With more than 250 breweries in Colorado, it's hard to get a good sampling of everything that is being made -- even over the course of an entire year (see my list from 2013 as well). It gets even more difficult because our state's prodigious craft-beer makers are constantly turning out new brews and serving them in cans, bottles and on draft. So although I tried hundreds of beers in 2014, this list (arranged in alphabetical order) isn't comprehensive. Rather, it covers some of my favorite new, newly packaged or sort of newish beers from the past twelve months. Cheers.
5 Monks Avery Brewing Avery's barrel-aged releases have become cherished events over the years as the Boulder brewery continues to turn out some of the best beers in Colorado. Number 22 in that series, 5 Monks, was a highlight -- and at 19.4 percent ABV, the brewery had some fun marketing the Bourbon-barrel-aged Belgian-style quadrupel, calling it a "quintupel ale." Loaded with all of the raisin and fig flavors that traditional quads pack, 5 Monks also carried some of the classic caramel and vanilla notes that come from bourbon barrels.
180 Shilling Odell Brewing To celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, Odell decided to take its flagship 90 Shilling, double it and age it on oak. The result was a big, malty Scottish-style ale with heavy oak notes that give off subtle flavors of toffee and vanilla. Although the 9.6 percent ABV beer won't blow your palate away, it will certainly give it a bonny workout.
Anniversary Ale 2 River North Brewery River North has been experimenting with beer styles since the very beginning -- often with fantastic results. Their Anniversary Ale #2 -- a Belgian golden strong ale dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops -- was an example of this. One of the most unusual beers I tasted last year, it had a distinct sweet, pineapple-y flavor coming directly from the hops.
Black IPA Cannonball Creek Brewing Black IPAs, which mix bitter hops with bitter malts, can often end up being, well, too bitter. But Cannonball Creek's was one of the few that flirt with the line without crossing over. And the judges at the Great American Beer Festival must have agreed, because Black IPA won a gold last year. Pungeant and palate-tingling, the beer brought together citrusy hops notes along with just enough toast from the malts to create a well-balanced froth.
Barrel Aged Brown Ale Upslope Brewing Upslope debuted a new series of small-batch beers (which it canned, but only sold out of its Lee Hill tap room in Boulder) this year, starting with this one, a 7.6 percent ABV brown ale aged for four months in Leopold Brothers rye barrels. Dripping with toffee and hazelnut flavors, Barrel Aged Brown offered a rich mouthfeel and complexity that made it seem much more potent than its relatively low ABV might suggest.
Barrel Aged Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout Wynkoop Brewing Although it's a lot lower in alcohol than most barrel-aged stouts (about 7.8 percent ABV), drinking this beer takes some serious cojones. That's because it's an amped version of the Wynkoop's famous (infamous?) Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, which is made with bull testicles, a delicacy out here in the wide open West. Nicknamed Ball Stout, this one was aged in bourbon barrels and sold in 19.2-ounce cans. Its earthy, roasty notes were balanced by a slick, sweet mouthfeel.
Bourbon Barrel Mountain Man Verboten Brewing Roasty, sweet and complex, Bourbon Barrel Mountain Man is the barrel-aged version of Verboten's imperial dark rye strong ale. Powerful notes of chocolate and caramel delighted my senses. This was also one of two beers for which Verboten won World Cup medals in 2014, putting Colorado on notice about this Loveland brewery, which is killing it.
Death by Coconut Oskar Blues/Shamrock Brewing I tried this beer for the first time at Collaboration Fest in March. A 6.5 percent Irish porter aged on coconut and dark chocolate, it was put together by the brewers at Oskar Blues and those at Shamrock Brewing in Pueblo. Rich and full of coconut and chocolate flavors, it was a clear standout and later became a tap-room favorite at Oskar Blues.
Decibrew TRVE Brewing I'm not sure how to describe this one except to say that it was like a dunkel-y hefeweizen, rich with caramelized banana and spice, mixed with a malty winter warmer. Yeah, that sounds about right. Brewed in honor of Decibel, a music magazine, the 7 percent ABV wheat beer was officially described as a German weizenbock. I hope TRVE makes it again.
