Sunday, March 08, 2015

Colorado's Best Breweries of 2014 Have Risen to the Top

Good beer leads to good conversation. And so it was recently at New Belgium's excellent Lost in the Woods sour celebration, when talk arose as to what Colorado's best new brewery of 2014 was.

There was no shortage of standout entrants. Casey Brewing and Blending brought new precision to the centuries-old saison style. Comrade Brewing brought a freshness and excellence to the IPA genre. And Chain Reaction Brewing arguably made the single best beer produced by a rookie brewery with its Pink Peppercorn Saison.

But with two months of the new year fully gone - the same amount of time Oscar voters get to look back before having to decide a top movie of the previous year, I'd like to point out - two of last year's new breweries have, in this beer geek's opinion, risen above the rest. And not only have Former Future Brewing and Mockery Brewing elevated themselves to the top of the class, but they've done it in different ways.

Former Future, which opened less than a month into 2014, earns its stripes with some really bold experimentation that has produced increasingly better results over the past year. The standout of the offerings is the Black Project spontaneously fermented series, especially the Jumpseat dry-hopped sour ale that came out a few months ago and offered a unique level of pucker combined with an earthy backbone.

But that same creativity can be found in Former Future's everyday beers as well, from its SweeTart-scented Synthia wild sour ale to its cotton-candy-tasting Bel Esprit Bretta saison, a beer that makes as good a case for the current session-ale movement as anything out there. And when they mix up regular offerings with experimentation - as they did last month in producing a 12.7 percent ABV coffee-infused bourbon-barrel Russian imperial stout that was dangerously sweet and drinkable - it reminds you how much more can come from these artists on South Broadway.

Mockery, meanwhile, opened only in November, meaning that it's still working its way into the vocabularies of Denver beer lovers. And it's doing it not by coming up with its own new styles of ales but by perfecting types of beer that have been around for a while - and then often adding a twist.

Its Oaked Southern Hemisphere Black Pale Ale arrived after the black IPA trend seemingly had come and gone, but the oak chips and Aussie and Kiwi hops gave it a vibrancy that made it much more than a pale ale. Similarly, many other breweries have tried their hand at making a smoked lager, but there may not have been one in Colorado that produced anything as tasty as Mockery's Lapsang Souchong, made with a smoked Chinese tea that brings a sweetness to the burn and gives this a giant taste.

Mockery offers a variety of treats (as noted in the photo below), from a Peach Blonde Ale fortified with a creamy body to a Double IPA whose flavor is amplified by zests of lemon and orange peel. Then there is arguably its best beer, a Vanilla Bourbon Barrel Export Coffee Stout that the Beer Geekette described as "like vanilla and a stick of butter had a baby and dunked it in coffee."

Truth be told, 2014 is the first year since I started designating a best new brewery that it seemed irresponsible to choose just one. But if more breweries like Former Future and Mockery grace Colorado's landscape in the coming years, the concept of "best" may disappear itself, replaced by "everything in this state is great."

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