Here’s how Colorado breweries fared at the 2017 GABF competition

Colorado’s craft brewing industry left the 2017 Great American Beer Festival well-decorated, flexing its muscles across an assortment of beer-style categories.

The state’s breweries won 38 medals — including 14 golds and three medals in the Pro-Am competition — at this year’s GABF. The largest commercial beer competition in the world drew 8,100 entries from 2,290 breweries and doled out awards in 98 categories representing 160 different beer styles.

Colorado swept the separate Pro-Am competition, in which professional and amateur brewers are paired. Homebrewer Doug Thiel and Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler won gold, with the pro-am pairings involving Fort Collins breweries Black Bottle Brewery and Odell Brewing Co. winning silver and bronze, respectively.

Colorado’s 38 medals, which tied the state’s total from last year, showcased the versatility of local beer makers. The Centennial State’s hardware spanned categories such as American-Style Black Ale; Brett Beer; English-Style India Pale Ale; German-Style Altbier, Koelsch and Pilsener; Herb and Spice Beer, Session IPA, Smoke Beer, South German-Style Hefeweizen, a collection of Wood- and Barrel-Aged offerings, and, fittingly, Experimental Beer.

“We have a great, passionate group of people that know how to make all kinds of beers,” said James Howat, brewer and owner of Black Project Spontaneous Ales in Denver. “We are spoiled here.”

Black Project won its third medal in four years in the Experimental Beer category. This year, the brewery snagged a silver for its Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired beer made with six pounds of raspberries in each gallon.

“It’s definitely a beer that … is strongly flavored,” Howat said.

The GABF stage featured several first-time winners among Colorado’s brewing industry, including Arvada-based Odyssey Beerwerks; Denver-based CO-Brew; and Boulder-based Cellar West Artisan Ales.

Boulder’s Finkel & Garf Brewing Co.’s brought home a gold for its first GABF medal.

The brewery, which opened in the summer of 2014 touting the motto of “play often,” features collection of games, toys and beer flights paired with treats.

The GABF-winning Oatmeal Milk Stout is traditionally paired with a Twinkie, said Mychal Johnson, Finkel & Garf’s head brewer.

Longmont-based Wibby Brewing Co.’s first GABF win — the Moondoor Dunkel took the silver in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category — was uniquely memorable:

While he and the Wibby Brewing crew stood on stage to receive the medals, Ryan Wibby asked his girlfriend, Robin, for her hand in marriage. She gleefully and tearfully accepted.

In Colorado’s sundry showing at GABF, the state also showed off its chops in the traditional.

The American-Style Lager category has long been dominated by brewery industry stalwarts — Pabst Brewing, the hometown Coors Brewing, Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch.

Not this year.

Lone Tree Brewing’s Mexican Lager toppled the giants, landing a gold. Bookending Pabst Blue Ribbon was another craft creation: Sun Grown Fresh Craft Lager, a creation of the Sycamore Brewing Cannery in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m out of this world,” said Josh West, Lone Tree’s head brewer. The brewery also won silver in the Imperial Red Ale category with its Hop Zombie.

Two years ago, Lone Tree’s Summer Siesta Mexican Lager finished second in the category, behind the venerable Coors Banquet.

“It’s really great to be the best American lager in the country,” West said. “It proves us little craft guys can hang with the guys doing it forever.”

Colorado breweries that won medals at the 2017 GABF

The following are the medal winners from Colorado, including the name of the beer, the brewery, city and style:

GOLD
F-Town Amber — Copper Club Brewing Co., Fruita, American-Style Amber/Red Ale
Fancy Pants — Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins, Brett Beer
Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch — Wiley Roots Brewing Co., Greeley, Mixed-Culture Brett Beer
(Pro-Am)Just Another Pretty Face — Doug Thiel, Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler, Denver Beer Co., Denver
Medianoche — WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Mexican Lager — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor
Oatmeal Milk Stout — Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., Boulder, Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Punjabi — CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing, Fort Collins, English-Style India Pale Ale
Plum Creek Sour — Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co., Castle Rock, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Razz Against the Machine — Little Machine, Denver, American-Style Fruit Beer
Saison — Funkwerks, Fort Collins, Classic Saison
So long and thank’s for all the (smoked) fish! — The Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver, Smoke Beer
Waverly Tulip — Square Peg Brewerks, Alamosa, Historical Beer

SILVER
Black 28 — Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Golden, American-Style Black Ale
Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale; Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Lakewood, Historical Beer
Hop Zombie — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, Imperial Red Ale
Lemon Rye — 105 West Brewing Co., Castle Rock, American-Style Wheat Beer
(Pro-Am) Lichtenhainer — Daniel Tomkins, Black Bottle Scuba Squad, Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins,
Make Hay — Cellar West Artisan Ales, Boulder, Specialty Saison
Moondoor Dunkel — Wibby Brewing, Longmont, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
Patio Pounder — Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Boulder, Session India Pale Ale
Peacekeeper — Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora, Session Beer
Pilsner — Dry Dock Brewing Co. South Dock, Arvada, German-Style Pilsener
Roswell: Grudge — Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, Experimental Beer
Saison Trystero — Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver, Brett Beer
Suntrip — New Terrain Brewing Co., Golden, Belgian-Style Witbier
Woods Monk — Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

