Colorado has a reputation for producing tantalizing craft beer. Breweries range from a single tun to plants that span entire city blocks. If you aren't yet convinced of its craft beer prominence, the area between by Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins is actually called the "Napa Valley of Beer.” Many of the breweries market their products out of state, but nothing compares to the flavour of a just-pulled pint of the brewmaster’s latest endeavour. If you're a beer enthusiast visiting in summer - you may just achieve nirvana. Crisp mountain air, the beating summer sun and a patio perch, could there be a more ideal afternoon? But perhaps you're not a beer lover - no need to fret. The Centennial State may have a reputation for craft beer but it's not the only thing they brew, and while we can attest that beer is enjoyed in all seasons, it's wine and whiskey that will keep you toasty year-round. Herald in the spring with a glass of mead or warm yourself down to the toes with some of Colorado’s craft spirits.
No matter what your preferred beverage is, here's how to best enjoy the bold flavours of Colorado's bars, tasting rooms and wine trails.
6 Big Flavour Tasting Rooms
Nothing compares to sampling a product right where it’s made. These days you'll often find wineries and distilleries enthusiastically throwing open their doors for tours and tastings. If you're lucky the proprietor or brewmaster will participate, offering up stories, food pairing recommendations, and other notable details about the samples. Fans of boutique brewing will delight in the number of smaller brewers in the state. These micro makers are using locally-sourced ingredients and emphasizing sustainability.
Redstone Meadery, Boulder
Fermented honey was the drink of Shakespeare and Bacchus, and though it has a long legacy, it's enjoying a sort of revival. (We suspect Game of Thrones may be at least partially responsible for it's renewed popularity.) If you've yet to try it, mead is described as incredibly light and refreshing in a way no other beverage is. Boulder's Redstone Meadery provides free samples of some of its series, either as a single sample or mixed in a light cocktail. Enjoy a tour of the Meadery any day but Sunday and open your world to an amazing new drink.
Stranahan’s Whiskey, Denver
The owners of Stranahan’s met when firefighter Jess Graber tried stop liquor connoisseur George Stranahan’s barn from burning down. Although the barn was a loss, the friendship between the two men developed into the state’s first whiskey distillery that uses natural ingredients from Colorado, and is still family-owned. Tours are available every day except Tuesday, but for a truly amazing experience, volunteer to be a bottler. The company bottles its product once every three weeks (or so) and uses a crew of volunteers to do the job. The volunteer position is very popular and signing up early is recommended.
Equinox Brewing, Fort Collins
Brian Lackey Photography
It’s all about balance at this brewery – balancing the seasons, the sunlight, past and future, and the bitter with the sweet. The beer garden is the best place to kick back and order a flight of beers from the ever-changing selection on tap. There’s often cask conditioned brews available and sometimes a beer on nitro. Once a week a new firkin is tapped and the naturally carbonated beer is pulled from the vessel by gravity.
Peach Street Distillers, Palisade
Local here means carted over from the orchard next door. Happily situated in the high desert, Palisade has a microclimate that’s ideal for growing fruit, producing super-sweet peaches, cherries and other seasonal fruit. And how could you find a better use for fruit than imbuing the flavours into a distilled spirit? The brandies are brilliantly flavoured and even the bourbon has fruity notes, adding depth to any cocktail.
Colorado Cider Company, Denver
Colorado Cider Company (Brad Page)
Opting not to battle headlong into a crowded craft beer market, the owners of Colorado Cider Company have built their reputation on hard cider. Their award-winning beverages not only take advantage of different varieties of apples, but also hint of exotic flavours. Impress your palate with notes of lemongrass, lavender and rosemary. Creativity is king (even aging cider in oak barrels), making this a far cry from your grandmother's cider.
Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge
Image via BRECKENRIDGE DISTILLERY
They claim to be the world’s highest distillery, and while that may or may not be true, the view from the tasting room is reason enough to make the uphill trek. Breckenridge Distillery specializes in seasonal spiced bourbon, vodka and bitters made from snowmelt. (How cool is that?) Tours are available Tuesday through Sunday to view the traditional, open-top fermenters and copper still. The selection is huge, with many available online or through stores.
Fort Collins is the largest volume producer of beer in Colorado and they want you to try it all. The Hops & Shops Super Shuttle will take you to all of the best breweries and back -to either the town centre or your hotel.
Confident with your biking skills? Sign up for the Beers and Bikes Tour of Fort Collins and see how well you balance after a day of cycling and sampling.
Denver offers guided walking tours of the downtown microbreweries that include several samples at each spot. Even more fun is to pick up a map of the breweries and plan your own route – no crowds and you can stop when you find “the one.”
Several wine trails have been designed to take drivers through the beautiful Colorado countryside. Download a map from the web or keep an eye out for the bright blue "Colorado Wine Trails” signs along many of the highways. Your wine tour can be a refreshing stop on a long journey or an all-day adventure to taste the offerings in the region.
Are you debating over who should be the designated driver? Skip the driving bit and opt for a wine tour operated by a local business. The price usually includes a tour guide and samples at several places. Many fill up rapidly and booking early is recommended.
Ready to sample your way through Colorado?
Most Canadian cities offer non-stop flights to the bigger cities in Colorado, letting you plan an easy weekend getaway or a longer adventure (to try more beers, of course). Don’t miss out on one of the best summer destinations in the country – beautiful, natural, flavourful Colorado.