The most jarring thing I noticed during my weekend in Denver is that everyone looked so fucking happy. Maybe it’s the proximity to the Rocky Mountains; or the proximity to the sun, causing the air to be thinner; or the fact that Denver has one of the highest saturations of breweries in the country. Maybe it’s the abundance of another recently legalized substance. Whatever it is, I want a sip of the Kool-Air that these carefree people are chugging.
This particular weekend, however, I stuck with beer. It’s less a compromise and more a treat, because Denver has branded itself as a craft wonderland. As the home of the Great American Beer Festival, the Mile High City has endless ways to enjoy beers, whether you would rather stay in city-center, with taprooms dotted amongst high-rises, or venture to the city’s burgeoning arts district, where breweries easily outnumber coffee shops.
Kimpton Born Hotel
You’ve just gotten off the train, and you want a beer. Usually, the hotel restaurant is a gamble when it comes to beer selection. But in the case of Kimpton Born, local beer takes center stage alongside in-house aged meats. Citizen Rail, located off the hotel’s wood-paneled lobby, has over a dozen on draft. Happy hour is when this list really shines, when different beers are paired with accompanying shots for $7. Try a pint of lager with bonded corn whiskey or a glass of saison with amaro, alongside a dry-aged hot dog served elote-style.
Habit Donut Dispensary
Through a quiet park and over a lazy river sits the picturesque Riverfront section of the Highlands neighborhood. It’s not much more than a few condo buildings and a single strip lined with boutiques and cafes, but it has the charm of Colorado’s more secluded mountain towns. Part of that charm comes from Habit Donut Dispensary, a graffiti-covered shop that wants to cater to all of your vices, starting with doughnuts. With 420-friendly names, such as the torched sugar Blazed, and the option to add pipette full of booze to any doughnut, Habit offers some of Denver’s more colorful confections. But wait, this is a beer story, and they have that too, in the form of PBR and Coors Banquet served out of a reclaimed ice cream cooler.
Denver Beer Co. and Cervecería Colorado
After your sugar fix, turn to more pressing matter at hand at one of Denver’s most long-standing craft breweries. Founders Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford became pioneers when they opened Denver Beer Co in 2011, a year considered by some to be the start of the American craft beer boom. It was followed by two additional locations, one on the opposite side of the city and another in Arvada, Colorado. The original remains your best bet for two reasons. First is its beer garden. Canopied by hop vines, it’s the perfect spot to try some of the brewery’s flagships, such as Princess Yum Yum raspberry kolsch or Graham Cracker Porter. Second is its proximity to Cervecería Colorado—it’s next door. The brewery, which opened earlier this year, is not only inspired by Mexican beers, but also regularly collaborates with Mexican breweries.
My Brother’s Bar
Hailed as the oldest bars in Denver, My Brother’s Bar is known for more than its continuously flowing brews. The institution also claims to serve the best burger in town, and it’s difficult to argue with that claim when you’re staring down a melted-cheese-covered Steerburger. While its brick interior might not look like much, inside a long wooden bar is lined with seemingly endless bottles of spirits, wines, bitters and, yes, tap handles. Indeed, you are in the right place. The draft list leans heavily on burger-friendly, imported pilsners and lagers, with both Pilsner Urquell and Tivoli Helles Lager represented, with a couple local options, such as Denver Pale Ale, to keep just about any beer-drinker satisfied.
The Source Hotel + Market Hall
If it weren’t for the train from the airport dropping you off at Union Station, smack dab in the middle of downtown, it would be pretty easy to avoid the more cosmopolitan part of Denver altogether. Especially if you opt to spend time in the mountains or for the more beer-friendly alternative of the RiNo district. The brand-new Source Hotel + Market Hall brings together 100 minimalist-chic hotel rooms and a food hall filled with everything from smoked meat by the pound at the aptly named Smōk to Crooked Stave sours. It will also be the future home of New Belgium’s small-batch and sour brewery. For now, its rooftop, poolside restaurant and barrel warehouse, dubbed The Woods, will have to suffice.