BRONZE
5th Anniversary Tequila Sour — Loveland Aleworks, Loveland, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Blackberry Table Sour — Baere Brewing Co., Denver, Berliner-Style Weisse
Downhill Kolsch — Elk Mountain Brewing Co., Parker, German-Style Koelsch
Dunkel — Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co., Dillon, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
(Pro-Am) Eluxansis — Mark Boelman, Odell Brew Team, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins
Farmhouse Saison — Co-Brew, Denver, Specialty Saison
Hefeweizen — Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Broomfield, South German-Style Hefeweizen
India Spring Honey Cream Ale — Broken Plow Brewery, Greeley, Herb and Spice Beer
Little Red Cap — Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland, German-Style Altbier
Mountain Series: Maibock — Breckenridge Brewery, Littleton, Bock
Woody Pils — Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

Here’s how Colorado breweries fared at the 2017 GABF competition

Colorado’s craft brewing industry left the 2017 Great American Beer Festival well-decorated, flexing its muscles across an assortment of beer-style categories.

The state’s breweries won 38 medals — including 14 golds and three medals in the Pro-Am competition — at this year’s GABF. The largest commercial beer competition in the world drew 8,100 entries from 2,290 breweries and doled out awards in 98 categories representing 160 different beer styles.

Colorado swept the separate Pro-Am competition, in which professional and amateur brewers are paired. Homebrewer Doug Thiel and Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler won gold, with the pro-am pairings involving Fort Collins breweries Black Bottle Brewery and Odell Brewing Co. winning silver and bronze, respectively.

Colorado’s 38 medals, which tied the state’s total from last year, showcased the versatility of local beer makers. The Centennial State’s hardware spanned categories such as American-Style Black Ale; Brett Beer; English-Style India Pale Ale; German-Style Altbier, Koelsch and Pilsener; Herb and Spice Beer, Session IPA, Smoke Beer, South German-Style Hefeweizen, a collection of Wood- and Barrel-Aged offerings, and, fittingly, Experimental Beer.

“We have a great, passionate group of people that know how to make all kinds of beers,” said James Howat, brewer and owner of Black Project Spontaneous Ales in Denver. “We are spoiled here.”

Black Project won its third medal in four years in the Experimental Beer category. This year, the brewery snagged a silver for its Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired beer made with six pounds of raspberries in each gallon.

“It’s definitely a beer that … is strongly flavored,” Howat said.

The GABF stage featured several first-time winners among Colorado’s brewing industry, including Arvada-based Odyssey Beerwerks; Denver-based CO-Brew; and Boulder-based Cellar West Artisan Ales.

Boulder’s Finkel & Garf Brewing Co.’s brought home a gold for its first GABF medal.

The brewery, which opened in the summer of 2014 touting the motto of “play often,” features collection of games, toys and beer flights paired with treats.

The GABF-winning Oatmeal Milk Stout is traditionally paired with a Twinkie, said Mychal Johnson, Finkel & Garf’s head brewer.

Longmont-based Wibby Brewing Co.’s first GABF win — the Moondoor Dunkel took the silver in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category — was uniquely memorable:

While he and the Wibby Brewing crew stood on stage to receive the medals, Ryan Wibby asked his girlfriend, Robin, for her hand in marriage. She gleefully and tearfully accepted.

In Colorado’s sundry showing at GABF, the state also showed off its chops in the traditional.

The American-Style Lager category has long been dominated by brewery industry stalwarts — Pabst Brewing, the hometown Coors Brewing, Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch.

Not this year.

Lone Tree Brewing’s Mexican Lager toppled the giants, landing a gold. Bookending Pabst Blue Ribbon was another craft creation: Sun Grown Fresh Craft Lager, a creation of the Sycamore Brewing Cannery in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m out of this world,” said Josh West, Lone Tree’s head brewer. The brewery also won silver in the Imperial Red Ale category with its Hop Zombie.

Two years ago, Lone Tree’s Summer Siesta Mexican Lager finished second in the category, behind the venerable Coors Banquet.

“It’s really great to be the best American lager in the country,” West said. “It proves us little craft guys can hang with the guys doing it forever.”

