Mountain Views & MicroBrews: Two Days in Boulder

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Boulder

When I heard that Boulder, Colorado was named the happiest city in the US by National Geographic, I was immediately intrigued. The mountain city lured me in with many attributes; from access to nature, 300 miles of hiking and biking trials, a wellness-focused culture, world-class restaurants and being deemed as a craft beer mecca, I was convinced that Boulder is not only an ideal travel destination, but a great city to reside in.

The city's laid-back vibe along with the Flatiron Mountain views that dominate the city make it much easier to go about your day with a sense of placidity.  Locals love to take in the mountain fresh air and views by spending their days hiking, biking and walking just about everywhere. In fact, more people walk to work per captia in Boulder than anywhere else in the US.  Even the Google Campus offers a $5-a-day incentive to encourage their employees not to drive their vehicles to work.


Although residents of Boulder love to stay active, they still have a real appetite for the city’s immersive culinary and craft beer scene. There are over 30 craft breweries in Boulder including the state’s first craft brewery, Boulder Beer Company.  Boulder is also home to the Brewers Association (which represents the nation’s small and independent craft brewers) and the American Homebrewers Association.  As for food, Boulder was named “America’s Foodiest Town’ in 2010, by Bon Appetite Magazine. This accolade lends to the fact that Boulder has numerous award-winning restaurants, acclaimed chefs, farm-to-table fare, gourmet food trucks and are often pushing the culinary limits.

There are plenty of appealing factors about Boulder and my time discovering nature, breweries and food exceeded my expectations. If you’re heading to this Rocky Mountain city, I’ve got the perfect two day itinerary for you.

Day 1 
Lunch & Drinks at Rayback Collective

Rayback Collective
The Rayback Collective is the perfect spot to experience Boulder like a local.  It's a super laid-back, indoor-outdoor space featuring food trucks, a bar with 30 local beer taps, Carabiner Coffee Shop, Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha, a spacious patio and a stage for local talent. 

It was interesting to see the different layers of Rayback upon entering the space.  At first it seemed quiet, people were studying at communal tables with their laptop and coffee in hand.  As I got to the back of Rayback, I realized there was a large bar area with craft beers on tap and people were making their way out back into the food truck park area.  There were many picnic tables, two food trucks, hanging lights, cornhole and a more upbeat and fun atmosphere outside. If you arrive when the sun is shining, I guarantee you won't want to leave!

Be sure to check the Rayback website for food truck and live music schedules as it changes daily.


Recommended visit: Take a break from beer and treat your gut to Kombucha from Colorado-native Kombuchery, Rowdy Mermaid.  Rowdy Mermaid specializes in small batch, non-GMO organic kombucha crafted from ethically-sourced wild plants and small farm Bangladeshi teas.  Their small tap-room features kombucha flights if you're curious to try out more than one flavour. My favourite was the Strawberry Tonic brewed with hibiscus, strawberry, dandelion root and raw chicory.

rowdy mermaid

Breweries & Biking
The accessibility to dedicated bike-ways and support for cycling in Boulder is absolutely remarkable. Car's don't get annoyed by cyclists and reciprocally they are able to share the road and adhere to traffic laws like civilized humans.  This was a bit astonishing to witness as a Torontonian who usually sees cyclists fighting vehicles once or twice a week. 

The city prides itself in being named one of the top 13 cycling cities in the US and offers an abundance of bike rental shops and bike-sharing programs to make it easy for those who don't own a bike.  There are trails and roads for every level of cyclist out there and for a novice such as myself, I think I did an excellent job navigating the roads and trails. However, I did have the guidance of Jeff Brown, President of Boulder Beer, and cyclist extraordinaire to guide me on the paths. 

Insider Tip: Check out the Boulder Beer Trail Map to plan your own bike tour.  If you're not comfortable planning your own, you can book a Brews Cruise with Bike & Beer Tours (I used them in Fort Collins) and they were excellent!

colorado

First stop: Boulder Beer, Colorado’s very first craft brewery. 
Boulder Beer is Colorado's first craft brewery and the 43rd licensed brewery in the entire country. Being that old, you can be sure that Boulder Beer knows a thing or two about brewing good beers.  They sure have come a long way since 1979 when they opened up their first brewery in a small goat shed northeast of Boulder. Today Boulder Beer has a 50-barrel brew house with top-of-the-line packaging equipment and a cozy pub with delicious food and fresh taps.

The Pub on Wilderness is a great escape for any occasion and is located right in the heart of the production brewery.  It's got a cozy vibe to it and is the type of place where I could easily hang out for hours tossing back some ales. Their food menu is very inviting with comforting meals like brisket from the smoker, crispy fish & chips, prime rib sandwich and much more. If the weather is nice, you can sprawl out on their spacious patio with breathtaking views of the mountains. The venue also features free daily brewery tours, live music in the summer and trivia in the winter.


