2022 was a hell of a time to be a beer lover in Colorado. Along with new openings, existing breweries continued to improve and innovate, and drinkers across the state were well rewarded.
As with any best-of list, expect subjectivity. While I am a drinker who can get behind any style of beer (I don't dislike gose or hefeweizen, for example), I have beer styles I favor and others that rarely tickle my fancy. And with around 400 breweries in the state, it's impossible to try every tap lineup in a year (though I tried my best).
Instead, I simply made a list of what really stood out to me. The ground rules: All beers had to be brewed in Colorado, and to provide more of a fair shake, I only included one beer per brewery.
I left out special releases and beers that are very difficult to find, too. But honorable mentions go to Amalgam's Boysenberry Reduction, WeldWerks Medianoche 2022 and a Here Be Monsters variant from Cerebral.
Here are my eighteen favorite Colorado beers of 2022:
To me, the perfect dunkel is rich, with flavors of bread and toast and at least a hint, if not a moderate amount, of chocolate, but smooth with no roast. It also has a hop bitterness that balances those attractive malty flavors. The beer is rich, but dry — a balancing act that's difficult to achieve, but incredibly rewarding when it happens. Zwei's Dunkel checks every box.
Premium Pale Lager 12°
When I found out that Brandon Boldt was leaving Wild Provisions to focus more on Primitive Beer, I was a bit concerned that there might be a drop-off in quality. But 4 Noses veteran brewer Max McAvoy hasn't skipped a beat after taking the reins from Boldt earlier this year. The 12° is based on the world-famous original pilsner, Pilsner Urquell. While it doesn't have that buttery honey sweetness found in the OG that people mostly love or hate, Premium Pale Lager is an inviting beer with spicy, earthy hop flavors, a deceptively high bitterness disguised in the authentically soft water profile, and a grainy maltiness from the imported Czech malt and decoction brewing technique.
This has been a favorite of mine for years. This beer packs quite a bit more of a hop punch than two pioneers of the style, Firestone Walker's Pivo Pils and Pivo's inspiration, Birrificio Italiano's Tipopils. But whether you call it an Italian pils, a hoppy pils or an American pils, the real point is that this beer is damn delicious. When Westbound moved a lot of its production to the new Mill location in Lafayette, I noticed this beer became a little mellower — a little more like those two hallmarks of the style. I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but this year it has been ramped back up to its hoppy roots, unapologetically flavorful and an outright fantastic beer.
This imperial milk stout from Boulder's Uhl's was a real showcase of blending coffee into beer. At 8.2 percent ABV and using Denver local Boxcar coffee, the beer was smooth and had a body that just held up to the flavor punch of the beans, both coffee and vanilla. Uhl's is known for its take on bold, flavor-forward beer, from fruited sours to barrel-aged stouts, but it was this non-barrel-aged, sub 10 percent offering that really struck a chord with me.
This fresh hopped beer was a delicious and refreshingly original take on the style. I sampled this blind twice, first at Joyride's Fresh Hop Festival, then at Porch Drinking's Fresh Hop Tasting, and it was impressive each time. This beer had a unique hop complexity, with woody, fruity notes dominating. Owner and head brewer Tim Myers is one of the pioneers of Denver's small-brewery scene, and Strange was the very first brewery I visited in Denver when moving here. Over a decade later, it remains a favorite.
When I think back to my favorite hazy IPAs of the year, this entry from Resolute really stands out. Juiceosaurus is soft and pillowy, packed with clean citrus hop flavors. Resolute has been on my radar more and more since the brewery opened an Arvada outpost, and while there are a wide variety of tasty beers on tap at all times, the IPAs have really been exceptional.
P.R. Nightmare Batch 2
Primitive is a specialist brewery that focuses on spontaneous beers, and it fits right in with the best you'll find in Belgium; you can taste the high-level brewing and blending skills in just about every beer offered. My favorite from Primitive this year was the second batch of P.R. Nightmare. While it was technically released in late 2021, it seems that many people tried it in the first half of 2022, myself included. This spontaneous beer was aged in fresh Colorado gin barrels and second-use Colorado-grown spruce tips. The herbal, minty and citrus notes were so well layered on an absolutely perfect-base spon beer. As with all the best spiced beers, the spice wasn't overpowering; rather, it was complex and complementary.
Alt School Like That
Alt School Like That reminds me of one of my favorite alts from Düsseldorf, the Gulasch Alt from Alter Bahnhof Oberkassel. Originally a collaboration with Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Alt School Like drinks clean and dry, with a finish that won't wear out your palate by the end of the first glass or distract you from the complexity of the beer. Novel Strand co-owner and head brewer Tamir Danon is passionate about beer and has made splashes with some creative twists on classic styles, but this beer screams authentic and true, through and through.
