The end of the year is coming, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time to reflect. This past year was nothing short of amazing and overwhelming for craft beer, not just Denver but Colorado as a whole. The number of new breweries, festivals, beer events and not to mention the number of new beers dropping every week made it nearly impossible to keep track. With all of that said there is for us certain moments and particular beers that will have long-lasting effects.
As we looked back on the year, we wanted to give some love to the brews that made our mouths water even now. And we also wanted to express our gratitude for those beer experiences we had this year that changed our perspective on the industry.
Best Festival Experiences
Looking back at the year and all of the beer festivals and beer-centric events, two of them come to mind right away and should be any beer lover’s must go list. The first is Collaboration Fest – which will be here again March 2018 – it’s truly a showcase of creativity and beer. At this festival, partnerships among brewers are formed and no ingredient is off limits. One of our favorite and most unusual beers was made for this event – the Japanese Saison – from Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery and UberBrew. This sushi-inspired beer had it all — green tea, shitake mushrooms, kelp, roasted seaweed — but all of that together managed to create a light and funky beer with a pepper finish.
Behind Collaboration Fest there are many great events – most of which occur during that special week known as the Great American Beer Festival each fall. But, it wasn’t the main event this year that stole the show. For us, it was the What the Funk Invitational. In a time when GABF feels like it’s going to take over the entire city of Denver for the week – the small and intimate feel of What The Funk was a much-needed respite. It was also the only festival where it was the brewers pouring the bottles and chatting about their passion. Two more of our top beers for 2017 were poured at this event. The first beer, Supreme Clientele from Casey Brewing and Blending – its member-only beer that combines raspberry and blackberries to name a few into a luscious sour beer. Our other top beer for the year comes from one of the newest breweries and that’s Amalgam with its Composition #1 – this sour beer is dry hopped with the juicy citra and mosaic hops showcasing the ways that sour beers can be expanded.
No list of great beer experiences would be complete for 2017 without mention of the two special beer events Avery Brewing Company throws each year. It’s also where you can find two more of our top beers for the year. Avery’s SourFest is to our knowledge the only festival in the state dedicated to sour beers and it was there we discovered the BAMF Gose from Loveland Aleworks – great name, better beer. The beer was light and funky and finished with a salty bite. If sour beers aren’t your thing – Avery has another festival dedicated to the bigger beers in life, the Strong Ale Fest. If you love the big beers of Avery you have to attend this event if only to try such stalwarts and our favorite for this year – Uncle Jacob’s Stout – fresh from the barrel. There is just something that connects you to the beer knowing it’s being released from its restful sleep in that barrel just for you.
Best Hazy IPAs
The hazy IPA or as some refer to it the East Coast Style IPA – is a style of beer that has brought about a lot of debate in the beer community. Is it truly an IPA? Right now that’s what the judges at GABF are saying, but none of that matters. Along with sour beers, the hazy IPA is the fastest growing style in the state. When it came to picking our favorites, here it was by far the hardest task – there are so many great options so while we appreciate Juicy Bits from WeldWerks Brewing and Rare Trait from Cerebral Brewing this year, they are not on the top of our list. This year our favorite hazy IPA goes to newcomer Outer Range Brewing for its In The Steep – an all citra hazy juice bomb that has helped to make Outer Range on the Colorado beer map. Our other top hazy IPA belongs to New Image Brewing and its East Coast Transplant – this fruit bomb IPA is hazy, hoppy and will make you happy.
Best Wild and Sour Beers
This is a tricky category – as we have learned the number of different styles encompassed within the term sour or wild beers are numerous and growing. Instead of picking specific beers for this category we are going to recognize a brewery for its line of sour beers. In 2017 what was old became new again when New Belgium Brewing Company revamped its sour beer program. The brewery that started the craze for this style of beer in Colorado re-tooled and again gave to the Colorado craft beer scene everything we love about New Belgium. Of all the more limited beers released this year a special call out to the decadent Le Kriek Noir, the ambitious Single Foeder Oscar No. 65 and the luxurious Geisha. These brews take what beer nerds love about more limited and exclusive batches and made it accessible – just like in the beginning with La Folie.
There are just some beers that year after year defines a style and should be appreciated instead of taken for granted. Maybe one day another beer will come along and take away this honor, but it’s hard to imagine it happening anytime soon. Since its inception, the Slow Pour Pils from Bierstadt Lagerhaus has been the epitome of the pilsner style. There is a dedication to the craft and pride in the presentation. If you enjoy beer – you need to make time to enjoy the full experience of the beer, it’s not just the best of the style but might be one of the best in the state.
Best New Breweries
There are two new breweries that came onto the scene this year that are already on the list of must-visit breweries for the state. The first brewery is Woods Boss Brewing – the brewery has the laid-back vibe, open floor plan and exudes that Colorado style. It’s tucked in between LoDo and RiNo and offers a beer for every palate — from IPAs to sours to brown ales the beer menu is always fresh — adding something new for each visit. If you need a beer recommendation for the Oswald – a New England (hazy) style IPA that is attracting juice hunters from all around.
The other brewery that spent most of 2017 making noise requires a bit of driving since it’s just off of I-70 in Frisco and is Outer Range Brewing Company. The brewery focuses on Belgian style beers and New England (hazy) style IPAs and provides gorgeous views no matter the season of the Rocky Mountains. The vibe is rustic yet modern you will know what we mean when you see the brewery for yourself. If you need a beer recommendation go for one of each of the main styles – and then because it will feel right go back for another of each.
Best Total Beer Experience
To complete the year that was in Denver there is one brewery that has to be mentioned. Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales released perhaps its most ambitious project in 2017 — project ROSWELL. Project ROSWELL is a lambic-inspired spontaneously fermented beer which was barrel aged and then super fruited resulting in perhaps the most unique beer to be released this year. It wasn’t just the beer that was special – it was the passion and belief behind the project. James and Sarah Howat (owners and brewers of Black Project) infuse their beer with the passion for exploration and tradition in brewing. We were lucky enough to hear them speak about this beer before its release and try each of the variants making it by far our favorite overall beer experience of the year.
2017 brought insane growth and boundary-pushing beers to Denver and all of Colorado. There appears to be immense momentum going into the new year – who will be the next hot brewery? Who is going to experiment in a way most thought impossible? There is a lot to look forward to in 2018 which makes us even more grateful the craft beer community in Denver for its love this year.