This is about beer, folks, not marijuana – although the latter has drawn tons of attention since Jan. 1, when pot was legalized for recreational purposes in Colorado.
There are 54 cannabis shops licensed for retail sales in Denver, around the same number of brewpubs and breweries that produce at least 200 kinds of beer there.
“Move over Milwaukee,” the city tourism office advises online. “More beer is brewed in Denver than in any other American city.” Those are fightin’ words, but the threat is real.
Our Miller is matched by their Coors, whose capacity to produce 22 million barrels annually makes it the world’s largest single-site brewery. Free, self-guided tours available. millercoors.com, 303-277-2337
Truth be told, Coors is in Golden, just west of Denver. But the city one-ups us in other ways. We haven’t, for example, ever turned a brewer into our governor.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, decades before election, opened The Wynkoop Brewing Co. in a rundown Denver warehouse. Colorado’s first brewpub, open since 1988, still thrives because of its amber Rail Yard Ale, Patty’s Chile Beer (made with hot peppers), Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (made with roasted bull testicles) and more. wynkoop.com, 303-297-2700
What I sampled beneath I-25, while visiting one of the city’s smallest breweries, was a taste of Door County. Two out-of-work Rocky Mountain News tech support staff opened Strange Brewing Co. in a scrappy strip mall in 2010, fermenting one barrel of beer at a time.
Having a dozen or more of these products on tap is not unusual, and what you drink partly depends on recent experiments by brewmaster Tim Myers, who says he tried 65 beer recipes in 2013 and repeated several batches.
He’ll introduce something new on One Barrel Wednesdays, which draw a crowd inside the former garage that is his tasting room. Why here? Rent is less expensive than downtown and location – near a bike path – more attractive than it first seems.
A 10-beer flight, for the curious or indecisive, costs $15 and totals 40 ounces. “It’s a bit of a commitment,” Tim acknowledges.
Some of this beer, including Cherry Kriek – made with tart Montmorency cherries from Door County, earns the little brewery big awards. That’s saying a lot in Denver, whose nicknames include “The Napa Valley of Beer” because of the area’s proliferation of craft brewers.
(Cherry Kriek earned a Colorado State Fair gold medal for fruit wines, and the fruit comes from Wisconsin because of Strange Brewing ambassador Jules Hoekstra, a Racine native.)
“Little breweries like this are big on the festival circuit,” says Brent Scheiwe, referring to Denver’s annual Great American Beer Festival, whose awards are considered heavyweights for the industry. Strange Brewing’s Lemon Pale earned a gold in the gluten-free category in 2011.
Brent’s three-hour Denver Brews Cruise (by van, for up to 12 adults) often includes stops at Strange Brewing and Breckenridge Brewery, a craft brewer that bottles its products and serves barbecued meats (from its own hickory smoker) by the plate or pound. brewscruise.com/denver, 303-993-7308
On the 14-stop, self-guided Denver Beer Trail are hoppy contrasts. The casual, industrial-design Denver Beer Company, near the Platte River, is awash with reclaimed materials. It is dog-friendly because the business does not serve food; that job is delegated to mobile food vendors.
Pints Pub, where British flags fly, serves cask-fermented ales and 260 types of single-malt whisky – billed as the largest selection outside of Great Britain.
For more about these and other reasons to visit Denver: denver.org, 303-892-1112.
The Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 2-4, is Denver’s premiere event for beer lovers, but 2013 tickets sold out in 20 minutes. Some people take their chances and just show up, hoping to snag a ticket from festival goers.
At least 600 brewers serve 3,100 types of beer to 49,000 attendees. Each judging category averages 51 entries. greatamericanbeerfestival.com, 303-447-0816
The nine-day Denver Beer Fest, Oct. 4-12, showcases Colorado-made products. denverbeerfest.com, 303-892-1112
Seven more reasons to spend time in and near downtown Denver:
Tour the U.S. Mint for free, but reservations are required. usmint.gov, 800-872-6468 (click “about”)
Tours of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Money Museum are free, self-guided and guided. Design your own money and see a $100,000 bill. kansascityfed.org, 303-572-2300
Rockmount Ranch Wear since 1946 has produced American-made shirts with snaps that represent iconic western wear. rockmount.com, 303-629-7777
One of two REI flagship stores (the other is in Seattle) fills a revamped 1901 tramway building in Denver. It’s big enough for a 47-foot-tall climbing wall inside and bike test track outside. rei.com, 303-756-2140
Inside Tattered Cover are many nooks for comfortable lounging while sizing up books that fill an old mercantile building. Staffers affix notes next to their favorite titles. tatteredcover.com, 303-436-1070
Inside Denver Art Museum until June 8 is a “Modern Masters” exhibit of 70 works by well-known artists – Rousseau, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Warhol and more. Items come from New York’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery. denverartmuseum.org, 720-865-5000
Free and frequent bus shuttles appear along the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare. Hop on and off, between the renovated Union Station and Colorado’s State Capitol.
Denver’s tourism office does not circulate material about cannabis, but the shops and other information are not difficult to find. Consult these resources:
Westword, Denver’s alternative weekly newspaper. Look for the green leaf and “MJ” link at westword.com.
The Cannabist, a part of The Denver Post, at thecannabist.com. The daily newspaper has a marijuana editor.
Maps of marijuana dispensaries, at weedmaps.com. Identification is required before entering a dispensary. Medically licensed dispensaries do not sell items for recreational use.
Before buying or indulging, know the rules. It is illegal to smoke cannabis in public or transport it outside of the state. Most hotel rooms are smoke-free, but that leaves “edibles,” food and beverage products that contain cannabis, as an option.
For more: colorado.gov/marijuanainfodenver.