Beer Man

For IPA Day: Ten Young Breweries Changing Colorado's IPA Game

IPAs are still the top-selling style among craft-beer drinkers by far, making up nearly a third of the craft market, and Colorado breweries have long specialized in hoppy beers like these. Odell, Oskar Blues, Avery, Great Divide and Ska Brewing all made their names in part because of flagship hop bombs — and those big guys continue to turn out some of the best of the best. But Colorado's small breweries are the ones that are pushing the boundaries more these days, experimenting with a wide array of hops varieties, brewing techniques, flavors, aromas and approaches. In honor of IPA Day, which is today, here are ten young breweries that have really changed the India Pale Ale game here in the past year.

There are plenty of others doing good work as well. They include Epic Brewing, Dry Dock, Denver Beer Co, Joyride, Little Machine, Telluride Brewing, TRVE Brewing, Renegade, Strange Craft and Upslope. But right now, the breweries below are the ones I keep returning to for my hops fix.

Spangalang Brewery
2736 Welton Street

Spangalang started off with a bang when it opened in April 2015, offering two beers that have continued to be favorites. One was Night Walker, an imperial stout, and several of its variations. The other was Hop Colossus, a well-balanced double IPA with some classic West Coast characteristics. Since then, Spangalang has won a couple of medals for its lighter offerings, but its hoppy beers have impressed, as well. D-Train IPA is a favorite, but Spangalang has made several different IPAs and double IPAs. The most unusual and surprising offering, though, was the brewery's one-year-anniversary ale, which it served up in April. A blend of freshly hopped beer and an IPA that had been aged in bourbon barrels, this one had an oak flavor that seemed to meld with the hops bite rather than conflicting with it, something most breweries aren't able to achieve. I'm looking forward to more creativity from Spangalang in the coming years.
Fiction Beer Company
7101 East Colfax Avenue

East Denver residents are lucky to have Fiction. One of only a very few breweries between Colorado Boulevard and, well, Kansas, Fiction has been quietly, bookishly, playing with beer styles for the past few years, pouring fun and interesting takes like Feely Effects, a green-tea chocolate milk stout; Sunny Boy, a Brett saison with rosehips; and Heart of Hearts, a Belgian triple with dragonfruit. But Fiction struck gold earlier in 2016 when then-head brewer Chris Marchio (who has since moved to Joyride Brewing) decided to follow his passion for "New England-style" IPAs, which are typically described as being juicy, less bitter and much hazier than typical IPAs. The decision worked, as Fiction was one of the first breweries in the Denver area to toy with this style — a style that has since caught on in popularity statewide — by brewing Cosmic Unity, a scrumptious tropical double IPA with notes of papaya, mango and guava. Fiction has decided to make the beer a staple on its menu and to experiment with other hazy IPAs. Marchio, meanwhile, took his technique to Joyride, where he has already turned out three New England-style IPAs as part of the brewery's Nectar series.

WeldWerks Brewing
508 8th Avenue, Greeley

WeldWerks had only been open for a year when it burst onto the statewide brewery radar at the beginning of 2016 with the stunning Medianoche, a 14 percent ABV imperial stout, and its cousins, Vanilla Medianoche and Coconut Medianoche. But the brewery's follow-up act was an even bigger hit: Juicy Bits is a New England-style IPA that is full of citrusy hops flavors from Mosaic, Citra and El Dorado hops, but with almost no bitterness and a creamy mouthfeel. It drinks as smoothly and addictively as the sweetest fresh-squeezed OJ you can imagine — and even has a little pulp. One of the hottest beers in Colorado, Juicy Bits is also divisive because of its hazy look and its mouthfeel. Oh, and it's hard to find. You can head to the Greeley tap room, or wait until it hits a rare account in the Denver area.

Ursula Brewery
2101 North Ursula Street, Aurora

Ursula Brewery has gone through drastic changes over the past year: Originally called Coda Brewing, it changed its name when co-founder Luke Smith left after a dispute with owner Scott Procop. Ursula (Coda) won two GABF medals while Smith was there — one for Via Chicago, a standout strong pale ale with citrus notes, and one for Sleepyhead Passionfruit Kolsch. But Ursula has continued to stay strong, very strong, and one of its most recent offerings, simply called Ursula IPA, shows that the brewery is continuing to turn out excellent offerings on a somewhat under-the-radar basis. This non-bitter, mildly hazy, 7 percent ABV IPA has notes of orange, pineapple and other citrus fruits.

Cerebral Brewing
1477 Monroe Street

Although Cerebral has only been open for nine months, the east Denver brewery has already turned out a wide and top-notch variety of styles, from a tart gose to an oatmeal milk stout, a saison fermented in open-topped puncheons to a maple breakfast porter. But the beer that seems to have earned the most attention is Rare Trait, a hazy IPA with very little bitterness and strong notes of tangerine, mango and peach. How better to describe it? I'll let Mike Castagno of Beer Connoisseur, which recently gave Rare Trait a 96 rating, have the last word: "Creamy. Velvety. Luscious. Tropical. These are the main characteristics of this beer, but it is much more than that. The beer puts down my skepticism for both "crowlers" (32-oz. cans that are filled from the tap, then sealed) and hazy IPAs. With a massive citrusy nose full of grapefruit, orange and tangerine, the hop profile deepens into tropical notes of passion fruit and pineapple with a hint of mango. These tropical notes carry onward into the flavor and make for an incredibly pleasing flavor profile."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes