The Best Brewery Hops in Boulder

Boulder, Colorado was named the happiest city in America last year by National Geographic. This begs the question: “If this is the happiest city in America, then surely there must be some terrific craft beer, right?” Never you fear: Boulder has a myriad of tasty options to satisfy your thirst. Colorado is known for being one of the central hubs of the American craft beer scene, and Boulder is a key contributor to that reputation, boasting nearly one brewery per square mile of city land. Such brewery saturation can be intimidating when deciding where to drink on one’s travels, so we’ve identified our favorite brewery hops in Boulder to help you maximize your beer-drinking efficiency. Hopefully this will elevate your happiness to match that of the locals.


Upslope Brewing Lee Hill Boulder

We were going to mention Upslope Brewing‘s Lee Hill location as part of a brewery hop with Cellar West Artisan Ales, but since Cellar West is moving to Lafayette (look for our thoughts on Cellar West when we write about Lafayette in two weeks), it left Upslope without a hop. Still, we had such a good time that we felt we had to write about it. Their Lee Hill brewery has a relatively small and sleek taproom, with windows that peek into the actual brewing facility. Tons of board games sit on the shelf, and two dart boards hang on the walls for those still sober enough to be trusted tossing sharp objects indoors. Most importantly, they have over a dozen options on tap, covering a wide variety of styles. Our recommendations: the Baltic Porter packs a malty 9.5% ABV, ideal for a cold Colorado day, but sour fans should definitely seek out the Berliner Weisse with Dragon Fruit and Guava. It’s a fruity treat that doesn’t skimp on the tartness.

3. PEARL STREET: Mountain Sun –> West Flanders –> Oskar Blues –> Squared Pizza/Boulder Beer

Mountain Sun Brewery Boulder

Even if you aren’t brewery hopping in Boulder, it’s a good idea to hit up Pearl Street. Pearl Street has countless delightful shops and eateries located along it, so if your central focus is to explore Boulder while casually bouncing into some breweries along the way, then this is the spot for you. Start at Mountain Sun Brewery, which captures nicely the positive vibe that permeates throughout Boulder. They give free samples of whichever beers interest you, and while the food/drinks are cash only, if you’re short on cash, they will give you an envelope and trust you to send the cash you owe once you get home. How’s that for friendliness?

They have vegetarian and vegan options on the menu for those interested, and they have tasty burritos for those without dietary restriction. Our recommendations: the FYIPA is a resinous, dank, old-school IPA that we could’ve drank for hours. Their Java Porter is pleasantly light– it doesn’t sit heavy in your stomach, but it hits heavy with the coffee flavor, which is just the balance we want in a coffee porter.

Head west down Pearl to West Flanders Brewing Company. West Flanders has a standard but well-executed brewpub style: exposed brick, oak barrels, visible brewing tanks. What separates it from the pack is their menu, boasting a bevy of burger options along with the usual brewpub snacky fare (Russell was particularly intrigued by their burger served on English muffins and regretted not ordering it). Their beer is, as you may expect from the name of the brewery, Belgian-inspired; their tap list has more tripels, abbey ales, wits, and farmhouses than you’d find at most of the Boulder breweries.

Our recommendations: the Oh Snap! is a ginger-snap-infused winter warmer, which was incredibly welcome in the sub-freezing weather of our first visit this year. The Recreational Smoke also deserves a mention– sorry to disappoint the 420 crowd out there, but there’s nothing marijuana-related in this beer aside from the name. It’s a smoked porter that’s more bitter than most and also manages to deliver some smoky flavor without overwhelming the palate. Too often the smoked beers are *far* too smoky, but Recreational Smoke hits the spot.

A couple blocks more down Pearl Street is the Boulder taproom for Oskar Blues. Any beer drinker is familiar with Oskar Blues, as it’s located in grocery stores across the country. Oskar Blues is financially backed by Fireman Capital, which leads some to question just how independent a craft brewery Oskar Blues is anymore. Still, for those who have no qualms about the Canarchy collective, the Boulder taproom for Oskar Blues is a great hangout. There are plenty of TVs, good brewery grub, and a lengthy guest tap list (including options from several breweries that are verifiably independent). Beyond all of that, the quality of Oskar Blues’s beer is still high.

