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Colorado Rocky Mountain High

Those famous lyrics by John Denver, could not have been truer when I visited Colorado in May of this year. Beautiful, intense, vast, wondrous, and serene – words that can only touch the surface of this state and both adjacent states of Wyoming and South Dakota that I traveled to in addition. I have never felt more compelled to pick up my life and drop myself in that part of the western United States forevermore. The trip and her surrounding nature and natural wonders truly resonated within my soul. And the beer? Well, that was just the sweetest little cherry right smack-dab on the top.

Visiting Colorado had been on my radar for the last few years. A prior roommate from Washington DC and a college friend both had settled out there and fallen in love with the state. In addition, my beer-trading buddy, Haley, whom I’d only ever had an online friendship with, also resided out there living her best life. Being hesitant to travel back overseas to Europe and beyond just yet, due to continued Covid-woes and airline-industry issues, I opted to finally plan my trip out west instead.  

I started my nearly 2-week jaunt by flying into Denver. (Lucky for us here in CNY, United offers direct flights from Syracuse Hancock International Airport.) I grabbed my Turo car rental (GREAT experience, by the way as an alternative to renting a car from a nationally-known rental company) from the Denver International parking lot and headed to my Airbnb located near the arts-district, RiNo (River North) neighborhood of Denver. 

The first thing I noticed about Denver, is that it is SO flat! Unlike the Adirondacks, where the land begins kind of flat, then proceeds into small rolling hills, then into larger rolling hills, and then into small mountains that turn into larger mountains in the heart of the Adirondack Park, Denver is flat…flat…flat… and then BOOM! HUGE MOUNTAINS. I also found it fascinating that though the city of Denver is flat, it sits at an elevation of 5,279 feet. To get an idea of how high that is, our tallest peak in the Adirondacks is Mount Marcy at an elevation of 5,344 feet – so basically the city of Denver is AT THE TOP of our highest mountain! To me, that’s kind of mind-boggling. Sometimes people who come to Denver from other parts of the US can even experience altitude sickness when they arrive. Thankfully, I did not.

On my first full day in Denver, I decided to travel into the heart of the city and embark on my own little walking tour, complete with a plan to hit up a couple of breweries along the way with Wynkoop Brewing Company being my first brewery stop. 

Wynkoop touts itself as Colorado’s first brewpub. Established in 1988, and being pioneers in the craft brew industry with their porters, meads, and cask-conditioned brews – being “cask when cask wasn’t cool” – today they offer a vast array of different and unique brews. Truly, it was the best possible brewery I could have started with in Denver. I opted to sample a flight of four brews: 

“Beer Trouble at Little Wynkoop,” is a collaboration beer with Jade Mountain Brewing Co. (Aurora, CO) brewed in the traditional Japanese Happoshu-style with American-grown Zuper Saazer hops. (Essentially, a Happoshu-style beer means that there is 33% rice used in the mash during brewing.) Once fermentation is completed, the brewers then added a blend of Szechuan peppercorns and kombu (dried sea kelp). For me, it was love-at-first-sip! I found the brew to be floral, herbaceous, and with a non-spicy hint of peppercorns. Super flavorful, yet exceptionally light. 

“Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout,” is EXACTLY what you’re reading it to be – Yessir, it is a stout brewed with BALLS. The stout, at it’s base is created with Colorado malts, roasted barley, seven specialty grains, “steerian” Golding hops, and freshly sliced and roasted bull testicles (aka Rocky Mountain Oysters). In this particular batch, 69 bull testicles were used! I opted to try this brew, because I mean, when in Rome… Or Denver, in this instance! When else would I EVER have the opportunity?? The one thing that I noted was that, while a classic stout at its core, the brew was a little bit… salty! (And then I couldn’t stop laughing at the bar because I kept thinking of SNL’s classic “Schweddy Balls” skit.) In all seriousness though, it was a uniquely tasty stout.

“Angry Patty’s Chile Beer,” a light German-style beer, is normally brewed with mild green chiles, but at the time, due to supply-chain issues, the brewers were unable to obtain the normal peppers, so they used hot peppers instead. While I don’t know what the “normal” Patty’s brew tastes like, this “Angry” version is a very clear winner! I found it to be reminiscent of our local K2 Brothers Brewing’s (Rochester, NY) Jalapeño Cream Ale, but Wynkoop’s brew was the next level – It had phenomenally big flavor with a slight spiciness and an incredible lightness to the entire concoction. 5 out of 5 stars. I could literally drink this beer all day long.  

