Beer Man

For IPA Day: Ten Young Breweries Changing Colorado's IPA Game

IPAs are still the top-selling style among craft-beer drinkers by far, making up nearly a third of the craft market, and Colorado breweries have long specialized in hoppy beers like these. Odell, Oskar Blues, Avery, Great Divide and Ska Brewing all made their names in part because of flagship hop bombs — and those big guys continue to turn out some of the best of the best. But Colorado's small breweries are the ones that are pushing the boundaries more these days, experimenting with a wide array of hops varieties, brewing techniques, flavors, aromas and approaches. In honor of IPA Day, which is today, here are ten young breweries that have really changed the India Pale Ale game here in the past year.

There are plenty of others doing good work as well. They include Epic Brewing, Dry Dock, Denver Beer Co, Joyride, Little Machine, Telluride Brewing, TRVE Brewing, Renegade, Strange Craft and Upslope. But right now, the breweries below are the ones I keep returning to for my hops fix.

Spangalang Brewery
2736 Welton Street

Spangalang started off with a bang when it opened in April 2015, offering two beers that have continued to be favorites. One was Night Walker, an imperial stout, and several of its variations. The other was Hop Colossus, a well-balanced double IPA with some classic West Coast characteristics. Since then, Spangalang has won a couple of medals for its lighter offerings, but its hoppy beers have impressed, as well. D-Train IPA is a favorite, but Spangalang has made several different IPAs and double IPAs. The most unusual and surprising offering, though, was the brewery's one-year-anniversary ale, which it served up in April. A blend of freshly hopped beer and an IPA that had been aged in bourbon barrels, this one had an oak flavor that seemed to meld with the hops bite rather than conflicting with it, something most breweries aren't able to achieve. I'm looking forward to more creativity from Spangalang in the coming years.
Fiction Beer Company
7101 East Colfax Avenue

East Denver residents are lucky to have Fiction. One of only a very few breweries between Colorado Boulevard and, well, Kansas, Fiction has been quietly, bookishly, playing with beer styles for the past few years, pouring fun and interesting takes like Feely Effects, a green-tea chocolate milk stout; Sunny Boy, a Brett saison with rosehips; and Heart of Hearts, a Belgian triple with dragonfruit. But Fiction struck gold earlier in 2016 when then-head brewer Chris Marchio (who has since moved to Joyride Brewing) decided to follow his passion for "New England-style" IPAs, which are typically described as being juicy, less bitter and much hazier than typical IPAs. The decision worked, as Fiction was one of the first breweries in the Denver area to toy with this style — a style that has since caught on in popularity statewide — by brewing Cosmic Unity, a scrumptious tropical double IPA with notes of papaya, mango and guava. Fiction has decided to make the beer a staple on its menu and to experiment with other hazy IPAs. Marchio, meanwhile, took his technique to Joyride, where he has already turned out three New England-style IPAs as part of the brewery's Nectar series.

WeldWerks Brewing
508 8th Avenue, Greeley

WeldWerks had only been open for a year when it burst onto the statewide brewery radar at the beginning of 2016 with the stunning Medianoche, a 14 percent ABV imperial stout, and its cousins, Vanilla Medianoche and Coconut Medianoche. But the brewery's follow-up act was an even bigger hit: Juicy Bits is a New England-style IPA that is full of citrusy hops flavors from Mosaic, Citra and El Dorado hops, but with almost no bitterness and a creamy mouthfeel. It drinks as smoothly and addictively as the sweetest fresh-squeezed OJ you can imagine — and even has a little pulp. One of the hottest beers in Colorado, Juicy Bits is also divisive because of its hazy look and its mouthfeel. Oh, and it's hard to find. You can head to the Greeley tap room, or wait until it hits a rare account in the Denver area.

Ursula Brewery
2101 North Ursula Street, Aurora

Ursula Brewery has gone through drastic changes over the past year: Originally called Coda Brewing, it changed its name when co-founder Luke Smith left after a dispute with owner Scott Procop. Ursula (Coda) won two GABF medals while Smith was there — one for Via Chicago, a standout strong pale ale with citrus notes, and one for Sleepyhead Passionfruit Kolsch. But Ursula has continued to stay strong, very strong, and one of its most recent offerings, simply called Ursula IPA, shows that the brewery is continuing to turn out excellent offerings on a somewhat under-the-radar basis. This non-bitter, mildly hazy, 7 percent ABV IPA has notes of orange, pineapple and other citrus fruits.

