Beer Man

Our Thirty Favorite New Colorado Craft Beers From 2021

Dry Dock Brewing's lagers were fire in 2021.
Dry Dock Brewing's lagers were fire in 2021. Dry Dock Brewing
A couple of things happened this year. The first is that I got a little less extreme — and maybe a touch grumpier — when it comes to beer. While I still love a well-made adjunct stout (coconut!) and the occasional rich milkshake IPA (more coconut!), there seemed to be fewer and fewer examples that I wanted to try. Instead, my palate steered me back from the edge and more toward the middle, where the land of darker lagers and balanced-but-bold pale ales and IPAs (both clear and hazy) lie.

The second thing that happened is that breweries have begun to roll out more beers that fit into those centrist categories — possibly because there is a bit of backlash toward the outlandish styles that have gained so much popularity, and possibly because they have limited resources in the new, on-again-off-again pandemic world and needed to focus on what is safer and truer.

Regardless, as I said in 2020 — and in 2019, and for many years before that — there is no way to truly know what the best Colorado-brewed beers were in 2021 because there are way too many. So this is simply a list of thirty truly amazing beers that I tried during the year, either at the breweries I visited, the (very few — thanks, pandemic) festivals I attended, or in cans and bottles I bought at my favorite liquor stores.
click to enlarge UPSLOPE BREWING
Upslope Brewing
Oktoberfest Festbier Lager
Upslope Brewing
Boulder

Sometimes beers with subtle flavors are so nuanced that it's hard to describe what makes one better than another. With Upslope's Festbier, you simply know it when you taste it. Canned for the first time in 2021, this 5.5 percent ABV lager was brewed with Leopold Bros.' very small-batch Floor-Malted Pilsner Malt, along with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops. Crisp and smooth at the same time, it lightly grazed the herbal notes of this traditional hop while touching more thoroughly on the bread-crusty flavor of the malt.

click to enlarge COHESION BREWING
Cohesion Brewing
Tmavy Ležák
Cohesion Brewing
Denver

When the word "fudgy" is used with beer, it's typically in the description of a milk stout or a pastry stout rather than a dark, Czech-style lager. But fudge is exactly how Cohesion's Tmavy Ležák comes across when served on tap with a rich head of milky foam. Double decocted and dark brown in color, the beer counters that richness with clean toasted malt flavors. These go down fast. Too fast. Smashy, smashy.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Moosach Doppelbock
Counter Culture Brewery + Grille
Denver

Named for a river near Munich, Germany, this 8 percent ABV dark lager hit all the right notes when it comes to this Bavarian style. Brewed with several types of Munich malts, Moosach was rich and toasty, with some roasted notes and just a slight hint of sweetness. Counter Culture lagers it for two months with yeast from Brauerei Weihenstephan, the world's oldest continuously operating Bavarian monastery brewery.

WIBBY BREWING
Wibby Brewing
Volksbier Vienna
Wibby Brewing
Longmont

Wibby Brewing's Vienna lager is the product of a happy accident: The brewery had been making it since 2016, but in 2020, its malt supplier mistakenly sent some bags of the wrong barley. The brewers decided to use it anyway, and the resulting beer immediately won a gold medal at GABF. Then sales took off and the brewery began making it every week, eventually scoring a perfect 100 rating in Wine Enthusiast. Here's what the magazine wrote, and we concur: "With a luxurious mouthfeel that slowly brings on layers of nuts, warmed caramel and a subtle spiciness from noble hops, this Vienna lager is of remarkable quality."

click to enlarge DRY DOCK BREWING
Dry Dock Brewing
Lager Series
Dry Dock Brewing
Aurora

Dry Dock Brewing is known for its fruited beers, its IPAs and its barleywine. But most of its award-winning beers are actually lagers, ones that don't get much attention. This year, as packaging became more important, Dry Dock canned a few of the beers in its lager series in small batches. These included its flavorful and highly decorated pilsner, which became the first beer in Dry Dock's Cut & Run series. But it also added a decocted Franconian Lager, a Beechwood-malt smoked Helles, a maibock and others that took tradition and added a little bit of immaculate oomph to each one.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Doom Scroll Dunkelweizen
TRVE Brewing
Denver

