When John Hickenlooper and his buddies opened the Wynkoop Brewery back in 1988, they probably had no idea how their little brewing operation would not only help change the landscape of Lower Downtown but lay the foundation of how great beer would be brewed.
Of course, it's also doubtful he ever imagined himself as a former Governor of Colorado.
In addition to brewing its own beer, Wynkoop Brewery helped change the language and definitions of the beer brewing process. According to the Brewers Association:
- There are 461 breweries in Colorado. Of those, 75 are microbreweries (producing no more than 15,000 barrels/year).
- There are 24 microbreweries in Denver.
- "Craft" beer refers to a brewery that produces no more than 2 million gallons of beer/year and is independently own.
It gets a little confusing, no?
Last summer, five Colorado cities were among the top 20 in the nation in breweries per capita, according to a study by C+R Research.
The marketing firm ranked more than 500 cities across the United States by their number of breweries, and Boulder, Fort Collins, Loveland, Denver and Longmont all made the top 20. Denver was 18th with six breweries for every 50,000 people.
The proliferation of microbreweries has extended beyond little wannabe startups and has become a major driver of Colorado’s economy. According to the Brewers Association, Colorado's small breweries and craft brewers lead the nation in per capita economic impact among 21+ adults, with each person spending $780 for a total of $3.3 billion (2018).
With the impending warmer temperatures, there is no better time to start exploring the microbreweries in Denver. Below is a very biased selection in no particular order by some of the Usaj Realty staff members of Denver’s best suds stops.
As the head honcho of Usaj Realty, Jenny Usaj names this iconic brewer as her favorite. Located now in both Ball Park and RiNo neighborhoods, this microbrewery began with a marketing study and a business plan back in 1994, and is now one of the oldest and one of the most respected tasting houses around. The brewery started small with only one full-time employee and just recently moved into an expansive facility in RiNo. The trademark Yeti brand is always a favorite and the Pale Ale artist series is distinctively Denver. Launched in 2016, local artists vie to design a can depicting what the Mile High City means to them. “Try the Strawberry Rhubarb Sour," says Jenny.
This small, independent craft brewery located at 3400 Blake Street is loaded with Colorado themed ales, lagers and stouts, and features new releases throughout the year (be sure to check their calendar). You'll find rotating food trucks and a dog-friendly patio, perfect for enjoying a warm spring day.
You absolutely cannot go wrong with a visit to Denver Beer Co. We swear all of their beers were specifically designed to be crowd pleasers so if you have some picky drinkers in your bunch, this is the place to go. Their patio is also divine on a warm day and very much dog-friendly. Located in a charming centrally located neighborhood, you can complete your day with a quick walk over to LoHi, a Rockies game, or to Union Station/Downtown.
Located at 2210 California Street, Woods Boss is centrally located and within walking distance of downtown and RiNo. It's the perfect destination for a day out in Denver. Their taproom definitely hits the "woodsy" theme on the head, and their constant line-up of live music is always a treat.
According to their website, this Slo-Hi location near Sloan’s Lake was developed to provide a local clientele, beer aficionados and lovers of good times a central spot in Denver to enjoy a proper pint and have a chat. You will find three to four great beers on tap via CO2 pressurized kegs and properly conditioned real ale from naturally carbonated casks.
They specialize in cask beer, which offers less carbonation. One of the favorites is the Chin Wag (the brewery cautions that one too many may cause you to talk smack). It combines a chewy malt, forward mouth feel, balanced by a moderate hopping rate delivered by challenger golding and fuggles hops. Dangerously quaffable at 38 IBU. It's a beer to savor over good conversation on their great outdoor patio.
It’s a pretty simple philosophy from this Park Hill brewery. “Serious beer, not people. We love to drink beer – all types of beer. When it comes to good beer, we don't discriminate. Light, dark, hoppy – there's a time and a place for them all. We also love making beer. So much so, that we decided to start making it in an old Denver fire station. We're making all sorts of beer. Come taste for yourself. We'll pour you some tasters in our fancy cups. We have a cool space for drinking beer with friends. Ride your bike. Bring takeout. Whatever, man."
