I’m a big fan of taking brewery tours, especially when I’m traveling. It’s my way of learning a little more about a community’s local craft brewery scene and also about the community itself. (Believe me, the kind of breweries a city has can tell you a lot about the culture.)
I’ll admit, though, that I haven’t fully explored the wonderful breweries that are in my own backyard. Don’t get me wrong, I make it a weekly mission to visit a Colorado brewery I’ve never been to. But usually that visit consists of a trip to the tap room and a flight of beers, and that’s about it.
A couple weekends ago, I decided to take a multi-brewery adventure through the River North (RiNo) neighborhood with Denver Microbrew Tour.
There’s only one RiNo tour a week, and it takes place on Sundays at 12:15pm. If your travel plans don’t permit you to take this tour, Denver Microbrew Tour has more options in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
All tours consist of stops at 4 breweries (and one cidery on the RiNo route), with a tasting of roughly three beers at each. The beers are selected by the tour guide, but you’re more than welcome to purchase a taster or pint of any beer on the menu (just make sure you have time to drink it, as the tour doesn’t stay in each location very long). The LoDo route appears to go to the same 4 breweries each time, so it doesn’t matter what day you go, the options are always the same. For the RiNo tour, it’s unclear if you visit the same spots every week. We were handed a rating sheet that included a couple breweries we didn’t visit, so it’s possible they change it up from week to week. If you want to call ahead to see what stops you’ll be making, you’re welcome to do that.
Guides provide some background on each brewery, the brewing process, the varieties of beers produced, as well as some information about the neighborhood in which these breweries are located.
You must reserve your spot prior to the tour, and you can book it online or by calling.
Kick Off – Bierstadt Lagerhaus
The tour began at Bierstadt Lagerhaus, one of the newest craft breweries to open its doors in the RiNo neighborhood.
Note: There was some confusion on where to meet. The email confirmation stated the tour would start at Ratio Beerworks, but the website lists Bierstadt. I made the mistake of trusting the email, but luckily figured it out with plenty of time. The guide was fully aware of the issue, and I’m hoping they get that fixed to avoid any future issues.
Bierstadt opened in August 2016 at 2875 Blake Street, home to the Rackhouse Pub and C Square Cidery. It was founded by brewers Ashleigh Carter and Bill Eye, who resurrected an eighty-four-year-old brew kettle from Germany and placed it on full display in the taproom. The focus of the brewery is lager, and they always have a pilsner, a dunkel and a helles on tap. This was my third time to the brewery, and it’s definitely one I’d come back to again.
As we sipped on our pint of Slow Pour Pils (a northern German-inspired, pale, crisp Pils), our guide gave us the basics on how to taste beer like a snob (spoiler alert, it’s a lot like wine tasting).
First, look at the beer, observe the color and haziness. It’s best to view it in natural light, but don’t hold the beer to direct light as that will dilute the true color.
Next, agitate the beer. Swirl it gently in the glass to pull out the aromas and nuances, and loosen the carbonation.
Then, smell the beer. Take quick sniffs, and then longer breaths. Take in the bouquet of scents.
Finally, taste the beer. Don’t drink it, as that is different from tasting. Be sure to let the beer sit on your tongue for a moment before swallowing, allowing your palate to fully take in the mouthfeel and the consistency.
We didn’t have much time to fully go through the tasting process, as we had to scoot to the next stop: Stem Ciders.
Ciders Are Hot Right Now
The latest trend in the craft beverage scene is ciders. They’ve been around for years, but it was only in the last few that these strong fruity concoctions really broke into the mainstream. Some of the craze can be attributed to the growing number of people who have gluten intolerances (or have chosen to cut out gluten). But it’s not just changing diets that are drawing more people to ciders, it’s also changing tastes. Most cider drinkers enjoy beer and wine, but are looking for something different, and cider can be a nice compromise between the two. I’ll be honest, though, there are a respectable number of people out there who, dare I say it, just don’t like beer. Cider is an alternative that people are adopting in droves. Many in the industry predict the segment will continue to grow over the next couple years, and more craft cideries are likely to pop up.
But I digress—back to the tour.
Stem Ciders was founded by Eric Foster and Phil Kao back in 2013, and the taproom in RiNo opened in 2014. It began with three ciders on tap, and now they serve eight varieties, along with a number of seasonal offerings.
(Fun fact: You cannot register as a cidery in Colorado. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, classifies hard cider as wine, and therefore cider makers must register as a bonded winery in the state.)
We sampled three different ciders: The Remedy (hopped apple cider), Raspberry Apple Cider, and Le Chêne (pronounced Luh Shen). The first was very fruity and super tart, with a decently strong ABV of 6.7%. It would pair well with plate of charcuterie and soft cheeses. The second one was also pretty tart, with strong hints of raspberry melding with the apple, and a solid 6.7% ABV. The last one was probably my favorite. It’s red zinfandel oak barrel aged, giving it a dry-wine flavor and smooth mouthfeel. If you’re a wine drinker, this is the cider for you.