Our recommendations: you can get their popular Dale’s Pale Ale most anywhere in America, so reach instead for the Deviant Dale’s, the imperial version, which cranks up the malt, hop, and ABV. Similarly, their Death by Coconut porter can be found in cans with little difficulty, so go for the Rum Barrel-Aged Death by Coconut, which has considerably more potency and a strong rum aroma, but thankfully the taste is more balanced than the smell, giving it just enough extra kick to nudge it from good to great.

Finally, for those looking to enjoy something from Boulder’s own Boulder Beer Company, veer just off Pearl onto Walnut and go to Squared Pizza and Beer. This used to be a Boulder Beer brewpub, but while it’s now a Detroit-style pizza place, it’s still under the same ownership, and Boulder Beer is still brewing and selling at that location. We haven’t yet been to Squared Pizza– the changes took place after our last visit– but since it has the same beer we drank last time we were in Boulder, and now it’s added delicious-looking pizza, we felt it still merited a mention! Our recommendations: the Closer is a well-balanced coffee pale ale, but to be honest, if you’re drinking Boulder Beer, you’ve got to go straight for their most popular drink, the Shake. It’s a rich, velvety chocolate porter that doesn’t taste terribly dissimilar to its namesake.

2. VisionQuest Brewery –> Kettle and Spoke Brewery –> Boulder Beer –> Sanitas Brewing

Sanitas Brewing Boulder Fire Flight

The first two in this hop are within half a mile of one another, so those looking for a quick 1-2 punch of funkier hole-in-the-wall breweries could easily hit these and be satisfied. Start at VisionQuest Brewery. The sci-fi imagery on the wall and the collection of arcade and pinball machines transported Russell back to his nerdy childhood– the whole taproom feels like a fun throwback. They have a bunch of games and puzzles in addition to the arcades, and they had Schnibs pretzels for sale behind the bar. (You don’t know Schnibs? Get to know Schnibs.) Our recommendations: the Colorado Pale is one of the eminently drinkable dank hoppy pales that we could easily have consumed a dozen of in short order. They also deserve credit, because despite our aversion to kettle sours in general, the Gose was crisp, refreshing, and sufficiently tart.

From there, it’s a quick jaunt to Kettle and Spoke Brewery, a tiny bike-themed taproom that, appropriately, shares its location with Green Guru, a bike shop. They’re located right off the Goose Creek Bike Path, and you get a discount for riding your bike to the taproom, so any bicycle aficionados will find themselves in heaven here. They do small batches of creative beers, which match the intimate and quirky vibe of their establishment. Our recommendations: the Apricot Farmhouse is a good representative of what Kettle and Spoke is about, as it gives you the tart fruitiness you expect, but it’s got some complexity and enough funkiness to defy your expectations. For IPA fans, the Double Down DDH is a bitter, dank New England IPA that is unlikely to disappoint those looking for a burst of hops to the palate.

If you’d like to drink more and wouldn’t mind adding a little over half a mile to your hop, head to Boulder Beer Company‘s Pub on Wilderness if you didn’t get a chance to drink their Shake on Pearl Street. If you did already, or if your feet are aching and you’re just ready for one last pint, then head straight down to Sanitas Brewing. Sanitas’s warehouse of a taproom is nice, but its back patio is positively spectacular. During the day, you can play some cornhole and enjoy their lovely mountain view, and at night during the colder season, you can grab some tacos from their truck and curl up by a fire pit shaped like the star in their logo. It’s as good a hangout as you’ll find in Boulder. Our recommendations: the Black IPA is their most popular drink for a reason. It’s a crisp, hoppy beer with a nice roasty finish. The Cinnilla Stout is a nice evening ender, a smooth and roasty concoction that resembles a liquid Snickerdoodle. That’s what we’d prefer to drink when sitting fireside.