A pretty classic version of this hybrid style, TRVE's Doom Scroll had distinct clove-like estery notes from its weizen side, but it balanced that with a crackling, somewhat sweet dryness that came from malts grown right here in Colorado by the Troubadour and Root Shoot maltsters. Try this one on tap with a sandwich from the new Music City Hot Chicken, located inside the dark depths of TRVE's cavernous taproom.
BIERSTADT LAGERHAUS
Bierstadt Lagerhaus
All the Hype Smoked Helles/Smoked Helles
Bierstadt Lagerhaus/Denver Beer Co.
Denver/Arvada

Beers brewed with smoked malts don't get a lot of hype. That's because they have a very specific bacon-and-campfire taste that most people either don't want or don't know about. But Bierstadt Lagerhaus gets plenty of hype, and its smoked Helles, All the Hype, a collaboration with Florida's Green Bench Brewing was a smoldering but drinkable version that satisfied the craving. In an interesting twist, Bierstadt turned around and gave the yeast it had used to brew that beer to Andy Parker at Denver Beer Co., who then brewed his own smoked Helles based only on the yeast and not on any smoked malt of his own (a rare and fascinating effort). That beer was also lovely, but lighter, and with a distinct but muted smokiness.

click to enlarge SARAH COWELL
Sarah Cowell
Aleppo Pepper Pilsner
Spice Trade Brewing
Greenwood Village

Normally, I prefer that beer quenches the fire from spicy food rather than being spicy itself. But Spice Trade's fun and fascinating flight of four chile beers — each spiced with a different pepper — was a rare exception. Typically used in Middle Eastern cuisine, Aleppo peppers impart earthy, fruity flavors to food — something that could definitely be found in this beer, which wasn't too spicy, but rather very balanced and soaked with a depth of flavor that made it stand out.

click to enlarge STATION 26 BREWING
Station 26 Brewing
Patch to Porch Pumpkin Lager
Station 26 Brewing
Denver

Pumpkin beers don't make this list very often. In fact, I can only think of three or four over the past decade or more. But it's a style I enjoy, and it's worth noting when one rises above the patch. Most pumpkin beers are ales — something that seems appropriate since their heaviness can go with the season. But Station 26 has turned that around, creating a crisp lager that works as both an easy crusher and a fall treat, carrying all the comforting flavors of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. It also has a fun name.

click to enlarge MOCKERY BREWING
Mockery Brewing
Rock the Fuck On Forever
Mockery Brewing
Denver

A staple on Mockery Brewing’s tap wall for several years, Rock the Fuck On Forever was both a victim of the pandemic and a survivor. It was supposed to be canned in April 2020, but bad luck postponed that from happening until August. And the pandemic kept me away from Mockery until February 2021, when I tried Rock the Fuck On Forever for the first time. Clear but juicy, West Coast? East Coast? A little of both? The answer doesn't matter because this incredibly drinkable IPA is a beer you'd be happy to have on a desert island. It’s clear like a West Coast IPA but double-dry-hopped with Citra, Amarillo and Rakau hops to give it a modern touch. With only a bit of perceptible bitterness, its flavors range from sweet lemon and melon to mandarin orange and kiwi.
click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
60 Pellet Juicy IPA
Diebolt Brewing/Call to Arms Brewing
Denver

Both of these breweries like to have fun — in their taprooms, with their beer names and on social media — and both have had plenty of fun with parodies of other beers and breweries. For 60 Pellet Juicy IPA (and its followup, 90 Pellet Juicy Double IPA) the breweries decided to goof on Dogfish Head and its famous hop-braggadocio. But the beer was tasty in its own right. "We continuously hopped this beer with one hop pellet every minute for 60 minutes of the boil. What effect did this have on the beer? Almost nothing, but it was kinda funny," Diebolt wrote. "We did, however, add almost four pounds per barrel of Strata, Cascade and Amarillo hops throughout fermentation, creating a beer that’s bursting at the seams with juiciness."