This Golden brewery may have the best non-rooftop beer garden on the Front Range, and given its popularity, that is no secret. A recent pint of Numb, a cold IPA, was an absolute joy, and the perfect accompaniment to live music and the company of good friends. The beer featured hops new and old, delivering an array of flavors from pineapple to pine, orange to ginger. When the weather warms up, I'll be back for a post-ride pint or three.
Broken Arrow Altbier
It's tough to find a really good altbier. Outside of Düsseldorf, where the style originated, it just isn't made by that many breweries. And while the alts in Düsseldorf range from malty to hoppy to brown ale-like to very dry, they're all fairly smooth, drinkable beers, and the best of them have layers of flavor to explore. Former C.B. & Potts brewer Ty Nash is staking his claim as a leading brewer of German beer styles in Colorado with Broken Arrow Altbier, making Little Dry Creek well worth the stop south of Denver.
Very few breweries are doing English ales, let alone doing them at such a high level as Hogshead. This makes it difficult to choose a favorite, since every trip to Hogshead is rewarded with several enjoyable beers. This year, I ordered more Chin Wag, so we'll go with this ESB. Whether you want it traditionally served from the cask or served more typically on gas, this is a great beer with a uniquely earthy, flowery bitterness and a strong malt backbone.
Cuckoo for Kölsch
Fritz Family co-owner and head brewer Cory Buening has decades of professional brewing experience, with a long list of awards, to boot, and it really shows. Kölsch is one of those styles that many people will say is just okay; it can be hard to get excited about a lighter, pale beer that is technically an ale but also kind of a lager in many ways. Well, this was one Kölsch worth getting excited for. I indulged in the Kölsch Service at Fritz a few times this summer, and everyone who came with me was impressed by this beer, including several who have been to Cologne; they said that it would stand with the best in that city, and I agree.
Perhaps the most well-known fresh hop beer (and for good reason), Comrade's Superdamp is a treat of hop flavors, expertly crafted and best enjoyed young. It's become a yearly ritual for many to visit Comrade when this beer taps. It's the fresh-hopped version of Superpower, one of Colorado's best known and highly rated IPAs itself. If you haven't tried Superdamp, you know where to go come early fall during fresh hop season.
Cohesion has been such a wonderful addition to the specialized beer scene in Colorado. The brewery uses local Troubadour malts for most beers, and combined with the open fermentation and unfiltered approach, this leads to some very flavorful and interesting beers that evoke thoughts of the rustic countryside lagers over in Czechia. This winter's Polotmavý, Czech for "half dark," is my favorite yet. Previous iterations have been a little more raw and adventurous — flavorful, to be sure — but this recent batch is a little more refined. It's smooth and elegant, but still packed with plenty of toasty, nutty, malty goodness.
A lager with 35 percent rice, HACHINOSU was a tasty collaboration between Coda and newly opened Nosu Ramen in Golden. The addition of Motueka hops really added some flavor complexity, with notes of red apple and stone fruit. Luke Smith has been making some excellent lagers at Coda using traditional German techniques including patiently lagering these beers until they are tasting prime. (This beer was lagered for two months.) Perhaps a bit underrated, but the locals know what's up, as the brewery is jammin' on the weekends.
Project Alpha Series
This series has contained some of my absolute favorite West Coast IPAs. I usually enjoy these after a bike ride in the mountains, and I just haven't kept track of each specific number throughout the year, so I'm putting the entire series in here since I haven't had a less than stellar batch yet). Golden's Cannonball Creek is a leading IPA brewery — not just in Colorado, but worldwide. It manages to pack massive amounts of pleasurable hop flavor into every IPA. It's no wonder that Cannonball has medaled ten years in a row at the Great American Beer Festival.
I absolutely love the way the best Belgian beers are fairly basic in malt structure, with just a couple of different grains or sugars building a canvas for the yeast to express itself in many different ways. Bruz makes a lot of interesting Belgian-style beers, but I keep coming back to its most traditional offerings. These beers have some of the freshness that the imported classics can lose in the long and rough journey to the States. The Quadrupel is one of those traditional offerings, a dark, smooth beer with layers of caramel opening up to reveal dark fruit flavors reminiscent of plums, raisins and figs.
Bierstadt is one of the more renowned breweries in the U.S., while Schönram is regarded very highly in Europe. The last time these two powerhouses teamed up, Denver drinkers were treated to Tettnanger Spezial, a fantastic export helles. This time, the two joined forces and added K.C. Bier Co, a high-level lager-focused brewery out of, you guessed it, Kansas City. The result from the three breweries was a delectable German-style leichtbier, a very low-alcohol beer, otherwise usually similar to a helles or pils. Leichtes was more like a baby pils, and the fact that it was only 3 percent ABV and still maintained the grainy and delightfully bitter characteristics of a quality pilsner without tasting watered down or "light" was quite the feat.