Colorado breweries that won medals at the 2017 GABF

The following are the medal winners from Colorado, including the name of the beer, the brewery, city and style:

GOLD
F-Town Amber — Copper Club Brewing Co., Fruita, American-Style Amber/Red Ale
Fancy Pants — Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins, Brett Beer
Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch — Wiley Roots Brewing Co., Greeley, Mixed-Culture Brett Beer
(Pro-Am)Just Another Pretty Face — Doug Thiel, Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler, Denver Beer Co., Denver
Medianoche — WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Mexican Lager — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor
Oatmeal Milk Stout — Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., Boulder, Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Punjabi — CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing, Fort Collins, English-Style India Pale Ale
Plum Creek Sour — Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co., Castle Rock, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Razz Against the Machine — Little Machine, Denver, American-Style Fruit Beer
Saison — Funkwerks, Fort Collins, Classic Saison
So long and thank’s for all the (smoked) fish! — The Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver, Smoke Beer
Waverly Tulip — Square Peg Brewerks, Alamosa, Historical Beer

SILVER
Black 28 — Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Golden, American-Style Black Ale
Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale; Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Lakewood, Historical Beer
Hop Zombie — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, Imperial Red Ale
Lemon Rye — 105 West Brewing Co., Castle Rock, American-Style Wheat Beer
(Pro-Am) Lichtenhainer — Daniel Tomkins, Black Bottle Scuba Squad, Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins,
Make Hay — Cellar West Artisan Ales, Boulder, Specialty Saison
Moondoor Dunkel — Wibby Brewing, Longmont, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
Patio Pounder — Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Boulder, Session India Pale Ale
Peacekeeper — Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora, Session Beer
Pilsner — Dry Dock Brewing Co. South Dock, Arvada, German-Style Pilsener
Roswell: Grudge — Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, Experimental Beer
Saison Trystero — Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver, Brett Beer
Suntrip — New Terrain Brewing Co., Golden, Belgian-Style Witbier
Woods Monk — Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

BRONZE
5th Anniversary Tequila Sour — Loveland Aleworks, Loveland, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Blackberry Table Sour — Baere Brewing Co., Denver, Berliner-Style Weisse
Downhill Kolsch — Elk Mountain Brewing Co., Parker, German-Style Koelsch
Dunkel — Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co., Dillon, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
(Pro-Am) Eluxansis — Mark Boelman, Odell Brew Team, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins
Farmhouse Saison — Co-Brew, Denver, Specialty Saison
Hefeweizen — Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Broomfield, South German-Style Hefeweizen
India Spring Honey Cream Ale — Broken Plow Brewery, Greeley, Herb and Spice Beer
Little Red Cap — Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland, German-Style Altbier
Mountain Series: Maibock — Breckenridge Brewery, Littleton, Bock
Woody Pils — Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

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GABF 2017: 50 must-taste breweries

Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales (Denver, Colorado): W10

Look for the line to find Black Project, it’s worth the wait. The cult-status brewery specializes in beers made with yeast and bacteria derived from open-air fermentation and then carefully crafted in the barrel, often with local fruits. Get back in line a couple times — again, it’s worth it.

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Great American Beer Fest 2017: Can’t-miss events around Denver

The first week of October offers an embarrassment of craft beer riches thanks to the Great American Beer Festival.

But it creates a good-to-have problem: How do you pick where to grab a beer in Denver if there are so many special events at the same time?

This is where we can help. From our ultimate GABF week calendar, we selected the five can’t-miss events this year:

Beers Made By Walking, Oct. 3, 6-9 p.m. 

The most unique craft beers poured today are the ones defined by their terroir — the ones that embrace and reflect the surroundings of where they are made. The Beers Made by Walking festival is the showcase for those beers, challenging brewers to draw inspiration for a beer by taking a walk in nature and foraging ingredients local to their area.

“Each beer is a unique, drinkable portrait of the landscape,” according to organizers.

This year’s event will feature more than 30 brewers who hiked 14,000-foot mountains, wandered through community gardens and camped in national parks to form their recipes. Twenty of the beers were made just for the event. And the brewery list includes some of the most innovative brewers in the country, including Black Project, Four Noses; Haw River; Burial Beer; Fonta Flora and Trophy. Tickets cost $40 and proceeds benefit the museum. More details here.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd.

The Crooked Stave Portfolio Tap Takeover, Oct. 5, 11:30 a.m. 

Crooked Stave Artisans is much more than a sour-beer (and now IPA) master. The Denver company also owns a beer distribution company. And each year for GABF it puts on a show with the best in the craft business, offering some amazing beers that make appearances in Colorado for only one week a year.

The Crafty Fox is hosting a tasting of Crooked Stave’s distribution partners that pulls from across the country, including Chicago’s Half Acre, Oklahoma’s American Solera, Vermont’s Lawson’s Finest Liquids and more.

The Crafty Fox, 3901 Fox. St.; Oct. 4, 2-6 p.m. 

Plus: Hops and Pie in Denver is pouring 23 breweries distributed by Crooked Stave a day later, including Oregon’s Ale Apothecary, California’s Societe and Connecticut’s Two Roads, as well as “additional treasurers.”

