Colorado breweries made and packaged dozens and dozens of amazing new beers in 2012, expanding their range and proving which state is the center of the craft beer universe. And although hundreds more were brewed and sold on draft in tap rooms, bars and breweries, this list -- like the one I did last year -- is just for the beers that were packaged in cans or bottles. In addition, the beers named here all fit into one of the following categories: year-round offerings that debuted for the first time in 2012; seasonals that will return; formerly draft-only beers that are just now being packaged; or one-offs that were widely available and brewed in significant quantity.
Oh, and they had to be available in the Denver area, where I could get ahold of them.
The reason I set these parameters is because I want this list to be at least somewhat useful to craft beer lovers and consumers, and not just a rundown of stuff that was really hard to get or will never return to liquor-store shelves. In addition, although it saddens me, there are simply too many draft-only beers out there for me to try them all.
So, for instance, you won't see the one-off sours from Crooked Stave, AC Golden or Avery on this list, or hard-to-get limited releases from Oskar Blues.
Here are my picks:
10) Dig New Belgium Dig didn't make many ripples when it debuted as New Belgium's newest spring seasonal early this year, but the beer managed to incorporate a couple of unusual and sometimes finicky hops varieties -- Nelson Sauvin and Sorachi Ace -- with a delicate touch that was both satisfying to this hophead and light on the palate. Floral, earthy and bright, Dig doesn't taste like anything else New Belgium makes.
9) Pond Hopper Odell Brewing Pond Hopper combines rich, biscuity English malt notes with fruity, almost tangy hops characteristics that bring to mind, ever so briefly, a sour beer. In fact, the beer's sliding nuances make it one of the most intricately balanced beers I had this year. Subtle and satisfying, Pond Hopper isn't the product of a novice brewer. Rather, it's the result of what happens when two experts -- Odell and the UK's Thornbridge Brewery -- come together on either side of the Atlantic ocean to launch the somewhat stale category of the pale ale into the 21st century. It is what a collaboration truly should be.
8) Mole Stout Ska Brewing Durango's Ska Brewing experimented for more than a year on different stout recipes to come up with the series of seasonals that it debuted in cans last fall. The first of these was the Autumnal Mole Stout, a rich, chocolately stout layered over with enough spice to give it a bite without burning your lips. This beer managed to blend spicy peppers with roasty coffee notes and a touch of sweetness that made you want another.
7) Deceit Funkwerks Deceit was a Funkwerks tap-room favorite that the brewery decided to bottle in the fall -- just before the Belgian Golden Ale won gold at the Great American Beer Festival. It was a deserving victory for one of Colorado's most up-and-coming breweries -- and lucky for us. Boasting an ABV of 9.4 percent, Deceit is indeed deceitful, as its lighter character belies a serious punch in the mouth. Crisp and carbonated like a saison, Deceit has sweeter, citrusy notes that make it taste and feel more like a Belgian-style dubbel.
6) The Meddler Oud Bruin Odell Brewing Like the Flemish Reds it pays tribute to, the Meddler was made by blending together several versions of a beer -- a brown ale, in this case -- and then aging it for a year and a half, a process that smoothed out any rough edges. Tart from the wild yeasts, brettanomyces and lactobacillus, the Meddler is also sweet, rich and complex, exuding a fruity, malty characteristic that gave it an almost sherry-like drinkability.
5) Belgian Style Pale Ale Upslope Brewing After hiding the good stuff in its Boulder tap room over the past few years, Upslope finally hit us with a flurry of beautiful beers in 2012, including the seasonal Pumpkin and Christmas ales and Foreign Style Stout. But a fourth beer, one that is difficult to categorize despite its name, stood even taller. Belgian Style Pale Ale most closely resembles a Belgian wit -- a wheat beer made with spices like coriander and orange peel -- but this one wasn't a wheat beer, though it does carry coriander and Trappist yeasts. But, style be damned, the ale, which weighed in at a dangerous 7.9 percent ABV, imparted such a smooth creaminess that I couldn't stop drinking it all summer.
4) Apis IV Elevation Beer Company Apis IV was the first packaged beer released by this brand-new brewery from Poncha Srpings, and it made a great first impression. Like a candy sugar-dusted figgy fruitcake, this Belgian-style quadrupel reminded me of Avery Reverend in some ways. It was syrupy without being cloyingly sweet, and showcased a powerful but balanced battle between biscuity, bready malts and and hops-forward, resiny notes. I drank a lot of it.
3) Wild Wild Brett Indigo Crooked Stave Crooked Stave pulled off an interesting feat with WWBI, balancing tart blueberries with oak in a way that made both shine perfectly. In fact, this show worked so well that, like a lion in a circus, you could almost forget that it's wild -- fermented with brettanomyces yeast. WWBI is tart, but not in a way that makes your salivary glands get hyperactive. Bright and refreshing, it was the cleanest wild or sour beer that I tasted in 2012. And, as a bonus, some of its characteristics changed as it warmed in the glass, giving WWBI a smooth, almost buttery mouthfeel. Crooked Stave owner Chad Yakobson liked it as well, and says he plans to brew this one again in 2013.
2) Deviant Dale's Oskar Blues Thick, rich and decidedly dank, Deviant Dale's lives up to its name and its enticingly hoppy aroma with an almost overwhelming wallop of flavor that can become addictive. Brewed with copious amounts of Columbus hops, Deviant put down roots as a tap-room specialty before growing into a special project for Old Chicago and then blossoming as the Longmont brewery's first foray into sixteen-ounce cans. And it carries such a huge load of pine and grapefruit flavors that a single sip will make you feel as if you're chewing on a hop cone. A touch of sweetness mellows the bitter flavors on the back end.
1) Uncle Jacob's Stout Avery Brewing Vanilla, oak, molasses, butter, bourbon, figs. And that's just for starters. It might take all day to nail down the complex blend of thick, velvety flavors that burst out of Uncle Jacob's Stout and coat the tongue. A 17.4 percent ABV bomb that Avery aged for six months in bourbon barrels, the beer will no doubt age well, but it was hard not to drink every drop I could find. At $12 per twelve-ounce bottle, though, I had to limit my intake. Avery plans to make this beer again in 2013, so I'm saving my pennies.
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