Colorado breweries made and packaged hundreds of amazing new beers in 2012, expanding their range and proving once again which state is the center of the craft beer universe. And although thousands more were brewed and sold on draft in tap rooms, bars and breweries, this list -- like the one I did last year -- is just for the beers that were newly packaged in cans or bottles.
In addition, the beers named here all fit into one of the following categories: year-round offerings that debuted for the very first time in 2013; new seasonals that will return; formerly draft-only beers that are just now being packaged; or new one-offs that were widely available and brewed in significant quantity. Oh, and they had to be available in the Denver area, where I could get a hold of them.
The reason I set these parameters is because I want this list to be at least somewhat useful to craft beer lovers and consumers, and not just a rundown of stuff that was really hard to get or will never return to liquor-store shelves. But I also wrote a list of 20 of my favorite limited-release or draft-only craft beers from 2013.
Here are my picks:
13. Imperial Pumpkin Ale Dry Dock Brewing A pumpkin beer? Yes. Why? Because it was really good. Dry Dock does big, sweet beers very well, from its Wee Heavy to its barleywine to its old ales, and this was no exception. Although it is loaded with pie spices, the spice-rack flavors that some pumpkin beers impart is mellowed here by the big malt content that makes this beer a bit of a boozy treat. It's like pouring a little brandy on a slice of pie topped with caramel.
12. Imperial India Pale Ale Upslope Brewing This bodybuilder of a hop bomb is so loaded up with pungent aromas and flavors that Uplsope needed a bigger can to hold it. In fact, the brewery was only the second one in Colorado to use a 19.2-ounce imperial pint (the first was Oskar Blues) and to sell it in singles. Upslope doesn't like to give away its recipes and would only say that it used four hops varieties from North America and New Zealand, but it used a lot: six pounds per barrel. Some of the dank, piney notes will be familiar to double IPA drinkers, while the more tropical pineapple flavors are a fun surprise.
11. Wake Up Dead Nitro Left Hand Brewing Longmont's Left Hand Brewing hit one out of the ballpark in 2012 when it figured out how inject nitrogen into its milk stout, making the beer pour creamy out of the bottle in the same way it would come out of a nitrogenated draft line. But the brewery upped its game in 2013 by releasing Nitro versions of two other beers, Sawtooth and Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout, the latter of which is aptly named considering the fact that you could drink this silky beer in two swallows before stopping to read that it is 10 percent ABV. Balanced, roasty and sweet, Wake Up Dead is worth living for.
10. Shake Chocolate Porter Boulder Beer Company Shake was so popular when it debuted in November as Boulder Beer's newest year-round offering that the brewery had trouble keeping up with demand. And it's easy to see why: the beer -- which was brewed with five kinds of grain, including chocolate wheat, and cocoa nibs -- tastes and feels like a chocolate shake. Or like brownies, or like chocolate chocolate chip cookie dough. Or any number of comparisons that people have used to describe it. And that's hard to beat.
9. Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta Trinity Brewing Trinity Brewing, which has been making brilliant saisons and sours in Colorado Springs, went big in 2013 by signing a distribution deal that got their beers into the Denver area where the rest of us could enjoy them. And while one of its beers, Elektrick Cukumbahh won gold at GABF, and another, Red Swingline, was constantly selling out at stores, my favorite was Gangsta, a dark wild ale that had a thicker, deeper character than most tart sours and even a touch of funky, fruity sweetness, possibly as a result of the honey and raisins that were added. Aged in French oak barrels and fermented with two strains of brettanomyces, Gangsta was satisfying to the soul as well as the palate.
8. Hammer & Sickle Russian Imperial Stout Renegade Brewing Hammer & Sickle, which hit cans for the first time in November, won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival the month before, and it's easy to see why. Chock full of roasty, toasty malts and laced with hints of bitter coffee and sweet chocolate, it is a near-perfect example of a Russian Imperial Stout. Big and bold, but with a lighter, dry finish, Hammer & Sickle is why they invented cold winter days.
7. Colorojo Imperial Red IPA Wynkoop Brewing The Wynkoop debuted a new line of canned beers this year under its Even Smaller Batch Series; they included Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, Pumpkin Ale, Patty's Chile Beer and Colorojo, an 8.2 percent ABV imperial red IPA made with four kinds of hops and huge dose of malt. Both of those are characteristic of imperial red IPAs, and the Wynkoop's is one of best as the thick, caramel-like qualities bounce off of the piney hops to give Colorojo a hefty mouthfeel and major bite. Take some camping and you'll never be lonely.
6. Twenty XX Avery Brewing Boulder's Avery Brewing celebrated its twentieth anniversary as only Avery can: by making one of the tastiest double IPAs this side of Santa Rosa, California. Brewed with Bravo, Amarillo, Simcoe, Cascade hops varieties, and then dry-hopped with the same varieties, Twenty was was enormously hopped and weighed in at 10 percent AVB, and yet it managed to dance on your tastebuds, rather than simply squashing them. Twenty was a seductive surprise.
5. Hop Savant Crooked Stave Chad Yakobson toys with wild yeasts like Picasso toyed with the human face, turning something familiar into something challenging and different and beautiful in its own right. He's at his most artistic, though, when he combines his love of wild yeast strains with hops. Last year, his WWBI made the list, and this year, it was Hop Savant, which combines three kinds of hops in the brew (but had several subtle variations through the course of the year) and is fermented with brettanomyces yeast. You wouldn't think that the funk of the brett would blend with the hops, but it does -- and very well -- creating a complex beer that surprises and delights with every sip.
4. Whiskey Barrel Aged Quandary River North Brewery River North seems to get better with every beer it brews, but Quandary, a Belgian-style quadruple, has always been my favorite. This year, the brewery aged Quandary in a variety of spirits barrels, including bourbon, rum and rye whiskey. Among their wide releases, though, the last one blended the rich, malty flavors of the quad with the boozy goodness of the barrels in a way that stood out, even as it warmed in a glass.
3. Peach Grand Cru Great Divide Brewing Great Divide, which made its name on boundary-pushing big beers, has been rounding out its offerings with lower-alcohol brews over the past two years, but I still think they do their best work when they flex their muscles, and Peach Grand Cru, although lithe and limber in many ways, is also bulky at 12 percent ABV. Although it was brewed with fresh Palisade peaches, the pit-fruit notes don't come out very much. Rather, they are blended into the overall flavor, which is reminiscent of a Belgian-style tripel. Sweet and refreshing, Peach Grand Cru melds syrupy goodness with a thicker yeastiness, ending in a smooth finish.
2. Third Base Tripel Elevation Brewing Yeah, I like the sweet stuff, and this tripel from Elevation Brewing nailed it. Smooth and syrupy, Third Base also boasts a crisp feel that made it reminiscent of a summertime riesling, but with bolder flavors. Brewed with Belgian candy sugar and three kinds of malts, Third Base is loaded with creme brulee and butterscotch flavors, alongside some lemon meringue, peach or nectarine. I drank a lot of it.
1. Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout Odell Brewing From the week it debuted in January until May, when I could no longer find it on the shelves, I returned over and over to this addictive, dessert-like treat. Named for a local farmer who feeds the brewery's spent grain to his cows, Lugene drinks like the best chocolate milk you've ever had -- richer, creamier and with a smooth mouthfeel that belie its 8.5 percent ABV. Brewed with milk sugar and loads of chocolate, Lugene set a new standard for milk stouts in Colorado, not a surprising accomplishment from Odell.
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