Hops and Pie, 3920 Tennyson St.

Colorado Invitational: GABF Kickoff Party, Oct. 4, Noon-3 p.m. and 4-7 p.m.

A new event this year is drawing some huge hype. The Colorado Invitational will feature six breweries that are making some of the most interesting beer in the state right now.

The lineup includes three breweries known for making some of the best hazy IPAs — Odd13, WeldWerks and Cerebral — as well as the well-regarded 4 Noses and innovative Wiley Roots.

New Image Brewing, which is known for their hazy IPA East Coast Transplant, is hosting the mini-festival for two sessions. Each brewery will bring two beers and New Image will pour its full list and special one-time releases. Brandon Capps, the brewery’s founder, said he wants it to be an intimate experience — unlike GABF — that allows people to talk to brewers in depth about the beer.

To add to the fun, the event will take place outside and include live music. Tickets cost $35. More details here.

For a bonus experience, test Colorado’s IPAs against some of the best in the nation later that evening at Falling Rock Tap House. The Denver craft beer bar is hosting an All-Star IPA Throwdown at 9:30 p.m. that features Wyoming’s Melvin Brewing, Maine’s Bissell Brothers and many more.

New Image Restaurant and Brewery, 5622 Yukon St., Arvada

Casey Brewing and Blending Tasting, Oct. 6, 11:30 a.m. 

Casey Brewing and Blending in Glenwood Springs comes down the mountain only so often to share its coveted Belgian-inspired beers. And GABF week is one of those times.

The best time to taste Troy Casey’s beers is Friday at Hops and Pie. The brewery is offering nine different barrel-aged beers and the side-by-side experience allows fans to experience the nuances of how different fruits and wild yeasts come together in the barrel to produce unique beers. Translation: Geek out.

The tap list will include The Cut: Sour Danube Cherry, Dry Hopped Apricot Casey Family Preserves, Dry Hopped Oak Theory, The Low End, The Cut: Grape, The Cut: Plum, Cherry Fruit Stand, Grape Fruit Stand, and Plum Casey Family Preserves.

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The best Colorado Craft Beer and Breweries in 2016

Once under the radarBlack Project made its formal debut this year on South Broadway in Denver, replacing its sister operation Former Future. James and Sarah Howat’s brewery specializes beer that is spontaneously fermented with microbes in the open air, creating beer with complexity and a sense of place. Other yeast strains are isolated in the lab to make unique saisons and India pale ales.

Black Project “continues to push boundaries with their methods of harvesting and isolating wild yeast from their Denver rooftop and their marketing decision to solely focus on native microflora for fermentation,” said Chris Marchio, the former brewer at Joyride Brewing.

The unique approach gave Black Project the nod, but this category was close, with a dozen breweries in contention. Four of the state’s IPA masters finished tied for second place: Cannonball Creek, Cerebral, Comrade and Odd13 are redefining styles and pushing hop flavors to new places with each brewery hitting a new level in 2016.

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Beer in Review 2016: Best in Colorado beer from Ryan Kilpatrick at Fiction Beer Co.

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 latest installment in the 6th annual Beer in Review series features Ryan Kilpatrick from Fiction Beer Co. in Denver.

In December, Fiction started selling beer in cans — adding to the 22-ounce bottles of its seasonal beers and Feely Effects Stout. The first release is Logic is Relative, a hazy IPA and the brewery’s No. 1 seller since its release earlier this year. The brewery’s beer names are inspired by books.

Here are Ryan Kilpatrick’s picks for 2016:

Favorite Colorado beer of the year: So many beers and so little time. As a brewery owner, it is surprising how few beers we get to try; we are always working on our own!

However, this year I stopped into Our Mutual Friend one random night while in the area and had a chance to taste their Thanatoid Russian imperial stout and it was amazing. Smooth, dark, rich and drinkable. A great Russian imperial stout is difficult to make as they are often overly hopped or have excessive astringency from roasted malts. When these attributes are in balance, it is pure bliss. Another great beer from OMF.

Favorite Colorado brewery of the year: In Colorado there are a lot of great breweries and I am a fan of most. Last year, time and again I was continually impressed by the offerings from Strange Craft Beer Company. The beers coming out of this five-year veteran are thoughtful, tasty, balanced and impressive.

The people at Strange are among the friendliest in the industry, and nothing makes a beer taste better than the great people serving you. I can’t always get to the other side of town, but I can get to a liquor store when I crave some Strange. The expansion of their bomber lineup has been fantastic. I am able to get more of my favorites now.

Favorite new Colorado brewery: Out of the many amazing new breweries, it is no surprise to me that one stands out: Spangalang Brewery. The owners have a solid brewing heritage and bring that experience to the table when creating their amazing lineup of beers.