As we sipped our ciders, our guide gave us a quick tour of the brewing room and a background on the cider making process. Unlike beer, cider starts with fruit juice. Yeast is used to ferment it into alcohol, but cider ferments all the sugar out, leaving you with a nice dry cider. Stem Ciders has a small brewing facility and is currently only distributing in Colorado, Illinois and Kansas City, Missouri. Soon, a new building will be opening where they’ll be able to produce thousands of barrels a year—a huge increase from their current production.
A Quick History and Art Lesson
While the main purpose of the tour is to highlight RiNo breweries, it’s also to introduce people to the neighborhood that houses them. The River North Arts District, as the area is officially called, is home to a large collection of creative businesses, including art studios, architects, furniture makers, designers, photographers, sculptors and more. The district’s slogan is “Where Art is Made.”
It wasn’t always like that though. When I was growing up, River North was an industrial area near Five Points, filled with abandoned warehouses and crumbling infrastructure. In the late eighties and early nineties, you simply didn’t go there…there was nothing to go there for. But in the early 2000s, the artists and creatives who had been making the area their home over the last few years decided it was time for a revival.
Now, RiNo is a booming neighborhood with dozens of restaurants, shops, bars, and breweries drawing visitors there from all over the city. What I love most about the area is how it still maintains that industrial feel. Most of the original factory buildings remain, but have been re-purposed for modern-day use. And everywhere you look, there’s street art: on the sides of buildings, decorating the alleys. As our guide so beautifully put it, the art has a “controlled thrown togetherness about it.”
Before we headed into Ratio, our guide stopped at a nearby painting created by David Choe, a famous Los Angeles-based graffiti artist. He was one of the driving forces behind Denver becoming an urban art hub, and the piece is one of the first street creations in the district. If you have time before or after the tour (or even just on another day), I recommend strolling the streets of RiNo to discover all the different works dotting the area.
Rockin’ with Ratio Beerworks
Another relatively recent resident of the RiNo neighborhood, Ratio Beerworks first opened in 2015. Founded by friends and music lovers Jason zumBrunnen, Zach Lowery and Scott Kaplan, Ratio pays tribute to both beer and music world. Every beer on the menu comes from a band name or song titles. The décor both inside and out is bright and colorful, while maintaining a pleasant simplicity that everyone can appreciate.
Our tour went into the brewing room, where our guide gave us an overview of the brewing process. (If you’ve done a brewery tour before, you know this spiel pretty well, so I won’t go into it.) As he spoke, we sipped on tasters of three beers: Domestica, Repeater and Dear You.
The Domestica is an American standard ale, with light hints of hops and little to no bitterness (due to the very low IBU of 11). It’s similar to a light lager. The Repeater is an extra pale ale, with a sharp hop flavor and a bitter finish. The Dear You is a French Saison, which is a bit drier than a typical Belgian style saison with a nice tartness (it was my favorite!)
Beryl’s Beer Co.
The final stop on the tour was Beryl’s Beer Company. Founded in June 2014, Beryl’s likes to take a different spin on traditional beers. They barrel age many of their brews in an effort to create flavors you may not expect. The brewery is located on Blake Street between 31st and 32nd. It features a beautiful outdoor seating area, and plenty of room for (drinking) games like cornhole. The tasting room inside is filled with logoed merchandise, empty barrels and growlers, and lovely wall art.
We ended our tour with a sample of three Beryl’s beers. It was a good thing this was the last stop, because these beers were strong. We started with the Yöur Gaarden, a Belgian Wit with subtle hints of citrus and spice (4.7% ABV). We followed that with the limited release Super Soaked, an American IPA with nice floral notes and a less hoppy aftertaste, which I appreciated (7% ABV). The last beer was the Barrel-Aged Elsie Mae B, a barrel aged saison with sweet, fruity flavors and just a hint of wine taste (11.4% ABV). Of course, the saison was my favorite, I seem to lean towards those high alcohol beers.
My Take Away
Overall, I enjoyed my time on the Denver Microbrew Tour. By no means was it perfect, but nothing ever is, and that’s a crazy high standard to hold people to. As I mentioned, there was some miscommunication on the confirmation of where the tour actually began, but the guide was informed and they can change that for next time. We didn’t get a lot of time at each location, but I realize if you let people linger over beer, it could take forever to finish. (A perfect example was the beer and cocktail tour I recently took in Milwaukee, which went at least two hours over schedule.) I would have also liked a little more background on the area. I’m a bit of a history nerd, and a place’s past always fascinates me. But again, this tour wasn’t just about me, and I’m sure most people were there for the beer, and that is, after all, the main focus.
The Denver Microbrew Tour gave me and my friends a fun afternoon to explore a region we weren’t overly familiar with. I experienced some new places I had never been before, learned a little more about the area, and met some super fun people along the way. And of course, I tried some amazing beer and I will definitely be returning to try other varieties. I would recommend the tour to anyone visiting Denver that wants to check out a few craft breweries. I would also recommend it for people who live here, as I’m sure you’ll learn something you never knew before.