Beer Man

Thirty Amazing New or Newish Colorado Beers From 2019

Thirty Amazing New or Newish Colorado Beers From 2019
New Image Brewing
There is no way to truly know what the best Colorado-brewed beers were in 2019. There are simply too many breweries (over 420) and too many beers to try them all, let along rank them. So this is simply a list of thirty truly amazing beers that I tried during the year, either at the breweries I visited, the festivals I attended or in the cans and bottles I bought at my favorite liquor stores. Most are new or newish (or new to me, anyway). These are beers that surprised me, defied expectations or simply made me love them. Some are taproom-only specialities while others were distributed across multiple states. Overall, I feel like this list — which is presented roughly by style — reflects some outstanding examples of the depth and breadth of what Colorado's breweries are doing.

click to enlarge SARAH COWELL
Sarah Cowell
Sushi Date American Lager
New Image Brewing/Our Mutual Friend

This collaboration with Our Mutual Friend isn't what you'd expect from either brewery, both of which typically focus on bolder beers like New England-style IPAs, stouts and sours. Dry, crisp and somewhat delicate, this "noble lager" had an extra, wafting touch of old-world hops that were more floral than bitter.

Tactical Maneuver Foeder Helles
Cerebral Brewing

Although German-style helles beers are often described as being bready, malty or even floral, those words may be a bit of an exaggeration. In reality, hellesbiers are designed to be crisp, easy-drinking and light, and, frankly, to fade into the background rather than stand out. Cerebral's version does both. Although it is a lovely example of an inoffensive helles, making it perfect for a summer day on the patio, Tactical Maneuver is also aged for six weeks in a giant wooden vessel called a foeder — something that gives it a roundness to the flavor, a mid-dry mouthfeel and accentuated malt by adding a very light touch of wood.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Seedstock Brewing

Polotmavý is "an indigenous Czech style of beer that straddles the boundaries of light and dark lager," Seedstock brewing explained when it tapped this beer seldom brewed in the United States. Since Seedstock specializes in Czech lagers, however, it seemed like a natural. And the beer was a winner. Dry, bready and a little sweet, it had all the malt of a Marzen with the lightness of a helles.

Vienna Lager
Highside Brewing

Highside's Vienna lager is one of those of those beers that you take a sip of and then hold the glass up to your eyes and say, "Oooh, that's good," and then, before you know it, you've had two more. It's easy-drinking, but with a full flavor that convinces you not to even try the other beers on the tap list and stick with what you know is good.

click to enlarge EMPOURIUM BREWING
Empourium Brewing
Not Throwin' Away My Shot
Empourium Brewing

Aged on American oak spirals for five weeks, Empourium's 5 percent ABV amber ale was a revelation. Although I don't often go in for ambers, the woody notes on this one made the malty flavors stand out. Together, they produced a delicious satisfying beer. I'd love to see more wood-aged ambers.

Zwei Brewing
Fort Collins

Zwei makes an enormous range of German-style beers, but its bigger, fuller brews, like Dunkel, Weissbier and Weizenbockenspiel, were the ones that most caught my eye, and my tastebuds. That last one in particular, a Bavarian-style wheat beer, was absolutely bursting with rich malt, caramelized banana and even some spicy notes. A version aged in wood from the Squarrel Square Barrel company was equally delicious.

click to enlarge Javi Pérez needed a lot of barley to brew this eisbock. - DUSTIN HALL/BREWTOGRAPHY PROJECT
Javi Pérez needed a lot of barley to brew this eisbock.
Dustin Hall/Brewtography Project
Otto Von Eisbock
Cheluna Brewing/Prost Brewing

This cross-cultural collaboration between Prost, a German-style brewery, and Cheluna, which focuses on Mexican ingredients and flavor profiles, was featured first at Collaboration Fest (as were several other beers on this list). At 10.5 percent ABV, it was clearly a boozy beer, but it also boasted flavors of dark chocolate, brown sugar and maybe even a little pecan — which makes sense since the brewers called it Mexi-German chocolate cake.

Grandma's Carrot Cake
Denver Beer Co.

