Last weekend we decided to escape the heat of the front range and head to the Colorado mountains. More specifically, we realized we hadn’t been to Estes Park in a while, and a sunny, summer day seemed like the perfect time for a quick road trip. Estes Park is a beautiful and bountiful mountain town, filled with shops, outdoor activities and three breweries – none of which we have visited yet. The plan was to spend a few hours hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, followed by some brewery exploration, and a stroll through the shops downtown. With a plan in place, we jumped in the Jeep and headed up the hills for some high-altitude adventure!
Estes Park considers itself the base camp of Rocky Mountain National Park, and we couldn’t visit the town without making a trip to the park. This is one of the best places to enjoy the Colorado Rockies in the most natural of settings. Within the park it’s not uncommon to spot elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and loads of other wildlife. Plus the mountain views are always postcard (or Facebook profile) worthy. This is the place to finally use that selfie stick you don’t want to admit you have! Perhaps the only downside to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer is that it’s too well-loved. In fact everyone else in Colorado seemed to have the same idea to visit the park when we did. Unfortunately other than a chipmunk or two, the only wild creatures we spotted were the two-legged kind… and we don’t mean bears. The parking lots and pull-offs were packed, so our plan of getting away from it all didn’t quite pan out. We did manage to get in a quick hike, followed by a drive up Trail Ridge Road for some alpine views. It was still a lot of fun. In the end, all that nature made us plenty thirsty, so after an hour of exploring the Rockies we were ready to explore some brews.
First Stop: Estes Park Brewery
Estes Park Brewery is a brewpub that has been operating in the town of Estes Park since 1994. Their two-story space includes a tasting counter and gift shop on the main floor, with a full bar, restaurant and outdoor patio upstairs. The brewery itself is on the main floor, but easily viewed from anywhere from the two-story space. There wasn’t any activity in the brewery when we visited, but the rest of the place was bustling with diners and drinkers, young and old.
Our first stop was a the tasting counter first to try a few Estes Park Brewery beers. We were each offered 4 free samples; additional samples are available for a small fee. We liked most of the beers we sampled, some better than others, and found they were all solid representatives of their respective styles. Surprisingly our unanimous favorite was the Raspberry Wheat, a deliciously light, fresh summer beer that wasn’t too overwhelmingly fruity. A close second was the Redrum Ale, a hoppy red IPA. After we had our samples we made our way to the bar upstairs for a few pints. Upstairs we had the Renegade IPA and the Staggering Elk Lager. They were both good, but they didn’t top the Raspberry Wheat as our favorite. It’s not common for us both to love a fruit beer, much less a wheat beer, but this one really won us over.
Overall, Estes Park Brewery is a pretty typical of a brewpub founded in the mid-1990’s. It feels a bit more like a restaurant than a brewery, despite all the brewery equipment. It was very family friendly, and seems to cater to a lot of the Estes Park tourists. In some ways it feels dated, with the mountain murals and old newspaper clippings and what-not’s pinned up behind the bar. But the beers were still solid, and we think it’s worth a trip if you’re in town. Bring the family, have a nice meal, and it’s all a good time.
Estes Park Brewery
470 Prospect Village Dr
Estes Park, CO
Second Stop: Rock Cut Brewing Company
Next stop on our beer tour of Estes Park was Rock Cut Brewing Co. It was just a short walk from Estes Park Brewery to Rock Cut, so it’s really easy to hit both spots at once. In between the two breweries you walk past Fun City, a family fun park featuring miniature golf, go karts, bumper cars, bumper boats, and more. You read that right, Fun City is sandwiched between two breweries. If that isn’t reason enough to visit Estes Park, we don’t know what is! For this trip we bypassed Fun City and made our way right to Rock Cut.
Rock Cut Brewing Company opened in August 2015 and we were excited to try their beers for the first time. There were 10 beers on the menu, and they all sounded great. We decided to start with the Brewer’s Flight which included 5 beers:
- Steamy Blonde, a steam-beer inspired blonde ale
- Pale Ale, a single-hop pale made with Calypso hops
- Russian Imperial Stout
- The Bitter Librarian, a Red IPA made in collaboration with local homebrewer Nate Williamson
- KIND Coffee Porter, a strong but smooth beer made with local cold-brewed coffee from KIND Coffee
Normally after we have a flight we like to highlight our favorites. We can’t do that this time, because, and I’m totally serious here, we thought all these beers were fantastic. Seriously, these were all some great beers. We were not expecting to be so impressed from such a new place, but Rock Cut Brewery has got it going on. We enjoyed our sampler so much we ordered two more samples that weren’t part of our original lineup, the Bohemian Pilsner and the Black IPA. And guess what? Those two were great too. It’s safe to say we were thoroughly impressed with everything we sampled at Rock Cut Brewing.