It just feels right to start a day full a beer-drinking with a breakfast full of stuff-on-toast. Call does fancy toast so well that Bon Appetit named it one of the best new restaurants of 2018. Built into a cozy A-frame cottage, with the front yard converted into a dog-friendly patio, Call’s counter-service-concept is popular amongst those eating and drinking their way through RiNo. Start the snacking with sourdough æbelskivers, these Danish pancakes are served in donut hole form with jam and ricotta. Consider them your warm up for a smorgasbord of tartines, from cured salmon with curried onions to heirloom broccoli with anchovy-lemon vinaigrette. All paired with a mason jar filled with Elevation pilsner, of course.
Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company
While it might be difficult to convey that visiting Our Mutual Friend is, in fact, a trip to a brewery, not a person, the mural-covered building is easy to find. Located on Larimer Street, the seven-barrel brewery marks the beginning of a nearly mile-long strip of taprooms, dispensaries and restaurants. Our Mutual Friend Looks like, as the name implies, your friends came together and opened a taproom in their garage. The small space boasts not much more than a couple tables, bar and shelves filled with tchotchkes—porcelain dogs and a miniature freight ship included. Well, there is also a sprawling side beer garden. Beers are displayed on black message boards and, despite its small stature, the array of beers varies widely, from a slightly sweet Camiso Cream Ale to the funky Brett saison Trystero.
Since 2015, Ratio Beerworks has focuses on more than just making beer, it has also focused on making a community in RiNo. The taproom epitomizes neighborhood vibes with its theater-marquee-style menu board and massive side yard. In addition to the occasional taco truck, the brewery regularly hosts beer yoga as well as its most popular tradition Lucha, Libre and Laughs, a night of comedy and performance wrestling. Once a month, enjoy a pint of Dear You French saison ringside at one of the most unique gatherings this side of the Rockies.
Odell Brewing Co.
As Colorado’s beer industry as a whole continues to thrive, the easier it becomes to get a taste of the state’s other great beer city in Denver. Fort Collins’ own New Belgium and Odell will soon both have RiNo taprooms. The latter opened its two-story taproom earlier this year in a 101-year-old brick building. While it offers many Odell mainstays, such as Rapture and Cloud Catcher, the bar also brews its own small-batch brews on its pilot system. These include a dangerously refreshing Guava Gose, of the bar’s most popular beers, and a take on the New England-style IPA called Fluff Too. Grab a goblet-full and make your way to the clandestine patio, located off the rear of the second floor.
Despite opening nearly three years ago, Hop Alley remains one of Denver’s most popular restaurants. By the time the restaurant opens at 5:30, a line has formed out the door to be one of the first to get a table. All these people are lined up for a taste of chef and restaurateur Tommy Lee’s take on Chinese cuisine, from Cantonese to Sichuan. Start with the chilled tofu, which is swimming in a spicy bang bang sauce and accented by smashed cucumbers, before moving onto bone marrow fried rice and Beijing duck rolls with scallion pancakes. With a name like Hop Alley, you’d hope that hops would be present somewhere in this establishment. You won’t be disappointed. The beer list leans local, with options from nearby Ratio and TRVE.
It’s late, your palate may or may not be entirely destroyed. It’s at this point in the night when some would turn to a light lager, but I usually revert back to sours to kick-start my tired senses. Goes Zuur is a sour beer-lovers heaven. Hailed as the world’s first sour-only beer bar, its rectangular bar is the place to find rare wild ales and coveted bottles. The bar regularly hosts specialty beer dinners and taps kegs that you won’t find anywhere else in Denver. On this particular night, it was a trio of beers from Raleigh, North Carolina’s Brewery Bhanava. Bounty, a barrel-aged sour saison, hit the spot with its rounded tartness. Pair it with some duck fat popcorn and call it a night.
Main photo by Evan Semon