with a big fridge to stash our beers, healthy snacks and huge TV’s) and plush, it was the best place to unwind after long days exploring the city and walking the 14 acre exhibition floor at the GABF. Plus, every night the hotel restaurant’s and bars hosted tap takeovers and other sudsy events.
Here are some other great hotels to check out:
Hostel Fish: a beautiful upscale hostel right downtown; rates start in the $45 range.
Crawford Hotel: built into the attic of the historic Union Station, every room is unique.
We went down to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival a few weeks ago, thank you to VISIT DENVER, the Hyatt and the GABF for having us.
Taste the most interesting beers in the State — (and they’re being made by a Canuck!).
Find out what bars are serving Troy Casey’s wild ales and go there immediately. Producing less than 1,000 barrels of beer per year, one-man operation Casey Brewing & Blending located next to Roaring Fork River, outside of Aspen, is the Hill Farmstead of Colorado. Here though, the focus is on wild ales and the art of blending — Casey doesn’t even have a brewhouse — instead he buys wort from other breweries, then barrel ages and ferments it, concentrating on thoughtful fruit additions and the art of blending. A trip out to the brewery (a 3-hour drive from Denver, about an hour from Aspen) is bucket-list worthy — you’ve gotta buy tickets first though as it’s only open three times a week.
Drink big beers with the big brewers in January (then go skiing)
Yeah, we know, extreme beers are so five years ago. Still, if you like your Imperial Stouts (and Denver does, it’s home to the Yeti, after all) there’s no better place to drink them then at Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywine Festival in Breckenridge, Colorado (less than 2 hours drive from Denver). It’s the only festival where you might find yourself sharing a bottle of rare barleywine with a top brewer in a snowy, outdoor hot tub. (Did someone say barleywine in a hot tub?!?) That’s because brewers from all over the U.S. come here for the strong industry component to this fest, so it’s a great chance to meet them and to up your beer geekery by participating in a class or two. Buy your tickets now, and thank us later, the festival is January 5-7th, 2017.