Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 Colorado Beers of 2012

In thinking back on the past year that was for Colorado brewing, what stands out is the lack of standouts - but in a good way.

Looking back on last year's list, the top two beers were a 14-brewer collaboration that sold for $40 a champagne bottle and a beer that was introduced at one of the most hyped Great American Beer Festival press events of all time. And that's OK.

This year, however, Colorado's finest beers seemed to happen almost when you weren't looking, sneaking into liquor stores and taprooms and even one-time events with great subtlety. And so, without further ado, here is one man's thoughts on the best that the Centennial State offered in 2012:

10) Black Swan - Twisted Pine Brewing
The most interesting beer of the summer was a saison that oscillated in taste from peat moss to mellow licorice to slightly sweet ester, making you rethink what is happening with each sip. What's more, it represented the maturing of a Boulder brewery that has produced good beers for years but is now pushing itself to create one-offs that are likely to redefine it again.

9) Saison du Tomme - Trinity Brewing
Jason Yester never fails to produce fascinating tastes, but it was where he produced his best beer of 2012 that exemplifies the Colorado Springs brewmaster's willingness to experiment. Saison du Tomme rolled out as part of Focus on the Beer's fantastic Beers Made by Walking series, in which brewers go on hikes and produce something original with ingredients found on the way. This saison included rose hips, lemongrass and grains of paradise, and its pixie-stick goodness should come back in future years.

8) Wild Wild Brett Green - Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
The lines that clogged the Crooked Stave booth at the GABF - and if you didn't see them, they were impressive - went there for pure sour concoctions. But the best thing Denver experimenter Chad Yakobson rolled out this year was a daring crossover blending his wild yeast with a traditionally hopped beer. What came out of it was a yet-undefined new style on which Crooked Stave hopefully will continue to push boundaries.

7) NBB Love Felix - New Belgium Brewing
The best sour-beer creators in Colorado pumped out another talk-worthy creation and GABF medal winner this year with their blond sour ale aged in oak foeders. Not as bristling as wonderful creations of theirs such as the Le Terroir, this offering stung the tongue just mildly before letting citrus flavors roll over it. In what was a great year of experimentation for the Fort Collins masters, this was one of their best.

6) Mick Jaggery - Wit's End Brewing
The terms "Top 10 beers" and "ESB" rarely cross. But when you combine a seriously hopped ESB with the Indian cooking sugar Jaggery (hence the name), the result was a bitter and sweet melange of tastes that literally stunned the entire Fearless Drinking Crew one night earlier this month. Scott Witsoe's beers are all a little bit off of any style description, but this one pushed definitions far enough to let the Denver brewery truly stand out.

5) Zora Rosemary Pale Ale - Strange Brewing
Of all the unusual ingredients that have been added to Colorado beers in 2012 - from Hawaiian black lava salt to bull testicles - none of them has made as positive a difference as the rosemary that Strange brewers Tim Myers and John Fletcher decided to drop into a pale ale earlier this year. The woodsy herbal taste combined with the natural floral overtones of a heavily hopped pale was like an awakening in a glass. Frankly, it's surprising that more brewers haven't realized how good this flavor combination is. Until they do, however, Strange should endeavor to keep this on tap constantly.

4) Oud Floris - Avery Brewing
Here's how to push the limits: Combine beer aged in Cabernet, chardonnay, whiskey and rum barrels and produce a tart sour that not only is complex but shockingly has a softer side to it, an almost buttery peach taste. Avery can  make beers that scorch the palate; Oud Floris stands out for being a ridiculously approachable effort that is as good as anything that has come out of the Boulder brewery's barrels.

3) Super IPA - New Belgium Brewing
Every year, it seems, one more beer gets added to the repertoire of phenomenal Colorado double IPAs. What is so surprising about this year's addition is that it came from a brewery whose reputation was not for mastering the hop. But in a collaboration offering with San Diego's Alpine Brewing, New Belgium amped up flowery goodness to new levels while keeping the body of this limited release so easy-drinking that you have to rethink the hop presence.

