In a country with more than five thousand craft breweries and brewery pubs, it can be difficult to choose which state to explore on your beer adventure. East Coast or West? North or South? None of the above, actually: the answer is Colorado!

Words and photo: Jonas Henningsson

My beer odyssey begins in the run-down industrial River North Art District, north of downtown, which has received a thorough facelift these last few years. Along with trendy restaurants, hot bistros, delis, urban workplaces, and art galleries, several breweries and beer bars have opened in the neighborhood. Inside the Source, Denver’s urbane and coolly aware marketplace for artists and creators of all kinds, is the Crooked Stave. Next, we stop at Mockery Brewing and Our Mutual Friend, and, of course, the city’s most loved beer spot: Great Divide, which has finally acquired more space in order to increase production. Naturally, they chose River North as the location for their expansion. Great Divide is a classic fixture on Colorado’s beer map. They opened 23 years ago, and their small tap room in Denver is another must-visit. The next morning, I’m waiting outside the door when they open. I glance at the message “Great Minds Drink Alike,” which has been painted on the brick wall, before I slip through the door. This small bar in downtown Denver has been here since the beginning, and has become something of local institution. Kate Kingsbery manages the shiny taps of Yeti Imperial Stout, Titan IPA, and twelve other beers adorning the wall of the Great Divide Tap Room, which also offers a good view of the shiny tanks inside the brewery.

 

Oskar Blues

Colorado is one of the best US states to visit for a beer trip. Although this state is far from the most populated in the nation, only California can rival its number of craft breweries. Colorado has 348 breweries, 148 of them in Denver alone. Many of these are are recent additions, but some have been here since the dawn of the beer revolution, some 25 years ago. The next day, I drive my rental car north along Interstate 5, and the signs for Longmont appear before I’ve traveled far. I pay a visit to the Oskar Blues Anti-Corporate Quarters. There, I meet Jeremy Rudolf, who proudly bears his official title as Beer Traffic Control Freak. While Jeremy guides us around the brewery, we talk beer, cycling, and food— three great passions that are woven into the very fabric of Colorado, perhaps nowhere more so than here at Oskar Blues. We pass by endless pallets of the brewery’s flagship product Dale’s Pale Ale, in lined-up shiny cans. The cans have actually become something of a trademark for Oskar Blues. They began packaging their premium craft beer in cans early on, and many other breweries have followed suit. When they’re not brewing, they’re cycling. – Cycling and good beer go hand in hand, and naturally, we have our own brand, Jeremy explains, pointing to some REEB bicycles in the leisure room at their head office. The brewery dog follows us curiously with his eyes, with his eyes, but refuses to vacate the couch that he’s settled himself in. We head over to the Oskar Blues restaurant, Home Made Liquids and Solids, which is just a few hundred yards from the brewery, and order ourselves some burgers and ale. Their own farm, Hops and Heifers, supplies the ingredients used by the chefs.

The Kings of IPA

Next morning, I head due north on Interstate 25, towards Fort Collins, where the breweries are packed very, very tight. I take an educational tour of New Belgium and Funkwerks, and soon end up at Odells, which has the perfect ale bar to spend your afternoon in. I sample 5 Barrel Pale Ale, Rupture, and Drumroll. And, naturally, one of the breweries own top brews, an IPA. Susanne, who’s sitting next to me at the bar, explains why the people in line for the beer tasting are so excited:

– They are the kings of IPA!

When their visiting room closes, I head downtown. Fort Collins has plenty of really great beer bars, of course. And there, of course, I will encounter more passionate beer drinkers, who’ll give me more new tips for my onward travels. However, I’ve already circled Durango on my map, the town where Ska Brewing, who have been producing first rate beer since the middle of the 90s, ply their trade.

 

BEER TRAVEL IN THE US. Which ale trail will you follow?

COLORADO Ale Trail: Denver to Fort Collins (passing by Boulder and Longmont), about 75 miles. Breweries: Oskar Blues Brewing, oskarblues.com Odell Brewing, odellbrewing.com Crooked Stave, crookedstave.com Great Divide Brewing, Company greatdivide.com Avery Brewing, Company averybrewing.com Mockery Brewing, mockerybrewing.com Our Mutual Friend, omfbeer.com Left Hand Brewing ,Company lefthandbrewing.com/

Always worth a side trip: Ska Brewing, Durango. skabrewing.com

OREGON Ale Trail: Portland to Newport (passing by Hood River, Bend) (about 385 miles) Breweries: Hop Works Urban Brewery, hopworksbeer.com Deschutes Brewery, deschutesbrewery.com Hair of The Dog, hairofthedog.com Rogue Ales Brewery, rogue.com Always worth a side trip: Beer Valley, Ontario, beervalleybrewing.com

CALIFORNIA Ale Trail: San Diego to Placentia (passing by Escondido, San Marcos), about 110 miles. Breweries: Ale Smith, alesmith.com Ballast Point ,ballastpoint.com Green Flash, Brewing Company greenflashbrew.com The Bruery, thebruery.com The Lost Abbey, lostabbey.com Always worth a side trip: Russian River, Santa Rosa, russianriverbrewing.com

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Jonas Henningsson

Journalist and photographer, founder and editor-in-chief American Trails.