There are roughtly thirty breweries in the city of Denver alone and nearly that many in Boulder. There are dozens more in the surrounding towns and suburbs, and that doesn't even include Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Durango and the mountains. I've been to a lot of them, but I've missed a lot more. Still, I tried at least 500 different Colorado beers in 2013 -- from longtime standards to draft-only one-offs -- at as many breweries, beer bars, restaurants, bottle shares and festivals as I possibly could.
Here are twenty (this list focuses on draft-only or very limited release beers since I am also working on a list of the best new packaged beers of 2013) that made me happy, either because the brewers made something perfect or because they went out on a limb, because they tried something different or did because they were just having fun. They are listed in no particular order. Many all still available. Cheers.
B-Side Quandary River North River North took some oak bourbon barrels procured by a liquor store down the street called Mr. B's and aged their fantastic Quandary quadruple in it for many months, along with cherries. They bottled it just for Mr. B's, but the bottles sold out fast, so I tried this beer on tap at the brewery during GABF. I haven't stopped thinking about it since.
Waltvleteran 12 Dry Dock Brewing Yeah, I like quads, and this was the year for them since I got to try a dozen or more on a trip to Belgium, and about eight others made in Colorado. Waltvleteran 12 (a play on the famed Westvleteren 12) stood out because it was rich, balanced and sweet without being too hot or alcohol-y tasting.
Epically Strange Epic/Strange breweries This beer was so good that I sought it out twice, and regretted not doing so more than that. A blend of one-third Big Bad Baptist -- Epic Brewing's powerful bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout brewed with coffee and chocolate -- and two-thirds Strange Brewing's addictive Cherry Kriek, the results produced a beer that played down the bitter side of BBB and the sweetness of CK for a complicated, wonderful beer.
Boulder Weiss Avery Brewing Simply put, this crisp, low-alcohol sour wheat beer brings just the right amount of tart lightness to make it perhaps the best Berliner Weiss being made in Colorado.
Momi Hiwa Avery Brewing Okay, Momi Hiwa wasn't actually on draft. In fact, it was primarily sold in bottles, but if you didn't make it to the brewery on the day it was released (or to a handful of liquor stores in Denver where it sold out within a day or two) then you missed it. Made with toasted coconut, this 17 percent ABV imperial stout was aged in rum barrels and designed to taste like a Mounds bar. One its most unusual characteristics, though, was the rich oily mouthfeel and chunks of coconut that remained in the bottle. It was one hell of an unusual experiment that tasted like paradise in a bottle. Judge Whoppner Renegade/Wit's End breweries Scott Witsoe and Brian O'Connell, the owners of Wit's End and Renegade, respectively, brewed up a whopper of a beer last year, a sweet imperial brown ale made with malted milk and served with crushed malted milk balls (Whoppers) on the rim of the glass. It was fun, it was sticky and it was deliciously smooth.
The Chancellor Wynkoop Brewing Aged in barrels for sixteen months, this English-style barleywine came from an old recipe that the Wynkoop came upon. They only made a little bit, but hopefully they're doing some more because The Chancellor was pure heaven: it tasted like liquid hazelnut flavored with toffee and figs.
Well Bred Copper Kettle Aged in bourbon barrels from Breckenridge Distillery, Copper Kettle made its barleywine one of four seasonal bottled releases that it plans to do going forward. The brewery served it on tap and sold a few bottles out of the taproom. Like the Wynkoop's Chancellor, Well Bred is an English-style barleywine, so is has less of a hops profile than some of its amped up American counterparts, and more of a nutty, vanilla richness that shone through brilliantly.
Tunnel of Trees TRVE Brewing I keep forgetting how much I love this beer until I try it again, and each time, I am amazed by how beautifully the hops come together, slowly creeping up on you before exploding on the palate. Clean, aromatic and lower in alcohol than some other IPAs, Tunnel of Trees stands among the powerhouse IPAs in a state that is known for them. Boom.