click to enlarge RIVER NORTH BREWERY
River North Brewery
First Ascent Double IPA
River North Brewery
Denver

Although the beers in the First Ascent series were as clear as a bell and brewed with a base of the old-school hop variety, Simcoe, I'm not sure I would call them West Coast Double IPAs, because there was very little perceived bitterness on my part despite the 80-plus IBUs. In fact, the version I tried was much closer in flavor and aroma to the juicy, hazy IPAs of today than to the bitter palate-wreckers of old — possibly because it was heavily dry-hopped with Eureka and Falconer's Flight. Later versions of this 11 percent ABV beer included Talus and Citra hops. Either way, it was delicious.

click to enlarge ODELL BREWING
Odell Brewing
Solarized Yuzu Double IPA
Odell Brewing
Fort Collins

Another beer from 2021's range of hybridized East Coast and West Coast IPAs, Solarized appeared gently hazy and showed off attributes of both styles. Yuzu fruit are similar to Mandarin oranges, and Solarized was definitely heavy on the citrus. It also offered up a pleasing bitterness that is more reminiscent of older IPA styles, but with the sweeter, softer mouthfeel of more modern versions. Odell experimented with all kinds of fruited IPAs last year, and this limited release, at 8.2 percent ABV, really hit the mark.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Limited Visibility IPA
Vail Brewing
Eagle-Vail

Sitting quietly in a business park off of I-70, Vail Brewing doesn't get much attention on the Front Range — although GABF judges have certainly noticed, having awarded the brewery a pair of medals in the last three years. I tried about half a dozen different hazy IPAs from them, and all were balanced — even gentle, with nice flavors and a mellow disposition. My favorite was Limited Visibility, a small-batch release that was hopped with Citra, Idaho 7 and Motueka, giving it notes of citrus, pineapple and pine sap.

EDDYLINE BREWING
Eddyline Brewing
New Zealand IPA
Eddyline Brewery
Buena Vista

This beer was part of a wave of New Zealand-style IPAs that washed over Colorado in 2021. Eddyline brewed it with four kinds of hops from the island, which is where the trendiest hops are coming from right now: Motueka, Waimea, SouthernCross and Riwaka. They lent it a lot of citrus flavors, with some tropical notes and a hint of a piney hop bite. With a gorgeous color and mouthfeel — and just a light haze — New Zealand IPA had more of a pale ale vibe, but its 7 percent ABV puts it clearly into the realm of an IPA.

click to enlarge NOVEL STRAND BREWING
Novel Strand Brewing
ALL CAPS
Novel Strand Brewing
Denver

Novel Strand was one of first breweries in Denver to begin experimenting with small amounts of what would become some very popular New Zealand-grown hops in 2021. These included a standout called Riwaka, which gives off a distinct punch of sugar-sprinkled grapefruit that doesn't taste like anything else. For ALL CAPS — brewed in honor of rapper MF Doom, who died in late 2020 — Novel Strand used Riwaka along with Citra and Galaxy to create one of its bigger beers, at 8 percent, and one that exploded with a tropical fruit salad of flavor.

click to enlarge OUTER RANGE BREWING
Outer Range Brewing
High Alpine Double IPA
Outer Range Brewing
Frisco

For my money, Outer Range consistently makes some of the most mouth-watering hazy IPAs in the country right now, up alongside Treehouse, Other Half and other pillars of the profession. My favorite from this year, however, was High Alpine Double IPA, brewed with Mosaic and Chinook hops. It was a sublime example of what it's like to drink one of these pillow-soft flavor bombs.
click to enlarge CEREBRAL BREWING
Cerebral Brewing
Trigger Point Double IPA
Cerebral Brewing
Denver

Soft, smooth and almost airy (for an 8.2 percent ABV beer), Trigger Point was brewed with Mosaic and Citra — the classic combo for New England-style IPAs — along with Idaho Gem, a hop variety that is unflashy but which imparts wonderful aromas and flavors reminiscent of candied orange peel and strawberry. Cerebral is one of the best at hazy IPAs, and it constantly turns out good ones; some other standouts this year were Urban Sorcery, Forced Collaboration and Krocodile Kilometer.
click to enlarge 4 NOSES BREWING
4 Noses Brewing
Double-Dry-Hopped Vanilla Velvet
4 Noses Brewing
Broomfield

