From the 1970s when Boulderite Charlie Papazian pioneered the concept of microbrewing by putting home-brewed beer on the map, to the 1990s when microbrews began popping up as quickly as hip coffeeshops, to change the way America drank beer, Boulder has been on the front lines of the craft brewery scene.
It’s an old joke about Boulder: there’s a microbrewery on every corner. It’s almost literally true, and an overview will necessarily leave out a microbrew or two that are just as stellar as the award-winning ones (of which there are many, just in the city of Boulder, let alone the whole county). And new breweries are cropping up all the time.
The Boulder Weekly Best of Boulder awards can give us a little insight as to what breweries are the best according to that particular Boulderite vote, and, being a lifelong Boulderite myself (and a longtime beer enthusiast) I’ll add my two cents’ worth to the consensus, giving you an idea what the best of the many Boulder breweries really are.
What makes a stellar brewery (especially in the midst of such a vast galaxy of them)? What makes a brewery the best of the best?
Beer – Well I mean, duh. A brewery is only as good as its beer, and in Boulder, you can’t throw a water bottle without hitting an excellent, tasty pint. Variety, creativity, selection, and taste (which comes from good ingredients) all combine to make a top-notch beer.
Ambiance – Is it the walls crammed full of Grateful Dead posters and hippy-trippy art, like Mountain Sun? Maybe it’s a warehouse-chic brewery with exposed brick and a good view of the brewing facilities (like at Upslope). Or a cozy pub-like atmosphere, where you can snuggle up to the taps and spend a lazy afternoon sampling the creative varieties. Where you drink the beer is almost as important as the beer itself, and can affect how you appreciate the brews. And then there’s the service: how are the bartenders/servers? Do they know their stuff? Are they prompt and friendly?
History – How long has the brewery been open? Is the business good to their neighbors? Has it won awards and/or a reputation? Does the community agree on its quality?
These are the big three when it comes to judging a brewery for its quality, though there are no doubt more things you can come up with to add to the list. One disclaimer: when picking the “best” beer each brewery below offers, know that I haven’t sampled every single variety that each place serves. I go with (along with personal taste): popularity, and quality of ingredients. Let us know if you have a favorite beer I didn’t mention!
Mountain Sun pubs (& brewery) tend to sweep the BoB awards each year, as you’ve read here before. This year, they won Gold in Beer Selection, and Silver both for best Craft Brewery, and Happy Hour. It’s easy to see why: stop by either of the Boulder Mountain Suns or the Longmont one and you can sample (for free!) any of the beer that makes the pubs famous to your heart’s content. Though at the OG downtown Boulder one, you can no longer take a growler with you, you can enjoy all the delicious pairings with the healthy and tasty pub grub you can fit in your happy tummy (see Best Burgers right here on Your Boulder).
Stout Month – Each February, the Mountain Sun family of breweries holds a month-long celebration of all that’s dark about beer: it’s Stout Month. Not only does Mountain Sun itself offer a plethora of dark delights during February, but they bring in special stout taps from all over, too, with a new stout unveiled each Tuesday. Lots of Boulder breweries have followed suit, but there’s nothing to match the Stout Month that Mountain Sun brings to the table.
Best Pint: FYIPA – Longtime flagship beer FYIPA (it doesn’t stand for what you think it does) has been on the menu at Mountain Sun for decades. Rich, amber-colored, strong but not sweet, and deliciously hoppy, the FYIPA is the go-to at any of the Mountain Sun locations. It pairs excellently with their burgers and with their hummus, too.
A couple of things to remember when visiting Mountain Sun: they still only accept cash or check (no credit cards allowed), and they don’t distribute their stellar brews to any liquor stores or other pubs, so you’ll have to go experience the Boulder-hippy vibes to sample their wares. Which is fine with most beer-loving Boulderites—you’ll see us hanging out there any number of afternoons or evenings, or late-night Sundays when they have live music.
BoB Bronze winner for Best Beer Selection, Oskar Blues’ yummy creations offer something delicious for all tastes in beer. And they’re all canned and widely distributed across Colorado, so if you miss something when you’re out enjoying one of the taprooms, you can always bring some home for later.
If you’re familiar with Boulder locales, you’ll know Oskar Blues from the big silo on the Diagonal Highway, right at Hover Road in Longmont. That’s its big Boulder county location, with stellar bbq on their menu of “home grown liquids and solids” and live bands playing there any number of nights of the week.
Oskar Blues has recently opened a location on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, too, down on the West End, with all the tasty menu items (and beer selections) of its bigger Longmont counterpart. Bands, too, so why not make it an Oskar Blues beer, people watching, and bbq evening on the mall?
