Bull & Bush Brewpub
Brewed with Slovenian buckwheat, hops and honey, this 9 percent ABV “Slovenian” pale is actually more of a Belgian golden strong ale, but since it was brewed in, um, honor of First Lady Melania Trump and her husband’s alleged dossier, Bull & Bush gave it a more appropriate recipe and description. Gently sweet, full bodied and with mellow fruity esters, Melania’s Gold had a smooth, easy-drinking quality that made the high alcohol content easy to forget.
Brut La Grande
Just when you think you’ve tasted everything, a brewery comes along with something different. Loaded with always-enigmatic Belgian yeasts, Brut sparkled without being over-carbonated, and it was clean without being drying on the palate. Subtly nuanced with wisps of fruit and spice — as well as a touch of sweetness — Brut La Grande is indeed “similar” to a Champagne, as the brewery says, but this is definitely a beer, having a more solid, almost creamy mouthfeel. It debuted last January, with chocolate, and returned in December.
Our Mutual Friend Brewing
OMF debuted this beer just before Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines in January 2017, and it immediately garnered attention. A saison fermented with twelve different strains of Brettanomyces and dry-hopped with Citra hops, it boasted a gorgeous hazy appearance and heady aromas of citrus and funk. Wild ales aren't often described as being easy-drinking or approachable, but this one managed to do just that, while simultaneously carrying an immense degree of complexity. In October, OMF won a GABF gold medal for a different Brett beer, Saison Trystero, and the brewery is clearly bottling up this niche in weird and wonderful new ways.
It’s sometimes difficult to keep up with all of the different beers that TRVE puts out, but it’s not hard to understand the passion and dedication that go into them. The result is always something fascinating, as was the case with Slow Death, a collaboration with TRVE’s frequent partner, Burial Beer of Asheville, North Carolina. This was a dark sour beer aged in whiskey barrels with lemon peel and cinnamon, and it was both deep and complex and welcoming and approachable. The slight whiskey flavors seemed to lengthen the sweet-and-sour push and pull, while the cinnamon truly made the beer, complementing all of the other flavors.
Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales
One of the benefits of being a beer writer is that I sometimes get to taste beers that most people don’t. Which is great for me, but not much help when it comes to putting together an accessible list of great beers. Roswell, released in July, was a difficult beer to try because there was only a small amount, and it sold out quickly. But the brewery did its best to make it available to people who stopped in — on draft, at least — and it’s worth including on this list despite its rarity, because it was outstanding. Roswell is a lambic-style sour beer that was spontaneously fermented and barrel-aged over the course of about nine months; it was then re-fermented in five batches with five different kinds of fruit: apricot, blackberry, cranberry, guava and raspberry. And each one was like a burst of that fruit times ten, with aromas to match and magical simplicity that belied the complexity with which they were concocted. Black Project continues to innovate, and even if you can only catch one special release during the year, it's worth it.
So-called Pastry Stouts were the beer style of the year in 2017 (not including New England-style IPAs), and there were plenty of good ones from all across the state, but a few rose to the top. Cerebral's Safe Word, a 10.2 percent ABV stout conditioned on Belizean cocoa nibs, cassia bark and coconut, was one of them. Creamy, comforting and with a full, rich taste smacking of vanilla, coconut, coffee and even some hickory or licorice, it was like something that Willy Wonka would make if he made booze instead of candy.
Cookies & Cream Achromatic
This 9.6 percent ABV beer was hard to put down. In fact, I would be drinking it right now if I hadn't already polished off every drop that I managed to find. An obnoxiously decadent variant of Weldwerks' stellar Achromatic imperial stout series of pastry beers, Cookies & Cream was brewed with lactose, cocoa nibs, vanilla beans and, of course, Oreo cookies. And it tasted like melted ice cream in a glass, or like what you would get if you let Oreos dissolve in a milk stout.
Barrel Aged Mountain Standard
This beer shouldn’t have worked, and it shouldn’t have been good — but it was. Perhaps one of the polarizing beers of the year, Barrel Aged Mountain Standard is a 10.6 percent ABV version of Odell’s intensely hoppy Mountain Standard double-black IPA that was aged for more than a year in bourbon barrels. And while hoppy beers don't often work in bourbon barrels, this one did — probably because the hops had almost completely faded away, to be replaced with the sweet bourbon that complemented the roasty malts. The brewery says it picked up notes of sweet chocolate, dried figs, toffee, vanilla and caramel, and I would agree on all fronts.
Rum Single Cask Mr. Sandman
River North Brewery
River North scored a big hit with its Mr. Sandman imperial stout last year, and although that beer is good, the basic version tastes unfinished to me, like a chunk of marble waiting for an artist. Luckily for me, River North excels at barrel-aging beer. I tried several barrel-aged versions of the beer this year, along with some that were infused with coconut, cinnamon and other ingredients, and my favorite was Rum Single Cask Mr. Sandman. Aged in a single rum cask, it tasted like a biscuit that had been dipped in rum and covered in chocolate.
Leave it to Avery to take a decadent concept and turn it up to eleven. As part of its acclaimed Barrel-Aged Series, Avery concocted an imperial stout with peanut flour and then aged it in bourbon barrels with peanuts. It is named in honor of brewer and staff archaeologist Travis Rupp. As usual, the flavors blend perfectly, and the peanut is somewhat subtle, or as subtle as it could be in a 15.2 percent ABV beer. And although the Nuttiest Professor was sweet, like many barrel-aged behemoths, the peanut seemed to smooth it out and mellow it down.
Barrel Aged Ryeciprocal
4 Noses Brewing
Chewy, full and with a satiny mouthfeel, Barrel Aged Ryeciprocal made a few brief appearances at 4 Noses Brewing this year, and even made it into a limited run of bottles. This 10 percent ABV Russian Imperial Stout was aged in a Kentucky rye bourbon barrel and it stood out, as most 4 Noses beers do, as being one of the better-made versions in the state. The rye gave this beer a rich kick reminiscent of s'mores.
Here Be Monsters
A 13 percent ABV Russian imperial stout that was brewed with a huge load of Maris Otter, English chocolate and crystal malts, Here Be Monsters began its voyage into "uncharted" waters as a solid beer. But it was then aged for twelve months in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. Hot in a good way, the beer was also hot with beer fans, who lined up for more than a block to get a bottle. Dripping with chocolate cake, vanilla, toffee and fudge, it was creamy and warming from start to finish.
Medianoche (and all of its variants)
There’s not much more to add when it comes to the glory that has been heaped on Medianoche in 2017 — and for good reason. The beer, an imperial stout aged for more than a year in bourbon barrels, rivals the best barrel-aged stouts in the country, and it caught the attention of beer fans and beer critics nationwide — especially after winning gold at GABF. Striking the perfect balance between a roasty richness and smooth sweetness, it shows off a mature, robust flavor that will make you skip dessert. Although the beer debuted in 2016, it was bottled for the first time this year and gussied up with several variants, including Vanilla Medianoche, which was so sought after that the brewery had to sell it via a lottery. Weldwerks is planning to make more of the stuff in 2018, and to keep it available in the taproom for people who journey to Greeley to try it.