I find the styles they brew to be similar to what I enjoy making: unique IPAs, memorable Belgians, refreshing sours and interesting fruited options. The one-off beers they make vary in style greatly, which means there is almost always something new and interesting to taste. All of the beers I have had are complex, well-balanced, flavorful and drinkable, which is everything I look for in a beer.

Colorado brewery to watch in 2017: I had been a fan of Former Future Brewing from when they first opened. The theme drew me in (I am a pilot and really wanted to see their Cessna wing bar top) and the beers kept me coming back for more. Then they started their spontaneous Black Project program, which immediately intrigued me — I love sour beers.

The beers coming out of Black Project Brewing were so amazing that last year the team over there decided to put Former Future Brewing aside and focus solely on their spontaneous beers from Black Project. The move was bold but gives them the freedom to make more variations of their spontaneous beers without having to keep up with their clean beer lineup. I applaud them for this move and am very excited for what is going to come from Black Project in the year to come.

Most notable craft beer trend in 2016: The beer trend in Colorado that stood out to me was the proliferation of the New England IPA style. Fiction began brewing versions of this style shortly after we opened in 2014. At the time, our customers indicated they liked the beer, but there was no real buzz or conversation around it. In late 2015 we put a New England Style imperial IPA on tap as a house beer and shortly thereafter we noticed a considerable increase in the amount of conversation around the style.

Around the same time, several other breweries launched similar style IPAs and the trend began to grow. As of now, at the end of 2016, I know of at least a dozen other local breweries making this style, and many others plan to brew one soon. We are looking forward to trying all the variations of these juice-bomb IPAs.

Craft beer trend to watch in 2017: A trend that has been slowly growing in the local and national beer community is the increasing number of sessionable sour beers. Everything from gose and Berliner weiss to table sours and pale ales.

Sour beer in general has seen a huge increase in the last five years thanks to brewers like Crooked Stave, Trinity, Rare Barrel and Black Project taking chances and helping to spread their knowledge. However, recently more breweries have embarked on the task of making more of these sessionable sours, which may not be as complex and mouth-puckering as the barrel-aged variants but still satisfy.

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Beer in Review 2016: Best in Colorado beer from Scott Witsoe at Wit’s End Brewing

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 latest installment in the 6th annual Beer in Review series features Scott Witsoe from Wit’s End Brewing in Denver.

Wit’s End started in 2011 as a nanobrewery and now operates a seven-barrel system. The brewery offers an assortment of beers, including a single-malt, single-hop series and a Star Wars-inspired beer line.

Here are Scott Witsoe’s picks for 2016:

Favorite Colorado beer of the year: Easy one this year: We opened a bottle from Casey Brewing and Blending after our anniversary party, it was their 2014 Fruit Stand Series-Plum, which was a gift from some friends. This beer stopped me in my tracks. It was so incredible, complex and delicate. Honestly, drinking this beer was a spiritual journey. I can’t wait to visit them someday.

Favorite Colorado brewery of the year: I’ve not been out to too many places this year, but I have to say what stood out for me was Black Project. I applaud James and Sarah (Howat) for making the bold move to focus on their spontaneous ales and closing their original Former Future brand. Both sides of the brewhouse had great beers, but the Black Project is so unique, and James Howat is a mad scientist that can indulge in the microbiology of their fantastic and unique beers. There is a lot to be proud of in this city with so many great breweries, and Black Project should be mentioned always as a place to check out for a unique drinking experience.

Favorite new Colorado brewery: Bierstadt Lagerhaus. I wanted to try and share the love, because I know everyone is picking these guys, but they deserve it. Bill Eye and Ashleigh Carter are awesome, and Bill is arguably one of the best German-style brewers around. I have been waiting a long time for them to open.

Colorado brewery to watch in 2017: Black Shirt Brewing. They are working on converting their space to have a full restaurant become a much needed brewpub in the River North area. Not only are these guys some of the nicest in the business, they are making awesome beers and they have lots of experience in fine dining. They are bringing on a great chef (Bill Greenwood) and once they get through all the “fun” conversion processes with the powers that be, they are going to absolutely kill it!

Most notable craft beer trend in 2016: The New England IPA seems to have come up constantly this year. I have not had a ton of them, but I’ve enjoyed just about all the ones I’ve tried — particularly Juicy Bits by Weldworks and Odd13’s Codename: Superfan.

I am not necessarily a huge fan of “stylizing” beer so much and needing to label things when brewers push the boundaries. I think we have exhausted the 1,000,000 IBU beers, and the notion that high IBUs imply a good IPA. I also like how we are getting away from clear beer equaling good beer. Reminds me of someone who once said “cold” is not a flavor. I think we are in a great time for drinkers in that most have had a chance to chase trends and develop palates, and now everyone is looking for changes to tradition as driven by unique new flavors.

