Beer Warriors tour Colorado

The legend on the T-shirt read Can the Americans really brew beer? Colorado fact finding tour 2008. The answer at the end of the tour was a definite yes. 32 breweries, four bars, a beer festival showcasing 400 breweries and over 1900 beers, and lunch at Echo Lodge aided the fact-finding.

On October 4th at 1545 the aircraft left Heathrow airport bound for Denver Colorado with myself and Colin eagerly anticipating a two week break, for a nine and half hour flight, landing at approximately 1830 local time a taxi to the hotel left time for a nightcap before retiring.

Consulting the map, the closest brewpub was about 20 minutes walk away, just far enough to blow away the cobwebs of the flight and near enough so not to be too exhaustive. The Pints Pub, 13th Avenue, proved to be a good decision as ten beers were on tap including two cask ales.

Six beers were sampled between us but we were not watching the clock too closely as we found that it was soon close to being the time when we had been up for a full 24 hours. A swift walk back to the hotel ensued for a good night’s sleep, prior to a bus trip to the Georgetown loop railroad.

Unfortunately 0745 came to soon and it was time to depart for our day trip. After a brief guided tour of the city of Denver we headed towards the Rocky Mountains and particularly Mount Evans.

Lunch was provided at Lake Echo Lodge this was washed down with three bottled beers from various parts of the US. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, the summit of Mt. Evans, one of the 54 mountains of Colorado over 14,000 feet high, was impassable so after a tour of Silver Plume it was onto Georgetown to ride the loop.

Having chosen the outdoor carriage, it was typical that the weather began to close in and a few drops of snow fell on us so at the end of the ride we had to adjourn to a local bar to dry out We were rewarded, as two Hawaiian beers were on offer so it seemed churlish not to sample.

After the short drive back to Denver, dinner was taken at the Falling Rock Tap House, Blake Street. This is probably one of the top ten bars in the world. There are a least 69 beers on tap at all times, plus a further selection of bottle beers, the logo ‘no crap on tap’ certainly is a good description of the place.

Final port of call was the evening was the Wynkoop brewery on the corner of 18th and Wynkoop streets. Eleven beers on tap, all brewed on the premises. Tasting trays available, so all beers were sampled although the bar man was a little surprised when we asked for them all to be poured at once, until we explained we were English and preferred beer slightly warmer.

After a good night’s sleep and a short walk around Denver to find the car rental outlets, we were finally mobile, so it was decided to take 45 minute drive from Denver to the town of Idaho Springs, a quaint mining town and the home of the Tommyknocker brewery.

Tommyknocker brewery logo

Nine beers were on tap, taster trays are available, so this was an ideal stop for lunch followed by a stroll around the town to take in the local ambience. Rather than driving straight back to Denver, we decided to take the scenic route of highway six to go via Golden.

The drive is very picturesque, the road meandering through the mountains constantly crossing the adjacent creek. Coaches heading for the gambling town of Central City can be spotted driving in the opposite direction, and if you are lucky you may see some of the locals fishing in the creek or climbing the rock close to the highway.

Golden is the home of the Coors brewery, the largest single site brewery in, the world. However, we decided that a visit to the town’s second largest brewery was more our style. The Golden City brewery is situated on 14th Street, is considerably smaller than big brother down the road, and is a little hard to find as it is sited behind a large town house which is the residence of the brewery’s owner. Six beers were available and again tasting trays were sold.

Monday evening saw a return visit to the Falling Rock Tap House for the launch of the Great American Beer Festival party, several special brews being available. Dinner was at the Denver Chop House brewery on 19th Street, the original Union Pacific Railroad building, so railroad memorabilia is the main decoration. Eight beers sampled again as a taster tray.

Tuesday saw us heading for Canon City for a trip on the Royal George Railroad, however with a little planning a visit to the Bristol Brewing Company, Tucson Street, Colorado Springs, was possible. Ten beers were available so One taster tray to share between us was the decision made.

Time was fairly tight so it was back on the road in order to be in time to catch the train. A two hour train trip through the Royal Gorge with lunch onboard was a pleasant way to while away the time, New Belgium’s Fat Tire available. On return to Canon City a stop at McClellan’s Bar and Grill was nest on the agenda.

Six beers were sampled here before a short trip to the Royal Gorge bridge and park. The bridge spans the Gorge at a height of 1,053 feet and plays havoc with the vertigo, but a walk across is one on the things that has to be accomplished in life as views are stunning. For those that have trouble with heights, it is possible to drive over the bridge.