This milkshake-style double IPA hit the market in the final week of 2020, but I continued to buy and drink so much of it into 2021 that I had to find it a place on this year's list. Brewed with vanilla and lactose (milk sugar), it was double-dry-hopped with Citra, Sabro, Syrian Wolf and Mosaic. At 8 percent ABV, its creamy-soft mouthfeel and sweet tropical vanilla vibe was transformative, with a capital O.

click to enlarge NEW IMAGE BREWING
New Image Brewing
Perpetually Perpetual
New Image Brewing/Knotted Root Brewing
Arvada/Nederland

When it comes to the flavor, aroma and technique of hazy IPAs, there are few breweries in Colorado that push harder or take more risks than New Image Brewing. Among the brewery's best offerings is its Double Double series of double-dry-hopped IPAs. Fellow hazy IPA specialist Knotted Root Brewing also turns out some of this state's most-loved hazies, so when the two breweries teamed up on a mash-up of Double Double and Knotted Root's flagship, Perpetually Unimpressed, you knew it would be good. The result was Perpetually Perpetual, a 9.5 percent ABV double (perhaps more like a triple) IPA that was double dry-hopped with Citra, Motueka and Nelson — and it absolutely raised the bar with its depth of flavor, its powerful wafting aromas and the way it hid all that alcohol under a soft, pillowy texture.

click to enlarge WELDWERKS BREWING
Weldwerks Brewing
Bits Box Mega
WeldWerks
Greeley

Like Perpetually Perpetual (above), Bits Box Mega is another collaboration between two of the best hazy IPA brewers in the business, WeldWerks and Portland's Great Notion Brewing — and it also combines all of the experience and process that goes into their respective flagships, Juicy Bits and Juice Box. Brewed with the magical combination of Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy hops, along with 600 pounds of local wildflower honey, this 11.3 percent ABV haze bomb was to beer what one of those "immersive" art exhibits is to art. It absolutely buried you in a rush of candied oranges, raw hops and pineapple daiquiris.

click to enlarge JADE MOUNTAIN BREWERY & TEA HOUSE
Jade Mountain Brewery & Tea House
Otaku Sour IPA
Jade Mountain Brewery & Tea House
Aurora

When Jade Mountain Brewing opened earlier this year, it immediately brought something new to the table, both with the creative way it combines unusual ingredients and the complex cultural influences that are evident in its eye-opening beers. Otaku, which Jade Mountain owner and brewer Sean Guerrero describes as "the nerdiest beer we brew," is a huge mash-up of styles. Both tart and sweet, it was brewed with "massive amounts" of toasted coconut, Tahitian vanilla beans and dragonfruit. It was also dry-hopped with Galaxy and El Dorado for more tropical and citrusy flavors and aromas.
click to enlarge OUR MUTUAL FRIEND BREWING
Our Mutual Friend Brewing
Zappa Weirding Way
Our Mutual Friend Brewing
Denver

Our Mutual Friend debuted Weirding Way, a dry-hopped pale saison fermented with twelve different strains of funky Brettanomyces yeast, in 2016. Since then, this sensational beer has only gotten better and more complex as the brewery began using a white oak foeder and adding different hops or other ingredients. The latest version was soaked with spicy Zappa hops, which are bred from the only hop variety that is native to North America. Easy to drink, fluffy and gorgeous to look at, Zappa Weirding Way is in a class by itself.

click to enlarge Bull & Bush co-owner Erik Peterson. - JONATHAN SHIKES
Bull & Bush co-owner Erik Peterson.
Jonathan Shikes
Coconoak
Bull & Bush Brewery
Glendale

