Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 Colorado Beers of 2013

Thinking back on the best that Colorado had to offer in 2013, I am struck most by the scrappy and transient natures of the honorees.

Just two of my favorite 10 beers of the year was made by breweries — Ska and Epic — that distribute to more than one state outside of Colorado. That's not to say that the giants of Colorado craft brew that usually dominate this list — Great Divide, Odell, Avery, etc. — did not produce great beers; they just seemed to be outshined by some of the creativity emanating from the state's little guys.

Also, my greatest beef with the beers on this list was that many came and went so quickly, available for limited times and sometimes in extremely limited quantities, that the conversation around them was too limited for them to become part of the common beer vernacular. In those cases, I can only hope their brewers realize the gems they have created and crank them up in greater volume so that more people can experience their joy in 2014.

That said, without further ado ...

10. Cinnamon Almond Ale - Colorado Plus
At a time when brewers are becoming bolder about incorporating uncommon flavors, Adam Draeger took two flavors no one associated with great beer and made them sing in one of the most unique concoctions of the year. Allowing the almond to serve as the smooth landing for the spice of the cinnamon made this intriguing and unforgettable.

9. Watermelon Kolsch - Fate Brewing
This was the beer that proved that summer beers don't have to be boring - a light but crisp kolsch with a hearty dose of watermelon that provides huge refreshment at the same time it ups the complexity of this traditional German style.

8. Penitente Hermano - Three Barrel Brewing
One of the most exciting "exports" of the year was the arrival in Denver liquor stores of this creative brewery from the San Luis Valley. Penitente Hermano, a Belgian sour ale with a coriander kick on the back, paved its entrance after being one of the most gushed-over efforts of the 2013 Vail Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines festival.

7. Sentience - Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
The way this Denver brewery is turning out fascinating sours, you could almost throw a dart blindly at a board of its offerings and put whatever it lands on onto this list. But the Sentience stood out as the "it" beer of the Avery Strong Ale Festival this year, a tart wild quad whose whiskey-barrel aging accented its sharpness perfectly.

6. Snowed In - Copper Kettle Brewing
We're so far into the Christmas beer trend that you don't think anything can surprise you anymore. Then you have a sip of this imperial oatmeal stout aged six months in bourbon barrels with coffee and chocolate and you're not only blown away by its easy-drinking big-alcohol complexity, you have to tell yourself to hang out more at this east Denver brewery.

 5. 4.0 Grapefruit Pale Ale - Bull & Bush Brewery
The idea of hopping a pale ale or an IPA to resemble a grapefruit was a very popular one this summer. But this Denver brewery took it a step further, adding grapefruit juice to the mix and turning out a low-alcohol summer creation that was one of the unique tastes of the entire year. Can't wait for this to come back in 2014.

4. Two Tone Montanya - Ska Brewing
The most impressive Colorado sour of this year was this Belgian dubbel aged in Montanya rum barrels to take on a tart citrus character combined with a big, sweet body. This is arguably the finest beer made by the 18-year-old brewery.

3. Fan Boy - Elevation Beer
At some point, you really believe that no matter how good a new IPA can be, it won't be inherently different than what it out there already. Then you taste this oak-barrel-aged double IPA, filled with a full mouth of hops but also with oak and vanilla and introducing to this market something acutely original - and phenomenal in its flavor.

2. Devil's Riddle Ale - Grimm Brothers Brewhouse
The most unique beer I tried in 2013 was this strong ale aged nine months in Buffalo Trace barrels with Brettanomyces. It was musty, it was big, it was biting me with a strange tartness that came out of nowhere. It was complex. It was great. And it may just signify a new era for these German beer makers from Loveland.

1. Big Bad Baptist - Epic Brewing
Those outside of the Denver area were able to enjoy this monster of an imperial stout (10.5% ABV), made with cocoa nibs and with a tone of coffee. But when Epic opened its Colorado brewery in May, it was a revelation to the rest of us, a darker-than-night whirlwind that could knock you down with its alcohol but somehow was just smooth enough to allow you to drink more than you should. No beer generated more talk this year, whether in its classic form or when it was mixed with Strange Brewing's Cherry Kriek - a combination that shouldn't have worked but somehow did. Few beers were more satisfying. And that's the mark of a beer of the year.

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