It’s a wonder Letterman didn’t retire earlier: Choosing a top ten list is tough work. In this case, it’s damn near impossible. Colorado boasts a breathtakingly active craft scene, with the Holy Triangle of Denver-Boulder-Ft. Collins constantly battling cities like Portland and San Diego to be the real king of beers. Cable news might want to talk about the other booming psychoactive industry in the state, but brewing is in Colorado’s bones. If you’re not ready to drink a double IPA while riding your custom-built bike through the snow, then Colorado might not be the place for you. Just ask a member of the Coors family or Governor John Hickenlooper, who opened Denver’s first brewpub. Or anyone who has ever been to the palate-busting, mind-altering Great American Beer Festival, which hits Denver each fall. Even if you can’t make it to the Centennial State anytime soon, try your best to get your hands on one of these brews.
Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver
The folks over at Great Divide choose their names for a reason. Beers like Hoss, Yeti and Nomad evoke almost mythological imagery, granting the liquid within the bottles a feeling of a backstory before you’ve even popped the cap. Nothing could be truer of Titan, which conveys power and force on the label and behind it. Have a few and you’ll be feeling it (it flexes a healthy 7.1% ABV), but the beer never feels too aggressive or filling. In fact, there’s a pronounced sweetness to it—an element that provides balance to one of the great beers in this state, and for that matter, the country.
TRVE Brewing Company, Denver
Stepping into TRVE on Broadway is a sensory explosion. Heavy tunes blare at all hours and the dark, long room can get packed with all manner of folk: metalheads, beer geeks and frat dudes, all mingling over stellar brews. The pinnacle is this stout, a beer that’s totally small batch Colorado but could go to toe-to-toe with the Irish and British heavyweights. It’s as smooth as the metal on the speakers isn’t, with oat and chocolate notes that lead to a frothy aftertaste. It’s named after the Seattle drone metal band Sunn O))) and, if you’re lucky, the stars may align for you to hear ‘em while you’re putting one back.
Odell Brewing Company, Ft. Collins
Odell’s is a microcosm of Colorado: Picking just a handful of their offerings is a tough task. But this double IPA is a standout. Named for Myrcene—an organic compound that is a component of the essential oil in hops—it packs a wallop at 9.3% ABV but you’d never know it. Myrcenary sips more easily than some regular IPAs and its floral aromas would impress most botanists. If you have the chance, drink one on under the sun on the Odell patio—a wonderful tasting “room” with dozens of tables, live entertainment and people-watching par excellence.
Ska Brewing Company, Durango
A beer drinker’s life can’t be all hop-heavy India pale ales. (Although Ska makes a fantastic one with its aggressive yet palatable, Modus Hoperandi.) This Southwestern Colorado brewery has become a state staple, with its colorful cans widely available. Ska’s E.S.B. has a smooth smooth drinkability that conjures images of a wooden London pub with fog wafting past the windows. And if you feeling extra English: Leave it out for a few minutes after you grab it from the fridge to get it closer to that cask ale cellar temp.
Avery Brewing Company, Boulder
Oh my. This one is a real kick in the shorts—in the best of ways. You’ll find no “easy-drinking” label, here. Clocking in at 10% to 12% ABV with 102 IBUs (yes, this is a beer geek’s beer), the Maharaja makes you feel its wrath. But, what a wrath: It’s hoppy, yes, but the bite is sui generis. It doesn’t play by the same rules as other IPAs, double IPAs and imperial IPAs. It’s, as the name implies, exotic—flavors of wine tannins and herbs are as prevalent as malts and hops. This imperial IPA has so many things going on, it’s like going to the circus on acid.
Strange Craft Brew Company, Denver
Strange does its best to live up to its name: Housed in an industrial park just steps from the Denver Broncos’ stadium, the brewery cooks up some offbeat suds. One that has become a cornerstone is this Cherry Kriek. (The name is a play on tributary of the South Platte River that runs through Denver.) Strange begins with a dark, Belgian wheat and then jams tons of Montmorency cherries into it. The result is a tight, tart blast—liquefied cherry pie in a glass. The joint can be crammed, too—especially on gamedays—but it’s well worth a trip to sample Strange’s offerings. Otherwise, the Kriek has been taking over more tap handles and is available as a bomber.
HMS BOUNTY OLD ALE
Dry Dock Brewing Company, Aurora
Dry Dock exploded onto the craft scene a few years back, and the brewery has since opened a full-scale canning operation that also serves has a second tasting room. Either location is solid but start with the original: an unassuming long room amidst a row of suburban strip mall shops. (If you doubt the Dry Dock’s commitment to small batch brewing—on account of its wide availability these days—check out the attached Brew Hut. There, homebrewers can buy anything they need to make their own beverages, from hops to carboys.) At the Dock, grab this Old Ale: a dark amber ale with little bitterness (30 IBUs) and a higher-than-you’d expect kick around 7% ABV. If you can’t get your hands on one, try its cousin the S.S. Minnow Mild, or the canned Amber Ale. Really, try everything they make; these guys don’t mess around.
Station 26 Brewing Company, Denver
Cream ales are hard to master: Too often they can be too bland or, on the other side of things, overwrought. Often, the soapy mixture leads to a bogus aftertaste. Genesee Cream Ale has long been the cheap beer standard-bearer in the category, and has been joined in the ranks by lesser-known brands like Little Kings. They are decent brews for the money, but Station 26 has the filet to their chuck roast. Built in Denver’s old fire station number 26, the brewery and its patio teems with 30-somethings. A visit isn’t necessary, though, as this flagship beer and its red tap handle are popping up all over town. The beer, itself, is refreshing and smooth—like an alcoholic glass of A&W cream soda. It’s, at once, a drink that can satisfy those who don’t typically like the taste of beer (a.k.a. weirdos) and, also, a pleasure for the hardened nerd who’s reading The Oxford Companion to Beer at the end of the bar.
Comrade Brewing Company, Denver
This Soviet-themed brewery only opened last year but it already has its own formidable bloc within the Colorado craft community. Most of the praise being heaped upon Comrade stems from this brew, which boasts a blend of three Oregon-grown hops: Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo. The final product has a reddish tint—a perfect hat tip to the brewery’s Stalinesque surroundings. The beer is, of course, hoppy but not overly so and the formula is both rich and clean. It’s the kind of concoction that is so satisfying it’s already beginning to form a surrounding cult of personality.
Funkwerks, Ft. Collins
Saison’s can be tough cookies: First brewed in Belgian farmhouses for the summer months, some are too tart, others too bitter. Many are an acquired taste that turn off first-timers. Not this one. It’d be an insult to call this imperial saison “entry level” but it’s entirely approachable. (Funkwerks, which has been in the biz for six years, specializes in saisons and Belgian-style ales.) It’s chock full of fruity aromas and flavor, and is balanced out by the brewery’s house yeast strain. It packs a punch (8% ABV) but grab a bomber for the approaching summer and get funky.