America has no shortage of cities crammed with excellent beer but there’s much about Denver that makes it a genuine craft beer city.
First of all, 150 or so breweries in a city with less than a million people feels like a pretty sweet ratio and, on top of that, the Mile High City also plays host to the Great American Beer Festival each year. What's more, nearby Boulder is home to the Brewers Association – and a place very much deserving of its own beer travel guide.
With breweries spread out across the city you could spend a week soaking up the local beer scene and still not touch the sides. But what if you don’t have a week? What if you’ve just got a day or two?
If you're short on time, it’s hard to go past RiNo.
While just about any part of Denver offers a mix of breweries, the River North Art District is an excellent place to experience the beer culture by foot. For one, as the name suggests, it’s trendy. The neighbourhood is filled with art galleries, street art, and markets selling Denver-made furniture, while quality restaurants, cafés, distilleries, urban wineries and bars share the spotlight with RiNo’s many breweries.
But, more importantly, unlike plenty of other parts of the city, the area is wonderfully walkable as well as boasting numerous bike lanes.
So, grab a Lime scooter and join us on a jaunt along the RiNo.
Cohesion Brewing Company
Cohesion Brewing is the furthest of the RiNo breweries from the city, which makes it a natural place to start if you want to finish downtown. But, regardless of its geographical location, the brewery feels like an excellent place to start thanks to its unique point of difference. Having said that, it's a point of difference that makes it a tough place to leave...
From a distance, it might look like any other brewery located in a quiet industrial area but Cohesion is dedicated to the craft of Czech beer. The neighbourhood taproom closely follows Czech brewing processes, including decoction mashing, fermentation in horizontal tanks, natural carbonation, and serving each of their beers through Lukr side-pull taps.
Its furnishings and the bar itself ensure the space closely resembles a Czech tavern – and that goes for the service too. Each beer comes in handled glasses pulled straight from the sink and drinkers get the choice to have them poured as either Hladinka (classic), Šnyt (about four fingers worth of head) or Mlìko (more head than beer). You can’t really go wrong with any of them – hence the difficulty in leaving – but Cohesion 12º is the brewery’s take on Pilsner Urquell and is a wonderful place to start.
You’ll find the lager life at 3851 Steele Street.
Black Shirt Brewing Co
Walk into any brewery and you’re likely to be greeted by a sea of black t-shirts, but Black Shirt Brewing picked the name as a symbol of their desire to go against the grain. The mural-coated brewery offers the whole gamut of modern craft beer across ten taps, while their eclectic lineup of pizzas are just as broad-ranging as their beers (with punters able to design their own from scratch too).
Beyond the beer and food, Black Shirt has also cemented itself in the RiNo community, hosting frequent fundraisers and winning acclaim for their gigs and the specially-designed pallet stage in the beer garden.
Grab your nearest black tee and head to 3719 Walnut Street.
Blue Moon RiNo
Located a very short stroll from Black Shirt, Blue Moon is a name you’ll know and a beer you may well have consumed before, but a visit to the brewpub shows a different side to Molson Coors' wheat-led craft brand.
For one, the RiNo spot offers a far wider selection than the famous Belgian Wit and, while you can try a down-the-line lager or hazy IPA, the taps always pour a variety of wheat beers made with a twist – which would be a brave undertaking for an Australian brewery to do.
On top of that, the space itself is quite stunning, having picked up architectural awards for the way it beautifully pays tribute to the building’s industrial path through the heavy use of concrete and steel, while managing to remain a warm environment.
Drop in at 3750 Chestnut Place.
Mockery launched in RiNo in 2014, making the independent brewery a pioneer in the craft beer-filled neighbourhood. Located in a quiet backstreet, the brewery makes a literal mockery of the German purity law, serving lagers laced with orange peel, fruited pales, and pastry sours.
Having said that, you’ll still find finely-tuned traditional lagers to enjoy in the brewery’s vibrant beer garden or the sleek front bar where you can sit below the shadow of the tanks where it was made (surely even German brewers can appreciate that).
Make a mockery of tradition at 3501 Delgany Street.
Great Divide Brewing Co – The Barrel Bar
Great Divide’s history in Denver stretches back to 1994 and the independent brewery has multiple homes in the Mile High City, including a taproom at the airport. But The Barrel Bar opened in 2015 and is, well, as the name suggests, it’s filled with barrels.
