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The Passport Program: Denver

The Passport Program Denver beer
Photo Courtesy of The Passport Program

If you’re a craft beer fan, you know that Colorado is home to some of the most popular and highly regarded breweries in America as well as craft beer’s governing body, the Brewers Association. Figurehead breweries such as Great Divide, Avery, Oskar Blues, Odell, New Belgium and Left Hand are but a handful of the state’s zymurgical militia, which was last totaled at 284.

Such a vast array of breweries makes planning a beer-cation a dicey proposition, especially within the fertile fermentation grounds of a city like Denver, where your beloved BC editors were heading. Since logistics and ale-quaffing don’t mix well, we’ll plot trip details in advance, which usually requires a couple hours of checking tap lists, Google Maps and perhaps a phone call or two.

A few quick sips and some bacon nachos at Wynkoop Brewing Company riled us from our post-flight fug.

Thankfully, much of that rigmarole was avoided with the help of The Passport Program, a “road map for the curious drinker – a pocket-sized little black book filled with drink specials all across town, valid from May 27 (Friday before Memorial Day) to September 5 (Labor Day).” To boil it down, it’s a coupon book that provides 2-for-1 drinks at select locations throughout various cities.

Our Denver trip started bright and early, and we led off with a visit to Wynkoop Brewing Company direct from the runway. While we had been warned of the thin mountain air in Colorado’s capitol (and how lower levels of alcohol may affect drinkers in such climes), a quick four-beer flight and some bacon nachos almost immediately perked us up, and got us prepared for a full day of brewery visits.

The next stop was Breckenridge Brewery’s new Littleton location, a craft beer hideaway housed – fittingly – on a street called Brewery Lane. Though the brewery has caught flak for its big beer ties, it manages to balance its present without abandoning its roots as a family-run operation.

Breckenridge Brewery, housed on Brewery Lane in neighboring Littleton, CO, had the sheen of a macro operation and the dedication to the craft of a start-up.

The beer is crisp, with new release Mango Mosaic providing a citrusy punch to start the trip, and the brewery’s ever-expanding barrel-aging program creating some surprising results, such as the tequila barrel-aged version of its flagship wheat beer Ophelia and the various single-hop, barrel-aged variants of 471 IPA. If you’re not afraid of getting a little closer to the big beer flame, Breckenridge in Littleton is worth checking out.

After Breckenridge, with numerous brewery-only releases tucked under our arms, we headed to one of our most anticipated stops – Cerebral Brewing, which is known for its hazy IPAs, funky sours and specialty offerings. The brewery was releasing two different versions of a new Brett Beer when we arrived – Invisible Hand Azacca and Equinox. A Hazy Treatise, a blog post from Cerebral’s founder Chris Washenberger, outlines the brewery’s ethos, which focuses on flavor and quality ingredients rather than looks or hype.

Founder Chris and head brewer Sean Buchan hosted us at the brewhouse as we sipped on a few of the brewery’s trademark brews – Rare Trait IPA (which we recently reviewed), Elephant Gun Imperial Milk Stout and both versions of Invisible Hand – and discussed the Colorado craft beer scene as well as the brewery’s swift growth.

We finished up our first day back at the hotel (Hotel Teatro in Denver’s LoDo district), with four Cerebral crowlers in tow, reminding us how delicious brewery-fresh beer can be.

For our second day in Denver, we started off at one of the best breakfast spots in the city, Snooze: an AM Eatery at Denver’s grand Union Station. The main event on day two, however, was Great Divide Brewing Company’s 22nd Anniversary celebration.

Cerebral Brewing's Rare Trait was a real treat during our trip.

Lasting most of the day, the anniversary was certainly a happening occasion. With food trucks, the Yeti experience, numerous beer booths, a rarities tent and a complimentary Denver Pale Ale and metallic cup at the door, the celebration had everything one would expect from a well-established brewery’s anniversary party.

Despite sweltering heat, lines were long at the rarities tent – which included numerous barrel-aged and adjunct-filled versions of the brewery’s coveted Yeti Imperial Stout, and the Yeti himself made a rare appearance (though his shaggy fur was quite superfluous in the 95°+ heat).