2) Ambassador Barrel-Aged Sour Ale - Dry Dock Brewing
A personal story: It was the day after GABF, and the last thing that the Beer Geekette and I planned was to drink beer. But when we stumbled across this in a Highlands buffalo-wing restaurant, we had to try it. And even the shattered liver could appreciate something so tart that it lit up the sides of the tongue while being so peach-cherry-citrus-forward that every sip was an adventure in discovering what wild yeast could add to a medium-bodied masterpiece. As Dry Dock goes big-time with its expansion next year, it would do well to think about making more of this sour that adds to its constantly growing resume of world-class beers.

1) Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle - River North Brewery
When you define a year in beers, the question must be asked: What beer did you go back to over and over again? The answer here is: A Belgian-style double IPA made by a brewery that is now just 11 months old but has crafted such daring products (featured in picture above) that it must be mentioned in the same breath as Denver's finest breweries. The beer formerly known as Hypothesis (a name apparently bogarted by a California winery) pushed styles in two ways, taking the brewery's signature ester-ful yeast and mixing it with a hop-laden beer that swirled over the taste buds like a one-two punch of grass and citrus-clove. The beer may help to redefine the Belgo-IPA style. And the crew is looking forward to drinking much more of it in 2013.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Naughty and Nice Beers List

If you are like the Beer Run Blog crew, you like to do your Christmas shopping late - specifically after Christmas, when everything goes on sale. And if that's the case, you might be able to find a good bargain among this year's Christmas beer offerings, which liquor stores are going to start pushing off their shelves soon.

So, in the spirit of always writing this column as late in the holiday season as humanly possible, it is worth giving a shout out to some of the beers that made the past month seasonally fun, especially as they start disappearing. Like searching for Santa, you'd  better look quick before these are gone. And you'd better realize whether you've landed on the naughty or nice lists to figure out what you're getting.

Very, very nice - and knowledgeable about beer:
* Five Golden Rings - Saying that The Bruery's annual seasonal beer is the best on the market almost feels cliched. But when it adds pineapple juice and subtle spices to a Belgian strong golden ale to give it a hugely sweet and slightly tart feel, it's just the best thing out there.
* Tis the Saison - Denver Beer Co's offering was a thinker. You had to swirl its floral flavor around a few times before realizing that what made it unique was the peppermint and spearmint added to it. And then you ordered another one.
* Santa's Little Helper - Port Brewing makes another year-to-year top Christmas beer, but unlike The Bruery, it just stays consistent with a reindeer-butt-kicking imperial stout that warms you completely.

Quite nice
* Upslope Christmas Ale - A medium body and a bold taste made this spiced Belgian-style dubbel a full mouth experience with a slight spice to its backtaste. This Boulder brewery may just be becoming the new king of seasonal surprises.
* Hibernation Ale - Those who make the mistake of going a year without enjoying Great Divide's classic strong ale may forget how its woody, caramel-lined body backed by a strong hop backbone really is one of the most solid Christmas beers around.
* Winter Warlock - Bristol Brewing seemed to add a slight bit of sweetness to its traditionally dark oatmeal porter this year, giving it just a touch of pleasant newness.

Just plain nice
* Winter Tartan Scottish Ale - Maybe the surprise of the Christmas season was this vanilla-laced Scottish ale served up by Rock Bottom Downtown Denver, a unique addition to the holiday pantheon.
* Brr Winter Ale - The other great surprise was a hop bomb by Widmer Brothers that featured a berry-fruit taste rather than a traditional citrus fruit palate with its hops.

* Big Shot Seasonal Ale - Fort Collins Brewery offered up a big brown ale that was malty, decently hopped on the back - and no different than a year-round decent brown ale would be.
* Newcastle Winter IPA - Yes, British IPAs are much subtler than American IPAs. But it's still extremely hard to identify the hop presence in this extremely easy-drinking caramel-base beer. It's not awful, just dull - not the kind of thing you want to put in a beer aficionado's stocking.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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