Maybe it’s a symptom of getting older, but the years just seem to get shorter and shorter (and my work days longer and longer – what gives!?), but we are apparently at the time of year when Denver hosts the Great American Beer Festival. Last year I wrote two posts on the subject:
Even though the clock continues to tick us ever-closer to death (apparently I’m in goth mode today, or maybe it’s because I’m listening to the 10th Anniversary Les Miserables concert. Either/or), my list from the first post remains shockingly solid. With the exception of the Bark Bar, which sadly closed because of bureaucratic nonsense earlier this year, all of last year’s suggestions are still open and excellent. Because I’m super lazy, instead of reconstructing the entire list, I am including the following suggestions as an addendum to, instead of a replacement of, what I wrote last year. If you want the full list, please click on the top link… come on, it’s just one click, even I’m not that lazy.
- Revival Brews, Evergreen. Of course I’m going to include this place in my town, because why the hell wouldn’t I? Revivial Brews is a new player on the scene tucked away on the eastern end of downtown Evergreen. With a great patio and small town Colorado vibe, as well an excellent taplist and food, they are a no-brainer to visit. I recommend making a day of it and checking out Buffalo Bill’s Grave, the elk rut in Evergreen, and finishing off at Revival with their seriously delicious blondie a’la mode. It’s stupidly good.
- Colorado Plus, Wheat Ridge. Colorado Plus (or C+ as we call it) is a brewery and taphouse, so, in amongst their 56 rotating Colorado-only taplist, they have several of their own beers brewed in a teensy-tiny space at the back of the building. Considering that one of their brewers is a Siebel graduate and the other is a Certified Cicerone (who also happens to be their beer buyer), it’s hard to go wrong. Their taps rotate frequently and I have yet to visit when there wasn’t at least one beer that made me inappropriately excited.
- Dungeons & Drafts, Fort Collins. Calling this place a “geek bar” is doing it a disservice, because it’s not just for geeks, but also for nerds and cosplayers and dungeon masters and gamers and every other form of fan-boy and fan-girl out there. With custom game tables, drinks tied to various fandoms, and an atmosphere like at any moment a man in a hood is going to walk up and offer to sell you health vials (for cheap!), it is geek paradise. A good tap line-up does not hurt one bit and with weekly events from Harry Potter night to Pirate vs Ninja day, you are never wanting for something quirky and wonderful to attend. Also, it’s a female-owned business, so how’s that for seriously bucking some stereotypes?
- Locavore, Littleton (Columbine Valley). It’s impossible to start this list with any other brewery. Located less than a mile from the South Platte River bikepath (and Saint Patrick’s Brewing), this brewery is brewing some of the best beer in Colorado, let alone the south Denver suburbs. Their Lillyhammer is the Beerd Wrangler’s current favorite IPA and I can’t get enough of their Das Litre Bier Marzen (yell it with a think German accent when you order it, they LOVE that). We joke that Locavore is our local, despite it being 35 minutes from home. Having brewed with owners Jason and Andy last Wednesday, I can tell you that it is no accident that their beers are consistently solid: these guys know their stuff. From the science to the art, they are two of the most talented craft brewers out there and you would be remiss to pass them up. Breckenridge Brewery’s Farmhouse may be getting all of the love in the area, but now you know better.
- Boggy Draw, Sheridan. While you’re down in the area checking out Locavore and Saint Patrick’s, why not jump off the bike path and pedal your way to Boggy Draw? The only brewery in Sheridan (for the time being), Boggy Draw is an adorable, industrial-park brewery with a distinctly Colorado personality. Owner Beef grew up hunting the Boggy Draw in western Colorado and decided to bring the look and feel of the area to his brewery. Luckily, his beers (and those of his brewer Todd) redefine what a good campfire beer is, with an array of styles and a willingness to dump a batch if it’s not exactly what they want (a frighteningly rare skill), you are likely to find more than one thing you’ll love. Their Cream Reaper, a heavily hopped cream ale, is my current favorite, but the Sargent Sinkhole Hefeweizen (named after and brewed with a Sheridan police officer who drove into a sinkhole earlier this year) is the truest-to-style hefeweizen I have had in the US in almost a decade. Yes… I am actually recommending a wheat beer. Yes, I feel just fine, why do you ask?
