Colorado’s craft brewing scene is far from pint-size. There are more than 400 breweries in the Centennial State (it ranks fifth in the nation for the number of breweries). Together, they produce nearly 1 million barrels, or 248 million pints, of beer each year.
The state is also home to the Brewer’s Association—the trade group that represents most of the craft breweries in the United States—and the Great American Beer Festival, one of the largest public tasting events in the world. Over the course of a long weekend in October, more than 40,000 hop heads come to sample beers from nearly 500 breweries.
That’s all to say, Coloradans have a thing for beer.
Given Colorado’s reputation for craft brewing, we know this list will be divisive. We’re not saying it’s the best of the best; we’re saying these 14 breweries shouldn’t be missed, either because they’re pushing boundaries, creating community, or helped shape Colorado’s brewing scene. Cheers!
Great Divide Brewing Company
- Location: multiple Denver-area locations
While there are hundreds of breweries in Colorado today, only a handful existed in the 1990s, including some that now have nationwide distribution, like Breckenridge Brewing, New Belgium Brewery, Odell Brewing, and Oskar Blues Brewery.
Great Divide ranks up there, too. Open since 1994, it has had a long time to work (and rework) its recipes, so it now wins GABF medals at a nearly annual clip. These beers are so beloved that today there are four locations in the Denver area. One standout pour is the Yeti Imperial Stout, with a big roasted, caramel, and toffee flavor profile that feels tailor-made for sipping around the campfire. Throughout the year, different iterations of the Yeti come out, so keep an eye out for pumpkin spice, horchata, and peppermint bark infusion.
- Location: Greeley
For beer nerds, WeldWerks Brewing carries a lot of weight. Since opening in 2015, it’s won numerous medals at some of the most prestigious brewing competitions around the world. One of its flagship beers, Juicy Bits, is often regarded as one of the best, if not the best, IPAs in the country (especially impressive considering IPAs are the most popular beer style in the U.S.).
The beers are always imaginative, with a constantly changing cast of IPAs, sours, and Imperial Stouts that lean toward zany (think: a Watermelon Cotton Candy Sour or a Smoked Lager brewed with jalapeños and lime).
The brewery also hosts the WeldWerks Invitational Festival, a gathering of lovers of barrel-aged beer each summer. Roughly 50 breweries from across the country join bring their best stouts, porters, and Lambics. After the final keg has kicked, all of the proceeds go to local Weld County nonprofits.
- Location: Boulder
Born as a side project of 4 Noses Brewing Co., Wild Provisions’ bread and butter (or maybe malt and hops?) are two particularly tricky styles of beer: Czech lagers and spontaneously fermented sours. The former are challenging because they need to be fermented at a consistently cold temperature, and they’re quick to show flaws in the brewing process. The latter are hard because the process involves inviting wild microbes into the beer, which goes against the grain of most brewing practices, and it’s harder to control the end result.
What’s particularly interesting about Wild Provisions is its old-school brewing techniques, which call upon equal parts art and science. Rather than use the same stainless steel tanks as most other breweries, it uses wood fermentation vessels called foeders. Over time, the inside of those foeders will develop their own unique flavor profiles, which will breathe funky notes into future concoctions.
Oskar Blues Brewery
- Location: Lyons
Heard of these guys before? Oskar Blues is now the largest brewery in the state (after Coors and New Belgium, neither of which is technically still headquartered in Colorado). While the first Oskar Blues opened in Lyons in 1997, today it also has outposts in Longmont, Denver, and Colorado Springs. Swing through for classics like Dale’s Pale Ale and Mama’s Little Yella Pils, or opt for one of its many seasonal releases. Don’t expect to be able to find a seat, though—all Oskar Blues locations are popular with visitors and locals alike, so they’re often busy.
- Location: Denver
Given the sheer number of breweries in the Denver area, it makes sense that some turn to using pretty off-the-wall adjuncts (we’re talking Sour Patch Kids, Key lime pie, marshmallows, peaches, and beyond) to flavor their suds and, with any luck, make a name for themselves.
Bierstadt Lagerhaus, however, stands out for how simple its beers are. The lagerhaus follows the strict Reinheitsgebot process, otherwise known as the German Beer Purity Law of 1516. Basically, the decree limited the ingredients in beer to water, hops, malt, and yeast, so expect a tap list consisting of very traditional, unadulterated beers. They don’t need to add anything more to have a stellar pint. Some standouts include the Slow Pour Pilsner, Czech Dark Lager, and the seasonal Smoked Marzen.
Wynkoop Brewing Co.
- Location: Denver
Wynkoop is the brewery that really spearheaded the craft brewing scene in Colorado—it’s considered the state’s first brewpub. When it was established in Denver’s Lower Downtown as a brewpub and billiards hall in 1988, the area was a bit seedy. Still, beer drinkers came to try the rule-breaking beers and, in doing so, helped revitalize the area. Its neighbors are now Coors Field, Larimer Square (where some of Denver’s most celebrated restaurants and bars reside), and recently revamped Union Station. Wynkoop has grown into a place known for pushing boundaries in beer—some of its recipes have included green chiles, gummy bears, and even Rocky Mountain oysters (seriously). It’s so recognized for its tastemaking abilities that when the original brewer passed away, the Brewers Association developed an award in his honor. Each year, at the Craft Brewers Conference, the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing recognizes a brewer who also knocks down doors.