Usaj Realty's Megan Ivy has her take on the operation, “I love this Park Hill spot. Folks come by car, bike, and foot to enjoy the chill, indoor/outdoor vibe. There's some inside space, as well as a big sunny patio and a small side yard with shade for families with little ones. They feature rotating food trucks (as all good breweries should) and their beer menu is constantly shifting for the season. My current favorite is their the Tangerine Cream, aptly described as "sunshine in a glass." It's like an adult creamsicle!" Also, the American Copper is a beautiful amber ale, both for its warm color and modest level of hops.
In April 2008, the Mountain Sun restaurant group took its concept to the Uptown neighborhood of Denver, opening the Vine Street Pub. The surrounding neighborhoods embraced the pub immediately, naming it Denver's best brewpub in its first year in Westword magazine. In April 2012, the pub opened its flagship brewery with the capacity to produce 5,000 barrels annually.
Jennifer Black, Marketing Director at Usaj Realty, is one of those embracers: “My favorite go to-spot when you want food and beer. You can't go wrong with any of their hearty meals. They have the best french fries (and poutine). They are always brewing up delicious beers like their Blackberry Wheat Ale."
OK, it’s not in Denver (Edgewater) but close enough! Here’s is Joyride's mantra. According to the creators, “The name Joyride refers to slowing down and enjoying the moment instead of concentrating on the destination. Sometimes it’s not about where the ride takes you, it’s just about going for the ride itself. It’s about wanting a shared experienced between you and your loved ones. Too often in this crazy world of ours, we don’t allow ourselves to stop and smell the roses, or in our case, the hops. That’s one of the reasons why we started Joyride Brewing Company. We wanted to create a place where you could relax, hang out with your friends, family and coworkers, have a few beers and be yourself. We’re hoping this kind of idea appeals to you and you’re willing to hop on!"
The brewery opened for business in 2014. There is a 10 barrel brewhouse with eight serving tanks and six fermenters. The taproom is 1,600 sq. ft. and can hold about 95 people. Enjoy the majestic views of the lake from the six roll-up glass garage doors. The space features great open air seating, proximity and views of Sloan’s Lake. There’s plenty of seating and a parking lot across the street. Since the operation is outside the city limits, dogs are allowed inside which is a huge plus for any fur parents. Kids are welcome, too.
Here’s the lowdown on 10 Barrel: Originated in 2006 with three guys in Bend, Ore., who shared one simple mindset; brew beer, drink beer and have fun doing it. Since then the brewery has grown but will always stay the same… Rough morning? Grab a beer. Big powder day? The “Gone Skiing” sign goes up. Too hot to work? Mandatory company float. You get the picture… Here’s to living it up with a beer in hand. Cheers!
10 Barrel boasts a huge space for lots of people or events, which is a rarity in Denver and even more so in the RiNo neighborhood. So many delicious beers (cucumber sour is awesome for summer!), a kitchen for your hunger pangs and wonderful outside patio. We also highly recommend following them on Instagram for some super lively and entertaining photos.
Here are the accolades of Ratio: Located in RiNo, this microbrewery has a state of the art 20 barrel system and more than enough beer to go around. And the tap room will be as eclectic as the community that it’s built to support. The scene at Ratio is all about beer, but the art and music programs will ensure all of the senses are stimulated. The Dear You French Saison is a must-try.
The outdoor space is dog friendly and perfect for a game of bags on a sunny day. The mural art outside also provides for a great ambiance. We must give them props for having some of the best food trucks to be found in Denver routinely parked outside the brewery in case hunger strikes while you are sipping on their beer.
Their food might be just as good as their beer so come here hungry. Located at 3750 Chestnut Place in the RiNo neighborhood, this spot has quickly become a neighborhood staple with its event space, 20+ rotating beers on tap, and open concept seating.
The skinny on Our Mutual Friend: An award-winning brewery and taproom located in RiNo. "Brewing beer began as an excuse to gather with our friends and ruminate on life, philosophy, music, food, and of course, beer. Once they got started, they grew more curious about the brewing process, honing the craft and experimenting with different methods and techniques. Along the way, a fundamental question to the process was, 'How can we do more of this ourselves?' " The desire to participate in every step of the grain to glass process led them to open Our Mutual Friend. Part of what they love about beer is its power to bring people together (hence the name!). They are happy to be a gathering place in the RiNo neighborhood where locals and visitors alike can meet in camaraderie alongside a quality pint. They believe in the power of neighborly acts and the spirit of neighbors taking care of one another within the local community. This spot features a great atmosphere and vinyl music on the airwaves.
