Hidden Denver Beer Scene

This week is the Great American Beer Fest and folks from the industry and regular old beer geeks will be descending into Denver. As a Portlander who’s also a part-time Denver resident, I wanted to mention some of my favorite beer joints that are less well known.

At GABF time, the regular places are packed and if you’ve been going year after year, you’ve been there, done that. I’m not dissing the Great Divides, the Falling Rocks, Star Bars, the Argonauts, there are reasons they are well known. If you haven’t been to them, by all means go see them and decide for yourself what the fuss is about.

But for all you jaded types let me share some new places that I and my brewing friends love in the Mile High.

Colorado + Brewing

Located 4 miles from the GABF/Convention Center Colorado+ probably has the best selection for small and new breweries. It’s a good sized beer bar with 56 handles, all Colorado breweries, mainly smaller and beers you’re likely not see around town. They also have their own 1 bbl brewery and 5 draft of their own. The buyer told me they will have 20 special kegs, barrel aged, sours stocked for GABF

Hogshead Brewery. Photo credit: Denver Post

What does Denver have that most great American beer cities don’t? A phenomenal English real ale brewery. I’ll be honest, I’ve not been drinking English style beers for maybe 20 years. The last time in England, the real ales were crap compared to Oregon ones. I drank all the Czech beers I could find.

The 2 year old Hogshead Brewing changed that. When in Denver, this is my local. Located in the Highlands neighborhood near Sloans Lake Hogshead is 4 miles from GABF on or near multiple bus lines. Owner-Brewer, Stephen Kirby learned to brew professionally in the UK. 30 years later, he opened Hogshead. His beers are simply amazing, rich and full but still traditional real ales. 7 beers on cask and 10 draft. All their own.

TRVE Brewing. Photo credit: Dark Side Brew Crew

TRVE is my favorite brewery in Denver and perhaps anywhere. Located a mile south of the Convention Center at 2nd and Broadway, it’s an experience. It’s a very friendly, welcoming Death Metal brewery and tasting room. 8 unique beers on draft, usually leaning towards flavorful session beers (Hail Saison!). They also have a great sour and barrel program available in 375ml bottles for there or to go (Manannan sour brown, Eastern Candle – a pale wheat bretta – will be available during GABF). With Surly, Three Floyds, and Big Choice brewing, TRVE is hosting a Metal show on Thursday Oct 2nd at the Summit.

River North Brewing. Photo from MileHighHappyHour.com

North of downtown is the River North neighborhood. The area reminds me of PDX’s Buckman or Georgetown in Seattle. Many of the newer breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries are located around here. Two standout breweries to check out are River North and Our Mutual Friend. Both are pretty new and just starting to get recognition.

River North Brewing “focuses on yeast-centric beers with Belgian-style flair” although there is also an IPA, etc. Their brewery has a small comfortable taproom, the entire experience is similar to The Commons in Portland. They will be holding a bottle sale on Oct 2nd.

Our Mutual Friend Brewing. Photo from Zagat.

Our Mutual Friend is where I go when I miss Portland. They offer an eclectic range of beers in a comfortable, hipsterish taproom. Great food trucks are often parked next door. OMF’s main claim to beer fame is they buy their malt from a small maltster and roast on premise in a used pizza oven. The beer tends towards PNW in style, more than most Colorado breweries.

Wit’s End Brewing. Photo from KUNC.org

South west of downtown and hidden in a warehouse park is Wit’s End Brewing. Owner Scott Witsoe opened up with a 1 bbl system and in the process of up grading to a 7 bbl system. The taproom is well sized and very welcoming. For their size, the brewery seems to be very well thought out and professional. The beers are “variously guided by anthropology, Zen Buddhism, The Godfather, Wu-Tang Clan, post modernism and punk rock.” My recent visit Wits End surprised me with 4 fresh hop beers, brewed the day picked! Hops from friends yards, duh, the luck of the nano-breweries. If you are thinking of starting a small brewery this is one to be inspired by. Hint: remember your GPS.

Right across the street from Wits End is Colorado Cider Company, the state’s largest cidery.

Strange Brewing. Photo by porchdrinking.com

Malt forward and less hop driven, Colorado beer you get in most breweries seems milder but pleasant to most of the West Coast beer drinkers. 2 brewpubs to check out to get a sense of Colorado style of beers are Strange and Caution. Both are well respected by other brewer friends for their quality. Strange is located on 13th and Zuni, just north of Wits End. Caution has two locations, one in Lakewood, a western suburb and the other close to Denver International on Quebec near I-70.

Caution Brewing photo by coloradocraftbeershow.com

My Denver industry friends recommend a number of breweries I’ve yet to visit but will pass the info

Comrade Brewing photo by Westword.com

One of the newest breweries in the city is Comrade. It’s getting rave reviews from my beer friends. A highlight for PNW beer drinkers, their brewer, Marks Lanham, brewed for Boneyard and Barley Brown. The brewery is located in the far south east of town.

Located East of downtown is Station 26. The word is all the beers are superlative.

Station 26 Brewing photo by Denver Off The Wagon

I’ve tried to keep all my choices inside Denver or close in suburbs. But one of my favorite beer experiences is a drive west on 32nd street. You’ll go through the Highlands neighborhood and close in Wheat Ridge suburb. Continue west and you’ll hit rolling hills and farms climbing into a large draw which contains the 2 mile long Coors plant, very impressive. Just past the plant is the town of Golden, which is quite lovely. You can take the Coors plant tour, or visit one of the 4 other breweries in town. My recommendation is to visit Cannonball Creek just north of downtown.

Hard to find Package

For someone unfamiliar with Denver, Colorado laws make it hard to find decent beer in package. Groceries are limited to 5% beers so their sets are more  or less limited to American lagers and Mexican beers. Bottleshops/Liquor stores are limited to 2 licenses per owner, so there are no chains to seek out. Argonaut Liquor east of the convention center is the largest beer store in Denver. Another good selection can be found at Mondo Vino on 32nd in Highlands. Most folks go to those stores.

My favorite bottle shop is Small Batch Liquors on Tennyson near 38th, 3 blocks north of Hops And Pie, near Hogshead Brewing and Colorado+. Small Batch specializes in carrying hard to get beers. Their liquor selection is almost completely small local and nearby distilleries. The owners and staff are very educated and passionate about the products they carry  and local  alcohol production.

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