It's getting more and more difficult for Colorado beer lovers to wrap their arms — and their tastebuds — around the depth and breadth of our brewery scene. With more than 300 breweries, all of them pumping out dozens of brews over the course of a year, it would impossible to try all of them. Even a representative sampling is hard to come by. But we try. Yes, we try.
So, as I did in 2013
, I've created a list of thirty outstanding beers, culled from hundreds that I tasted in 2015. The list (arranged in alphabetical order by brewery) isn't comprehensive. Rather, it covers some of my favorite new, newly packaged or sort of newish beers from the past twelve months. (I covered the Ten Best Newly Packaged Colorado Craft Beers of 2015
in a separate post.) Cheers.
Vanilla Bean Stout
Aged for three months in bourbon barrels with three different kinds of vanilla beans, Avery's newest year-round beer from its Botanicals & Barrels series packs a punch that will immediately have you holding your head out for another blow. Like almost every barrel-aged beer from Avery, this one is high in alcohol content, but also balanced and smooth; the flavors change and intensify as the beer warms.
Sharp, light and tart, Baere's Brewing's eponymous Berlinerweisse nails this odd German style, which is typically brewed with wheat and Lactobacilus to make drinkers pucker up. Add the traditional and non-traditional syrups that Baere has on hand, though, and you have a refreshing, soda-like quencher. My favorite was the grapefruit hops syrup.
Big Choice Brewing
Big Choice went all punk-rock with this one, taking a non-traditional route toward a surprisingly delicious beer. First, the brewery added Jamaican jerk chicken spices to a 10 percent ABV imperial stout — and then aged it in rum barrels. Then it canned the brew in a 19.2-ounce can with an experimental resealable lid provided by Xolution
, a German company that has a sales office located in Boulder County. The result was a "Caribbean-inspired" sipper with a decent amount of sweet rum flavor. Oh, and those jerk spices? They sound weird, but were very subtle. In fact, the only note I got was a smokey saltiness reminiscent of beef jerky. It worked for me, though.
Cerealiously Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch
Black Bottle Brewery
In the same way that milk turns into a delicious, sugary treat after your cereal has been floating in it for ten minutes, Black Bottle's Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch was a bowl full of goodness. Brewed with the actual General Mills cereal – as part of Black Bottle's series of Cerealiously beers – this one truly tasted like sugar cookies in a beer. It was bright and sweet and remarkable.
Blood Orange Double IPA
Black Shirt Brewing
It took a year's worth of research and five months of brewing to produce this double IPA. Brewed with Centennial and Cascade hops, the beer was conditioned on “heaps” of in-season blood oranges, then double-dry-hopped on Mosaic, a variety known for its powerful citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas. The blood oranges complemented the Mosaic hops well, giving the beer a bright, refreshing feel.
Black Shirt Brewing
There's no one in Colorado doing hoppy beer with more passion and with more dedication than Black Shirt – and it shows. Although Red Evelyn was good when it first debuted a couple of years ago, Black Shirt has since tweaked it, and the most recent iteration was mesmerizing. Citrusy with a touch of sweetness, this double IPA was made with seven kinds of hops that were added at five different points during the brewing process.
Barrel Aged 471 IPA Hull Melo
Breckenridge Brewery's double IPA, 471, has always been among its tastiest beers – if not its single best creation. But with the opening of the company's twelve-acre, $36 million campus in Littleton last summer, Breckenridge vastly expanded its barrel-aging program and decided to play around by dry-hopping 471 in barrels. The first one I tried was Sorachi Ace — and it packed the kind of satisfying punch that true hops lovers appreciate. The second was Hull Melon, which gave the 471 an almost chocolate-y flavor that was rich and fulfilling. Breckenridge, which is now owned by AB InBev, maker of Bud Light Lime
, turned out several other excellent barrel-aged beers last year, including Barleywine Batch 2, Barrel-Aged 72 Imperial and a 25th Anniversary Rum barrel-aged brew.
This was the year for coconut porters (see Death by Coconut on my list of the Ten Best Newly Packaged Colorado Craft Beers of 2015
, and Scottish Tradesman, lower down in this post) and it's arguable whose was better. Or maybe it doesn't matter. The Broken Compass version seemed like it has a little more coconut than Oskar Blues, but with the same smooth, chocolate-y goodness that made it taste more like a candy bar than a beer with English roots.
Bull & Bush
A sweet, English-style barleywine, Royal Oil was aged for a very long time in bourbon barrels, waking deep, rich flavors of toffee and vanilla. The Bull & Bush hadn't released Royal Oil in several years, but it bottled this version. If you got one, you drank it slowly, like an after-dinner aperitif, and you let it warm slowly in your hands and on your palate.
The Cut: Blackberry
Casey Brewing & Blending
Intense. That's a good way to describe all of the beers coming out of Troy Casey's brewery on the banks of the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs. But the juiciness of The Cut: Blackberry, which I was lucky enough to try, truly earned that description: It immediately commanded my attention, from the first sip to the last.
The classic oatmeal stout got a welcome makeover when Cerebral Brewing opened in November with Dark Galaxie on tap. Cerebral's version has lactose added, which gives it a creamier mouthfeel that brings out the chocolate and coffee flavors, not to mention a little raisin. It is very smooth, which means that at under 5 percent ABV, you can have a couple or three.
Although it falls into the Kolsch category, Coda Brewing's Sleepyhead Kolsch, which won silver at the Great American Beer Festival, doesn't taste much like a traditional kolsch. Amped up with extra malt, it's an imperial version, which gives it more malty flavors – and it was brewed with an impressive quantity of passion fruit. Tart and effervescent, it's like drinking biscuits and jam.
Fresh Hop Superpower IPA (Superdamp)
A newlyminted master of hoppy beers, Comrade has been turning out beer after beer to delight Denver hopheads. The brewery first brewed this one last year, and promptly took home a GABF medal. Comrade brewed it again in 2015 — and did the same. Made with hops that were picked less than 24 hours earlier on Colorado's Western Slope, this one has all of the classic dank, piney, citrusy notes, but with a freshness that will leave you breathless.
Basil Cherry Blonde Ale
Copper Kettle/Strange Craft
It's possible that Strange Craft's Cherry Kriek simply goes perfectly with everything (see Strangely Epic, below), but I never would have predicted basil. Still, this beer was one of my favorites from the 2015 Collaboration Fest. Orchestrated by the two breweries working together (Copper Kettle has also loaned its bottling equipment to Strange), the big basil flavors somehow worked with the sweet cherries to make a light, bright, refreshingly unusual brew.
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