Find Diebolt at 3855 Mariposa Street, in the Sunnyside neighborhood. This no-frills spot is the perfect place to grab a beer in a laid-back environment where everyone from beer connoisseurs to the casual drinker can find something to appreciatively sip on. Their staff is incredibly friendly and you really get the vibe of a community establishment when stopping by. If you don't know what to try, the staff will surely help you out and teach you a fun fact or two.
The Rundown: Three guys from different backgrounds joining together to brew great beer. As veterans and passionate fans of the craft beer community, the three decided to use combined 20 years of experience to blaze a new trail and leave a lasting imprint on the industry. Call to Arms is both a battle cry and tribute to the family, friends, and coworkers who’ve helped along every step of the way. This is their Call to Arms. Seasonal collaborations are always a plus. Must sips include the Freedom Fries Saison and the Shirtless Putin Catchin' Rays.
The Granddaddy of them all is still an epic sudsy place. Beer drinkers across the state braved the sketchy ghost town that was LoDo in the late 80’s for billiards and pints of unexpected beer styles. Almost 30 years later, Wynkoop is a Denver institution, still known for innovative concoctions, and brewers who put just about anything in their beer, including Rocky Mountain oysters, gummy bears and green chiles. From the novice to the expert connoisseur, they view patrons as friends and aim to provide an open, carefree environment for all to enjoy. They are Colorado natives, family owned, and pursue the happiness in life one fantastic beer at a time.
Mockery is a gem tucked away on an industrial road in RiNo. Their slogan about sums it up: "For beer drinkers looking for creative & delicious brews, Mockery Brewing is the innovative producer of damn good beers that break the rules in all the right places." Their menu boasts unique flavors such as the Pomegranate and Cucumber Berliner Weisse and the Hibiscus and Black Tea Pale Ale. Their taproom is small but charming, and their patio is pretty great on a sunny day.
Located at 2924 W. 20th Ave., you may not necessarily stumble upon this brewery due to its location but it's definitely worth the intentional visit. In close proximity to Broncos Stadium, Little Machine offers up some incredible brews. We'll let them sum it up, "The raddest brewery in Denver. Right by Mile High Stadium. Two dog-friendly patios, local art, awesome round bar, a Colorado-built brewing system and something for everyone on tap and to-go."
Last, but not least, is Oasis Brewery. With an interesting story that includes an original founding in 1991, we for one are very glad they decided to re-open their doors in late 2017 inside a beautifully restored historic building just off Highlands Square. Their beers speak for themselves but if you're a fan of browns, try out the Tut Brown Ale for some serious smoothness. Enjoy live music and a great patio during your visit, or if a private event is more your style, they have a cool mezzanine level you can reserve. They are a serious force to be reckoned with as both one of Denver's oldest and newest breweries.
If you’re serious about your beer drinking, you might also want to check out this link for great deals on craft beer:
(Editor's note: This blog was originally published in March of 2019, and has been revised and updated).
Posted by Pat O'Connor
Pat O’Connor has dual citizenship in both Wisconsin and Colorado, having been born and raised in Wisconsin Dells, but later adopted by the Centennial State. A graduate of the University of Colorado (B.S. Journalism, 1980), O’Connor began her career as a sportswriter at the Boulder Daily Camera under the tutelage of the venerable Dan Creedon. Her experience also includes stints in public relations at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, the Colorado Trial Lawyers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. When she isn’t piecing together sentences, the self-proclaimed “Cheesehead” enjoys hanging out with her three kids and assortment of family pets, running, playing golf, hiking 14ers, horseback riding and skiing. As a mother to two (at one time three) competitive swimmers, her favorite fragrance is eau de chlorine. During football season, she can be found cheering for the Buffs on Saturdays and screaming when the Packers score on Sundays. She loves talking sports and giving recommendations on cheese curds.Facebook LinkedIn Twitter