- Chain Reaction, Denver (Athmar Park). Three words: Pink Peppercorn Saison. That’s all you need to know, but being that I am fairly verbose, I will fill you in a bit more. Chain Reaction is so close to downtown and yet a world away. They opened in an under-served location (I’m looking at you all of the breweries opening in RiNo) that was desperate for a brewery and they have done it in fine style. Their atmosphere is much like their beer: they fit in, yet they stand out. From ownership down you will find some of the most dedicated, passionate individuals to grace the industry working there. Constantly hosting events from their monthly comedy night to bike crawls to raise money for MDA, Chain Reaction is The Place to Be more often than not. Their beers are almost always innovative, frequently outside of style guidelines (to all of our benefit), and beg you to take another sip. Having recently upgraded to a larger system and started bottling, I recommend checking them out while they are still the little neighborhood brewery, because they won’t be for long.
- Spangalang, Denver (Five Points). My regular readers, especially on Facebook, know how much I love brewery clustering and hate brewery saturation. Spangalang, a venture headed by three former Great Divide employees, skirts (literally and figuratively) the RiNo issue by opening just south and east in Five Points. The D Line drops off 20 feet from their front door, so you don’t have any excuse to skip this extraordinary brewery. Not specializing in any one style, Spangalang produces beers from across the spectrum with precision and a clear love of the craft. I also adore their decor (ugh, sorry). Their logo is the iconic Five Points intersection made to look like a vinyl record in an ever-changing array of colors. Inside the brewery, it’s comfortable and hip, with the fantastic Zivix Five Points just upstairs serving up great snacks to accompany your brews. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial (and with a hearty dose of neighborhood institutionalism) check out the Welton Street Cafe and their delightful fried chicken. You can find me at Spangalang after work on Tuesday trying their collaboration with the Real Dill: a cucumber gose. Yes, please!
- Coal Creek Tap, Laramie, Wyoming. Wait… what the hell is a brewery in Wyoming doing on this distinctly Colorado-centric list!? Well, for folks traveling in from the western states, they may well be rambling by Laramie and/or for folks making the trip up to Fort Collins, Laramie is not that far of a jaunt. We discovered Coal Creek on our yearly trip to Saratoga, Wyoming for the Steinley Cup Beer Festival. Not only is this little brewery one of the best in Wyoming, but it’s one of the best we’ve had, full stop. A very cozy taproom with a distinctly historic feel (I dream of the subway tiles on their tap wall), they not only pour a wide variety of beer styles, but in their proper glassware! I’m talking a thistle glass for a Scotch ale, people, that’s damn serious beer geekery. I’m pretty sure that beertender Josh is at least half puppy dog, because no human being is that nice. Also, he’s a damn fine artist. Kind AND talented… what an irritating combination. It is worth the drive, and crossing state lines, to get their brews.
- Other breweries to check out that I love but don’t have an extensive write-up on: Platt Park (wonderful IPA and house sour), Skeye (few beers on during our first visit, but were very good), Saint Patrick’s (all non-traditional lagers, best beer garden in town), Rally King (great beers out of the gate, a rare thing when a brewer transitions from homebrewing to pro), Factotum (incubator, allowing homebrewers to brew on their pro system, great education programs).
Mentions from last year: 4 Noses, Big Choice, Brewery Rickoli, Broken Compass, Casey Brewing & Blending, Manitou Brewing, Paradox (not yet open in their new location in Divide), Golden City (their new dry stout is fantastic), Shine, Mountain Sun family, Comrade, Baere (which continues to impress and delight), Lowdown, Equinox (one of the inspirations for the name of our Siberian husky, Nox!), Happy Leaf Kombucha (which now has a small kitchen).