Double IPA Station 26 Brewing Station 26 opened in December 2013 and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most consistently creative and solid new breweries in Denver. Although its lineup is stellar from top to bottom, the double IPA is the one I keep going back for. Bursting with a malty sweetness and the classic "dank" hoppy aroma and flavor that characterize high-alcohol 2xIPAs, this one was made with Columbus, Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra hops. Double IPA Backcountry Brewery Colorado is home to plenty of double IPAs, many of which rival the great ones from California, but I'm not sure there are any better than this one from Frisco's Backcountry Brewery. A rare treat in four-packs of twelve-ounce bottles around town, this 8.5 percent ABV Double IPA is resinous, piney and loaded with big citrusy hop flavor. Balanced by a nice wallop of malt, it carries its weight and then some.
Estival Cream Stout Ska Brewing Originally part of Ska's planned lineup of four seasonal canned stouts in 2013, Estival Cream Stout didn't hit the aluminum until 2014 for a variety of reasons. I tried it first at Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across America festival, and it later became a guilty pleasure by the six-pack. Made with milk sugar and orange-blossom honey, aged on sweet orange peels and reminiscent of a frozen orange creamsicle, it pours very smoothly from the can and evokes hints of chocolate.
Fishwater Double IPA Telluride Brewing From way down south, Telluride Brewing has been making a name for itself on the Front Range with its lineup of canned beers; one of those is Face Down Brown, which continues to win awards, including two in a row at the Great American Beer Festival. Fishwater isn't in cans yet, but it was on draft in a couple of places and always delicious. Named for co-owner Chris Fish, the 8.5 percenet 2xIPA, brings both huge American hops aromas and flavors (like Chinook, Centennial, Citra and others) along with sticky, malty notes that make it a meal in itself.
Heliocentric Hefeweizen Odyssey Beerwerks When I asked the guy at the liquor store for his opinion on the most banana-y hefeweizen made in Colorado, he immediately walked to the shelf and pulled out a six-pack of this beer, which has actually been made and canned for two years now by Arvada's Odyssey Beerwerks (it was called Helios at one point). Light and, yes, drinkable, with big notes of banana and clove, Helios stands up there with the best hefes in the state, including those from Prost and Dry Dock.
Ice Cutter Kolsch Joyride Brewing It may be clear from this list that I drink a lot of huge beers, both in terms of flavor and alcohol content, so it takes something out of the ordinary to get me to notice a kolsch, a style that is typically one of the lightest of the light German beers. But Joyride's, at 5.2 percent ABV, made me take notice as it worked not only to refresh, melting the summer heat away, but also teased my overloaded tastebuds with just enough crisp German hop flavor to convince me to order a second.
Lawyers, Guns & Money Crazy Mountain Brewing This beer isn't new, but Crazy Mountain put it in a can for the first time this year -- making it the first barleywine in Colorado to hit aluminum. Labeled as a barleywine, the beer tastes more like an uber-hoppy, malty-sweet double IPA, and it rivals only Ten Fidy from Oskar Blues when it comes to alcohol content in a can. I couldn't stop drinking it.
Legend of the Liquid Brain Bull & Bush Like chocolate truffles soaked in bourbon and roasted over a flame, the first version of this beer, released in bottles for the first time in February, was one of the best bourbon-barrel-aged brews I've ever had, ranking up there next to Avery's Uncle Jacob's and Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout. The second version, released in November, was nearly as delicious. Bull & Bush lets the beer, which is aged in barrels for a year, sit for another six months in the bottle.
Meristem Russian Imperial Stout Fermaentra Brewing If you were stranded in Siberia for the rest of your life and could only have one beer for all of that time, this hearty gut-bomb from Fermaentra would be the one you want to warm you up every single day. It's bursting with complex flavors -- derived from roasty, smoky malts to nuanced sweeter ones -- and you can pick out everything from coffee and cigars to chocolate and caramel.
Naja Imperial Red IPA Copper Kettle Brewing Piney, full and dank, Naja Imperial Red, at 9 percent ABV, elevated itself to the top of my list of malty-hoppy red IPAs, along with local favorites like Oskar Blues G'Knight and Wynkoop Colorojo. In addition to the nuanced layers of hops flavors, it had a malty, crackery backbone that gave it unusual crispness.
Peche de Nuit Epic Brewing/The Bruery Brewed in collaboration with Orange County's The Bruery, Peche de Nuit was a stout made with peaches and spices. Smooth and creamy, Peche hit the tastebuds in a hundred ways at once, with a variety of fruit flavors coming through along with dessert-like touches of vanilla and chocolate. It melded together better as I let it open up. Saison (Blend 3) Casey Brewing and Blending Sour-and-wild-ale blending expert Troy Casey left AC Golden last year to open his own brewery in Glenwood Springs. So far, he has only released a few bottled beers (and is only open on the first Saturday of each month), but some trickled into Denver, including various versions of his signature saison. Blend 3 was Casey's wedding blend and included a saison yeast with a bit of both Brettanomyces and Lactobaccilus, he says,calling them "our two favorite barrels." Delicate and smooth, Blend 3 carried all of the best earthy notes from the brett without too much sour wallop.
Salted Caramel Porter Former Future Brewing This beer is the brewery's regular Prim & Porter, but it's been infused with lactose and sea salt, giving it sweet, caramely notes that add to the classic dark malt flavors that come from a porter. I'm not sure how the salt (which is only barely noticeable) does that, but I'll take it. This was my favorite Former Future brew that I've tried.
Scorn TRVE Brewing In a list of thirty beers, it's hard not to used the term "balanced" a lot, so I've reserved it for a just a few of these. Scorn, a wheat ale that was dry-hopped with Mosaic and Citra hops, is one of them. Described as a pale ale, it is deceptively smooth, like a lighter wit beer, but the aroma and flavor push forward onto the palate like a full-fledged IPA. You will have at least two.
Selfish Lowdown Brewery + Kitchen Pairing German pilsner malts with American hops sounds like a bad compromise to me, but the former Rock Bottom brewers who opened Lodown in February pulled it off in a sublimely drinkable fashion. There's plenty of flavor from the Amarillo and Citra hops, but not so much that it overwhelms this beer. And while "drinkability" is a word that applies to every beer as far as I am concerned, Selfish is the kind of beer that will somehow empty itself out of your glass before you realize it's gone.
Signature Series Double Vanilla Porter Dry Dock Brewing Based off of Dry Dock's signature Vanilla Porter (which the brewery just began canning in November), the 9.3 percent ABV Signature Series Double Vanilla Porter was aged in bourbon barrels for ten months, giving it notes of toffee and raisins that complement the vanilla. It was my favorite of the barrel-aged series that Dry Dock released this year.
Snapshot Wheat New Belgium Tart, refreshing and welcome break from the sometimes tepid beers of summer, Snapshot Wheat was a grand experiment for New Belgium, which is known both for its Fat Tire and for its mouth-puckering sours, like La Folie. While Snapshot was brewed with lactobaccilus, the bacteria that sours beer, it was only added in small amounts, and then blended with an unfiltered wheat made with Cascade hops, coriander and grains of paradise. It will also be one of the first sour ales brewed and packaged for wide distribution.
Superpower IPA Comrade Brewing Created by head brewer Marks Lanham, who used to work at Barley Brown's in Oregon, Superpower IPA is a classic California hop-bomb, bitter and satisfying and nostalgically reminiscent for me of the five years I spent living in California in the early 2000s, drinking IPAs from Stone, Pizza Port, Sierra Nevada, Firestone Walker and Green Flash. A standout among locally made IPAs.
Tweak Avery Brewing Coffee-beer lovers had their prayers answered this year when Avery Brewing announced that it would release a barrel-aged version of its formerly draft-only coffee stout -- then called Meph Addict. The result was this miles-deep monster, a 17.81 percent ABV brew aged four months in bourbon barrels. Although you might not want to start your day with Tweak, your tastebuds would still congratulate you by picking up not just the Ozo Coffee, but vanilla, coconut, dark chocolate and other flavors that wash to the surface in waves.
Voodoo Goat Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery Before it opened in 2013, Jagged Mountain promised to focus on high-octane beers, and it hasn't let me down, turning out some real head-turners like Brett Bagger, a 10 percent ABV wild white IPA; First Descent, a 14.5 percent old ale; and Voodoo Goat, an 11 percent ABV American barleywine redolent of biscuity malt notes and powerful hops. The beer also ages well, especially in barrels, and Jagged Mountain turned out two versions in October, one aged in whiskey barrels and one in cognac barrels.
Yeiser Great Divide Brewing Great Divide loves to let its hair down at its anniversary party, and last year's blowout was a special one since it was held on the dirt lot that will be the brewery's future home. Although the brewery doesn't make sour or wild ales as part of its bottled lineup, Great Divide does roll these styles out for festivals, and Yeiser -- a Brettanomyces-fermented version of its stellar Collete Farmhouse saison -- was a winner. Laced with a lemony tartness, it gave off well-adjusted aromas and flavors of straw and earth and funkiness that wild ale lovers look for.
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