We build our lives around travel. On a given year we plan at least two trips. The pandemic forced us to cancel a large one last summer and made winter trips pointless. We are lucky that we can keep our sacrifices small. The older I get the longer (and colder) winters feel. Travel of any kind helps knock me out of funks I get into as the temperatures are frigid. This year came with extra stressors: the pandemic, a new child, a full home renovation, and no outlet to relax. With restrictions lifted and vaccinations completed our feeling was the nation was back on the table. “What about Denver?” my wife asked. Denver it was.
There are an increasing number of “beer cities” in America. I’ve been to a handful of the big ones, San Diego and Asheville come to mind. Denver is one of those places. At one time there were more breweries in the broader Denver metro than the entirety of Minnesota. That’s no longer the case, but you can still grab a hotel and have over a hundred breweries within half an hour. Denver is a city spoiled for choice and ready for discovery. Where to begin?
My approach to research breweries for new destinations evolves over time. In the past my eyes were much bigger than my stomach can handle. We were going to be in the area for seven days, with day trips planned to Golden and Boulder. My rule of thumb is that my list shouldn’t exceed two breweries per day. That’s the most we can fit and more often than not we fall short. A list any bigger than double the days – fourteen in this case – is a waste. Research depends on the area, if I can get influencer recommendations that’s ideal. Google and Reddit fill the gaps.
We’d driven through Denver once before and hit up Bierstadt Lagerhaus. Under normal circumstances we’d skip it. But if you’ve been to Bierstadt you know you it can’t be skipped. Especially for a lager lover like myself. They fall into the “must visit” category, which I populate with a handful of breweries that we plan around. The rest make up the “nice to haves.” I know we won’t hit everything on the list so they fit into our days where they make sense. The primary goal when traveling is to maximize our time, the less time on the road the better. Once I have the list, I put everything into a custom Google map. When someone asks “is there a good brewery near here?” I’m quick with an answer.
“Is there a brewery near the hotel?” Samantha asked. “Yeah, a bunch. There is one a block away and a few across the river” I replied. We were on our way into Denver, our luggage jammed int the back and kids crammed into their new transit home. Traveling with little ones is a whole other level of stress. “We can’t check into a hotel for a few hours. Do you want to grab a beer?” she asked. It wasn’t a question, she knew the answer. “Let’s try Denver Beer, it’s near the river.”
We did visit a Denver Beer location on our previous trip through Denver. As is tradition, we spent our only morning in town searching for donuts. After letting our daughter burn off steam in the nearby park, we strolled through the neighborhood and fell into Denver Beer’s Olde Town Arvada taproom. It was an unplanned visit that we savored, a lovely patio, beautiful weather, burgers, and beer. This time we headed to their Platte Street location, an attempt to rediscover that magic.
“Where are we going?” my daughter asked. “We’re going to a brewery” I said. This is a very common conversation in our car, fitting to rehearse here. I was hoping for a view of the Platte River – why the street is so named – and although we were a short walk from Common Park, an apartment building blocked it. I often think of how dangerous it would be for me to live so close to a brewery.
Before heading into the taproom I looked at the sign on their door: “Masks Optional.” They had lifted the mask mandate in Minnesota before we left. Denver had done the same a few days before our arrival. We found the city a nether zone of masks, some locations required it and others had shed restrictions. All the breweries were in the latter category. Exception for our two children, we were all vaccinated. It felt weird to walk around without one – wearing a mask for a year will do that.
The taproom is in a building that was once a garage. Those are one of my favorite retrofits, equipped with garage doors and high ceilings. They also add a workmanlike industrial grittiness which adds to the “craft” feel. It was hot, three garage doors were open, blue umbrellas up on the patio. We took a table in the shade and I went in to order beer. Orange and yellow chairs littered the taproom. An eclectic mix of artwork and a giant neon heart were set upon a jet black wall. The bar drew my eye down to a small copper brew kettle, where their brewhouse shares space with the taproom.
We spent a few hours sipping and settling into our trip. The beers I tried:
- Pretzel Assassin Amber Lager – no pretzel, but a great malt backbone with a crisp finish.
- Love This City American Pilsner – clean and well balanced, perfect after a day of travel.
- Peanut Butter Graham Cracker Porter – peanut butter forward with a glimpse of graham.
- Ancient Artistry Wheat – brewed with honey and tea; interesting, but not my style.
Our daughter orbited our table, petting any dogs that crossed her path. Our son sat on our lap, jamming snacks into his mouth and spilling water all over himself. It wasn’t the most relaxing brewery visit, but it was the closest to normal we had felt in awhile. It was the first time my daughter had been to a brewery since the lockdown. That officially made it the first brewery visit of our family of four. I left with a skip in my step, excited for the days to come.
