Call it the "Colorado Beer Triangle" or the "Napa Valley Of Beer", there is no doubting the plethora of tasty alcoholic delights on offer from the state of Colorado. Over two weeks I have tried sixty three different beers from twenty local breweries, and have barely scratched the surface; not only does there seem to be a brewery every three blocks in Denver itself (where I was based), then you have towns such as Longmont, Fort Collins and Boulder offering up a multitude of others. But I have had an amazing time in a brilliant city populated by some extraordinarily friendly people, and can whole-heartily recommend – nay, insist – visiting to anyone with an interest in craft beer.
That sense of friendliness runs so strongly through the craft beer community, many times I had wonderfully random chats with staff and patrons alike. Often I would here "if you like that try those guys" or "you must visit our friends at this brewery", which led to many great finds. Although the scene is entering its second decade, there are still new breweries popping up, and brewing some of the best beer to be found. Two of my favourites are both under a year old, and are still only available in their attached taprooms.
The first is Station 26, amongst the eastern reaches of Denver in Stapleton. Having converted an old fire station, everything is open and spacious with a great beer patio out front to bask in the early evening rays. Their Cherrywood Smoked Red is an absolute delight, easily slipping down as the sweet and smoky flavours fill your senses. They also have a healthy sense of experimentation as on offer is a barrel-aged wheat wine. Derby Day was only aged for three months in bourbon barrels, but is also brewed with the distinctive sorachi ace hops, meaning the palette is a riot of sweet top notes playing with a mouldy orange and wet grass base – probably not for everyone, but one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Situated just two blocks from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, Jagged Mountain have a slice of prime real estate, and the beers to match. Eschewing the standard American trait of going hoppy and bitter, many here play with sweet tones, ranging from the light IPA Imlay to the ridiculously smooth and sweet First Descent, a bourbon barrel-aged old ale. Whilst I was there they also tapped their new stout Verglas for the first time; slightly hoppy up top with a nice oatmeally body, it finishes with a hint of bitterness that is well balanced.
Of the more established breweries, River North very quickly stood out as a winner. Based in the old Flying Dog brewery and brewing Belgian style beers, seemingly everything they turn their hand to has me reaching for another. Their imperial stout Avarice has so much coffee on the nose and rich bitter chocolate on the palette in a very moreish combination; whilst their double IPA Hoppenburg is simply the best such I have had (yes, even better than Pliny The Elder). Stuffed full of grapefruit and orange flavours, this is chewy and thick with a long finish and only a little bite of bitterness at the end – dangerously drinkable.
However the single greatest beer I found over the fortnight was Great Divide's Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti. Yeti itself is a very satisfying and scrummy imperial stout, but this seasonal variation far surpasses even that high standard. Aged with oak chips for a vanilla-tinged sweetness, this is balanced by the dark cocoa nibs added to impart a bitter chocolate body that lasts for ages. There is even a surprise lurking at the back of the throat as a dash of cayenne brings a subtle heat to the finish, both pleasing and warming. A particularly sparkly diamond in a whole mound of gems, Denver is very much a beer geek's paradise with a new treat around every corner.