- Location: Denver
Cerebral is arguably best known for its many IPAs (though its fruited sours and imperial stouts are top-notch, too). Its logo, which looks like a brain made of hops, is an ode to its “scientific” approach to beer. Even though its flights are served in lab beakers, it doesn’t mean it’s too gimmicky or beer geeky—Cerebral has a relaxed, neighborhood vibe, with long, communal tables usually populated by locals playing a board or card game. Keep an eye out for special release beers (there’s usually one or two a month). It frequently collaborates with craft heavy-hitters like Modern Times, Civil Society, Untitled Art, and Mikkeller.
- Location: Denver
Considering Colorado is home to one of the premier brewing festivals in the world, it makes sense that a fair number of breweries fall into the trap of taking themselves too seriously. Grandma’s House isn’t one of them. The taproom is outfitted with Formica tables (usually topped with bowls of butterscotch candies and peppermints), loud floral patchwork couches, and needlepoint art. Oh, and your beer will be served in an ’80s-era glass decorated with cartoon characters like the Smurfs and He-Man.
While they may not take themselves too seriously, Grandma’s beers are seriously good. Try the Trial By Fire, an oatmeal stout that uses roasted Miss June chiles from spice-obsessed Pueblo, Colorado, and liquid cacoa—it tastes like a mole sauce. The Foggy Memory Hazy IPA and the Semi-Native amber ale also deserve a big, fat me-maw smooch. Stop by on Tuesdays for bingo and every other Monday for crochet lessons.
Casey Brewing and Blending
- Location: Glenwood Springs
Is Casey Brewing a bit of a trek from Colorado’s larger cities? Oh yeah (it’s about three hours from Denver). Is it worth the visit? Definitely.
While its brewing portfolio now runs the gamut, when Casey Brewing started it only made barrel-aged sour beers that used whatever seasonal, local fruits it could get its hands on. It argued that getting the best possible fruit (we’re talking peaches, apricots, cherries, and beyond) would make the best possible beer. Although it has expanded its repertoire with other styles, featuring locally grown ingredients is still very much a part of the mission—it says 99 percent of its supplies come from within Colorado.
- Location: Arvada
Looking for a boundary-pushing IPA? Try New Image Brewing. At any given time, more than half of the brews at its two locations (the OG Arvada and the newer Wheat Ridge) are IPAs crafted with the latest (and often hardest to find) hop varieties. One example of its innovation is the Live Resin, a fresh-hop IPA distilled with hop oils. Though if hopalicious beers aren’t your thing, New Image often has a handful of interesting sours on tap.
Cerberus Brewing Co.
- Location: Colorado Springs
Maybe there’s something in the air (Colorado Springs sits just under 6,000 feet of elevation, nearly 800 feet higher than the Mile High City), but there’s something special about Cerberus Brewing Co. Its menu is heavy in IPAs and Belgians, and if you’re feeling peckish, the food menu is full of bangers, ranging from brisket-topped pub fries to beer-brined honey habañero wings. It’s a refreshing place to stop by after hiking around Garden of the Gods or climbing the Manitou Incline.
Cerberus is often busy (especially if you want to sit on the dog-friendly patio), but if you can’t find a table, another option is its Seven’s Gate Taproom located across the street. The bike-themed bar offers Cerberus’s brews, as well as guest taps from heavy hitters across the country.
- Location: Denver
You’d be forgiven if you weren’t familiar with many (or any) of the beer styles on Cohesion’s tap list. The Denver-based brewery focuses on Czech beer styles, many of which simply aren’t a part of the mainstream in the United States. Although its tap-list is short (usually about six of its own beers, as well as a couple of guest taps), what it does brew is uniquely crushable year-round.
Westbound and Down
- Location: Idaho Springs
Whether you’re enjoying some après-ski time or soaking in the nearby hot springs, arguably the best place to sip a cold one in Idaho Springs is at Westbound and Down Brewing Company.
For years, it could be said that Westbound and Down was criminally underrated. However, its varied draft list and flavorful, nonfiltered beers drew the attention of the judges at the Great American Beer Festival—in 2019, it was named the best Mid-Sized Brewery.
Those who’d prefer not to drive out to Idaho Springs are in luck—Westbound and Down recently opened a satellite location in the Free Market building in Downtown Denver’s Dairy Block.
- Location: Nederland
Sure, you could pop into this brewery en route to another adventure in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Still, we’d argue it’s worth a dedicated trip of its own—with as much personality as this brewery has, it’s guaranteed to be an experience.
At any given time, Knotted Root has more than 30 beers on tap (a big list, even for Colorado), almost all of which are head-scratchingly unique. Take, for example, its Double IPA titled “Taylor Ham, Egg, and Cheese,” which is an homage to (and tastes like) a famous breakfast sandwich in New Jersey. Or perhaps its Thick Strawberry Goo, which is brewed with more than 400 pounds of strawberry, raspberry, and passion fruit (the name is apt). Get a flight and find a spot on the spacious patio—you’ll want to stay a while to try all the clever brews.