“Hoist the Cup,” an American wild ale, is fermented with a wild yeast blend, giving the beer a bit of funk. A tart and fruity mix of flavors, I noted a little bit of grape as the main concentrate on my palate with a dry finish. A very solid wild ale, indeed!

From Wynkoop, I meandered to the Denver Millennium Bridge, Union Station, and then past Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, and found my way over to Great Divide Brewing Company. Founded in 1994, Great Divide is a very well-known brewery both in Denver and beyond, with their Yeti stouts being the most notable of their brews. The first Yeti Imperial Stout was brewed in 2004 and since that time, it’s been rated #36 on BeerAdvocate’s 2010 “Top 100 Beers on Planet Earth,” on top of winning 2 silver medals and a bronze at the Great American Beer Festival. It has also scored a perfect 100 on RateBeer and was named the “Top Beer in Colorado” by RateBeer in 2014. To say that I was excited to finally be able to try a Yeti for myself, was an understatement! 

For being so popular, I was surprised at how small the brewery was. Regardless, being that it was early afternoon on a Friday, the bar had plenty of room to spread out. Chatting with the beer-tender, I started off by sampling 4 lighter brews – Margarita Gose, Strawberry Rhubarb Sour, Mango Guava Gose, and the Wild Raspberry Ale. These brews were all on par, light, and flavorful, but I was ready to sample a full flight of a different smattering of brews, as follows: 

“Roadie Grapefruit Radler” – Brewed with natural grapefruit puree, this hazy, gold-colored, shandy-style beer was tart, dry, with plenty of grapefruit consistently throughout. A great porch or hammock beer served COLD on a hot summer’s day. 

“Hazy IPA” – This beer is brewed with 6 pounds per barrel of hops, thus creating a super-hoppy and complex beverage. The specific hops utilized give the beer a more “East Coast” vibe with it’s grassy notes. With every sip you’re able to pick out different, juicy, fruit notes – tangerine, lime, papaya, mango, strawberry, and even hints of vanilla. 

“Mexican Chocolate Yeti” – A variation on the original Yeti Imperial Stout, this bad boy is brewed with a variety of spices, vanilla, and coffee in order to render a brew that resembles the traditional “champurrado,” aka Mexican hot chocolate. It did NOT disappoint! This beautiful stout was chock-full of cinnamon and chocolate with a mildly spicy kick. It is smooth, rich and warming. Hands-down one of the most incredible stouts I’ve had to date, only made possible by the most perfect original stout base. The closest Mexican hot chocolate inspired beer that we can get here in the CNY area is Stone Brewing Company’s “Xocoveza,” which is really, really good, but still comes in at a far-and-away second to the Yeti. 

“Peanut Butter Yeti” – A second variation (there are several) of the original Yeti Imperial Stout, basically this is a dark-chocolate and peanut butter swirled brew – Chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate, peanut butter, with more chocolate and more peanut butter on every swig. Nutty and rich, it is a pure delight and a definite dessert beer. (Chocolate peanut butter pie, anyone?) And at 9.5% ABV it can pack a bit of a punch, without being overly “boozy” tasting. They also happened to have a canned version of this at the brewery, of which I promptly opted to purchase and take back to NY with me. 

With all the beer sloshing around inside me, it was time for some food – tacos at Machete Tacos! (I mean, who doesn’t love tacos?!) This Denver eatery was recommended and the food was excellent. 

I ended my Denver excursion by partaking in a sunrise hike at nearby Red Rocks which was GORGEOUS as the morning rays hit the deep clay-colored rock formations, and seeing all the flora and fauna in their own glory, including a friendly small herd of Mule Deer munching their early morning breakfast. Bonus? There were no crowds and only a few other folks taking in the beautiful scenery in the wee morning hours, plus the temps are cooler. In the afternoon, I headed to the heart of the RiNo Arts District and walked a few streets admiring the intricate murals painted on buildings, and at night, met up with a friend to check out The Green Russell, a speakeasy in the heart of Denver. Watching the bartenders was legitimately like watching live art, and the cocktails were sublime!

Denver was lovely – a city that I’m sure I’ll be visiting again. The beer and the culture were great, the people friendly and laid-back, and I loved the fact that every time I looked to the west, there were the big, beautiful Rocky Mountains, looking right back at me. 

…Part 2 of my Colorado vacation and more beer-adventures coming up next month, so stay tuned!


Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!