1. Finkel and Garf –> Beyond the Mountain –> Asher Brewing –> Avery Brewing

Avery Brewing Boulder Colorado

It’s hard to pick a top brewery hop in Boulder, but our choice has a little bit of everything. People who are walking will almost certainly want to start at Beyond the Mountain, but drinkers who love games need to take the time to include Finkel & Garf Brewing, a little over a mile away from the rest of the hop. Finkel & Garf has one of the best collections of games we’ve ever seen, largely because there are a number of games we never see at other breweries. We spent a ton of time playing Skittles, a classic game involving a spinning top and wooden bowling pins, and that’s just one of a number of unique selections they have. The beer is good too! Our recommendations: F&G’s Imperial Red is one of the better reds that we’ve had this year. At nearly 10% ABV and 100 IBUs, it’s a malty drink with some serious heft. Also, while most breweries deliver a milk stout that ranges from mediocre to fine, their Oatmeal Milk Stout delivers the smooth, cocoa-y goods. Don’t believe us? It won the Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Fest.

Beyond the Mountain Brewing is the next stop in this brewery hop. The taproom oozes with a love for music, from the concert ticket stubs adorning the bar to the stage frequently occupied with musicians. They also have a patio that looks out upon a lovely sunset view of the foothills. Their taplist has many of the standards, but they’re also clearly not afraid to make a few bold choices– their session IPA boasted “lychee flavors,” marking one of the rare times you’ll see lychee cited on a tap list. Our recommendations: the Basil Saison is terrific, a flawless blend of herbal and peppery notes that culminate in a complex but refreshing light sipper. The Freak-ulus is a roasty, oak-aged stout that manages both to maintain a relatively low 5.5% ABV and to remain filling and flavorful.

From there, it’s a little under a mile to Nautilus Drive, home to our last two destinations. Start with Asher Brewing Company, Colorado’s first all-organic brewery. They put a heavy emphasis on sustainability, from their ingredients to their energy and waste disposal. On top of being a funky, Earth-conscious brewery, it’s also a lot of fun, with a nice patio and a huge game room in the back with corn hole, foosball, and more. They also maintain a nice level of irreverence regarding their mission statement, selling magnets that read “Organic Is Orgasmic.” Our recommendations: the IPAs are pleasant sippers while playing games, but for perhaps the first time in the history of this site, we strongly recommend a kölsch! The Cafe Kölsch is a unique blend of the roastiness of coffee with the light crispness of a kölsch. We’ve had flavored kölsches and usually been disappointed, but this one lives up to the concept’s promise.

Finally, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to Avery Brewing Co., a massive brewpub for a massive brewery, and while we love little more on this site than throwing all of our love and support behind the “little guy” breweries first and foremost, we also readily acknowledge when one of the bigger players lives up to the hype. Their facilities are beyond impressive, with multiple rooms, patios, and stories for patrons to find their own corner. Their food menu has vegetarian and vegan options, but it also has some tasty and decadent meat-based plates, made with ingredients from in-state farms. You can do your own self-guided tour on the catwalk above the brewery. Finally, and most importantly, the beer is fantastic.

Our recommendations: everything ranges from fine to very good across every style you can imagine, so it’s hard to go too wrong. Sour fans should note the Raspberry Sour, which strikes the right chord of being tart enough to make your face pucker but not so sour that you couldn’t have two glasses. However, the higher the ABV goes, the more likely you are to hit a grand slam. Options like the Sandy Claws, a peppermint bourbon-barrel-aged stout, and the Plank’d, a coconut rum-barrel-aged porter, would be standouts at any brewery on this list… yet the grand champion at Avery has to be the Raspberry Truffale, a raspberry bourbon-barrel-aged stout that is as decadent as it sounds. It’s thick with dark chocolate and splashes of fruit, and the booze gives it kick without overwhelming the flavor with bourbon blasts. It’s one of our favorite barrel-aged stouts anywhere.

Kettle and Spoke (Runners-up: Mountain Sun, Sanitas)

Avery Brewing (Runners-up: Finkel and Garf, Oskar Blues)

Avery Brewing (Runners-up: Upslope, VisionQuest)

Finkel & Garf (Runners-up: VisionQuest, Asher)

Avery Brewing (Runners-up: Sanitas, Asher)

Kettle and Spoke (Runners-up: VisionQuest, Upslope)

Avery Brewing (Runners-up: Mountain Sun, West Flanders)

Which is your favorite of these brewery hops? Are there any you love that we neglected to mention? Please shout them out in the comments below! Also, please keep an eye out for our upcoming brewery hop guides to Denver and Denver’s suburbs– and check out our research guide to the top-rated breweries in the greater Denver area, which we designed to help those crafting their own brewery hops! Cheers!

Sanitas Brewing Russell and Emily