On a side note, Rock Cut Brewing wins the award for most creative snack menu. Other breweries take note: At Rock Cut for a few bucks you could get chips and salsa for the table, consisting of a bag of tortilla chips, a jar of salsa, and some bowls. If you prefer a cheese spread, you could get a bag of crackers and package of goat cheese. What a great idea! It’s like having your own little mini-mart within the brewery, full of tasty snack options available for purchase. We stuck to their free pretzels, but loved the simplicity of their snack menu. We’d love to see this idea take off at other breweries.
Rock Cut Brewing Company
390 W Riverside Dr
Estes Park, CO
Third Stop: Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company
Our last stop of the day was to Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company. We couldn’t walk to this stop, so in retrospect we should have probably visited her first. Oh well, you live and learn.
Like Rock Cut, Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company opened in August 2015. Their location is a bit off the beaten path, meaning it’s less full of tourist which was fine by us. The brewery was built in a repurposed gas station, and it’s all kinds of awesome. Inside is a tiny bar where we imagine the gas station cashier used to work. But the outside space at Lumpy Ridge Brewing is where they really kick ass. The outdoor patio is like a beer garden oasis, shaded by the canopy in the space previously occupied by gas pumps. Thirsty beer drinkers can fill up on great craft beer here, right where thirsty cars filled up on gasoline in the past. It makes perfect sense! It was a great spot for us to top-off after the end of a fun day in Estes Park.
Lumpy Ridge Brewing had 7 beers on tap, but rather than have more samples we zeroed in on our favorites styles and grabbed some full pints. I had the Saaz Kolsch Extra Pale Ale, while Jeff had the Tourist Saison. Both were delicious brews, perfect for enjoying on the warm, shady patio while taking in the beautiful mountain and lake views. They also paired pretty well with some crunchy pretzels provided by Lumpy Ridge, and some craft beef jerky brought along by yours truly. Because you can’t do a Colorado road trip without jerky. #ProTip
This isn’t the first gas-station-turned-brewery we’ve visited, but Lumpy Ridge may just be the coolest. We love that they didn’t try to hide their gas station past, but rather embraced the unique architecture and made a truly great space. Inside, hip and funky art covers the freshly painted walls. Outside on the deck there are still signs to remind you to stop your engine before you refuel, and not to smoke. Lumpy Ridge did a fabulous job combining the old and new, create a fun and unique space for enjoying their delicious craft beers.
Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company
531 S St Vrain Ave
Estes Park, CO
Bonus Stop: The Barrel
After our brewery tour we wandered around Estes Park visiting some of the local souvenir shops. Okay, full disclosure, we were on hunt for some taffy. I don’t know what it is, but there are several candy shops in Estes Park and they all make incredible taffy! Anyhow, we stumbled on one more spot that isn’t technically a brewery, but is worth a visit if you love craft beer. The Barrel is an outdoor beer, wine and spirit garden, featuring an incredible beverage menu with a menu of craft beer choices that is 4 pages long! We stopped for a few more beers, some snacks, and to enjoy the live music. I had an Emergent White IPA from Boulder Beer, while Jeff had a Crooked Stave Sourless IPA. Both beers pair well with taffy, if you’re wondering.
Estes Park Day Summary
In the end, there isn’t a bad brewery in Estes Park. All three are great in their unique ways. We really enjoyed Estes Park Brewery for their old-school charm, and the free samples helped us discover some great new brews. Rock Cut Brewing has an outstanding lineup of beers, and we can’t wait to visit again to explore more of their lineup. Finally, Lumpy Ridge Brewing offers great craft beers in a fun place surrounded by fabulous view. They’re the perfect place to refuel after a day exploring Estes Park. Finally, if you are wandering downtown and need a beer break between souvenir shops, check out The Barrel. All four places are worth a visit next time you make your way up to Estes Park!