Dale’s Pale Ale – Of all the myriad (Bronze winning) beers to select at Oskar Blues, one failsafe and the immensely popular brew is its famous Dale’s Pale Ale. Flavorful, drinkable, and offered year-round, Dale’s Pale Ale is light enough to be an easy brew but tasty enough to enjoy its complex flavors, without overwhelming the palate.
Boulder Beer Co.
The oldest brewery in Boulder (in all of Colorado even), Boulder Beer Company celebrated its 40th birthday recently with a big party and tapping of a new birthday brew. Boulder Beer has lasted all this venerable time because its beer is just that dang delicious, and has been for all these decades now. If you want a taste of Boulder’s beer history, you’d do worse than to begin at Boulder Beer.
Shake – The name of this beer that’s almost a dessert is telling—a chocolate porter, Shake does indeed taste like a chocolate shake that’s a beer. In a very, very, good way. You can get Shake all year at the taproom, or find it at most Boulder liquor stores (and a few other bars as well).
Bronze BoB winner for best craft brewery, Upslope’s got two locations happening these days: both lovely taprooms with a wide variety of food trucks parked up in their lots to go with the tasty upslope flagship pints as well as creative seasonals.
North, Upslope looks over Lee Hill Road, and has board games and more to enjoy as you enjoy the Upslope beer choices. East, the Flatiron Park branch often has live music, food trucks, and other types of beer celebration depending on the occasion.
Craft Lager – One of Upslope’s most popular flagship beers, their Craft Lager is one of the tastiest lighter beers you’ll ever experience. Brewed entirely from malted barley, the Craft Lager is smooth, drinkable, and a lovely thing to drink on a hot summer’s day.
Plus, with every can of Craft Lager sold, Upslope donates 1% of their sales to Trout Unlimited, thought their 1% For Rivers campaign. A good drink for a good cause? We’re all in.
Avery has been around for a long time but has settled a few years ago now into a huge brewery, taphouse, restaurant and stellar patio tucked in amongst the office campuses of Gunbarrel, just off 63rd street.
Avery got the BoB Gold this year when it comes to the Best Craft Brewery award. But have you tried their food?
Way beyond your basic bbq or pub grub, Avery offers a wide variety of especially expertly prepared meats, many with a Southern flair, and the comestibles always pair beautifully with the giant list of taps Avery’s got to offer.
Tweak – So I’m going to recommend the Tweak as (arguably, as always) Avery’s best beer, but beware! It packs a major punch. The recent Tweak on the menu (as of this writing) is a whopping 14.7% ABV, so. Just saying.
Tweak is a rich, sweet, chocolate-and-coffee-laden, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with espresso added. It’s seriously a dessert (and a strong one at that), and I highly recommend it. Just, yanno. Get an uber.
All them tasty sours – If a sour ale is to your taste, you pretty much have to go to Avery to get it. But that’s okay because their sours are ah-MAZE-ing. From their raspberry sour to all the odd and deliciously strange seasonals (the recent one is called Bug Zapper, a sour ale with mint, ginger, and lime) let alone their rotating shandys.
Avery has also gotten on the hard seltzer bandwagon, for those concerned about their gluten intake. Boat Shoes is their current one, and we can expect more to come for the health-conscious drinkers of Boulder.
Ecologically Honorable Mention: Asher
Asher Brewery is not only Boulder’s first all-organic brewery, it’s still the only one! And its use of only the best and healthiest ingredients shows: the Ginger Bomb seasonal brew has actual organic ginger root ground up and in the mix. Hops, barley, any other flavors? All real stuff, all organic; never syrups. Like the popular seasonal choice, Cafe Kolsch: never a flavor syrup, it’s infused with real (organic and fair trade) cold brew coffee.
Cafe Kolsch (Green Bullet) – Though the Green Bullet, a delicious and robust IPA that’s a flagship beer for Asher, is probably their best-selling pint year-round, the Cafe Kolsch is something special, and rivals sales of Green Bullet when it’s in season (which it is now).
Cafe Kolsch is an intensely flavorful light beer that has been infused with cold brew coffee (supplied by another Gunbarrel staple: Ampersand coffee roasters). This flavor combo may sound odd, but trust me: it’s delicious, especially when ice cold. And the advantage to Asher using all real and organic ingredients, never additives? It’s caffeinated.
Asher doesn’t really do the food thing (beyond a couple of small snack items), but they do have cans & growlers to take, and they’ve got kombucha ready for your DDs.\
That’s our list Boulder. Did we miss any? What are some of your favorites? Be sure to drop a mention in the comments!