Colorado breweries released dozens of amazing beers this year, further expanding their range and making once-exotic beers easy to find and enjoy. A few stood out above the rest, though. To make this list, the beers needed to have been new year-round offerings, seasonals that will return, old beers that are only now being packaged, or one-offs that were widely available and brewed in significant quantity. That's why you won't find Dry Dock Bligh's Barleywine (Westword beer pairing expert Patrick Langlois's favorite), for example, or Great Divide's bourbon-barrel aged Yeti on this list. It's why I didn't include Ska's Big Shikes or any of Avery's limited releases.
The beers also have to have been packaged in cans or bottles. While brewpubs and tasting rooms all over the state turn out amazing beers on a regular basis, packaged beers are easier to qualify and quantify and are usually more readily available.
Here are my picks:
10) Crazy Mountain Amber Ale Heady, sticky and sweet, Crazy Mountain's Amber Ale was the first of this Edwards brewery's beers to make it to the Denver market (expect more of them in 2012), and the beer was a perfect example of the super-hoppy imperial red style that Oskar Blues perfected with G'Knight. Crazy Mountain's version is lighter and so smooth, you'll start drinking your second before you realized you've finished your first.
9) Odell Myrcenary Odell Brewing has done for hops what Scharffenberger has done for cocoa: elevating it and perfecting it in so many variations that it doesn't seem fair. Myrcenary, a double IPA that debuted in February as Odells' newest year-round offering, stood up to the test, bursting with hops aromas and flavor from seven varieties of beer's most delicious ingredient.
8) Crooked Stave Fertile Soil A one-man labor of love and science, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project burst onto the craft beer scene in a big way in 2011, producing more than half a dozen sour and wild brews. And while they were all artfully conceived by Crooked Stave's Chad Yakobson, it wasn't a sour that made this list, but rather Yakobson's fresh hopped Fertile Soil. Bursting with sweet, floral aromas and flavor, drinking it was like moving into a tree house built with hops.
7) Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout Longmont's Left Hand Brewing has had so much success with its Milk Stout nitro on draft over the past two years that the beer has become one of the brewery's top sellers. If only they could have bottled all that goodwill. Turns out they could. Left Hand figured out a way to inject nitrogen into its creamy smooth milk stout so that it would poor just as frothy and delicious from a twelve-ounce vessels as it could from a draft line.
6) Dry Dock Wee Heavy It's not easy to hit a home run with every at bat, but Dry Dock makes it look that way. Each one of its 22-ounce bottled beers has been perfect, and Wee Heavy hit the mark as well. The Scotch ale blended sweet malts with full, spicy notes to create a beer that melts in your mouth the way a warm fire melts frozen hands.
5) Crabtree Brewing Cezanne Saison Greeley's Crabtree Brewing pushed its way into the Denver beer scene this year by refusing to be ignored. And while its experiments -- which included barrel-aged beers, multiple packaging styles and sours -- were hit or miss, Cezanne Sasison was an amazing, sweet and spicy success. I liked it even better than Crabtree's Berliner Weiss, a sour German ale that won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
4) Fort Collins Brewing Wheat Wine I satisfied my sweet tooth all year with this dessert-like wheat wine from Fort Collins Brewing. Rich and toffee-sweet, this beer was actually released in 2010 (so, I am cheating a bit here), but didn't become widely available until this year. Similar to a barley-wine, the wheat wine is made from 50 percent malted wheat, and each sip hits the senses like tasting candy for the first time.
3) New Belgium Le Terroir Sour beers are a Belgian specialty, so it makes sense that a brewery named New Belgium should make a good one. And Le Terroir may have been the most perfect sour beer I've ever had, elevating tart ripeness to the level of the five food groups. I hope the brewery, which is building a second location on the East Coast next year, brings this one back.
2) Avery Rumpkin Rumpkin is a beer with so much attitude that it has taken on its own cult of personality, sending beer lovers into fits of joy -- even when they're paying $10 for a single twelve-ounce bottle. Liquid candy for adults, Rumpkin is a pumpkin beer aged in rum barrels, giving it an ABV of close to 16 percent. Previously available only on draft, Avery bottled it for the first time this year, and plans to do so again in 2012. 1) Odell Mountain Standard
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Elegant, powerful and full of complex flavors, Odell's Mountain Standard Double Black IPA is the kind of beer that people schedule vacations to Colorado to try. And when they return to their home states, they keep talking about the beer until their friends tell them to shut up. Perhaps the most well-balanced version of this beer style that I've ever had, Mountain Standard manages to combine hops and black malts in a way that brings out the best of both ingredients without making the bitterness overpowering. The best part? All of the hops used in this beer were grown in the Mountain Standard Time Zone.