Jeff took us on a tour of the facility and graciously let us sample every single beer on tap. Trying Boulder Shake on nitro was a real treat, it still remains one of my favourite beers they make.

Boulder Beer is an iconic destination in Boulder and a must-visit for any craft beer lover.  They are craft pioneers and continue to make solid staple beers while experimenting with different styles. They also strive to be environmentally conscious and practice a number of eco-friendly initiatives in their packaging, brewing, production and in the pub (which is PACE Certified (Partners for a Cleaner Environment). Thanks to Jeff for the amazing tour and bike safety 101.

Second Stop: Upslope Brewery
At this point I almost veered off the trail due to beautiful views and prairie dogs that kept popping out of their burrowed holes.  Luckily I made it to Upslope Brewery uninjured and ready to try some local beers! Chad from Upslope joined us for some beer flights and talked to us about the story behind the brewery.  He also hooked us up with some special release brews in celebration of the Great American Beer Festival week. Did you know? Upslope is actually a weather pattern.


upslope brewery

The three founders of Upslope, Matt, Dany and Henry, all have a real passion for living life outdoors and brewing the perfect beer to cap off any adventure. This passion is transferred into the easy drinking beers they make and the packaging that they are in.  Upslope only uses 100% recyclable cans and cardboard for their products and are certified B Corp. Upslope seems to be the beer of choice in Boulder for any outdoor adventure as there is nothing more rewarding than cracking a cold one after a long and grueling hike or ski trip.

Upslope currently has two locations. The first is a brewery and taproom located in Flatiron Park which is their biggest production facility.  The taproom offers spacious seating indoors and outdoors, live music, tours and food trucks. The second is a location in Lee Hill which is their original 7-barrel brew house and smaller taproom. 


upslopebeer

I tried a few of their core styles, such as the Brown Ale and Citra Pale Ale, and some of their seasonal/series beers such as Lee Hill Series Volume 3 Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and Volume 8 Dry Hopped Wild Ale.  I absolutely loved their barrel aged brews, especially the ones using local coffee from Ozo. A huge thanks to Chad for the fun chats and brews, I still have a few cans left in my fridge to enjoy after one of my runs!

Third Stop: Sanitas Brewing Company
Sanitas is a newer brewery that opened its doors in 2013. They are known for their innovate beers and only use local, organic and conventionally-sourced ingredients in their brews.  Their taproom is welcoming and spacious and the outdoor patio is epic (seems to be a trend in Boulder, people love their patios).  There are some excellent brews on tap at Sanitas and I highly recommend trying their Cherry Saison, it was a real treat!



Recommended visit: I did not get a chance to visit Avery Brewing but I feel that it is a must-visit brewery stop in Boulder.  Avery has been around for 25 years and produce some phenomenal varying styles of beers.  I am mainly a fan of their big Barrel-Aged stouts such as Uncle Jacobs coming in at 15.9% abv and Tweak coming in at 16% abv.  Their space features a loaded tap-room and full lunch and dinner menu.

Dinner at Blackbelly


After all the biking and beer, it was time for dinner at Blackbelly. Blackbelly Restaurant + Bar specializes in local grown ingredients and pasture raised, sustainable animals for a truly authentic farm to table experience. All of the meat comes from local ranchers who Blackbelly works closely with to ensure that the animals are raised ethically and that the final product maintains the highest of standards of quality, with low quantity production. The team also uses the entire animal, with nothing going to waste.  They can do this by using certain cuts of the animal at their Artisanal Butcher Shop next to the restaurant.

Head butcher Nate Singer does a tremendous job in producing whole animal butchery and charcuterie production using rare skills passed down from generations. You can find a vast selection of house cured meats, traditional fermented sausages and other homemade Blackbelly provisions at the market. Apparently the breakfast burritos are top-notch, if you have the chance to try one let me know how it is.


If you’ve ever watched Top Chef, then you’ll recognize the owner and chef of Blackbelly as Hosea Rosenberg from Season 5.  He was the winner of that season and his expertise and knowledge led him to open Blackbelly in 2011. Although Blackbelly only started off as a catering company and food truck, it quickly flourished into a restaurant, bar, and butcher shop.


Because Blackbelly is known for their meats, I highly recommend that you order something from the butcher menu. A few of us tried the Carter-country Dry Aged Beef and the Berkshire Pork and couldn’t believe how tender and flavourful the meat was. You really can detect the difference in texture and taste when eating meat that is above USDA standards. The Charcuterie and Cheese board was also a highlight, featuring house-made, cured meats, artisan cheeses, house pickles, and preserves. As for drinks, Blackbelly offers a creative cocktail menu, local beers and impressive wine list. 

The vibe, food, and friendly staff at Blackbelly really made my experience special and I'm so glad I got to dine at such a reputable restaurant in Boulder. Thanks to Chef Daniels for chatting to us about our fantastic meals and taking us on a tour of the butcher shop.

Day 2
Sleep In & Breakfast at Hotel Boulderado



The charming Hotel Boulderado is a historic landmark in Boulder, having been around since 1909. Although the hotel has gone through some renovations since the opening, it has managed to keep a lot the historic décor and style so that guests can feel like their stepping back to the Victorian Era.  From the mosaic tiled floor, original Otis elevator, cherry wood staircase and famous stained-glass canopy ceiling, you’ll be visually pleased at every corner of the Boulderado. Did you know? The name comes from a combination of Boulder and Colorado so that guests would always remember where they had stayed.


There are 160 modern and comfortable rooms at Hotel Boulderado with about 42 of them retaining the historic Victorian bravura. We stayed on the modern side which featured fully-furnished rooms, with beautifully chic decor and colours. We did take a tour of the historic side and loved all of the antiques from when the hotel first opened. There were really cool pieces such as an old ice maker, the first hotel check-in book, and photographs of former guests.  Apparently some famous guests have stayed at Boulderado in the past, Louis Armstrong, Robert Frost and Douglas Fairbanks to name a few.

The hotel provides guests with all of the much-needed amenities plus a 10,000 sq foot meeting space for conferences or celebrations.  You can also find on-site dining at Spruce Farm & Fish, drinks and eats at The Corner Bar, and crafty cocktails at the charming Speakeasy Bar, License No. 1.


Hotel Boulderado is not only a place to stay while you’re away but it’s a place to explore and discover!

Morning Hike at Chautauqua
If there is one place to pick for a hike in Boulder, it’s definitely at Chautauqua Park.  This vast area located at the foot of Boulder’s Flatirons Mountains contains over 40 miles of hiking trails that lead in and around the mountains. Did you know? The flatirons got its name from pioneer women that thought the rocks looked like flat, metal irons used to iron their clothes, the name “Flatirons” stuck.


Beyond the hiking trials, Chautauqua is one of 25 National Historic Landmarks in Colorado and brings in thousands of visitors every year. There is a dining hall, historic auditorium that hosts concerts, a self-guided history tour of the area (using your mobile phone), and about 58 historic cottages or lodges available to rent.

It was absolutely serene to hike in this area with such stunning views in every direction.  It was also nice to look out into the city and not see any tall buildings blocking the views (Boulder has a rule that restricts city building heights). There were people of all age groups going for walks here and if you're the adventurous type, you can even climb the mountains. The Chautauqua Park is a must-visit in Boulder!


Lunch & Beers at BRU Handbuilt Ales & Eats



Last stop in Boulder was at Bru Handbuilt Ales & Eats, your one-stop shop for well-crafted brews and creative bites.  The owner, chef and brewer, Ian Clark, is truly ardent about everything he dabbles into.  Having attended the New England Culinary Institute, and starting a nano-brewery right out of his garage, Ian was certainly on the right path to opening his own gastro brewery featuring everything he had envisioned. 

The menu at BRU features elevated pub fare, with a lot of dishes featuring beer as an ingredient.  The sourdough pizza uses an IPA tomato sauce and their mussels are steamed in a saison broth. Along with a solid food menu, BRU also features 14 rotating beers that are never filtered and all naturally carbonated.  I had a flight of many of their beers and my favourite by far was the Obitus American Brown Ale with roasted dates and caramelized sugar. 


Since the opening of BRU in 2013, Ian has won numerous awards and accolades for his food, beers and ice cream.  Yes, I just said Ice Cream.  Ian also opened Heifer and the Hen, an organic creamery right next door to BRU.  Here you will find some nifty flavours such as Pear & Brown Butter or Bourbon Cream with Candied Pecans. The awards are well-deserving, as Ian has put nothing but pure dedication and passion into his endeavours and has created an authentic brewpub where his expertise can shine.  His LOCH Wee Heavy Scotch Ale actually won the silver medal at the 2014 GABF and BRU was named "Best Brewpub" by Westword.


Be sure to order one of the pizza's at BRU, it was definitely the highlight on their menu.  Thin crust, sourdough, and fresh toppings are all done to perfection and pair perfectly with their beer selection.  If you're looking for something to share, then the Artisan Cheese and Meat Board is a great option.  It even comes with a herb scented butter candle that is edible, how can you say no to that? A huge thanks to Ian for hosting us, I'll be back for the ice cream next time!

If you have some more free time in Boulder be sure to hit up Boulder's Farmers Market for fresh local produce and Pearl Street Mall for shopping, restaurants and bars.

A huge Thank You to the Colorado Tourism Board and the wonderful folks at Visit Boulder for hosting me on this trip.  Of course, all reviews and opinions are entirely my own.

You can learn more about Boulder at https://www.bouldercoloradousa.com/ or feel free to email me about itinerary questions!




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