Craft beer trend to watch in 2017: Unfortunately I fear the AB InBev infiltration of craft beer will not slow down. In addition to purchasing breweries, they continue to buy distributors — and they even bought a major home brew supply company this year. They are playing a long game that is not going to be good for the craft beer consumer, ultimately. The heart of this industry is strong, but they are a powerhouse and have the resources to permanently change things as they see fit. Not sure how everyone is going to fare in their wake next year.

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Beer in Review 2016: Best in Colorado beer from Neil Fisher at WeldWerks Brewing

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 latest installment in the 6th annual Beer in Review series features Neil Fisher from WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley.

WeldWerks emerged as one of the hottest breweries in Colorado behind his hazy IPA, Juicy Bits, as well as the Medianoche and Achromatic stout series. Huge lines form for the bottle releases, and the brewery is coveted among online beer traders. Now it’s expanding production through a deal with a contract brewer and soon plans to distribute select beers in cans.

Here are Neil Fisher’s picks for 2016:

Favorite Colorado beer of the year: Let me preface all of my responses with a statement: We are absolutely spoiled with an incredible selection of beer here in Colorado, and narrowing my selections down to just one pick for each question was impossible. With that in mind, there were three beers that really stood out for me this year from Colorado.

The first was the original Hop Wizard release from Odd13. The entire team at Odd13 have released some really incredible beers this year, especially in the New England-style IPA category. But my favorite of all of them was Hop Wizard, with just as much bright, juicy hop character and the same soft, pillowy mouthfeel as their other NE-style IPAs but delivered in a dangerously approachable pale ale format at 5.5% ABV. Out of all the great beers I got to try this year, Hop Wizard is the one I wish I could keep stocked in my fridge all the time.

Another beer that really impressed me was Lunex from Black Project. There’s no question that James and Sarah Howat are producing some of the most exciting and well-crafted wild and sour ales in Colorado. Oxcart serves as the base for Lunex, which is a blend of three seasons of spontaneous coolship beers, and is an exquisite beer in its own right. But the addition of coffee to create Lunex transforms the beer into a completely different experience, and it just plain works. Lunex is a testament to their ability to innovate and express their own creativity, while maintaining a reverence and dedication to the tradition of spontaneous fermentation.

My final pick might seem like a bit of homerism since they are our neighbors just a few blocks away here in Greeley, but Pua Aloalo from Wiley Roots was one of the best-executed sour beers I enjoyed all year. The crew at Wiley Roots have made it a force to be reckoned with here in Colorado. And in my opinion, their sour program in particular is shaping up to be one of the best in the state.

If you went to Avery’s Sour Fest this year, you probably already know this since Wiley Roots stole the show with beers like Apricot Boxes and Cinna(MAN)bun. But my favorite from them this year was Pua Aloalo, a golden sour fermented in neutral wine barrels and aged with Hibiscus flowers and Madagascar vanilla beans. Pua Aloalo was unique, complex, flavorful and expertly crafted and really solidified Wiley Roots’ position in Colorado’s wild/sour game.

Favorite Colorado brewery of the year: This was a really tough choice because there were so many breweries that produced excellent beers this year and we really are spoiled with selection in Colorado. But given the number of hits they cranked out in 2016, I have to go with Odd13.

Despite opening just over three years ago, Odd13 has become a pioneer in the craft beer scene in our state, and they deserve a lot of the credit for bringing New England-style IPAs to the forefront here in Colorado. Codename: Superfan was the first example of the style from Colorado I got to try and one of the beers that originally piqued my interest in the style. But rather than resting on their laurels, they continued to improve Superfan and even used it as a launchpad to craft even more unique, delicious IPAs, utilizing different hops, malts and brewing techniques to give each beer its own identity. And the guys at Odd13 have a lot more tricks up their sleeves than just producing delicious New England-style IPAs, as their kettle sours, imperial stouts and mixed fermentation beers can attest.

Favorite new Colorado brewery: I never get to visit as many breweries each year as I hope, but there were two that really stood out for me in 2016. The first was Bierstadt Lagerhus, which was the brewery I was most excited about opening this year, and they exceeded my expectations. Bill Eye and Ashleigh Carter are producing some of the most authentic and well-crafted German lagers in the country. If you need to be convinced, just try their Slow Pour Pils, which is one of the best examples of the style I have ever tasted. But you can’t go wrong with any of the beers they produce, as every single one is expertly and painstakingly crafted.

Another brewery that hit the ground running this year is Resolute. I have yet to visit their facility, but I have been able to try several of their beers either at fests or from crowlers and all of them have been delicious. Considering they have only been open a few months, it’s amazing how dialed in their recipes are, especially the hefeweizen and Belgian golden strong. I can’t wait to see what they produce in 2017!

Colorado brewery to watch in 2017: As I mentioned before, Wiley Roots’ sour program is already dialed in and with the addition of more barrels, foeders and fermenters, all dedicated to sour production, we are going to see even more great mixed fermentation beers from them in 2017. Wiley Roots will continue to put Greeley on the craft beer map in Colorado, which is something I am selfishly excited about.