The sun was beginning to set and dinner time was fast approaching so it was back to Colorado Springs, and in particularly the Phantom Canyon brewery. A beer tasting tray of eight beers washed the evening’s solid sustenance. There was still time to call into the Rockyard brewery, Castle Rock, on the return trip to Denver. Seven- beer tasting tray on this occasion, included the Double Eagle IPA which is advertised with a stunning logo of two bald eagle’s heads. Other logos are very good also.

Rockyard brewery logo

Wednesday was to be the day of the Boulder County Booze Cruise. A pre-booked coach trip, that included tours of four breweries in Boulder and Longmont. An 8 o’clock departure heading for Boulder, armed with our sample glass, meant we arrived at the Boulder Beer Company in time for a tour of the brewery, a breakfast of burritos, washed down with sample of the beers brewed. This included a cask version of the Mojo IPA to compare to the American-style filtered beers also available.

Once everybody was fed and watered it was time to leave Boulder, so we were encouraged to re-board the bus and departed to Longmont and, in particular, the Left Hand Brewery. Again the group were given a tour of the brewery and many beers were on tap for everybody to enjoy. Third stop of the day was the Oskar Blues brewery, also in Longmont. Lunch was provided here washed down more beer, this time in cans. If only canned beer in this country tasted as good.

The final port of call on the tour was the Avery brewery back in Boulder, beers were available and sampled. After a short drive back to Denver, it was time for a late afternoon siesta. Suitably recharged it was off to the Bull and Bush brewery for dinner and further tasting trays of beers.

Thursday morning it was time to visit the local shopping centre and in particular the post office to get stamps for the customary post cards home, which incidentally arrived in the UK after our return. Lunch was taken at the Breckenridge brewery washed down with a tasting tray of beers. At this stage one of the brewery employees came out and asked us if we were out of town, and when he found out how far out of town we were, a tour of the brewery was arranged along with a tasting of the recently brewed Christmas ale. A total of eight beers were sampled.

Thursday evening was the first session of the Great American Beer Festival, which is slightly different than the beer festivals in the UK as you get issued with a 1oz tasting glass and can try as many beers as you want, can fit in in the time available, or just get the glass refilled as many times as you want with the same beer. I found the experience not a very sociable way of tasting but at most stands the brewers were available for a chat and to answer any questions which was very good.

Friday saw a visit to the largest one site brewery in the world, the Coors brewery, a self guided audio tour is available with free tasting for all over 21s. Although Coors is definitely not my favourite beer, as isn’t any mass produced product, the history of the site was really interesting. It also gave me chance to taste the more individual beers now produced at Coors, from both the Harvest Moon and Sandlot range. The Sandlot brew pub is sited at Coors field the home of Denver baseball. Friday evening was back to the beer festival, which was certainly busier than Thursday evening.

Saturday afternoon and evening were both sessions at the GABF, the afternoon session was certainly the best, this is the session for members of the American Homebrewers Association and by a big margin the quietist session of the festival. The members session also gives you chance to sample some of the beers brewed for the pro-am competition which are not available on a commercial basis. The festival was certainly a very good experience but my recommendations to anybody attending would be to not try to attend all the sessions, but to do the members session and one of the evening sessions.

On Sunday it was time to leave Denver behind and tour some other areas of Colorado. A damp, drizzly, foggy day dawned and as we headed west out of Denver a hard drive through difficult conditions was envisaged. However, as the Continental Divide approached blue sky began to appear and once over the highest point of the road the clouds disappeared completely. That was the last we saw of cloud until Thursday.

Photo opportunities cropped up at regular intervals on the journey to Durango, and lunch was taken at Rosie’s Brewpub in Leadville, advertised as the highest brewery in America at an elevation of 10,152 feet. Once fed and sustained with the usual tasting tray of beers, five different ones on this occasion, it was off again on the road, arriving at Durango in the early evening. Once accommodation was sorted out, dinner was taken at Carvers Brewpub, Main Avenue Durango, again tasting trays were available, and seven beers sampled.

Carver Brewery logo

Monday was the time to ride the Durango to Silverton railroad, a narrow gauge railway built to access the silver mines in the San Juan mountains. A 42 mile journey pulled by a steam locomotive along the edge of a creek and climbing nearly 3,000 feet. The journey takes three and a half hours, giving a stop over in Silverton of just over two hours.

The plan was to take lunch at the Silverton brewery, but unfortunately it was not open, so we adjourned to the next door bar and had lunch washed down with a pint of Durango Wheat beer. We had decided to take the train back to Durango, but time can be saved if you book the bus back which takes the scenic San Juan skyway.