The Bull & Bush celebrated its fiftieth anniversary late last summer — a big round number that is a testament to the English-style pub's success both as a bar and restaurant and then as a brewery. Among the fifty new beers it brewed — one a week for fifty weeks — to count down to the party was Coconoak, a 13 percent ABV over-the-top imperial blonde ale that was aged on French oak staves and finished on toasted coconut. Boozy and smooth, it was rich in coconut and nutty flavors. Happy birthday, Bull & Bush.
click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Willfully Obtuse Glühbier
Primitive Beer Company
Longmont

Inspired by the hot mulled wine known as glühwein that is served in Europe in the winter, especially at Christmas markets, Primitive Beer's Willfully Obtuse Glühbier was poured this year as part of the brewery's inaugural Hot Bierfest — and it was fantastic. A combination of three different beers, including a cherry-aged kriek, the beer was blended specifically so it could be mulled with spices, honey and citrus fruit and then heated and served steaming in a ceramic mug. This beer and this festival will return for 2022.
Biere de Noel
Bruz Beers
Denver

It's a rare occasion when a beer actually tastes exactly as good as it looks, but this malty Belgian-style miracle from Bruz Beers met, and then exceeded, my expectations. Rich with caramel and dried-fruit flavors, it was brewed with five kinds of malt and a dash of festive spice. Coming in at 10.2 percent ABV, it drank smoothly, without too much sweetness, and became even more enticing as it warmed.
click to enlarge UPSLOPE BREWING
Upslope Brewing
Barrel Aged Imperial Stout With Cinnamon and Vanilla
Upslope Brewing
Boulder

Once the purview of only the most daring breweries, barrel-aged adjunct stouts — brewed with chocolate, vanilla, coconut and similar ingredients — are now much easier to find. But many can be sickly sweet or contrived, and few are as balanced as they could be. Which is what made this beer, No. 27 in Upslope's limited Lee Hill Series, so, so good. Rich and warming without being overdone, it provided the satisfying sweetness of the best adjunct beers, with a perfect balance of flavors from the Leopold Bros. rye whiskey barrels, the Madagascar vanilla and Saigon cinnamon. And at 16.2 percent ABV, it's not for beginners.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Naked Baptist
Epic Brewing
Denver

Epic's Big Bad Baptist is probably the company's most well-known beer. A huge imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels with coffee and cacao nibs, it's a classic, and is continually recognized as one of the best examples of this style. But this year, for the first time, the brewery released a version without the coffee or cacao, and it was — even better? Free of its vetements, the underlying flavors were allowed to shine, with all of their big malt and big hops power and the sinewy muscle of the whiskey. The tagline for this beer says it's one that "the brewers have been begging to bottle for years," and it makes me think that we should listen to the brewers more often.

click to enlarge JONATHAN SHIKES
Jonathan Shikes
Breathe Out Rye Whiskey Aged Imperial Stout
Baere Brewing
Denver

After stopping into Baere Brewing one afternoon to try its all-Colorado lager from the brewery's new Lukr faucet, I saw a pair of bottled barrel-aged imperial stouts, both made for Baere's seventh anniversary, in the cooler: Breathe In, which had been aged for fourteen months in a Laws Whiskey House Rye Whiskey barrel; and Breathe Out, which had aged for slightly longer in similar barrels. I bought one of each and brought them home, where I discovered two very different flavor profiles. My favorite of the two was Breathe Out, which had layers of complexity and structure that I love in barrel-aged beers, especially rye.
click to enlarge WESTBOUND & DOWN BREWING
Westbound & Down Brewing
Bourbon Barrel Louie
Westbound & Down Brewing
Idaho Springs

Over the past few years, Westbound & Down has released some mind-blowing barrel-aged beers, and Bourbon Barrel Louie, a 13 percent ABV English-style barleywine, was no exception. A blend of brews that were aged in a combination of Elijah Craig, Buffalo Trace and Dickel barrels for eleven months — and "inspired by the elegance of ales such as Fuller’s Vintage Ale or Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy Ale — this barleywine was liquid toffee in a glass — or rather, an adorable eight-ounce can. The flavors were like a lazy river of caramel, crème brûlée and hazelnut poured over rich baked crackers and topped with figgy pudding. Boom! How's that for a description?
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes