One style gained particular attention in Colorado in 2016: the so-called New England-style IPA. It's noted for its hazy appearance and juicer, fruitier flavor profile; dozens of brewers tried their hand at it, and many succeeded. In fact, it became one of my favorite styles as well, which is why there are six New England-style IPAs on this list of thirty amazing beers that wowed me in 2016.
As for the rest, they are culled from hundreds of beers that I tasted in 2016. Arranged roughly by category or style, this list isn't comprehensive in any way. Rather, it covers some of my favorite new, newish or new-to-me beers from the past twelve months. Cheers.
Light lagers aren't for everyone. In fact, the craft-beer movement was arguably born in part as a way to get away from the mass-produced light lagers that came to define American beer in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. But the duo behind Bierstadt, Bill Eye and Ashleigh Carter, don't mass-produce anything. Rather, they attend to every detail when it comes to their traditional German-style beers, from their Slow-Pour Pils to the Helles, Dunkel and Marzen. Of those, the Helles was my favorite. A delicate malt continues from the aroma through to the flavor. And an easy-drinking smoothness makes it hard not to put away half of a massive stein in one gulp. Thankfully, this brew is only 5 percent ABV.
Raspberry Belgian-Style Pale Ale
Brewed with Trappist yeast and a bit of coriander, Upslope's Belgian Style Pale Ale is one of my favorite seasonal releases each year. In 2016, the beer served as the base for a limited-release version made with raspberry purée. Dangerously smooth and refreshing, it was a 7.5 percent ABV sip of summer.
Station 26 Brewing
One of the fascinating things about Station 26 is how well the brewers are able to produce completely different styles of beers on a regular basis. While some breweries might excel at hops or fruit beers or stouts or malty treats, Station 26 crosses all of those borders with ease. Tangerine Cream, which hit last summer, was an example of that. Based on its popular Colorado cream ale, this version was brewed with vanilla beans and tangerine zest, layering a sweet, summery loveliness on top of a creamy mouthfeel. It is indeed, as the brewery says, like a Creamsicle in a glass.
Dry Dock Brewing
This lovely little treat took me by surprise when I tried it at Hops & Pie, since I was unfamiliar with the style — a stronger version of a dunkel or a hefeweizen. Dry Dock's version was rich and sweet, with a delicate candied-banana nose that faded into a bit of caramel layered onto an almost bready finish.
Pump Action Imperial Pumpkin Ale
4 Noses Brewing
When historians look back upon the rise and fall of the pumpkin-beer empire, they will note with particular interest the year 2016 — because it may have signaled the beginning of the end. Between an alleged pumpkin shortage, a glut of pumpkin beers the year before, a lack of interest in pumpkin beers by some longtime producers, and the fact that Great American Beer Festival judges refused to award a gold in a pumpkin-beer category for the second year in row, the gourds got gored last year. One standout amid the wreckage, however, was 4 Noses Pump Action, which had rich, tasty flavors of pumpkin-pie spice, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. Oh, and those same judges awarded the beer a gold medal in the other pumpkin-beer category at GABF.
Originally brewed for Collaboration Fest with Our Mutual Friend, Dreamy Thing later took home a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the Brettanomyces category. For this version, however, Cerebral took the beer, a 100 percent Brett-fermented farmhouse ale, and aged it for six months in chardonnay barrels. Then the brewers dry-hopped it with Citra, Centennial and Sterling hops. The result was a delicately structured treat for the tastebuds, boasting sweet, estery fruit balanced with funky Brett character and interwoven flavors of chardonnay.
It says a lot when my favorite beer at the Fresh Hop Festival this year turned out to be a wild beer made with peaches. But there was no denying the impact of Colorado Junction, a kettle-soured ale fermented with Brettanomyces, dry-hopped with freshly harvested Chinook hops and aged on 120 pounds of fresh peaches from Ela Family Farms in the Western Slope town of Hotchkiss. Complex and honest at the same time, this beer was equal parts funky, hoppy and sweetly aromatic.
Sour beers often head down a spiraling path that goes beyond the pucker and ends with a nose wrinkle — becoming so overwhelming that it's hard to pick up on flavor nuances no matter how many hundreds of pounds of local apricots or peaches or plums or cherries are added. TRVE's sours, however, have a way of taking you right to that point and then backing away slowly so that you can enjoy the fruits that are the fruit of their labor. Black Celebration is a dark ale aged on 3.2 pounds of Colorado-grown cherries per gallon and fermented in wine barrels. Black in color with a pink head, Celebration packs all the punch of a sour, but with a relaxing sweetness in the finish that helps round it out and make it one to savor.
Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Black Project continues to make miracles by capturing and isolating wild yeast strains from its coolship and fermenting a wide variety of beers with them. Last January, the brewery wowed the crowds at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines fest in Vail — and again at a bottle release — with this beer, a brilliant pinkish-red sour blend aged on Tempranillo grape must from the Western Slope. The result was an incredibly complex ride for your tastebuds. With a tartness and a mouthfeel similar to that of a cider, the beer also had subtle tannic notes and an earthiness reminiscent of wine.
I'm drinking this beer right now. No, seriously, there is one sitting on my desk, because I just can't get enough of the crazy, hazy treat. A 10 percent ABV version of its flagship Codename: Superfan, this incredibly lush New England-style triple IPA has everything that lovers of this style crave: a soft mouthfeel, hazy appearance and explosion of juicy, tropical hop flavors and aromas. The can also has a picture of a Menorah — and a Festivus pole — which is rare. Odd 13 churned out many New England-style IPAs in 2016; some of my favorites were Hoperella and Robot Librarian — but this one topped them all.
Fiction Beer Company
One of the first New England-style IPAs to hit big in Denver in early 2016, Cosmic Unity was also one of the best. With a look and feel of orange juice, this double IPA boasted a pillow-like mouthfeel and huge tropical hop flavors, including papaya, mango, guava and pineapple.
New Image Brewing
Like some of the other brewers who kicked off the New England-style IPA trend in Colorado last year, New Image has its roots in Vermont, but the owners are also proud Coloradans, hence the name of this 8.5 percent double IPA brewed with Warrior, Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra hops. New Image says East Coast Transplant "is styled after some of the famous DIPAs of the northeast U.S.," and it shows. Enormously hoppy and hazy, but with a smooth sweetness, it offers heady peach, mango and Meyer lemon flavors.
Ursula also played around with tropical-juice flavors in some of its IPAs last year, the juiciest of which was Lazy Brewer, an 8.2 percent double IPA named as a humorous response to critics of the New England style of beer (who deride the style for its cloudy appearance). Smooth, soft and full of orange and apricot, it was less hazy and finished dryer than some of the others in the category.
One of the rare beers that lived up to all of its hype, Juicy Bits became the king of the New England-style IPAs in 2016, and was difficult to find until later in the year, when Weldwerks was able to up its production and release several variations, including a double-dry hopped version that awed the crowds at the Great American Beer Festival and elsewhere.
Cerebral was also part of the New England-style wave in 2016, but the Colfax Avenue brewery came at it from a different angle in that several of its beers have a hazy look by process and design. But Cerebral's hoppy beers stand out, especially the flagship Rare Trait IPA. The brewery describes the IPA as having "powerful notes of tangerine, mango and candied peach," and I couldn't agree more. And while Rare Trait fit the New England style with its restrained bitterness and fruit-forward focus, it seemed more balanced and nuanced than some of the others. This is what happens when a puppy grows up and becomes a trusted companion rather than an adorable but sometimes overwhelming bundle of energy.
Keep reading for more amazing beers.