Arriving back in Durango at 1830 we decided to try to find the Ska brewery, but our information was incorrect an we ended up searching the site at the old address, so we settled for dinner at the Steamworks brewpub accompanied by the full range of eleven different beers that were available.

Tuesday, armed with new information we drove to the Ska brewery, but unfortunately arriving before opening time we only managed to see the outside of the building and with another packed day ahead there was no time to wait.

A short drive to the Durango brewery also proved fruitless for liquid intake, but there was time to venture inside the building, see the brew plant and purchase a T-shirt with a steam locomotive logo. The sightseeing trip for the day was to the Mesa Verde national park. This is really like arriving back in the old wild west with native American dwellings on show within the cliff faces and desert like vistas.

The Colorado weather was again being kind to us although for the first time in days there were clouds recorded in the numerous photographs I took during the trip. By mid afternoon it was time to depart on the next leg of the journey towards Grand Junction. This was a very scenic drive back towards Silverton through the San Juan mountains. In just over an hour we went from the desert like conditions of the Mesa to snow in the mountains at approximately 11,000 feet elevation and then through the picturesque town of Ouray close to the Red Mountain. An early evening arrival in Grand Junction and dinner at the Rockslide brewery passed the evening by. Seven different beers accompanied dinner.

Wednesday, after a short walk around Grand Junction, it was time to get back on the I-75 heading east. Lunch time was reached as we approached Glenwood Springs, a town famous for being the final resting place of Doc Holliday and the home of the Glenwood Canyon brewery. Situated across the street from the railway station and part of the Hotel Denver complex, lunch was complemented with a taster tray of ten beers.

Glenwood Canyon logo

Armed with the traditional souvenirs it was again time to head further east for our final destination for the day of Dillon. After a brief siesta there was time to visit Pug Ryan’s and enjoy a taster tray of seven beers. Dinner was at the Dillon Dam brewery washed down with nine more samples.

Thursday our destination was Fort Collins via the Rocky Mountain National Park. The western entrance of the park is a short drive from the township of Great Lake, so there was an opportunity to sample the wares of the Great Lake brewery before entering the bar, where there were eight different beers to sample . A drive through the Rocky mountains with several stops for more photographs, back over the Continental Divide led to the eastern end of the park where we were greeted by a large herd of elk on the side of the road and another photo opportunity, filling up the second memory card of the trip.

Then it was on to Estes Park and in particularly the Estes Park brewery. Here they have a downstairs tasting room which allows you to taste their products free of charge,. A restaurant and bar are also situated upstairs for those who wish for more substantial refreshment. We settled for the tasting, and nine different beers were served by our knowledgeable host. It was still some time before we reached our final destination. On arrival at Fort Collins dinner was taken at CB and Potts and their tasting curl of six beers.

Friday was spent in Fort Collins as it is the home of six breweries. BJ’s was visited on Thursday evening and it was decided that the Aneheuser Busch brewery could be missed so the plan for the day was to visit the other four.

First on the agenda was the New Belgium brewery. Tours are available, so we booked on the first available and then adjourned to the tasting room for our complimentary four beers. We decided to share so both of us managed to sample eight different brews.

After our complimentary samples there was time to go back to downtown Fort Collins to finish off last minute shopping, and have lunch in one of the local bars washed down with further beers. After lunch it was time to return to the New Belgium complex and complete the tour of the brewery, further samples were available in the upstairs tasting room, complemented by a informative narrative of the history of the brewery and the beers.

Second port of call was Odells brewery, again there was time to book the tour and sample a tray of the regulars beers before embarking into the brewery itself. Again another interesting tour full of facts ensued. At the completion of the tour there was time to sample a tray of the seasonal and special brews, twelve different ones, before embarking down the road to the Fort Collins brewery.

The Fort Collins brewery is a much smaller establishment but equally as enjoyable and tasting glasses are available. Once again we managed to sample all of the brews, ten in total, but had to wait for them to be poured one at a time as glasses seemed scarce.

Dinner was taken back in town at the Coopersmith’s brewpub situated in the Old Town square of where fourteen beers were available, again as a taster trays.

Mountain Sun logo

Sadly on Saturday it was time to drive back towards the airport but there was time to have a lunch stop over in Boulder to take in the Mountain Sun brewery, eight beers, and lunch at BJ’s grill and brewery accompanied by seven beers, before the final journey back to Denver, a conversation with a female state trooper and the plane back to the UK to return to work to pay for the next trip.

The two weeks included 3 preserved railways, 3 National parks, 32 breweries and a total journey of over 10,000 miles which included over 2,500 miles on the road in the USA.

Beer Warrior in Colorado was Thomas Carrington

October 2008