Colorado soared past the 300 brewery mark in 2015, helping it remain one of the biggest, most important states in the nation for the craft brewing industry. But it isn't the numbers so much as the variety and quality of our beer that makes Colorado shine. In the meantime, bottling and canning have also become easier and cheaper, meaning more breweries are able to get more beers out to more people. Still, it's impossible to try everything – now matter how hard you try.
So this list only covers the packaged beers that met a couple of criteria: they had to have been bottled or canned for the first time in 2015 – and they had to be relatively easy to find in Denver or Boulder, meaning the average person could have walked into a suitable liquor store and pulled one off the shelf. Some of them had been brewed before, but never packaged. Others were new variations on old tricks. But all of them were delicious, and most are still available. Here they are, in no particular order. Happy new year.
It's not easy for smaller breweries to consistently get their beer into bottles – let alone get those bottles onto liquor-store shelves. And when they do, the end result sometimes doesn't match the beer that is served on tap in the brewery. Diebolt, founded two years ago in the Sunnyside neighborhood, has pulled it off, though, bottling one of the most excellent bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts coming out of Denver. Roasty without being bitter, dessert-like without being too sweet, the Commodore excels.
Like a rainbow above a Hawaiian island, this beer has been a rare and welcome treat over the years whenever Avery has had the chance to brew up a batch. But with the move to the new brewery in 2015, Avery began canning this rainbow for the first time, and it was a staple in my fridge. A version of Avery's White Rascal witbier, Liliko'i is made with passion fruit. It is sweet. It is a little tart. And easily drinkable.
Single Hop IPA Citra
Station 26 Brewing
Packed with crisp, juicy and explosive hops flavors that burst onto your palate in the same way that the aromas from this citrusy beer flood your nose when you crack open a can, Single Hop Citra manages to be both a powerfully hoppy beer and one that is easy to crush in just a minute or two. Made with a single kind of hop – one that is awash not just in notes of classic oranges and grapefruit, but also sweeter, tropical fruits – Citra was the first in a series of single-hop canned beers from Station 26. The second, Chinook, was different, but nearly as good. More are on their way.
Saisons can be tough. Some are too light, or too effervescent. Others are bitter or "yeasty," for lack of a better word. The best saisons manage to do some heavy lifting when it comes to flavor, but with a light touch that makes it look easy. Fermented in wooden puncheons with multiple yeast strains and then blended together, Life's Trade is one of those beers, joining the slim ranks of saisons that I truly enjoy (Great Divide Colette, Sanitas Saison and Ratio Dear You are some of the others). And that's a good sign because the beer will serve as the base brew for many of the more complicated sour and wild ales coming out of TRVE Brewing's new Acid Temple in coming years.
Wild Christmas Ale
Completely unexpected. That's how I felt about the complexity of flavor in this beer and the way that these flavors worked together. The idea for Wild Christmas Ale sounds terrible. Take a holiday ale that was spiced with traditional Christmas panache and age it for ten months in Leopold Brothers rye whiskey barrels with funky Brettanomyces yeast. But the end result is a smooth, sexy treat that's reminiscent of a whiskey sour in one sip and sweet Christmas candy with the next. The beer smells like traditional Christmas candles but tastes more like a funky Christmas party.
Just because the Wynkoop is Colorado's oldest craft brewpub doesn't mean it has everything sewn up. Quite the opposite. The brewers there worked in tiny, cramped spaces on one of the oldest systems in Denver – one that cracked this year and had to be welded back together. But the brewery is getting a brand new system this spring. Still, given the equipment, it is amazing that they were able to turn out this deliciously rich Belgian-style quad aged in whiskey barrels from the new but much-buzzed-about Laws Whiskey House off of South Broadway. In fact, the Wynkoop more than doubled its barrel-aged program in 2015 thanks to those barrels and turned out a couple of other delicious delights as a result. The brewers are loving that. Can you taste the love? I can.
Death By Coconut
Creamy, rich and packed with smooth chocolate and coconut flavors, Death By Coconut is the birthday cake you wish your mom had made for you every year. Oskar Blues originally created this beer with Pueblo's Shamrock Brewing in 2014 as part of Collaboration Fest, but has since taken it to new heights, packing it first in green, 19.2-ounce “stovepipe” cans in the early part of the year for Colorado – and then rolling it out nationwide in four-packs of brown cans. Which one is better? Try 'em both to find out.
Mandarina Bavaria hops caught on big in 2015 thanks to way the pungent, citrusy aromas work in traditional IPAs — and because of the shortage of other hops varieties. The variety was particularly powerful in Ska's Modus Mandarina, a twist on the brewery's flagship Modus Hoperandi IPA. With added sweet orange peels, this beer joined the ranks of the mouthwateringly citrusy hop bombs that came out in 2015.
Cocoa Cream Graham Cracker Porter
Denver Beer Co
What happens when you take something that is already good and add even more goodness? This beer. Based on Denver Beer Co's flagship Graham Cracker Porter, this was an imperial version that was aged in oak barrels with vanilla and cocoa nibs. It was also given a dose of lactose, which turned the finished product into something that was as much of a s'mores milkshake as it was a beer.
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Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
Crooked Stave continues to make its name as the creator of acclaim-winning sour beers, but for my money, I think they've perfected the combination sour funkiness and dry-hopped zing. Progenitor is the latest dry-hopped sour from the brewery (and Crooked Stave made several versions of the golden ale this year). It's not easy to coax out both of these kinds of aromas and flavors in a beer, but when it works, it really works, creating something that is much more complex than the sum of its parts.