Sunday, December 31, 2017

10 Best Colorado Beers of 2017

Truth be told, the more breweries that open in Colorado each year, the less beer you get to taste from any of them in particular. As such, these year-end lists become less about the beers that you drank over and over throughout the year and more about the one-offs and unique finds that left impressions long after you first enjoyed them.

Still, the variety of offerings in the Centennial State has never been greater, and the experimentation levels with classical styles have never been more rampant, giving breweries an opportunity to create something so stand-out that they can say it truly was one of a kind. And while imperial stout or IPA may be the base beer to many of these 2017 selections, it is the way those styles were interpreted that made them the ones that emblazoned 2017 with its personality.

As always, these aren't just beers that were produced for the first time this year but brews that jumped up in one way or another in the past 12 months and made their greatest marks.

10) River North/Funkwerks Saison Conspiracy Noir
A dark saison combining elements of Belgian tradition and a delicious malt-forward body, this really jumped to life because of its Syrah grape must and its Cabernet-barrel aging that teased at a slightly tart body but still let the base beer speak for itself.

9) Rockyard Plum Creek Sour
Quite a few people reacted with surprise when this unassuming Castle Rock brewery nabbed the Great American Beer Festival gold medal for wood- and barrel-aged sour beer. But this plum-forward beer (pictured at left) was both sweet and sour and truly was the best tart beer made in Colorado this year.

8) Jagged Mountain This Beer Really Ties The Room Together
Maybe the most improved Colorado brewery of 2017, Jagged Mountain hit its absolute stride with this blonde milk stout that featured the additions of lactose, coffee beans and cacao nibs. It created a full-bodied beer that tasted like it was dry-hopped with coffee rather than overwhelmed by the additive, offering a plethora of flavors that worked perfectly together.

7) Great Divide Barrel-Aged Hibernation Ale
The increasing efforts of Denver's largest brewery toward its barrel-aging program pay off again and again, this year letting a whiskey barrel soak into an already sweet and malt-forward old ale for a year and producing a delightfully unsubtle beer that hits you with a variety of flavors, each one seeming to become part of a bigger tasty picture.

6) Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project Turkish Coffee Stout
Denver's best new brewery adds unusual ingredients to its portfolio of beers like they were offered up in a "Chopped" basket. But nothing was both so unique and so style-redefining as this shockingly smooth dark ale that offered a lot of coffee grit and also a lingering sweetness that just made it taste, well, foreign.

5) New Image East Coast Transplant
A hazy double IPA that presents both a guava/mango nose and just enough hint of bittering hops on the backtaste that it both exemplifies the best qualities of the New England IPA style and defies easy definition with hints of both coasts in its complex profile.

4) Mountain Sun Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Chocolate Thunder Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout
The Boulder/Denver operators of the Mountain Sun concept go all out for their February stout month, both in terms of the number and variety of offerings they produce. Nothing, however, has ever been as magical as this, pulling together a huge body with the combined sweetness of chocolate, lactose and hints of bourbon to make a beer that is giant - but is far more flavorful than it is big, somehow.

3) Comrade/Uberbrew Triple IPA
The star of March's Collaboration Fest might just come to be the most-sought-after beer in Comrade's extensive hop portfolio if it were to offer it regularly. Highly floral and refreshingly grassy, the beer is made remarkable by its lack of alcohol burn. It's a master study in how to go big without scorching any taste buds.

2) City Star Wood Belly
Arguably, no single beer from 2017 did more to redefine the perception of a brewery than this barrel-aged imperial IPA double-dry-hopped with Amarillo, Mosaic and Citra hops. It manages to be so many things at once - wonderfully boozy (at 10.6% ABV), tropical in its hopping and imbued with such a deep oak taste that it's the rare hop bomb that becomes more flavorful as it warms. This Berthoud brewery has made solid beers for years; this, however, is a new level of successful experimentation that should garner a lot more attention for City Star.

1) Station 26 German Chocolate Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Dark Star Imperial Stout
This infinitely complex and drinkable beer debuted before 2017, but if there was a coming-out party for it, it was at January's Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival, where the increasingly confident Denver brewery held its own against every brewer in that room. The beer is, first and foremost, exactly what it promises - a slice of rich, dark, sweet cake in alcoholic liquid form. But the barrel aging gives it just enough of a pervading influence that it kicks the flavor to the next level, and the high alcohol content here is used to accent the richness rather than overshadow it. In a year when transcending the long-held definition of dark beers became almost a competitive sport for Colorado craft breweries, none of them jumped so far over the bar as Station 26 did with this masterpiece.

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