Not that they are flying under anyone’s radar, but I cannot wait to see what James and Sarah Howat at Black Project come up with for 2017. Their coolship should be installed and online any day now, allowing them to ramp up production of their spontaneous beers fairly soon. And now that they have transitioned Former Future completely into the Black Project brand, their efforts will be completely focused on producing even more amazing sour beer in 2017. Did I mention how spoiled we are here in Colorado?

And finally, Cerebral is going to have an even bigger impact in 2017. They have produced incredible beers covering the full spectrum of styles, from New England-style IPAs to decadent imperial stouts. Not to mention they took silver at GABF this year in the competitive Brett Beer category. I just wish I had the opportunity to try more of their beers this year because everything I tried was amazing. I expect even bigger things in 2017.

Most notable craft beer trend in 2016: I think we are finally starting to see some gentle squeezing of the craft beer market. No, the bubble hasn’t burst, nor will it anytime soon. But with more and more breweries opening by the day, we are starting to see slower growth for some of the bigger regional breweries as customers seem to be shifting their support more toward local breweries. And as long as the smaller local breweries maintain quality, I am all for it. Let’s just hope the quality and reputation of craft beer doesn’t suffer as a result.

Craft beer trend to watch in 2017: As much as New England-style IPAs started gaining popularity here in Colorado in 2016, I think we will see even more pop up in 2017. The style is not without its controversy, and there are plenty of breweries who will likely never jump on board, which is completely understandable because the style is not for everyone. But customers seem to have cast their vote considering how popular the style has become across the country and how fast breweries are selling out of those beers.

That kind of reaction from the market will cause a lot more breweries to try their hand at the style next year. And I couldn’t be more excited, especially because the style itself is a perfect canvas for creativity, innovation and experimentation, which in my mind are characteristics that make craft beer such an exciting industry to be a part of.

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Beer in Review 2016: Best in Colorado beer from Sarah Howat at Black Project

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 eighth installment in the 6th annual Beer in Review series features Sarah Howat at Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales in Denver. (Here are husband James Howat’s 2015 picks.)

Once Denver’s secret brewery, Black Project made its formal debut in August, replacing Former Future Brewing on South Broadway. The new iteration — which recently expanded its space to make room for more barrel-aging beers — focuses on wild and sour creations but also offers a delicious hazy IPA and intricate saisons. The brewery also recently did a collaboration with North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing.

Here are Sarah Howat’s picks for 2016:

Favorite Colorado beer of the year: This question is always tough because it’s nearly impossible to remember what stood out over the whole year. However, Wiley Roots Key Lime Express did stand out. The rose water took me by surprise in the very best way. I love brewers that take a flavor — familiar or not — and use it in a way that works uniquely.

Favorite Colorado brewery of the year: Cerebral. They continue to offer a place to enjoy a pint as a neighborhood taproom with standard offerings, as well as offer something innovative and distinct. To do both, and do them well, is an accomplishment.

Favorite new Colorado brewery: Bierstadt Lagerhaus. I could drink their beer every day.

Colorado brewery to watch in 2017: Weldwerks is going to continue to do great things. I’m excited to see how their sour offerings evolve.

Most notable craft beer trend in 2016: Foraged ingredients — both physical flora and microflora. Both hold the power to bring a sense of place to the beer. I love that more and more breweries are seeking ways to be truly unique and showcase their domain. It keeps things interesting and keeps drinkers engaged.

Craft beer trend to watch in 2017: I think more and more small breweries will start to specialize in one area, rather than continuing to be a “catch-all” for any and every style.

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Beer in Review 2016: Best in Colorado beer from Sarah Haughey of Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar

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 2017Black 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.”

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Why some big-name breweries don’t pour at GABF

The Great American Beer Festival gets all the attention but not all the breweries.

A number of much-hyped craft brewers are choosing not to attend GABF this year and instead find a home at one of the many side festivals and tap takeovers the same week.

The trend became evident at the Beers Made by Walking and What the Funk!? Invitational events Tuesday evening, where handfuls of small and independent breweries with major followings among aficionados offered rare and celebrated beers you won’t find at the Colorado Convention Center this week.

“It’s really hard to tell your story in that kind of transaction,” said Erin Jones, the marketing director at North Carolina’s top-notch Burial Beer Co., about GABF.

Instead, Burial Beer attended Beers Made by Walking at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, pouring a sour beer made with local malts and foraged sumac from the Appalachian hillsides nears its Asheville brewery.

Jones said the more intimate setting at the event allowed her to talk to customers and still build the company’s brand. Other reasons breweries cited for not going to GABF: It’s not worth the cost and didn’t help sales back home.

“If I can accomplish (brand development) at things like this, why would I do GABF?” Jones said.