Cerebral Brewing
1477 Monroe Street

Although Cerebral has only been open for nine months, the east Denver brewery has already turned out a wide and top-notch variety of styles, from a tart gose to an oatmeal milk stout, a saison fermented in open-topped puncheons to a maple breakfast porter. But the beer that seems to have earned the most attention is Rare Trait, a hazy IPA with very little bitterness and strong notes of tangerine, mango and peach. How better to describe it? I'll let Mike Castagno of Beer Connoisseur, which recently gave Rare Trait a 96 rating, have the last word: "Creamy. Velvety. Luscious. Tropical. These are the main characteristics of this beer, but it is much more than that. The beer puts down my skepticism for both "crowlers" (32-oz. cans that are filled from the tap, then sealed) and hazy IPAs. With a massive citrusy nose full of grapefruit, orange and tangerine, the hop profile deepens into tropical notes of passion fruit and pineapple with a hint of mango. These tropical notes carry onward into the flavor and make for an incredibly pleasing flavor profile."

Cannonball Creek Brewing
393 Washington Avenue, Golden

Like every brewery, Cannonball Creek's goal on a daily basis is just to keep the lights on. At least that's what the humble owners will tell you. In reality, this Golden hot spot is making hoppy beers that attract beer lovers from all over the metro area. While the Featherweight Pale has won numerous awards, the brewery gets more local love for its Project Alpha series of experimental IPAs that are "dedicated to the never-ending pursuit of the perfect IPA." The tenth version is set to tap next month. Oh, and last April, the brewery hosted an event called Possible Worlds, in which five different breweries all made the same IPA using the same hops varieties and then brought them in so attendees could discover how and why breweries make decisions that result in processes that create different flavors.
Comrade Brewing
7667 East Iliff Avenue

Comrade Brewing toys with hops the way that Tony Stark toys with Iron Man's enemies, laughingly producing winning beers and saving the world on a regular basis — and making it look easy. Not only do Comrade and brewery-operations director Marks Lanham regularly experiment with a wide variety of hops, both in concert and by themselves, but the brewery makes an IPA, called Superpower, that many, including Men's Journal, consider to be among the best in Colorado — and the entire western United States. I'd argue that the GABF award-winning fresh-hopped version, sometimes known as Super Dank, is even better, though, not to mention Comrade's double IPA, Hop Chops.
Odd 13 Brewing
301 East Simpson Street, Lafayette

The story goes something like this: Odd 13's head brewer and a new brewer who had just been hired both had spent time in New England, and both had a penchant for a mostly regional style of IPA there that looks hazy — like orange juice, in some cases — and tastes fruitier and juicier than the classic piney, bitter West Coast IPAs. So they teamed up with Odd 13 co-owner Ryan Scott. The result was that Odd 13 paved the way for this year's biggest Colorado trend — hazy, juicy New England-style IPAs — which stirred up the state like a turbid nor'easter. Since then, Odd 13 has cast aside clear IPAs almost entirely and begun producing a variety of one-off or special-release cans, all in this style. The flagship is Codename: Superfan, brewed with Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo and Equinox hops. But Odd 13 has also done a series of Hop Troll IPAs: N00B, Fairy Hopmother, Robot Librarian and others. Its surge in popularity came just at the right time, too: Odd 13 just opened a new, sixty-barrel production facility in Lafayette.

Station 26 Brewing
7045 East 38th Avenue

Station 26 has been turning out stellar beer, both hoppy and otherwise, since the day it opened its doors in December 2013, thanks to the leadership of owner Justin Baccary and head brewer Wayne Waananen. But the brewery really came into its own in 2015, with the release of Juicy Banger, a tap-room-only hop bomb made with Apollo, Centennial, Mosaic and Citra, as well as its series of canned Single Hop IPAs, each brewed with just a single hop variety in order to show off the flavor profile. The first (and best so far, in my opinion) was Citra, followed by Chinook, Mosaic and, just last week, Simcoe. Juicy Banger and the Single Hop series have stood out in Colorado's crowded beer market as being some of the best, most consistent, most flavorful IPAs of the bunch. And if that isn't enough, the brewery also make a killer double IPA and a popular pale ale, also available in cans.

Black Shirt Brewing
3719 Walnut Street

Black Shirt Brewing takes its work very seriously, and the resulting pieces of quaffable artwork reflect that fact. Some of the most nuanced beers in Denver, nearly every Black Shirt beer is both delicate and forthright. Some of the brewery's strongest works, though, are on the hoppy side: two double IPAs. The first is Red Evelyn, which will be showcased at its annual release on August 20. The beer, a 10 percent ABV Imperial Red Rye, is a beautiful example of the style. The other is Blood Orange Double IPA, a sublime beer brewed with Centennial and Cascade hops, conditioned on blood oranges and double dry-hopped on Mosaic, a hop variety known for its powerful citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas. 
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes