How do you fit the best Colorado beers from 2015 into one list? It’s not easy — and it’s a long list.
Colorado is home to at least 327 licensed craft breweries now and producing creative and quality liquids.
As the year comes to a close, the First Drafts team sought to do the near-impossible: Name all our favorite Colorado beers in the past 12 months, the new releases and our favorite go-tos. The contributors included John Frank, Jeremy Meyer, Jon Murray and Jenn Fields. At the top, we picked our top beers and then listed our other favorites below. (Again, these are not the “best” beers, but just the picks that pleased our palates. Some of our favorite local brews didn’t even make the list.)
John Frank’s favorite: Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, RAMJET
The funky sister brewery to Former Future let this sour red ferment in the wild (AKA the coolship), put it in a red wine barrel with Montmorency cherries and aged in the bottle for months before the June release. With a touch more of funk in the bottle, Ramjet is tart and complex with flavors of oak and cherries, earning a GABF bronze in the wide-ranging experimental beer category.
Jeremy Meyer’s favorite: Odell Brewing, Brazzle
You would think a raspberry beer would be red or pink, not gold. But this standout beer by one of Colorado’s oldest breweries made a sublime sour using 300 pounds of golden raspberries, not red ones. The concoction was aged in oak barrels and fermented with wild yeast, creating a gentle, golden sour that was gone before you knew it.
Jon Murray’s favorite: Mockery Brewing, Salted Scotch Ale
A return from the 2014 list, this remains a smooth, refreshing treat with the right amount of malt and a touch of bite.
Jenn Fields: Funkwerks, Ten
This is the Belgian-style quad you’ll want to have on hand next time it snows, or next time the sun comes out, or pretty much any time this winter, because it tastes like whatever the sugar-plum fairies would brew — assuming the sugar-plum fairies are clever enough to give a beer a complex malty, plummy quad a dry finish. This is the beer I waited all summer for.
Now to the full list …
4 Noses, Ritual Rivers Coffee Cocoa Porter
This is a collaboration between the Broomfield brewery, Ritual Chocolate and Two Rivers Coffee. Even though it’s dark, it tastes light and crisp. The chocolate and coffee blend together to remain hints in the porter.
AC Golden, Olathe
You can assume this Coors spinoff can make a lager. What takes this one special is its local roots: The barley, corn and hops were grown within a mile of each other in Olathe in western Colorado. It makes everyone want to celebrate the harvest.
Avery Brewing, Liliko’i Kepolo
The tart Hawaiian passion fruit witbier is fruity, light and tart — yet, you’ll see it in the hands of craft beer nerds, find it rec softball fields (for men’s and women’s games) and see it at plenty of backyard BBQs. It’s a true crowd (of all types) pleaser.
Avery Brewing, Vanilla Bean Stout
The formula sounds typical: a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with vanilla beans. We’ve all been there. But this dessert in a glass will take it to another level because of the complexity of the Tongan, Ugandan, and Mexican vanilla beans.
Bootstrap Brewing, Insane Rush
One of the best Colorado IPAs in a can. A perfectly balanced beer with just the right hoppiness — five different varieties. But the beer isn’t a hop wallop. It is crisp, balanced and clean. The Niwot brewery run by the husband-and-wife team that won their first GABF medal this year, a silver for an imperial red ale.
Breckenridge Brewing Barrel-Aged 471 IPA
With the move to the new Littleton brewery, Breckenridge also upped its barrel-aging game. This concoction is the brewery’s excellent 471 IPA aged for two months in bourbon barrels and then dry hopped with a rotating cast of hops. The one I had used Hull Melon hops. And it was excellent.
Broken Compass, Coconut Porter
The perfect end to a pow day at Breckenridge is a stop at Broken Compass on the way home. And this dark, rich beer is all coconut but still robust enough for recounting those epic face shots and big spills.
Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Project Alpha No. 4
This light IPA is packed with hoppy goodness, using mosaic and citra hops creating a citrusy, well-balanced beer that leaves you when in the hell is Cannonball Creek going to start canning or bottling?
Casey Brewing and Blending, Apricot Fruit Stand
It takes an act of God, or something near it, to score the much-coveted bottles from this Glenwood Springs brewery — even with the new distribution system — but we managed to try a few of the 2015 releases. The apricot saison was our favorite with big fruit flavor and a touch of sweetness to send off summer.
Coda Brewing, Sleepyhead Passion Fruit Kolsch
It landed on our radar after a 2014 GABF silver medal, and continues to please. A growler of this at a bottle share trumped even the beer world’s super-star bottles (and a whale or two) — and proved a crowd favorite for all types of beer drinkers.