Alongside huge rows of oak is a substantial production footprint, which makes the venue itself quite a sprawling one, but the festoon lighting in the barrel room makes drinking a beer inside feel a little like a permanent winery wedding.
The bar serves all manner of Great Divide beers, including a wide selection of limited releases and, unsurprisingly, barrel-aged sours and stouts, including their popular Yeti range of imperial stouts.
Grab a spot by the barrels at 1812 35th Street.
River North Brewery
The name might be something of a giveaway, but River North Brewery is the area’s oldest brewery. Today, there are two separate locations, with the larger and more industrial of the two to be found further north on Washington Street. But RiNo’s RiNo Brewery sits on a quiet backstreet that is one of those brewery-perfect locations where industrial buildings morph into apartments and then back again.
The venue's 12 taps pour a steady stream of just about every beer under the sun, but River North have built up a reputation – and the accompanying silverware – for their bigger beers like imperial stouts and barley (and wheat) wines.
You’ll find River North at River North’s 3400 Blake Street.
14er Brewing & Beer Garden
14er Brewing feels a little like what would happen if a German biergarten had a child with a modern American craft brewery. The huge open space boasts one of the largest outdoor and indoor areas in all of Denver, with picnic table after picnic table filled with groups of friends, families and dogs – the key difference to Germany being the concrete and murals instead of grass and the fact punters are enjoying tasting paddles rather than steins.
It’s a wise decision to keep the pours small too: 14er boasts some 31 taps. Across those taps, expect to find sours, pilsners, IPAs and stouts alongside seltzers and slushies.
Oh, and the name? Don’t try to go to a 14th street, you won’t find it. It’s a reference to those mountain peaks that reach beyond 14,000 feet; Colorado has more than 50 in total and the founders were keen on a name tied both to their love of staying active and their home state.
Instead of 14th, you’ll find 14er at 3120 Blake Street.
Speaking of German influence, Bierstadt Lagerhause has that in spades and is just down the road from 14er. If you didn’t have quite enough slow-poured pils at Cohesion, Bierstadt has nothing but lager to offer, with their focus trained squarely on Germany.
Since 2016, they’ve built a reputation for brewing some of America’s finest bottom-fermenting beer, to the point when any brewer who finds out you're going to Denver will make sure you know not to miss the brewery (proving that a brewer's brewery is almost always a lager brewery).
Leaving aside all the bright helles, perfect pils and delightful dunkel, Bierstadt would be worth visiting without the world-class beer. The Bierhalle is a playground for adults and about as close as it comes to a year-round GABS (although we’re not sure the brewers would enjoy the beers served at that festival) – filled with all manner of parlour games, photobooths, live music and frequent wrestling matches.
You’ll find all that and more at 2875 Blake Street.
RiNo isn’t just known for art galleries but also its vibrant murals, and Ratio Beerworks’s stunning walls could well be a gallery of their own.
The brewery founders were all part of the punk scene in the late 90s and Ratio retains much of that ethos and regularly plays host to live music.
Between the art, the music and the beer, visiting their substantial venue offers quite a feast for the senses; although there are plenty of beers to choose from, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone making quite as good a carrot flower saison as Ratio.
Find the perfect Ratio at 2920 Larimer Street.
Our Mutual Friend
It might be the last stop on this guide but no matter how many beers you've sampled along the way, I challenge you to miss Our Mutual Friend, which is a brief stroll from Ratio. The distinct and colourful brewpub manages to stand out in a neighbourhood filled with street art – and their beers stand out in an area rich in malt, water, hops, yeast and everything else.
The small operation sells practically all of its beer across its own bar and, in particular, the saisons are not to be missed. They’ve won awards for many of them, including those brewed with Brett or mixed cultures, while they frequently champion local maltsters and other ingredients through their beers.
Step inside at 2810 Larimer Street.
If you're still seeking more beer experiences, there are a few other spots nearby we didn't have time to explore, some of whose names you'll no doubt recognise:
- First Draft Taproom & Kitchen. A craft beer taproom with a dazzling number of beer, wine and cider taps, all of which can poured yourself.
- Odell Brewing. The actual brewery is in Fort Collins, but the taproom serves up the beers that have brought the brewery acclaim since launching in 1989.
- Left Hand Brewing. Likewise, Left Hand's home is outside Denver, but their RiNo taproom features all their beers.
- Sandlot Brewery. If you're keen to catch some baseball at the famed Coors Field, be sure to stop into Sandlot Brewery, where Blue Moon was first brewed.