“What do we want to eat?” my wife asked. People walked past us, marked by the sounds of crushed rock. Trees, bushes, plants, and flowers surrounded us. We had spent our morning exploring the Denver Botanic Gardens. A perfect welcome to the city and a great energy burn for our adventurous toddler. “Bierstadt has food” I replied. “Oh yeah, I forgot. That sounds great.” Great indeed!
“There’s a brewery!” my mother in-law exclaimed. “And another one!” she pointed. We’d arrived at the River North Arts District (RiNo). It’s the hotspot that Bierstadt Lagerhaus and myriad breweries call home. Since our last visit they’d transformed their parking lot into a beer garden, a common COVID-19 sight. We took a spot outside and I tended to the kids while the rest of us perused the menu. It was a no-brainer for me – Slow Pour Pils. It’s why we came last time and it’s why I wanted to return. It’s soft pillowy head covers a crisp golden pilsner that tumbles in my dreams. It took the others what seemed like an eternity to decide. An array of lagers and German fare would soon be on its way.
If you’re making the trip to Bierstadt for the first time I would recommend sitting inside. The beer garden was perfect for us – especially with children – but the real charm is upstairs. I encourage you to read my post about our first visit and plan your trip around that.
Once the kids started to fray we packed up to return to the hotel for nap time. We seized the down time by getting situated in our hotel rooms and preparing for our reservation that evening at Tamayo. It’s a wonder of our modern society that you can get such high quality Mexican food even at the foot of the mountains in the center of the United States.
The last day light was between ourselves and our children’s bedtimes so we stopped at a brewery a block away from our hotel: Zuni Street Brewing Company. A beautiful taproom full of lush green plants but packed and full of barking dogs. It was hard to settle in and enjoy ourselves. For the right people it would’ve been a good time, but it didn’t meet our needs at the moment. We’d also reached the end of our children’s patience. They needed to digest the sensory experiences they’d soaked in during the day. The group left me to pay the tab and finish sipping my beer.
“Yeah, we’re on the wrong trail.” I gave an exasperated chuckle. The group was still catching their breath. “What do you mean?” my wife asked. I pointed to the next section of the “trail,” a near sheer rock face with a weathered foot holds dotting the ascent. I had a toddler strapped to my back, my wife had an infant dangling on her front. This wasn’t the plan and it had become an impossibility. We were hiking in the Flatirons near Boulder, an incredible group of five massive rock slabs. Our plan was to take a short easy loop but a group of hikers blocked one of the signs and we took the wrong fork in the path. A two mile hike had become a grueling four miler – we required a recovery drink.
One of the recommendations I received from my beer friends back in Minnesota was Upslope Brewing Company. We decided to visit their production facility and taproom in Flatiron Park, east of downtown Boulder. Upslope is an outdoors, conservation, and sustainability focused brewery that fills their taps with classic styles. After taking all the wrong turns on our hike, we took all the right ones to get to high quality brews. I chose a 3.8% English Pub Ale. Dubbed “Brewer’s Gatorade.” It hit the spot.
The taproom was small. There was as much (or more) seating outside as there was in. A horseshoe bar anchors the center of the room, with small tables tucked in various corners. We chose a large table near the bathrooms. On the wall near us was a unique art installation. Wooden slats of different lengths, and the name of the brewery cut into them leaving a red relief. To be honest – while the beer was excellent – I didn’t enjoy myself. But it had nothing to do with the brewery. I spent the first part of the visit trying to coax my toddler to sleep in her stroller; a string of failed attempts. Couple that with some light dehydration and it wasn’t a recipe for a relaxed visit. Upslope itself was a bit of a lark, if I visit Boulder again I’d go to their Lee Hill location. It’s looks a little more my vibe.
“Where are you guys going?” my mother in law asked. “We’re going to check out a sushi place, and then a brewery near it after” I replied. We were about to take our first of two date nights. My wife’s parents agreed to watch our children for the evening. Back to RiNo for us.
“It’s hard to tell, it could be up to an hour before a table is ready” the hostess said. We had arrived at Sushi-Rama. It’s a sushi restaurant with a conveyer belt where you watch a train of dishes go by and grab whatever looks appetizing. My wife looked at me and I gave her the telltale shrug she knows means sure that’s fine. They took our number and told us that once we got a text we had ten minutes to return and claim our table. Luckily, breweries saturate the neighborhood. We walked around the block to the nearby 10 Barrel Brewing, enjoying the balmy Colorado evening.
There was no wait at the bar, so we grabbed a spot on the corner. A man near us was deep into his second flight of beers. I almost asked what he was enjoying, but figured it best to leave him to his journey. Since we hadn’t eaten and there was a good chance I was still dehydrated from the morning’s adventure, we ordered half pints on the lighter side of ABV. My wife got Sweet Thang, a brown ale on nitro. I got the Three Sticks premium craft lager.
