It's no secret that Denver brews good beer, and lots of it. From Great Divide, to Oskar Blues, to New Belgium, the front range of the Rockies is calling itself the "Napa Valley of beer" these days. And given that it hosts one of the world’s largest beer events every year in October, we'd have a hard time disagreeing. Hitting a few pubs should be on the list of every traveler to the Mile High City, and these lesser-known city breweries taste something you can’t get elsewhere. Plus, you'll earn bonus points with the locals.
Despite the name, Black Shirt Brewery, at the northern edge of the River North Arts District (also known as Five Points), only brews beers that are red in color. Think red saisons, red ales, and red porters. (The American Red Porter is our personal favorite.) The tasting room (pints from $5) has music-themed décor, such as tap heads that look like old-school microphones and a beer board resembling a jukebox (beers are even referred to as “albums” on the website). The brewery does not serve food, but local food trucks park outside the venue on most nights.
Fans of sour beers are going to love Crooked Stave, a small, 20-barrel brewery that recently relocated to the River North neighborhood inside The Source, an artisan food market in a remodeled brick warehouse from the 1880s. Like Black Shirt, Crooked Stave focuses on one thing and does it well: its better-known beers include the dry-hopped, barrel-aged saison Vielle and the Belgian-inspired white beer St. Bretta, but all of its production lies within the realm of Belgium sours. Pucker up and head over for a tasting (open daily noon-11p.m.). The Source houses popular food vendors like Comida, where you can find a taco for as little as $3.
Over in the River North Arts District, Our Mutual Friend deserves extra credit for marketing itself as a community gathering place rather than just a pub. Director of operations Brandon Proff told the Denver Post something similar before it opened, saying that both he and the brewery were “very eager to get to know everyone." So far, so good, as the brewery is in its second year, creating a wide range of beers from stouts to saisons. Visit on a Tuesday to take advantage of its “keep the glass night,” which obviously gets you a glass, but more importantly, 3 fills for $10.
Launched in 2011 at the mouth of Denver’s Lower Highlands neighborhood (LoHi), Denver Beer Co. feels more like a beer garden than a brewery thanks to its garage-like setup that offers outside seating and an open-air interior. The Graham Cracker Porter is one of its more popular brews ($5), but an entire range of styles will suit any mood. Though a full menu isn't offered, warm pretzels ($5) go down great with pretty much all the brews.
With four locations in the area, Vine Street Pub and Brewery has both local charm and top-notch beer. Originally started in Boulder in 1993, this brewery might be the most “neighborhoody," with live music happening several nights per month, and a loud, chatty atmosphere even on weeknights. If you show up during lunch or dinner, a full food menu is available, including nachos ($11), burritos ($7.25), and a fantastic "make your own grilled cheese" station (from $3.95).