To pick Colorado’s top craft beers and breweries in 2016, the Denver Post surveyed more than two dozen brewers and experts to reflect on the year in beer and look forward to 2017.
The fifth installment in the 6th annual Beer in Review series features Sarah Haughey, the owner of Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar in Buena Vista.
Haughey is the former marketing director for Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in Denver and Elevation Beer Co. in Poncha Springs. She opened the Jailhouse on July 14. The craft beer bar takes the name of the old jailhouse building on East Main Street in Buena Vista and features 10 rotating taps and a curated bottle list. She tastes a lot of different Colorado craft beers: “We only buy one keg of everything so when it kicks, we put something completely different on,” she said.
Here are Sarah Haughey’s picks for 2016:
Favorite Colorado beer of the year: Casey Brewing & Blending Hop Mess. I love everything that Troy Casey releases from his facility in Glenwood Springs, but the Hop Mess was a different beer than the fruit sours and saison we’ve all come to love from Casey. This beer was delicate yet sharp in its hoppiness. A classic saison base with all the carbonation and a hop profile to compete with the best IPAs. Casey’s knowledge of yeast and fermentation is what makes this beer so special: it is smooth, dry, no tartness. Despite noticeable carbonation, it is not cloying in any way and it lacks the prevalent phenolics that so many heavily hopped wild ales can produce. I have only had one 750ml bottle of Hop Mess, and it was very early in the year, but it still stands out as a highlight.
Favorite Colorado brewery of the year: This is a very hard question, but Comrade. While they are best known for their Superpower IPA — and I do love me some Superpower — these guys are a go-to for not just their hoppy options. They kill it with pretty much every style they produce. Even beers I wouldn’t normally order, I enjoy a pint to the last sip. I must include a very close second: 4 Noses Brewing. If you haven’t made it out to their gorgeous brewery and taproom in Broomfield and tried all their amazing beer, do so.
Favorite new Colorado brewery: With living in the mountains and opening The Jailhouse, I sadly did not make it to many breweries that have opened this year. I did, however, make it to Bierstadt Lagerhaus and it did not disappoint. Bill Eye and Ashleigh Carter can produce lager to rival the Germans with their traditional copper brewhouse and horizontal lagering tanks. Bierstadt Pilsner and Helles are definitely desert island beers.
Colorado brewery to watch in 2017: Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales. James and Sarah Howat are currently well underway on the expansion of their barrel room and brewery, which will now include a custom-built coolship. Previously a side project to the now-retired Former Future Brewing, Black Project is the whole shebang, focusing on wild ales and all kinds of experimental brews. I was honored to have the first ever keg of Black Project on tap at The Jailhouse, and I can’t wait for many more in the future. Big things are sure to come out of this science lab, ahem, brewery.
Most notable craft beer trend in 2016: Continued buyouts within the industry were a huge trend in 2016. Sure, Big Beer has been buying up more craft brewers and nestling them in their newly developed craft-beer division, but we also started to see buyouts elsewhere in the industry. It’s now not just brewery buyouts, but homebrew shop buyouts and distributor buyouts. A local surprise was Breakthru distributing buying out C.R. Goodman. I think we are going to see more of that.
Craft beer trend to watch in 2017: The redefining and “Americanization” of old/forgotten styles, like we have seen with the gose and now the grisette, and years ago the saison. Also, a continued growth in lagers on the craft scale. There has been a huge focus on unique ales in Colorado but just now we are seeing craft lagers, hoppy pilsners and classic German styles in more and more brewery repertoires. I think this also has to do with the fight against Big Beer — most of us still enjoy a down-the-gullet, light, American-style lager, but now more craft brewers are saying, “Yeah, we like that too — but it doesn’t have to be macro, try ours.”