While our visit was short – the restaurant ended up calling much sooner than we had anticipated – it was eventful. We got to witness a Karen in the wild and a window into how the staff handled her. Near their kitchen they had blocked off an area for workers only. There was no deception or hidden information. She tried to walk through and a worker stopped her and told her she had to go around the long way. It’s amazing that human beings, built to walk upright, masters of endurance hunting, can throw a fit about walking an extra 50 steps. But here we are. At any rate, a fun diversion before we slammed our beers and headed back to the restaurant.
I’d never eaten at a restaurant with conveyer belts. I’m a sucker for new experiences though, and this is one novelty I’ll chase in the future. A sushi train snakes its way through the restaurant. All tables flank it so that the dishes are at eye level. There is a menu that provides a name and ingredients list of every roll and every plate has it’s own color. The color of the plate matches the price of the dish. When you’re done the waitress stacks up the plates and tallies the total for your bill. We don’t have to discuss the total of ours – the food was incredible. After our stomachs reached equilibrium we took took to Larimer Street for our final destination of the evening: Ratio Beerworks.
Listen, I can’t bury the lead here, Ratio was fantastic and a highlight of the trip. Let’s start with the aesthetics. As you come upon the brewery you’ll see a massive mural that stretches the length of their building. It’s an abstract mash up of blue and orange, a perfect blend that hints at the inventiveness of the brewers within. A metal fence separates the sidewalk from the patio, constructed by a local artist and functional metal worker. Beyond the fence is a beer garden of equal parts creativity and comfort.
The comfortable weather had dissipated by the time we arrived so we grabbed a table inside. More abstract murals, each different but somehow cohesive in its total. The curved roof of the warehouse made me feel like I was in a beer hangar. Above the bar is their tap list, an old marquee with black letters. This is one of my favorite styles that I don’t see a lot. Minnesota locals would find theirs akin to Able’s. One point of criticism – it was noisy. The hipper the spot, the younger the crowd, the louder the music. It’s possible we were the oldest people there (and we’re not that old). I’d love to see breweries offer diverse seating areas with different decibel levels. There are places I avoid because I know it will be too loud for us. It tends to be why I like to visit most places earlier in the day. Personal preference.
The beer was incredible, a noticeable bump in quality. I had three beers. The first was their flagship Scotch Ale infused with Novo cold press coffee. This is the kind of beer that convinced me to be a coffee drinker. The flavor bump super charges the maltiness of the Scotch Ale. One of my favorite styles done splendid. One star. Next was King of Carrot Flowers, a French Saison with carrots and elderflowers (also a song by Neutral Milk Hotel). I’d never had a beer like this before and it was pure joy in a glass. A rich orange color and big carrot aroma – like a spicy, flowery, fruity, citrusy cold press juice. Two stars.
As I sat down with my final beer we watched two women get almost crushed by a closing garage door. Exciting stuff. The breeze blocked and the heat now trapped in our corner, we sipped our beers and enjoyed the last moments of night without kids. I love my children but these moments are precious, removed from responsibility. Cityscapes, their Vienna Lager, was the perfect complement to that vibe. A clean malt profile with a solid hop profile. Nowhere to hide, another star.
“What’s the plan?” I asked. We’d completed a five mile loop in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Descended without a toddler on my back and ascended with. “I think my parents are going to head out to Boulder once we get back to the hotel” my wife replied. It was only fair that we gave them a night to themselves, and they had plans to meet some friends in the area. “That sounds good, I was thinking ice cream.”
There are some standards things we research when we travel. It starts with breweries and restaurants. After that we look for local coffee shops and bakeries. Finally, we look for ice cream. Every resource on Denver recommended the same place: Little Man Ice Cream. Listen, we’re not fools. We understand that there are tourist traps that aren’t worth the line, but it’s hard to pass up ice cream from a 28 foot tall cream can. It doesn’t hurt that it was walking distance from the hotel. Was it worth the wait? My daughter’s smile was.
“It’s right across the highway, we can take the pedestrian bridge” I said. We were without the rental, left to our feet and stroller. But it wouldn’t feel right to end a day in Denver without a craft beer. Two blocks away over the Highland Bridge sat Cerveceria Colorado, awaiting our patronage. Platte Street had become a go-to spot for us. We started the trip next door at Denver Beer (who also own the Cerveceria), and we also visited both the Habit Doughnut Dispensary and Blue Sparrow Coffee. I’d stay in the Highland Park neighborhood again, a ton of great restaurants and breweries with convenient access to the highway.
We limited ourselves to one beer, our children have a tendency to unravel towards the end of the day. Especially when they’re hungry. Plus they’d had a day full of new sights and sounds. We sat on the patio, in front of their vibrant mural, sipping on a pair of clean crisp lagers. As is custom, I can’t take a trip without buying a brewery shirt. The Cerveceria happens to be my current favorite: a great fit, comfortable, and colors that pop. I should’ve bought a spare.