Watermelon Kolsch Fate Brewing I'm not a big fan of watermelon beers, and I don't typically order Kolsches. But somehow, Fate Brewing combined the two to create a simple, refreshing brew -- made with watermelon puree -- that I ordered multiple times at a variety of locations. Pumpkin Patch Eddyline Brewery Love them or hate them, pumpkin beers are inescapable in August (no, really, that's when they start coming out) and all through September and October. Two really stood out this year: Dry Dock's Imperial Pumpkin Ale and Eddyline's Pumpkin Patch. Loaded with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, it also carried enough of a pumpkiny feel to make it actually taste like pumpkin pie. The honey in the recipe sealed the deal.
4.0 GPA Bull & Bush What does the GPA stand for? Grapefruit Pale Ale, and while many beers are known for the grapefruity aroma or flavor that comes from certain hops varieties, like Cascade, none of them has distilled those flavors into a beer quite like Bull & Bush did with this one. Oh, and it's only 4 percent ABV, so you can have it for breakfast.
Old Growth Trinity Brewing Inspired by the original Flemmish beers of Belgium and aged in oak for more than a year, Old Growth "has notes of green apple, lemon bar, kiwi, leather, and wet wool," according to the brewery -- and elicits some serious pucker. The punch was softened by rounded edges, however, brought about by the oak aging, and layers of fruity complexity. My enjoyment of this one may have been enhanced by the fact that I was coincidentally standing next to brewery owner Jason Yester at the Falling Rock Taphouse during GABF week, who was also drinking a glass.
Chai Milk Stout Yak & Yeti One of my favorite beers of the year comes from one of the most unusual breweries in Colorado, the Yak & Yeti, which is also an Indian food restaurant. As a result, the place has been brewing its fabulous Chai Milk Stout for years. Brewmaster Adam Draeger recently dialed in the recipe even further, which paid off when the beer took home a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in October. Creamy and rich, it combines the sweetness of lactose perfectly with the spice of the Chai.
Saison Sanitas Brewing This is the saison I've been waiting for. Smooth, without the overwhelming yeasty character that some saisons come with, Sanitas's version is also full of flavor (tangerine, bubblegum), but still comes off as dry and light. A neat trick. Pale Red Rye Black Shirt Brewing The crew at Black Shirt Brewing loves their hops, and you can taste that passion in the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances and variations that they coax out in each beer they make. Most of them and hoppy and all of them are balanced, even delicate. My favorite this year was the Pale Red Rye, a smooth-drinking ale that brings a deliciously bitter grapefruit-like hops zing up front and tangy, bready, rye flavors on the back.
Imperial Pumpkin Ale De Steeg Brewing De Steeg was originally going to be called High Gravity Brewing because of founder Craig Rothgery's affinity for high-gravity, high-alcohol beers. And although he changed the name, Rothgery still makes some big, delicious beers. Imperial Pumpkin was one of the first I tried after De Steeg opened at the beginning of 2013. The version I had was big and full of caramel-like booze and blended with pumpkin pie flavors. It was sweet like a barleywine, but not cloying.
First Decent 099 Jagged Mountain Starting a brewery is a long, arduous process, and by the time the owners of a new one finally get their doors open, they're often thinking about permits and process more than the beer they're making. But not Jagged Mountain. They kicked things off in November, which a lineup of big or unusual beers, including the first two in a series of Old Ales they plan to make under the name First Descent. The version I had, 099, a was a bold beautiful surprise that knocked my socks off. Looking forward to more.
Old Chub Nitro Oskar Blues Oskar Blues sticks to its tried and true year-round beers for the most part, focusing on just two seasonals and staying away from large-scale one-offs or new releases. But the brewery recognizes that people like to try new things, so it has recently upped the number of variations it produces of its regular beers, including barrel-aged versions, spiced firkins and this creamy Old Chub on nitro, which brought out the malty, bready side of this Scotch ale and almost made it taste like a completely different, though equally as delicious, brew.
Musty Cedar Box Crooked Stave Earthy, spicy and, yes, musty, this very tart beer from Crooked Stave showcased the kinds of complicated flavor profile that the brewery has become known for over the past couple of years. Almost wine-like from one perspective, it was also a baseball bat of a Burgandy sour that flexed its whiskey-barrel aged muscles.
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