Home to more than 100 microbreweries and brewpubs, Denver is known as the “Napa Valley of Beer.” Indeed, more beer is brewed in Denver than any other American city. Its downtown area is one of the best places to sample the suds in the Mile High City, since several brewpubs and tasting rooms are within walking distance of the historic Union Station train depot in Lower Downtown (LoDo). Some are across the Platte River in the hip Lower Highlands (LoHi) and Riverfront neighborhoods, while others are a stone’s throw from Coors Field (and are typically packed when the Colorado Rockies have a baseball game).
Bottom line: All of the following beer-sampling locations are within a relatively concentrated space in downtown Denver. You could reach them all on foot in one afternoon and evening – I did it! Though, I must admit, I didn’t imbibe at all of them. Hey, someone’s got to stay sober to do the research to help visitors enjoy the best of Denver’s brewpubs.
Best Array for Imbibing: Falling Rock Tap House
It’s no surprise the Falling Rock Tap House smells a bit like a frat basement and has a decor to match (think beer ads and bumper stickers on the walls, Ms. Pac-Man, and a pool table below street level). After all, behind its wooden bar there’s more than 80 beers on tap, not to mention more than 130 bottled varieties in its refrigerators. Bartenders are well schooled in helping you pick out a beer you’ll like. I said I was a fan of wheat beers, and was quite pleased with the suggestion to sample a refreshing Avery White Rascal from Boulder, Colorado. Indeed, statewide brews reign supreme here, but there are selections from all over the world – especially Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, and Germany – plus cider and mead. A full menu features favorites like the tamale plate, black ‘n bleu burger, and chile cheese fries. 1919 Blake St.
Oldest Brewpub in Colorado: Wynkoop Brewing Company
The granddaddy of all Denver breweries, the Wynkoop was the very first craft brewery in the city, co-founded in 1988 by none other than Colorado’s current governor, John Hickenlooper. Beers here are plentiful – choose from no less than 15 varieties on tap, including the Colorojo Double Red, Railyard Ale, and a brew with a kick, Patty’s Chili Beer. The Wynkoop is hopping (pun!) after dark on the weekends, as the gigantic second floor is a popular nightspot, with 22 pool tables, darts, skee-ball and shuffleboard. The sit-down restaurant serves comfort food items like buffalo meatloaf and creamy macaroni and cheese (I recommend adding jalapeno elk sausage for additional flavor). 1634 18th St.
Roomy dining area at Breckenridge Colorado Craft
Best Show of State Pride: Breckenridge Colorado Craft
After a total makeover in 2012, the Breckenridge Colorado Craft brewpub, kitty corner from Coors Field, has an industrial, modern look with exposed brick walls, chrome railings, and simple pendant lighting hanging from high ceilings. Choose from Breckenridge Brewery selections, such as Agave Wheat and Vanilla Porter, but also a huge list of other Colorado craft breweries, including Elevation Beer Company, Lone Tree Brewing Company, and Crazy Mountain Brewery. Still more options: Denver-made Infinite Monkey Theorem wine on tap and Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. Stick around for a meal here, with options such as a lobster roll slider, burger with smoked maple bacon (from the Denver Bacon Company), and chicken-fried buffalo steak. 2220 Blake St.
Viewfinder Tip: No need for a car to bar hop in downtown Denver. If you don’t want to walk, hail one of the ever-present pedicabs for a relaxing ride between pubs.
Most Award-winning Brews: Great Divide Tap Room
Having been named the “Top Brewer in Colorado” by Ratebeer.com and on the list of “All-Time Top Breweries On Planet Earth” by Beer Advocate, the Great Divide Tap Room is the place to go if you’re serious about good beer. Take a first-come, first-served, complimentary tour of the brewing operation in the afternoon (Monday to Friday, 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., every 30 to 45 minutes). Then stick around to sample three small pours for just $3; consider the nutty Hercules Double IPA or the roasty Yeti Imperial Stout. Note: you might be standing cheek-to-jowl with other beer connoisseurs in the small tasting room. And you may want to fill your belly before arrival, as the only food available here is small bags of kettle chips and beer nuts, though you may find food trucks parked outside. 2201 Arapahoe St.
Perfect pour of Weissbier at Prost Brewing
Notable Newcomer: Prost Brewing
Across the Platte River and I-25 in the LoHi district of downtown Denver (walk across the Highland Pedestrian Bridge to get there), Prost Brewing opened its German bier-hall-like tasting room in 2012. Quickly, fans of German brews made their way to Prost’s long wooden tables (a la Munich’s Hofbräuhaus) to sample Pils, Dunkelbier, and Kölsch served in glassware imported from Germany. Still more authenticity: beer here is brewed in copper kettles, also brought over from Germany and painstakingly reconstructed on site. Just ask for a tour to see the inner workings of the brewery; if an employee is available, he or she will happily take you back to admire the impressive set-up. Snacks here include soft Bavarian pretzels and cookies made with beer; food carts are often parked outside, and you can bring in your own sandwiches if you like. 2540 19th St.
Sample seasonal beers next to the brewing tanks at Denver Beer Co.
Best Seasonal Selection: Denver Beer Company
A spacious patio filled with picnic tables, plus board games to borrow inside, makes the Denver Brewing Company a popular spot to gather with friends in the Riverfront neighborhood, especially in the warm-weather months. This is a relatively new microbrewery, having opened in 2011, and its brewmasters like to experiment with seasonal ingredients. A refreshing Kaffir Lime Wheat is available now, and when the weather starts to cool, look for the spicy Hey! Pumpkin’ brew. When I visited recently, a wood-fired pizza cart was just outside the entrance; otherwise beer tasters can purchase warm pretzels. 1695 Platte St.
Still more (awesome) options for bar hopping in downtown Denver include the neighborhood-joint Ale House at Amato’s in LoHi, the sophisticated Denver Chophouse & Brewery near Coors Field (great for an upscale date night), and upbeat Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (with a good kids’ menu) on the 16th Street Mall.
In what cities do you like to bar hop?