I'm not really going to try to explain why I liked this unusual beer so much — because I can't. It just worked for me. Sweet — very sweet — and light-feeling despite a higher ABV, the dessert-inspired blonde ale was brewed with shredded carrots, vanilla, raisins and cinnamon, just like the cake itself, along with lactose sugar. I passed it around the table to two friends who tend toward more traditional flavors, and they liked it, too. I guess when Grandma's home cooking is involved, it's hard to say no.

click to enlarge No, Slovakia is not in the Baltics, but this Baltic Porter doesn't care. - JONATHAN SHIKES
No, Slovakia is not in the Baltics, but this Baltic Porter doesn't care.
Jonathan Shikes
Slovakian Tunnel Baltic Porter
Call to Arms Brewing/Ska Brewing

There are some beers that you just know are going to be good before you even have a sip. This collaboration between Ska Brewing and Call to Arms was one of those. In fact, since I missed it at Collaboration Fest, I made a dedicated trip to CTA just to try it, and I wasn't disappointed. Rich, aromatic and chewably fantastic, the 7 percent ABV lager was jet black in color with chocolate notes and clean mouthfeel.

Beet Saisour
Bruz Beers

Beers made with beets aren't that common, but if you look around, you'll be surprised that there is often a beet beer on tap at one brewery or another in Denver. Brewers are often attracted to the root vegetable because of its sugars, which are fermentable, its sweet and earthy flavors, and, of course, its color. Rustic in nature, beets seem especially appropriate for saisons. For this beer, Bruz took its occasional beet saison (made with beets grown in the brewery's own garden) and added wild yeasts to give it some funky notes. The result is a unique and very pink beer that blends some sweetness with floral aromas and funk. Although it is called Saisour, the beer is not sour at all — perhaps a little tart, but barely. It is also 11 percent ABV.

click to enlarge SARAH COWELL
Sarah Cowell
Chilango Hefeweizen
Cheluna Brewing

This 5 percent ABV refresher isn't necessarily new, but it's new to me, and it was a huge hit at Suave Fest, a September fiesta that featured Latinx-owned Colorado breweries. How do I know? Because almost everyone I asked mentioned it. Heavier on the mango, a flavor that goes well in wheat beers, and lighter on the habanero, so as not to overwhelm the senses, it is one of the few chile beers that quenches instead of setting fires.

Passion Fruit Orange Zest Chicha
Dos Luces Brewing

Corn gets a bad rap when it comes to beer, but there is only goodness at Dos Luces Brewing, which specializes in brewing corn- and maguey-based gluten-free beers inspired by Pre-Columbian traditions. The fruity chichas here, in particular, are refreshing, like Mexican juices, but with a deeper complexity and some alcohol (though not much; most are under 5 percent ABV). This one, which is much lighter than a typical beer, has flavors of passion fruit and orange zest, along with clove to give it some spice. Once you get started, it's hard to stop.

click to enlarge UPSLOPE BREWING
Upslope Brewing

Fruit Squad + Red Wine
Westbound & Down Brewing
Idaho Springs/Denver

The brewers at Westbound share a small barrel-aging facility and occasional taproom with Amalgam Brewing, and both are turning out carefully thought-out, time-consuming works of liquid art that have people talking. For Fruit Squad, Westbound blended its golden sour base from five different oak barrels that had been aging for at least a year. The beer was then rested on Syrah and Mourvedre grapes. The result was a deeply complex though surprisingly refreshing treat. Although it was gently tart, there was also a lush fruitiness that popped out.

Sparkling Rosé IPA
Upslope Brewing

Light, dry and really easy to drink, the Sparkling Rosé IPA from Upslope took me by surprise, in part because of what it was — and in part because of what it wasn't. Brewed with El Dorado, Galaxy and Citrus hops, along with beet juice to make it pink, this beer was effervescent like a brut beer or champagne, but it also had a floral, almost juicy, hop flavor that hit this IPA drinker's comfort zone. The brewery says: "Notes of peach skin, white grape and honeydew melon emanate from the glass with pomelo, jasmine and juicy citrus flavors," and I won't argue. There was no tartness, though, which I appreciated. Hopefully it comes back for summer 2020.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes