Best beer city in the United States?
Lots of burgs hop to make that claim.
But if you’re looking at the question through the bottom of a glass of craft brew — and these days, who isn’t? — the argument usually boils down to two cities; Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado.
For me, the answer is easy: the Mile High City trumps them all.
OK, maybe I can’t definitively say Denver is America’s best beer city.
Just as my esteemed colleague-in-beer, John Foyston, can’t say Portland is America’s best beer city.
Even though he did say just that, right here on CNN.
What I can confidently say, though, is that Denver — and the Colorado microbrew scene that’s exploded around it — is my favorite and a must visit for any beer lover.
Statistically proven beer mania
The capital of Colorado, Denver is like the Pacific Northwest, but with less rain.
It’s also crazy for beer.
According to the American Homebrewers Association, there are more than 100,000 homebrewers in Colorado.
Since 2011, more than 100 new breweries have opened in Colorado, according to the Brewer’s Association.
With 48 breweries in metro Denver, there’s more than enough fresh local brew to keep your taste buds guessing.
Maybe the beer it produces isn’t your favorite anymore, but the Coors brewing facility outside of Denver is still the largest in America.
And where else but Denver is it possible to find not one but two contests where locals can win free beer for a year?
Two centuries of sudsy tradition
Founded in 1859, Denver got its start as a base for pioneers hoping to strike it rich mining for gold in the area.
According to Colorado Public Radio, the Rocky Mountain Brewery was first to open in 1859.
Though beer giant Coors (officially located in Golden, Colorado, 15 miles west of Denver) would have you believe they set up shop first in 1873.
Whoever came first, one thing is clear: Denver has been in love with beer for almost two centuries.
The love has intensified in recent decades.
In the late 1970s, microbreweries and brewpubs began to open in Denver and throughout Colorado — Boulder Brewing came first in 1979.
Wynkoop Brewing followed in downtown Denver in 1988.
The 1990s were a boom period for the state, with many more breweries opening throughout the decade and into the 2000s.
America’s best and biggest (arguably) beer party
Founded in 1982, the Great American Beer Festival is the foam on the stein of Denver’s beer scene.
With more than 60,000 attendees, and 750 breweries presenting 3,500 beers in 2015 (the festival claims this as a record) it’s been called the largest and best beer festival in the United States.
For Regular Joes, it’s a great opportunity to taste beers from around the country that aren’t distributed nationally.
That ultra-hoppy imperial IPA you can’t get your hands on?
That bourbon-barrel-aged stout that goes for double digits a bottle?
You can try that here too.
The GABF also hosts one of the most prestigious beer competitions in the world.
Denver and the state of Colorado did just fine this year — 36 Colorado beers won medals at this year’s competition, including 15 from the Denver area.
Sorry, Portland. You only managed to bring home 7 medals.
Its beer inspired the greatest beer/road trip/buddy/chase/Burt Reynolds/CB radio movie of all time
Coors Original, aka “The Banquet Beer,” may have been the original “whale.”
For those not in the know, a “whale” is what beer lovers call a beer that’s exceptionally rare or difficult to acquire — like Pliny the Elder, Heady Topper or anything brewed by a Trappist monk.
For decades, limited distribution made Coors one of the most sought after beers in the United States.
The 1977 fuzzbuster classic “Smokey and the Bandit” was all about the lengths people would go to get the stuff.
Beer lovers, if you’ve ever illegally mailed beer to someone as part of a beer trade, congratulations, you’re keeping up a long tradition started in Denver.
Not just substance, style points too
What kind of beer do you like?
Regardless of your answer, there’s a brewery in Denver pouring your favorite.
Prost Brewing does traditionally brewed German-style beer.
Cult favorite Crooked Stave Brewery and Taproom makes a world-class sour.
River North Brewery’s “yeast-centric” brews bring in the dry, crisp taste of Belgian-style beer.
Ingredients no one else would dare use
Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing made headlines a few years back for brewing a stout with one of Colorado’s most notorious delicacies: Rocky Mountain oysters.
What started as an April Fool’s joke took on a life of its own and was re-released in 2014.
If beer made with an animal’s reproductive organs isn’t your thing, there’s Dad & Dude’s Breweria in nearby Aurora.
Its Sativa IPA and Double Indica IPA are brewed with cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive hemp extract.
The beer won’t get you high, but the brewery sure drew a crowd when it released the beers at the Great American Beer Festival in September.
You won’t go hungry
On a beer-cation, what’s good beer without good food?
Denver has a thriving food scene and finding a meal to pair with local brews is easy.
From upscale pub food with an awesome draft list at Fresh Craft, to gourmet hot dogs made from elk, boar or reindeer at Biker Jim’s, there’s a plate to match every glass in Denver.
But you won’t get fat
In Denver, everyone takes advantage of the beautiful natural surroundings to keep in shape.
Of near endless options, a day hike up Devil’s Head Lookout is a classic way to burn off the beer calories and carbs.
The 360 views from the top of this classic Colorado Front Range hike will make you think the mountain peaks here go on forever.
Ultimate beer-drinking venues
There’s a good argument to be had about the best place to drink a beer — on a beach, in front of a fireplace, your Uncle Jim’s back porch — but a strong case can be made for the ballpark or stadium.
With teams in all four major U.S. sports leagues, and an MLS soccer team to boot, Denver is one of America’s great sports cities. (By comparison, Portland has only its NBA Trail Blazers and the MLS Timbers.)
The SandLot Brewery at Coors Field offers a unique experience for Colorado Rockies baseball fans.
Originally known as Bellyslide Wit, the mega-popular wheat beer Blue Moon has been brewed here for more than 20 years.
If you want to soak in the game day atmosphere without going to the game, the Ballpark neighborhood around Coors Field is packed with beer-friendly haunts.