By the time craft beer making moved from home basements in the late 1970s to steel tanks in the mid-1980s, it already had a tribal following in Colorado. Today, the tribe continues to multiply. The state has hundreds of craft breweries-some large and some small and intimate.
What does this mean for meeting and event planners? There are more than a few cases of options when shopping for a great space for a group to enjoy Colorado’s contribution to craft beer.
Beer in Colorado was built on community. Brian McEachron, co-founder of Steamworks Brewing in Durango says it best, "We are known for lubricating the causes of the community." The small town and brewery are known for hosting large events that outnumber the size of town, such as the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. McEachron says the 47-mile race between bikers and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad attracts thousands of people who come through the brewery.
Every Colorado brewery has a story, and it’s only fitting to start with Boulder Beer Company, the first craft beer company in Colorado. Founded in 1979, in a goat shed near Hygiene, Boulder Beer is the grandfather of all Colorado craft beers. Your group won’t have to visit the goat shed now, as Boulder Beer has a full-service pub, brewery tours and a beer garden patio. Private event space can accommodate 40, groups can reserve the patio for 20 and tours are first come, first served for 30 people.
The other Boulder brew spot set up for functions is Avery Brewing Company. The tap room can seat 30 people, with the adjacent warehouse fitting in another 150 with room for a band. Any event agreement includes free private tours and use of the Tap Room for two hours (additional times can be arranged). Avery is known for citrusy India Pale Ales and various lines of special brews that stretch the boundaries of beer making, such as the Barrel-Aged Series, The Dictators Series and the Demons of Ale. Avery works exclusively with Savory Cuisines Catering.
The next mecca of Colorado beer is Fort Collins, home to New Belgium Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Company. New Belgium was the first craft beer maker to stake a claim in Belgian-style beers. In 1991, founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch brewed beer in their basement with jury-rigged, old dairy equipment. The brewery today is known around the world for not only its beer and memorable bicycle marketing, but also its commitment to sustainability. New Belgium offers tours and tastings (20 people per tour) in the Liquid Center. The brewery is also available for nonprofit fundraising events for up to 150.
Odell Brewing Company also has a startup story, but one that began in a 1915-era grain elevator on the edge of downtown in 1989. Doug, Corkie and Wynne Odell settled on two beers that brought them success: 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat. The brewery, now located on East Lincoln, offers free tours and the taproom is open for tastings. Fort Collins is becoming a live music hot spot, and Odell is a big supporter, so ask about setting up a gig with a local band.
In Fort Collins, you may want to make arrangements to visit breweries without the risk of drinking and driving. If so, try the Hops and Shops brewery shuttle. It’s a Friday and Saturday brewery bus that stops at all the major breweries and bars including Pateros Creek, New Belgium, Odell Brewing, Fort Collins Brewing, Funkwerks, CooperSmith’s, Equinox, Town Pump, Black Bottle, C.B. & Potts and The Mayor of Old Town. For private shuttles on other days of the week, hotel pickups and groups of 25 or more, contact the company.
In Longmont, a silo painted like a can of Dale’s Pale Ale greets visitors arriving from the southwest side of town. That’s fitting, considering Oskar Blues is the brewery that kicked off the canned craft beer industry. Founder Dale Katechis was a home brewer and a restaurant guy, says Chad Melis, beer peddler (a.k.a. marketing director). "The beer was a way to support the restaurant," says Melis. Now it’s the other way around.
Originally based in Lyons, the company moved its brewing operation to Longmont and added two restaurants, a tasting room, a trolley and a farm. Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids brewpub has a loft, restaurant and patio space that can accommodate up to 200. A few blocks away is Tasty Weasel, where guests can taste and tour the beer-making space. CHUBurger is a casual gathering spot in town. Recently added is Hops and Heifers, which grows hops and grains for beer making and raises cattle and Berkshire pigs for the brewery restaurants. (Ask about farm dinners.)
Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado’s first brewpub and Denver’s first craft brewery, was started by current Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. In 1988, Hickenlooper and his business partners took an 1890 historic building near Union Station and transformed it into a thriving business. For meetings, Wynkoop has a host of rooms that can accommodate intimate groups in 19th century parlor rooms,200 people in the Billiards Hall or up to 1,200 in the entire restaurant. There is also a small theater with a stage and bar. The second floor of Wynkoop is home to 22 pool tables, two private pool rooms, dart lanes and a bar. Full-service catering is available on-site, and customized beers can be made for groups.
Farther south, Durango has a thriving beer scene. Steamworks Brewing is beer central in the mountain town. Along with great suds, there is upscale pub fare with hefty portions that are perfect for groups, especially the Cajun boil with piles of crab, shrimp, Andouille sausage, potatoes and corn on the cob.
Colorado’s third oldest brewery, Durango Brewing Company, makes its home in the historic town. Durango Brewing has a taproom that pours nine beers including Durango Wheat, Golden, Amber Ale, Dark and various seasonal beers, all of which owe their fabulous taste to water from the San Juan Mountains.
The Colorado craft beer industry is literally growing by the month, with new breweries popping up in all parts of the state. For smaller, lesser-known breweries, consider Crazy Mountain, Vail Valley’s first production brewery. It’s a family-friendly, low-key place that can accommodate up to 150. "We have a grill set up so guests can bring their own food to grill," says Claire Plunkett, a Crazy Mountain staffer. "And we had a food truck this summer."
For small groups there is Breckenridge BIKEBUS (BBB), which is a pedal-powered party. Each bike bus has seats for 16. BBB hosts two-hour beer pub crawls to Breckenridge Brewery and other bars that serve craft beer (riders’ choice), as well as wine tastings and progressive dinners.