Comrade Brewing, Superdamp
This is the fresh-hopped version of the brewery’s amazing Superpower. It won back-to-back GABF awards, and sadly, it’s only around for a limited time each year. The beer is made with 200 pounds of wet Chinook and 200 pounds of wet Cascade hops from Paonia, added within 24 hours of harvest. This beer is not only great. It’s an event and a must have every year.
Crazy Mountain, Slopeside India Session Ale
Call it Birds of Prey, call it Slopeside (the new name), either way it’s a hoppy and easy drinking session IPA. At 4.9% it’s on the edge of “session,” but we aren’t complaining.
Crooked Stave, Flor d’Lees
This indigenous wild ale was aged in oak barrels and is touted as one of Crooked Stave’s most complex long-aged sours. Just an amazing taste. We should all feel fortunate to have Crooked Stave in our fair city.
Elevation Brewing, Oil Man
An imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels that sits on the spirits side of the equation. Rich bourbon vanilla and oak flavors in the sweet malt just delight the palate from aroma to finish.
Epic Brewing, Sour Brainless on Peaches
Not the accident from 2014, this intentional sour brainless on peaches is even smoother and sour with still that great peach sweetness.
Great Divide, 21st Anniversary Sour
Congratulations to Great Divide, which is finally of drinking age. The brewery celebrated this year with a fantastic sour beer for its 21st anniversary brew. Not too puckery, this golden-hued beer almost tastes like a tart wine.
Left Hand Brewing, Bittersweet Imperial Coffee Milk Stout
The Longmont milk stout (and nitro) specialists made an imperial coffee version this year in bombers and made our mornings. (If we ever start calculating where it’s 5 o’clock, or at least noon, it’s with this beer.) And the nitro version at Nitro Fest produced dream-like creamy chocolate and coffee flavors.
Odd 13 Brewing, Papa Silenus
This double IPA is bold on the hops with a nice dry finish. At 8.5% ABV, it is a “sneaker” because of its easy drinkability. The hoppy balance with Amarillo, Simcoe, Centennial, Comet, Citra and Columbus make it a fine citrusy beer. And the alcohol content allows you to say with confidence on a summer’s day, “To heck with the lawn. It can mow itself.”
Oskar Blues, Pinner Throwback IPA
Is 2015 the year of the Pinner? Oskar Blues introduced the beer in December 2014 (and then popped another new IPA in 2015) and it hit a sweet (and hoppy) spot, even in the already rich session beer market. The Longmont brewery reported in September that Pinner sales exceeded Mama’s Little Yella Pils this year.
Prost and Dogfish Head’s, CollaboRyeZen
The collaboration between the Highland neighborhood brewery and the Delaware behemoth marked the opening of Avanti Food and Beverage in Denver. With banana notes, this perfect-for-autumn German rye beer drinks more like Prost than Dogfish, but the out-of-state brewer’s influence takes it up a notch.
Ratio Beerworks, Repeater Extra Pale Ale
This new brewery in the River North neighborhood of Denver started making great beers right out of the box This extra pale ale — with a shout out to the saison, too — is an easy pick for the list. Very drinkable beer, perfect balance, clean and light hoppiness. Just a great beer to drink. All. Day. Long.
Roaring Fork, Street Cred India Rye Red Ale
A random pick from a bottle shop in Aspen led to this discovery. The Carbondale brewery makes a hop-first red with enough rye to keep it interesting and easily drinkable.
Spangalang Brewery, Sugarfoot
Amid all the big beers on the shelves, the small beers (low alcohol) with nuanced flavors are often the most exciting finds. This Belgian-style table beer at 4.5 percent ABV is brewed with two types of yeast and subtly spiced. It won GABF gold in the brewery’s first months, and can sit on our table any day.
Station 26, Citra and Chinook IPAs
The single-hop series in cans from Station 26 is the new go-to everyday beer on the mountain or at home. It’s loaded with a juicy hoppiness layered above a crisp malt base. The toughest part is trying to pick between the Citra and Chinook versions — both are so good.
Trinity Brewing, Red Swingline IPA Primitif
The Colorado Springs brewery (for now, at least) makes plenty of funky beers, but this brett IPA hits the spot with IPA flavors amplified with a touch of funk. The GABF judges support our pick, giving the beer a silver in the brett category in this year’s competition.
Upslope Brewing, Oatmeal Stout
Nothing like a smooth stout at wintertime. And this limited release by Upslope is such a finely tuned beer with perfect roasty balance with the mildness of East Kent Goldings hops with the perfect, smooth finish.