Unluckily for me, there are far more eateries than breweries in the Denver area, so this list is much, much more difficult to compile. We are lucky to live in a city with such a diverse restaurant scene and so many great restaurants opening seemingly every day. Financial constraints keep me from some of the better-known and newer restaurants in town, so this year’s list is much abbreviated, but I am no less enthusiastic about it.
- Zivix Five Points, Denver (Five Points). Yeah, Zivix is getting another shout-out. Sometimes the best food isn’t that which you sit down to in spats and gowns, but little snacks you have with great beers you are sharing with your friends. Zivix is redefining pub grub with gorgeous pickled eggs, the Zivix Picnic full of salty and sweet snacks, and dirt bombs, which are exactly like your mom’s cinnamon sugar toast, if your mom had access to pure fairy dust. That they have opened upstairs from Spangalang just makes it all-the-better.
- Food Trucks, All Over. Food trucks may be trendy and veer towards being a little too hipster, but they are also a welcome addition to the brewery scene filling the void in our bellies while supping our favorite brews. A few worth mentioning:
- Cluck Truck: owned by a former Flying Dog Brewery employee, nonetheless, is like Chick-fil-a if it was made with 100% better ingredients and 100% less hate. In addition to wonderful fried chicken, they offer the po-dog: a hot dog, surrounded by mashed potato and cheddar cheese, all wrapped in an egg roll wrapper and deep fried. They have a limited number every day, so make sure to order early and often.
- Tony Guacamole: Colorado is known for it’s hybrid Mexican food: a little Baja, a little New Mexico, a little Oaxacan. Tony Guacamole offers burritos and tacos that are none of these things, and that’s just fine. I particularly like their Tatonka burrito with shredded bison. Worth tracking down for a little change of pace from orange chile (sorry, fellow Colorado natives: it’s orange, not green, get over it) and deep-fried chili rellenos (not that there is a single thing wrong with those, by the way).
- Others: Dude WTF (deep-fried hamburgers and Apple Dudes), Barefoot BBQ (kale coleslaw and smoked chicken), Pavlo’s Taste of Ukraine (pierogies), Waffle Up (glorious Belgian waffles), Denver Biscuit Company (the Franklin is actually a GABF requirement – and it’s also a storefront, so you’re in luck if you can’t chase down their truck).
Mentions from last year: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, Bob’s Atomic Burgers, Park Burger, Mexico City Restaurant, Big Mama’s Burritos, The Buckhorn Exchange, The Cherry Cricket, Wild Ginger, New Saigon, Big City Burrito, Pete’s Kitchen, SOBO 151.
I don’t have much to add to last year’s list as generally cool places to visit turn over much slower than breweries or restaurants. However, I am going to take this opportunity to do a shameless plug for a fun event in the Green CO2 Hall at the Convention Center. You do not need a GABF ticket to attend and there are seminars on everything from fruit beers to CO2 regulations to brewing lagers. Our friend Kim over at Inky Beer will be giving a presentation on being a female head brewer and opening a new brewery and yours truly will be giving a presentation on prepping for the Cicerone and BJCP exams. Between drinking and more drinking, please swing by to learn/ask questions/heckle. Wait… just the first two.
Finding All of the Above
Here’s a map of all of the places I’ve recommended, to help you navigate our little slice of the Wild West.
We are so lucky to be able to play host to GABF and the thousands of brewers, brewery staffers, and beer geeks who come out for the fest. And, if I may say so, the folks who travel to Colorado for the fest are lucky that it’s located in such a fun and beautiful place. Please take the time to escape from the hall and check out all of the wonderful things to do and to eat and to drink the great Rocky Mountain west has to offer.
Just over two days and counting. See you soon.
Note: I’ve used primarily Facebook links to allow you to get the most updated information from all of the establishments listed.