As a Colorado beer geek, out-of-state (but like-minded) friends often ask “what’s your favorite brewery?” Egad! Why not ask Bartholomew Cubbins what’s his favorite hat or Wilt Chamberlain his favorite lady-friend? In all cases, the options are too numerous and too unique to make a definitive answer; they’re all great but for different reasons.
If you ask about my favorite brewery, you’ll have to narrow it down. Which region of Colorado are we talking about? Are you asking who makes the best beer or who has the coolest taproom? Can you name me a type of beer? I’ll give you two or three breweries that do the style justice. Don’t come at me with a general question. Do your homework and come prepared with some base knowledge of Colorado breweries so we can skip the training period and get right into the details. Perhaps the best way to go about that is to read Dan Rabin’s Colorado Breweries, the travel/beer guide of the Centennial State.
Rabin, a beer and travel journalist, has done the heavy lifting by researching and visiting 149 in-state breweries. Colorado Breweries is more than a simple list, though; each brewery is profiled to its fullest extent with Rabin featuring the flagship beers, his personal favorites, descriptions of the taproom and business’ history, interviews with the brewer, and, because beer’s but one of the things Colorado does well, other attractions in the general vicinity.
Rabin’s book is an invaluable complement to the local beer geek’s library. It’s comprehensive in its profiles, it’s written in a conversational, personal tone, and is refreshingly free of judgment. “The book is not intended to be a ratings guide. I avoided long detailed discussions of individual beers or numerical ratings. People who find that type of information valuable can easily find that stuff online,” says Rabin.
Colorado Breweries is appropriate for a wide swathe of beer enthusiasts. Rabin explains his book “is intended to be equally valuable for beer experts and for people just discovering the joys of good beer and beer travel. It’s my hope that by learning about a brewery before visiting, readers will find their visits more rewarding.”
Likewise, both in-state and out-of-state beer geeks will find something worthwhile in the pages of Colorado Breweries: “People from out of state might discover that there’s a particular region in Colorado that they want to explore in depth. People from Colorado are likely to discover that they’ve overlooked fun brewery stops in small towns such as Berthoud, Windsor, Paonia, Ridgway, Pagosa Springs, Central City and other off the beaten path locations.”
There’s never a solid answer to the question how many breweries are in Colorado? With contract breweries, breweries with multiple locations, and new breweries opening on what seems like a daily basis, the number resides in both a gray area and a constant flux. How did Rabin settle on 149? First, he made the reasonable decision to eventually stop counting every new brewery opening so he could focus on completing his book. He says, “When I began working on the book, there were around 120 breweries in Colorado. New breweries were opening at a fast clip, as they still are…It eventually became obvious that if I was ever going to finish the book, I needed to choose a cut-off date for new brewery visits.” When that date arrived, Rabin had visited over 150 breweries but, in the meantime, several breweries had gone out of business bringing the total to 149.
What about chain breweries like Rock Bottom? Is each link in the chain deserving of a mention? Rabin believes so. “Each individual brewing location for the chains is treated as a separate entity,” says Rabin. “When a company has multiple locations within a region, the breweries are grouped together with abbreviated discussions of each one.” This inclusive practice means chain breweries with headquarters in other states (e.g. BJ’s Brewhouse, Anheuser-Busch, C.B. & Potts) are also mentioned in Colorado Breweries; if they have a facility that brews beer in Colorado, they are a Colorado brewery.
The only breweries that aren’t included are contract breweries. The reason for the exclusion is simple: “Since they don’t have their own brewing locations, they’re of little interest to beer travelers.” If a brewery has their own facility but no taproom, they are briefly discussed.
Colorado Breweries attempts to do the impossible—profile every brewery in Colorado—and it comes pretty close to achieving that goal. But, due to the growing and thriving nature of the local beer scene, there are quite a few omissions in Rabin’s book. Does this mean we’ll be seeing a second volume in the near future? “That’s a conversation I’ll be having with my publisher sometime soon, “says Rabin. “I’ll wait until the ink is dry on the first edition before I broach the subject.”
Highlights from Colorado Breweries:
- Funny enough, I found the profiles of corporate breweries just as (if not more so) interesting as those of smaller craft breweries. As an ardent supporter of the craft movement, my attention is on independent businesses; my awareness of the little guys is already quite high. However, prior to reading Colorado Breweries, I didn’t know much about macrobreweries or the ubiquitous-to-shopping-centers chain breweries. For example, I learned that, while the majority of BJ’s Brewhouse’s locations do not brew in-house but rather import their beer from one of a few centralized facilities, the BJ’s in Boulder doesn’t just brew but is dedicated to brewing experimental beers. There are 134 BJ’s in operation but most patrons will never taste the brewpub’s most interesting offerings unless they visit the Boulder branch.
- Earlier I said Colorado Breweries is free of judgment and I stand by that statement. But, that doesn’t mean Rabin is in the practice of sugar-coating, either; he tells it like it is even if the truth is less than attractive. When talking of Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Rabin says its “a bit of an odd duck in the Colorado beer scene… When I located the Lakewood watering hole, tucked away in a declining strip mall… I thought I was in the wrong place.” He goes on to describe the many advertisements for Miller/Bud/Coors Light/Lite and Ironworks’ “dimly lit interior with a dated feel.” Anybody who’s been to this taproom knows Rabin isn’t lying; Ironworks is a dive bar/brewery and that’s neither a good nor a bad thing. Rabin simply describes the ambiance as accurately as he can and hits the mark dead-on.
- Colorado Breweries isn’t without a little dry humor. The reader can imagine the smirk that must have crept across Rabin’s face when he wrote, “Breweries are sometimes built around a theme, be it dogs, fairy tales, musical styles, or what have you. For better or worse, Loveland’s Big Beaver Brewing Company is the only brewing business I’ve encountered with a theme based on genitalia.” Again, it’s an accurate statement; some of the names of the flagship beers are Bust-A-Nut, Wonder Weiner, Beaver Stubble, and Sweet-n-Sour Booty.