Getting HIGH

In the mid-1800s, the only things Colorado was known for were gold and the Rocky Mountains. Today, there’s another kind of gold rush in the Centennial State, and it’s liquid and fermented.

With 320 breweries, Colorado ranks third in the U.S. in breweries per capita. It’s also one of just four states that together produce more than a third of the nation’s craft beer. It’s also one of my favorite places on Earth.

At Mile High City, we went to one of my favorite breweries of all time: De Steeg.

Working with only a one-barrel brewing system, De Steeg brewers craft outstanding Belgian-style beers that are constantly changing. Though the brewery is notoriously hard to find–it’s literally tucked in an alley, marked with only a sign with a beer chalice on it–keeping beer on tap is an ongoing struggle. The selection’s always amazing, so any serious beer aficionado must stop at this converted garage.

Here we hit New Belgium Brewing Company. Known as “The Mothership” to employees, this brewery began when founder Jeff Lebesch returned from a biking trip through Belgium. Lebesch was so taken by that country’s charms and variety of brews, he decided to start brewing in his basement. Twenty-five years on, New Belgium is America’s third-largest craft brewery.

The place is a beautiful mix of art and function. The 100-barrel brewhouse is in a huge room of towering exposed timber ceilings and plenty of windows. The kettles rise from the floor majestically, each with a tile mosaic ring around it that tells a story. In another part of the brewery, foeders–large wooden fermentation tanks–fill a room called The Woods, a monument to the brewery’s dedication to producing authentic-tasting Belgian-style sours.

Brewing more than 8,000 feet above sea level presents some serious challenges, the toughest being hard water, the bane of brewers everywhere.

“Water begins here,” said Crazy Mountain Brewing Company owner Kevin Selvy. “From here, it goes down the mountains and is filtered on the way. Water here is also inconsistent. Each of the seven wells [that] water is drawn from for local consumption has a different mineral content.”

Through an elaborate filtration system, Crazy Mountain removes impurities to create beers that set beer-lovers’ hearts atwitter.

This brewery produces only specialties–the company’s core brews are made at a larger Denver facility–but they’re well worth the trip to Edwards for an après-ski quaff.

For 27 years, Breckenridge Brewing Company has been quenching skiers’ thirst just blocks from the slopes.

As a heavy spring snowstorm fell outside, head brewer Blake Schwalls showed me around the brewery. The first part of the tour was right in front of me, the mash tun just feet from the main bar. Like Crazy Mountain, Breckenridge brews only specialty beers.

“We’re all hopheads up here,” said Schwalls, as he showed off the third-story gristmill. “We go through a lot of specialty brews up here and pilot for beers for Denver.”

So, beer folks, visit the high hills of Colorado for great beer.