The Best Little Beer Town in the World – Golden, Colorado

Story and photos by Rich Grant

Golden was the capital of the Colorado Territory; Denver was an upstart – a frontier town of saloons and gambling halls.  But the upstart had money.  When Golden’s railroad went bankrupt, Denver won the race and became a raucous boom town and ultimately the state capital. 

Golden had to settle for second prize.  It was destined to become the largest producer of beer in the world.

Unlike Denver, which sits on high rolling plains, Golden is nestled in the Clear Creek valley -- an area of outstanding natural beauty.  To the east are rugged, high buttes formed 60 million years ago by lava flows.  The fossilized bones of the first Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur ever found were discovered here. 

To the west, Lookout Mountain looms above Golden.  The 7,379-foot-high summit offers panoramic views in every direction.  It was at this picturesque spot that the famous frontier scout and showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, was buried in 1917.

But what really made Golden special was the pretty (and perfectly named) Clear Creek, that flows through the center of town.  In 1872, a young brewer from Germany was walking near the river when he discovered many cool springs of crystal pure water bubbling up from the ground.  He knew water was a major ingredient in beer, so with a partner, he bought the land around the springs and turned an abandoned tannery nearby into a brewery.  His name was Adolph Herrman Coors, and today his brewery is the largest single-site brewery in the world. 

Coors Brewery produces 13 million barrels of beer a year, which translates to 4.3 billion bottles  – or about 221,000 bottles of beer for every resident in Golden.  And Coors isn’t the only brewery in town.  There are five other award-winning craft breweries located here, as well as a distillery.  Buffalo Bill, who was known to have a fondness for alcohol, would be proud.

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But there’s more to do in Golden than stop and smell the hops.  The quaint Western-looking town has become a major biking center.  The U.S. Pro Challenge (the most grueling professional bike race in America) has twice brought the world’s top cyclists to Golden to pedal the iconic 1,300-foot, 4.3 mile hill climb up Lookout Mountain.  Nearby is what Rolling Stone Magazine calls the best outdoor concert venue in the nation.  The top mountaineering museum in the U.S. is here, as is Colorado’s largest collection of trains.  And of course, the “Wild West” lives again at the Buffalo Bill Museum, 

So throw on that ten gallon hat, belly up to a bar (or at least a brewpub) and enjoy the top things to do in the town whose slogan is, “Where the West lives.”

Tour Coors

The brewery has a free, 30-minute, self-paced tour of the malting, brewing and packing of Coors Beer. http://www.millercoors.com/Brewery-Tours/Golden-Brewery-Tour.aspx  You get to explore a room of giant copper kettles and then stop in the constantly whirling packaging room, where thousands of cans and bottles speed by, marching to being filled with beer and slotted into six packs.  After the tour, those 21 and over can sample three free glasses of beer.  If you already know how beer is made, ask for the “short tour,” which is no tour at all – you go straight to the free tasting room. 

Sample Some Samplers

The way you drink at the five craft breweries in Golden is by ordering a try of samplers – usually six different four-ounce beers that let you taste a variety of handmade brews, from lagers and pale ales to India Pale Ales, porters, stouts and sours.  Golden’s craft breweries don’t serve food (other than pretzels), so you can bring your own food or order from different food trucks parked outside.  Because there’s no kitchen, dogs are allowed in the bars, and it’s a rare day when there aren’t a half dozen dogs enjoying the atmosphere. The most fun stop is Golden City Brewery,  www.gcbrewery.com, which was founded in 1993 by two geologists, Charlie & Janine Sturdavant, in their own house.  The beer garden is their backyard.   In winter there’s always an outdoor fire; in summer, there are often musicians playing.  Order a beer through the Dutch door of the carriage house, find a table, and relax in Charlie & Janine’s backyard.  Their specialty is the Clear Creek Gold Pale Ale, an award-winning, traditional German Kolschbier hopped with Czech Saaz for a pleasant floral finish.

Rock the Rocks

The 9,000-seat Red Rocks Amphitheatre, just ten minutes from Golden, has hosted everyone from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, and was declared by Rolling Stone Magazine to be the nation’s top bucket list outdoor concert venue.  It is the only completely natural amphitheatre on the planet.  Two gigantic 400-foot-high red sandstone rocks flank either side, and a “bounce-back” rock is located behind the stage.  It really doesn’t matter who is playing.  When there is a Rocky Mountain sunset and all the lights of Denver are glowing off in the distance, and the flanking rocks are illuminated, and eagles and hawks are flying overhead – the amphitheatre is the star of the show.   Even when there’s not a concert, it’s an amazing sight to see, and there are hiking trails that wind up, around and through the towering rocks.

Meet Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill Cody was the world’s first super star—a 19th century Elvis. In the early days of the West, he was a buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, and scout for the U.S. Army.  Beginning in 1883, he put the West under a tent and his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show performed in more than a thousand cities and in 12 different countries.  Bill brought along 640 cowboys, Indians, Vaqueros, ropers, trick riders, and sharpshooters.  Sadly, he was visiting his sister in Denver in 1917 when he died and his funeral on top of Lookout Mountain was the largest in Colorado history.  Today, a fun museum near the grave brings his incredible show back to life.  The drive to the top of the mountain on the Lariat Loop Trail is a white-knuckle thriller, with cliffs on every turn (and no guard rails), but the view from the museum’s outdoor deck is worth it.

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