“It’s this road?” I said. “Yeah, it goes up the hill and around the ridge” my wife replied. I loaded up the stroller, understanding that every item I put into it would need pushing up a hill. We were at the base of Dinosaur Ridge. We were quick to realize that we should aim for one activity a day, between food and naps, it’s difficult to do more. This was our daily activity, a sweltering hike up a steep road. But there were dinosaur foot prints! I will admit, it was more interesting than I thought. Hard to imagine the scene so many years ago when creatures made the tracks. Wild.
And what’s the best way to follow a hot hike up a hill with a toddler? You guessed it. North of Golden was a brewery called New Terrain. They had a food truck, so they fit the bill. This was one of those visits done out of pure convenience that ended up being a collective favorite of the trip. It’s not a stretch to say we had a few of our best hours at their taproom.
They sit at the base of the North Table Mountain with one of the mountain bike trails rolling right up to their beer garden. The building is impressive, a mixture of stone, wood, and steel in a mixture of browns and grays. The interior hits every note of a destination brewery, big windows, tall ceilings, abundant natural light, and a wonderful view of their brewhouse. The exterior is more of the same. There’s a large crushed rock patio out back and a massive pergola on the side. Put the mountain at your back and you get a wonderful view of downtown Denver.
We opted for overflow seating on the street next to the pergola. It allowed us to stretch out and give our children a little room. It strikes me that the smaller the human the more room is required. Plastic picnic tables are a refuge for parents of small children. Once everyone settled in I advanced into the taproom to select my bounty. I ordered five tasters that came on a wonderful vertical flight “board” – a metal loop holding each miniature tulip. I’ve got tasting notes for seven beers, hard to tell where the last two came from.
- Cruise Ride – Cream Ale – Disappeared in an instant.
- Coco ‘Bound – Brown Ale – Great notes of toasted coconut.
- Mirage – Sour – Dry Hopped Mosaic – 2020 GABF Silver Medal – Fruity, bright, balanced. One star.
- North Star v.29 – Hazy IPA – Up to v.32 – Smooth juice bomb.
- Atlantis – Hazy IPA – Beautiful stone fruit with a dry finish. One star.
- Mt. Mojito – Sour – w/ Mint, Lime, and Oak – Smoky mojito in a glass. Bright, sour, minty, fresh.
- Suntrip – Belgian Wit – 2017 GABF Silver Medal – Well balanced, but not my style.
New Terrain was the thing I most remember of our trip to Colorado. The taproom was gorgeous, the weather pleasant, the beer wonderful, and the service warm. The Suzie Special from Mountain Melt helped too. The bottom line is that we visit craft breweries for a relaxed time and they delivered in spades. By the time we left, Arlo was sleeping and we had to pull Ellen away from the rock piles she’d been building. I’d question my sanity if I didn’t return the next time I was near Denver.
“They are there and they asked if we could bring them some food” I said to my wife. It was our last free night before the end of the trip. We had finished our meal at Avanti and a couple we had planned to meet had arrived at a brewery next door. My wife had been eyeing them since we started planning our trip. They’re a collective eatery – a fancy term for a food hall – housed in stacks of modified shipping containers. These are popping up all over the place, including Minnesota. The concept is simple, small concept kitchens ring a shared dining area. You walk around and order whatever you’d like. Novelty plays a factor, but they are a great solution for casual dining with groups.
My friend Pat recommended Prost the last time we visited Denver, not a coincidence that he was the friend we were meeting that night. It was perfect timing on our part, their patio has a view of downtown Denver and the sunset was working its magic. As is the case when I’m catching up with old friends, my brewery visit notes are sparse. My memory tells me the beer was excellent.
If you couldn’t tell by the name it’s a German inspired brewery (prost = cheers), and the beer matches. Any time a tap list has pilsners, dunkels, and kölsches it’s going to make us happy. We fell in love with beer when we were in Munich. A well done lager brings us right back to those moments. Prost delivered. The taproom takes clear inspiration from cozy German pubs and biergartens. Plenty of Bavarian decor, antlers, and long wooden tables. The beer was only rivaled by our conversations, aided in great part to Prost itself.
Last days on a trip are melancholic. I’m content because of the time spent away from the daily grind, but tinged with sadness that the trip is almost over. At times it’s hard to enjoy yourself because you’re aware of what the next sunrise will bring. It becomes a grab bag, filling your day with random activities left by the wayside. We spent our morning at the Colorado Railroad Museum, an absolute blast with a toddler. Then on to Red Rocks, an incredible natural amphitheater that stretches my mind when I imagine what a live show could offer. And after sightseeing? We went to a place we knew we’d love. Back to New Terrain.