If you haven’t already noticed from our photos on Instagram, we love visiting local craft breweries. Visiting local craft breweries are great because they not only have a great selection of beer brewed by those who love what they do but are a great way to support local businesses and ensure you have an impactful travel experience. To put the impact into perspective, the craft brewing industry across the U.S., which is on the rise, contributed $55.7 billion to the U.S. economy and supported 424,000 jobs in 2014 according to the Brewers Association.
Now you might wonder, what exactly is a craft brewery? A craft brewery is defined by the Colorado-based Brewers Association as a brewery that: distributes only 6 million barrels of beer a year; has less than 25% ownership by a non-craft brewery (like Anheuser-Busch InBev); and whose majority output comprises “beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation”.
On our recent trip to Colorado in February, we visited a range of small and large craft breweries in Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs. Colorado is home to third the largest selection of craft breweries in the U.S, with some well-known breweries like Great Divide and New Belgium, and some lesser-known ones like Odell Brewing Company.
Eat and drink at Historians Ale House
Situated in a welcoming, dimly lit building, Historians Ale House is the perfect place for dinner and drinks. The setting was exactly what I was looking for in Denver, wooden floors, exposed brick walls, high-ceilings filled with lively discussion, and a wide selection of Colorado craft beers. The locally sourced and superbly prepared food is also a great reason to visit. My mouth-watering Southwestern burger and fries were uniquely presented, wrapped in butcher paper and tied neatly with a string. I ordered a City Star Red Nectar Red IPA of Berthoud, Colorado and the Denver Beer Company Incredible Pedal IPA to accompany my burger.
New Belgium Brewing Company
Fort Collins, located a little over an hour north of Denver, is home to several craft beer breweries, one of which is New Belgium. The brewery offers tours that must be scheduled months in advance because of their popularity. We had an amazing flight of their lesser known beers, such as the Orange Creamsicle Ale, that was light and had a hint of an orange creamsicle and Blackberry Barley Wine, which if you have ever had barley wine has a distinctive hoppiness to it, with a dose of blackberry. Our selection came at the recommendation of the friendly and knowledgeable bartender. New Belgium is 100% employee-owned and is well worth a visit.
Also of note is the food cart outside, called The Tramp About. I had the most delicious and satisfying Cubano sandwich with a side of black beans and Carrie had an order of pulled pork tacos that she raved about for days afterward. They were so good in fact that our friends who live in Denver drove to New Belgium a few weeks later for more.
Per the recommendation of the bartender at New Belgium, our second stop in Fort Collins was Equinox Brewing. Equinox has a very limited distribution, mainly within the area, so this would be our only chance to try it. We tasted their basic flight of six beers that ranged from their light-bodied Cosmic Kolsch to their dark and heavy Universal Porter. The flight covered the depth and breadth of their beers.
Great Divide Brewing Company
This was probably the most well known and busiest of all the craft breweries we visited in Colorado. A visit to Great Divide in downtown Denver is an absolute must. Like many craft beers, Great Divide started as a homebrew project, with one person responsible for brewing, bottling, and distributing. Nowadays Great Divide does more than just provide fantastic beer, they also source ingredients like barley and malt locally and conserve and recycle at every opportunity, seeking to reduce their impact on the environment, which is awesome to hear.
I had a flight that consisted of just about every beer they have, including the famous Yeti Imperial Stout. The small wraparound bar was packed almost the entire time we were there. The bartenders were helpful with constructing different flights. Great bartenders and great beer, can be found at Great Divide!
Nano 108 Brewing Company
Located about an hour south of Denver is Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy and importantly, for the purposes of the trip, my brother, Ben and his family. This was our first opportunity to meet the newest addition to his family, Henry.
Ben, who also has a fondness for crafts beers, took us to the Nano 108 Brewing Company-Henry, of course, did not join us! Nano 108 is situated in a non-descript building north of the city. It’s a low-key brewery, with a vast selection of beers. I had two flights that covered everything from the refreshing German Weizenbock to dark and heavy British Burton Ale. Several of their beers were types I had never heard of like the British Old Ale and the Smoked Baltic Porter.
Not a fan of beer? Denver is also home to the famous Stranahan’s Whisky. Several years ago Carrie and I watched a documentary on whiskey production and Stranahan’s was one of the featured distilleries. I remember vividly the explanation of their small shop, where labels were placed on bottles by hand. During our visit, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the distillery. Stranahan’s produces three whiskeys, one of which is available in incredibly limited supply, the Snowflake. I opted for the flight of the Original, Diamond Peak, and Snowflake.
If you are planning a trip to Colorado anytime soon and are a fan of good beer, then I would strongly encourage a visit to one of the breweries I’ve mentioned. As the figures at the beginning of this post highlight, visiting craft breweries can certainly be impactful and is encouraged, within moderation of course.
A big thank you to Mike, Kris, Ben, and Caroline for hosting and showing us around Colorado during our trip!
All photography by Albert Bond