There’s no denying Portland and Denver vie for the title of Beer Town, USA. (Be quiet, San Diego. And Vermont is not a city.) Each boasts more breweries on its own than most states do altogether: 58 in PDX and 46 in the Mile-High City ... and counting. And they’ve both revolutionized the craft-beer industry in their own ways—Oregon by essentially starting it (hullo, Widmer Brothers, Bridgeport, and McMenamins), and Colorado by canning it (thank you, Oskar Blues).
But Denver does have one thing Portland doesn’t: the Great American Beer Festival, a rite of passage for any serious beer lover. Trouble is, tickets to this year’s GABF, September 24–26, sold out in about an hour, and we’re betting you weren’t among the 49,000 who earned entry to this ale extravaganza. No sweat. The neighborhood taps still flow during GABF. And there’s another thing Denver has: around 250 days of sunshine. Which means this unofficial guide to Denver’s beer scene is a sojourn you can pull off any time of year.
Tucked neatly inside the recently reborn Union Station—Denver’s 100-year-old train depot that reopened in 2014 full of chic shops and restaurants—the new 112-room Crawford Hotel sits stumbling distance from one of the best tap lists in Denver: Terminal Bar’s 30 taps pour Colorado beers exclusively, from standards like Odell’s IPA to offbeat offerings like Copper Kettle Mexican Chocolate Stout. Across the street from the stately hotel, you’ll find Wynkoop Brewing Co, the brainchild of Colorado’s “Brewer in Chief.” That’d be Gov. John Hickenlooper, who started the brewery in 1988 in a then unsavory part of town, spawning a Pearl District–like transformation of the überhip area now known as LoDo. Closer to the convention center, the Hyatt Regency’s upscale executive digs come with a self-guided walking tour itinerary of some of Denver’s favorite sipping spots, among them Breckenridge Brewery and Great Divide. The stellar view of the sun setting over the saw-toothed Rockies from Peaks Lounge on the 27th floor seals the deal on this spot.
You could pay $29 for a guided walking tour of either LoDo or the warehouse-turned-arts-district RiNo (River North) with Denver Microbrew Tour, and you probably wouldn’t be disappointed. (After sampling 10 beers at several breweries, no one should feel grumpy.) But you’re a Portlander, so seek out one of the city’s 86 B-cycle stations. The short-term bike rentals ($9 for the whole day) give you the freedom to cover more ground. Start with Denver stalwart Great Divide Brewing, which just opened a massive new bottling plant and taproom in RiNo but has been making its signature brews—among them Titan IPA and Hoss rye lager—since 1994. In the same neighborhood, you’ll find Denver’s premier sour-beer maker, Crooked Stave, as well as Black Shirt Brewing. The three-year-old artisan alehouse has quickly gained a following in Denver thanks to well-balanced brews like the India red ale and its distinctively rock-’n’-roll vibe. From here, follow the South Platte River Trail, an 18-mile path that runs along the city-bisecting river, over to Denver Beer Co, whose beer garden has the boisterous feel of Munich’s Hofbräuhaus—without the sausage. Instead, a rotating cast of food carts, such as Brava Pizza, provides the pairing for your Graham Cracker Porter. You’ll need the sustenance, because your next stop is 2.5 miles away. Another relative newcomer, Renegade Brewing Co (and its Redacted Rye IPA) is the perfect kickoff to exploring the Santa Fe Arts District.
Central downtown’s bright and modern Stout Street Social boasts an impressive and eclectic tap list as well as some intriguing beer cocktails, such as the Snakebite (Upslope Craft Lager, hard cider, blackberry liqueur). Five blocks away, Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen has already established itself as the go-to place for a tightly curated domestic tap list; the menu, a sophisticated take on pub food dreamed up by James Beard Award–winning chef Jennifer Jasinski, won’t disappoint for lunch or dinner. If you’re in the mood for cozy and comfy, skip across I-25 to Hops and Pie, a pizzeria that specializes in homemade sauces and a constantly rotating collection of craft beers. This local favorite also affords the opportunity to explore what’s quickly becoming a kind of Alberta Arts equivalent: Tennyson Street is a quirky arts district transforming into a foodie street. Save your special meal for To the Wind Bistro, one of Denver’s best new restaurants. Planted on East Colfax Avenue—which Playboy allegedly once dubbed “the longest, wickedest street in America”—to the Wind has a surprising menu (veal sweetbreads, anyone?) and funked-up beer list (5 Rabbit Missionario) to overshadow the long wait times.
Beyond Beer (Kinda)
That thing about elevation and intoxication? It’s not entirely true. Really, the problem is the dehydration associated with Denver’s warmer, drier climate. So put down the pint glass and wander through the stunning, 320-acre City Park. For an even mellower respite, check in to the Ritz-Carlton’s spa. The lavish downtown hotel boasts what is surely Beervana: the Mile High Malt Scrub and Microbrew Massage ($200). You’ll start with an exfoliation that includes a concoction of Great Divide malt and rice ale, then progress to a mask made with Great Divide’s Yeti stout, and a full-body massage that also invokes the Yeti.