Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 Colorado Beers of 2011

The past year has been an exciting and experimental year for Colorado beers, even by its lofty standards. And so, to try to categorize the best offerings from 2011 is no easy task.

This list is not necessarily a list of the best beers you could buy at any moment in the state - don't worry, Avery Maharaja, I haven't forgotten about you - but a list of the most exciting beers of the past 12 months. These are the brews that inspired conversation in just the past year, excited taste buds and made you appreciate the brewing craft of this state so much that you wanted to share it with everyone.

10) Cherry Bomb Belgian Stout - Strange Brewing

This fascinating combination of roasted malt and tart cherries is not a new brew. But in the past year, the evolution of the beer to a happy medium between the stout and Belgian fruit styles, as well as the decision to keep it smoothly on nitro, has continued to make it one of Denver's most fascinating brews.

9) Steamworks Berliner Weisse - Steamworks Brewing

Many breweries experimented ) - and did very well - with this previously little-produced German sour wheat beer in the past year. But none made anything quite as tasty as the Durango brewery that is continuously experimenting and coming up with options like this that strike the interest of the palate without beating it to death with tartness.

8) Belgian Yeti - Great Divide Brewing

Great Divide has made a small amount of beers better than Belgian Yeti. But it's been a while since the last time it made something so provocative to combine Belgian yeast with its already bold and flavorful imperial stout recipe. And the fact that Great Divide was ballsy enough to release this in the summer lets you know how countercultural a good beer can be.

7) Summer Cab Ride - Breckenridge Brewery

Breckenridge's SummerBright Ale was a run-of-the-mill light offering - right up until the brewery decided to age it in cabernet sauvignon barrels and turned it into a fascinating and complex lighter beer with wine skin and slightly sour overtones. Now it's one of the most approachable and enjoyable barrel experiments in this state.

6) Mexican Chocolate Stout - Copper Kettle Brewing

Copper Kettle opened in late April and won a Great American Beer Festival medal in late September - a gap that brewery owners believe to be the shortest in history. But it was well-deserved for a beer that so artfully combined spice, cinnamon and dark malt that it felt like you were drinking dinner, not an aperitif.

5) Le Terroir - New Belgium Brewing

New Belgium had displayed Le Terroir in its taproom and at the GABF before. But it wasn't until this year that the dry hopped sour ale became a part of its Lips of Faith series that received general distribution. Tart like a cherry and yet grassy in its hops, it combines the best of Belgian and American brewing and gives you a beer that warms your cockles.

4) Brain of the Turtle - Trinity Brewing

Colorado complexity reached its peak in this sour ale aged with cherries, coffee and almonds - Jason Yester's latest freak show of a beer that conforms to no style but just turns heads and makes experimental beer fans smile. Nothing was talked about more among Colorado beer geeks at the Great American Beer Festival. And no other new beer deserves a statewide release so much in 2012.

3) Myrcenary Double IPA - Odell Brewing

Colorado has become the king state of double IPAs, which makes it particularly hard for a newcomer to break into its market. But Myrcenary, released at the end of 2010, ranks with its best products as a sharply hoppy offering with enough of a malt backbone to make it grassy without being overbearing. It's a four-pack worth picking up.

2) Nitro Milk Stout - Left Hand Brewing

No Colorado beer has been more hyped in its release than this one - which makes it incredibly impressive that the Longmont brewery not only met but exceeded expectations with a magically carbonated and sweet stout that may well the most drinkable beer in Colorado right now. I have turned IPA drinkers into stout drinkers with this selection, and Left Hand's influence is likely to turn a lot of typical dark beer producers into auteurs who put their beer on nitrogen to make it more interesting.

1) Buddha Nuvo - 14 breweries, led by Rockyard Brewing

Collaboration beers are, by their nature, complex and full of flavors that everyone wants to contribute. But no beer pushed the taste envelope so much to the edge - without sailing over it - as this collaboration saison from 14 breweries that presented drinkers with the combined tastes of grape skin, plum, pumpkin and a perfume-like overtaste that fades into simple fascination at the realization of what is in here. One of the highlights of my year as a writer was the opportunity to participate in a multiple-blog collaboration review of this masterpiece. But nothing we said could equal the melange of flavors cavorting in your mouth and making you realize that Colorado beer is producing experiments that will push it further up the charts as the state that should attract national attention both this year and in the future.

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