Colorado is often referred to as the Napa of Beer. With more than 360 breweries in the state, it’s clear why beer aficionados and amateurs alike flock to the Centennial State for unique concoctions often brewed with crystal clear pure mountain water.
At the center of the Colorado beer scene is the capital city itself, Denver. The mile-high city and its immediate surroundings are home to nearly 150 of the state’s breweries. All of them differ in their approaches, styles, atmospheres, and cultures. Below is a list of the top nine of what I consider to be the most unique (and sometimes overlooked) breweries in Denver.
1. 14er Brewing Company
River North Art District (RiNo)
Our list starts with a brewery named for the beloved gems of Colorado: the state’s 58 “14ers.” 14ers are mountains that are more than 14,000 feet in height, and climbers from all over the world come to Colorado annually to hike one or all of them. 14er Brewing Company is relatively new to the beer scene but is already making a splash by medaling in the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Two Colorado natives and avid adventurists founded the company after growing up watching other homegrown breweries successfully expand. The pair’s mission is simple: create delicious beer that won’t slow you down. 14er Brewing Company is a perfect marriage between Colorado’s two loves -- an active lifestyle and beer. And as an added nod to Colorado’s 14ers, the brewery donates 1 percent of its profits to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a non-profit that works to preserve the state’s peaks. So go ahead and grab a Long’s Lager or Maroon Bells Tropical Ale, then head out to explore the rest of the state.
2. Sandlot Brewery At Coors Field
This brewery is for baseball lovers. Located inside Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies), Sandlot Brewery is the first brewery ever to open in a Major League Baseball stadium. One of the brewery’s first beers on tap when it opened in 1995 was the Belly Side Wit, which was the original influence for the widely popular Blue Moon Belgian White Belgian-Style Wheat Ale. And the beers have been knocking it out of the park ever since, winning medals at the GABF and World Beer Cup. While sipping on that award-winning beer, you’ll be surrounded by baseball memorabilia including pictures, game balls, and bats. Make sure you time your visit to Sandlot Brewery wisely, however. It’s only open for game ticket holders and is not open during the offseason, though you can rent it out for special events.
3. Falling Rock Taphouse
Lower Downtown (LoDo)
A half a block west of Coors Field is Falling Rock Taphouse. Step one foot inside and you will see why this brewery is often referred to as the epicenter of beer in Denver. There are more than 2,200 empty beer bottles along the wall, most from the owner’s personal collection. His love of beer spans three decades culminating in a craft brewery consistently voted onto best beer lists. And with nearly 70 beers on tap ranging from light lagers to creamy stouts, it’s easy to see why. Falling Rock Taphouse has two levels plus an outdoor area popular with sports goers before and after Colorado Rockies baseball games.
4. Denver Beer Co.
Just across the South Platte River from Coors Field is Denver Beer Co. This brewery creates tasty beer while preserving the planet. Denver Beer Co. is one of just 140 breweries across the United States that uses solar energy in its beer-making process. Adding to that, the brewery sources most of its ingredients locally, including hops, yeast, and fruit. When you enjoy a pint here overlooking the Platte River, know that all the water used for your beer is from that river. The brewery even gives its waste a new life by donating spent grains to local farmers. Denver Beer Co. is the tenth-largest brewery in Colorado due in part to its unique beers. The Graham Cracker Porter, Princess Yum Yum Raspberry Kolsch, and the Tart Delight Citrus Sour rank among favorites. My personal all-time favorite Colorado beer comes from this brewery -- the Hey! Pumpkin seasonal brew that comes out in the fall. All of the beers have won numerous awards throughout the years. And you can see the brewery’s canning process up close by taking a short drive north to Denver Beer Canworks.
5. Tivoli Brewing Company
Tivoli Brewing Company has been around since Denver’s founding in 1859, when the Gold Rush brought fortune seekers out West. Since then, the building has shut down, flooded, become a student union, and finally in 2015, reopened as a brewery. The new owners are committed to keeping the Tivoli building’s history alive by displaying and using some original brewing equipment but also incorporating the new world by installing the newest brewing technology. Tivoli looks to the future by supporting several local charities and has partnered with nearby Metro State University to become a hands-on brewery lab, teaching aspiring beer brewers how to be successful in the industry. There are more than 50 Colorado-made beers on tap, and this is a popular spot for sports fans catching a Denver Nuggets or Colorado Avalanche game at the arena across the street.
6. Banded Oak Brewing
Napa Valley meets beer at Banded Oak Brewing in the heart of downtown Denver. The brewmaster gets oak barrels from wineries in Napa and uses them to give unique flavors to the beer. Much like the time wine spends in oak barrels changes its taste and complexity, the same is true for beer. This rarely used method allows Banded Oak Brewery to put out some of the most uniquely flavored beers around. The brewery uses Cabernet barrels and is looking to try out Pinot and Chardonnay barrels in the future. But, don’t worry, if the oak-aged beer is not to your liking, the brewery does have traditional beers on tap, as well.
7. Prost Brewing Company
Lower Highlands (LoHi)
Germany comes alive in Denver’s bustling LoHi neighborhood at Prost Brewing Company. Prost is committed to its roots by sourcing its ingredients straight from Germany and brewing beer in the traditional German way. The result: German beers in the form of Dunkel, Weissbier, and Kolsch, just to name a few. And what’s more German than a Biergarten? At Prost, you’ll find long wooden tables meant for sharing and making new friends over a cold Bier.
8. FlyteCo Brewing
FlyteCo Brewing harnesses an adventurous spirit in its brews. What started as a hobby in 2008 for two engineering students -- and pilots -- turned into a funky taproom in the desirable Highlands neighborhood. What sets this brewery apart from the others is the taproom itself. It has several aviation features including a large fuselage where you can sit and enjoy one of the 15 beers on tap. The beer flights feature blonde ales, lagers, porters, and amber ales, as well as a gluten-free option. The owners strive to make the place somewhere everyone will want to kick back and stay awhile. FlyteCo Brewing offers Trivia night every week as well as the occasional live music event.
9. Lady Justice Brewing Company
This brewery is just over the Denver line, but it’s worthy of this list, mainly for its philanthropic efforts. The Lady Justice Brewing Company’s sole mission is to help the community by brewing beer. Three friends came up with the idea in 2010 while serving in the AmeriCorps. They wanted to harness Colorado’s beer-loving community for good and quickly made Lady Justice Brewing Company a reality. It’s a movement rooted in beer. The brewery’s profits go to organizations that help empower women and girls in Colorado. In addition to money, the brewery donates its space to nonprofits and uses the taproom as a way to spread the word about volunteer opportunities to the beer-drinking community. The beers have fun names, too: Super Diva!, Sandra Day IPA, Staycation, and When Life Hands You Lemons Cream Ale.
If you want to learn all the sordid details about the history of beer in Colorado, head over to the newly-opened beer exhibit at the History Colorado Center. The Beer Here! Brewing the New West exhibit took five years to create and showcases beer as an integral part of Colorado’s economic and social history. And for even more brewery recommendations, consider a fellow TravelAwaits writer’s picks for the 12 Best Denver Breweries To Experience.