The craft breweries not pouring at GABF that are attending other related events include Vermont’s Hill Farmstead Brewery and Lawson’s Finest Liquids; Oklahoma’s Prairie Artisan Ales; Georgia’s Creature Comforts; Oregon’s Ale Apothecary; Colorado’s Powder Keg and Casey Brewing and Blending; and Missouri’s Perennial Artisan Ales, among others.

At What the Funk?!, hosted by Crooked Stave at the EXDO Center in the River North district, Paul Arney, the owner and brewer at Ale Apothecary, said smaller events for connoisseurs are the types of events he wants to attend. “These are our consumers,” he said, after pouring Minotaur, a deliciously complex wild ale aged in bourbon and wine barrels.

Across the way, Two Roads brewery poured three of its barrel-aged and sour beers at the event. The Connecticut brewery also is attending GABF. “For us, it’s just super fun,” said Clement Pellani, the brewery’s vice president of marketing and sales.

Texas’ Jester King is making a return to GABF this year after only attending side events in prior years. Averie Swanson, the brewery’s production manager, said Jester King sells 80 percent of its volume on site. So, she continued, “if you’re a small brewery, it doesn’t make a lot of sense” to go to GABF every year.

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Denver’s Great American Beer Festival turns 35

The Great American Beer Festival will kick off its 35th year this week with a record number of craft breweries pouring, a record number of beers vying for awards, and a capacity crowd of attendees sipping samples.

It’s a trend that’s become almost old hat for this sub-sector of the U.S. beer industry.

But the 2016 storyline in craft beer is a tale far more complex than a ballooning of breweries to above 4,600 and a bevy of questions about a bubble burst.

The industry has matured, growth trajectories have narrowed, competition has become more fierce, multibillion-dollar market-movers have joined the fray, and business plans have evolved in their sophistication.

Craft beer is all grown up.

Nationwide, the small, traditional and independent breweries generated $22.3 billion in retail beer sales last year, according to the Brewers Association, the Boulder-based craft beer trade association that hosts the GABF. By production volume, craft beer has a 12.2 percent share of the overall U.S. beer industry, according to the Brewers Association.

Through May, the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division tallied 350 manufacturing brewery and brewpub licenses — which include breweries in planning — triple the total recorded a decade ago, according to a recent University of Colorado study commissioned by the Colorado Brewers Guild.

That same study stated industry sales totaled $882 million and an economic impact of $1.7 billion.

“The Front Range has certainly seen a very high concentration of brewery openings in the last four or five years,” said Steve Kurowski, marketing director for the Colorado Brewers Guild. “Whether it’s tapped out? I think that remains to be seen. I think there’s room for good breweries making high-quality beer across Colorado.”

Take La Junta, for example, he said, adding that the eastern Colorado townsoon could be home to its first brewery. Additionally, a greater proportion of the 40-plus new breweries that open annually in the state are smaller, neighborhood-focused breweries or brewpubs, he said.

Gunbarrel Brewing Co. is one such brewery.

Diversify, diversify, diversify

The brewery has been in the works for three years as homebrewer Jamie Fox and his wife, Marie, sought a suitable space in the Boulder County neighborhood. In that time, more than 100 breweries opened in Colorado and Gunbarrel gained the new headquarters for the Boulder-bred Avery Brewing Co.

The Foxes picked away at their dream, acquiring pieces for the brewery and perfecting the stock of recipes via taste-tests with friends and certified beer judges.

“You can’t have good, fast and cheap,” she said. “And we had time on our side.”

The biggest win: Acquiring a coolship (or koelschip), a shallow, open-topped vessel that allows for the wort to be exposed to the air and cool overnight. It will allow for Gunbarrel Brewing Co. to offer some ales crafted with wild yeast from “spontaneous fermentation.”

Fox said she is keeping mum about specifics of the beers and the location for another couple of weeks, but disclosed that Gunbarrel Brewing’s initial focus will be to serve the neighboring community.

“If there’s going to be a bubble that’s going to burst, quality and community breweries will do just fine,” she said. “I think that we’re one of those breweries. I think we’ll be OK.”

New breweries aren’t alone in their adapting to a booming and increasingly crowded craft beer market.

Boulder’s Twisted Pine Brewing and Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Co.both ceased distribution operations to focus solely on their respective brewpubs. The nearly 4-year-old Former Future brewery off South Broadway shrugged off its name and traditional beers to operate under Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales its in-house brand of wild and spontaneously fermented ales.

What was a pet project started in 2014 caught on with beer fans, collectors and traders, who sought out the unique and small-batch ales.

“I do feel, from a business perspective, that differentiation is going to be key for the future,” said Sarah Howat, who runs the brewery with her husband, James. “I don’t think it’s going to get any easier.”

Tempered growth and big deals

Breweries have been opening at a rate of two a day for the past couple of years, but that swelling of the ranks doesn’t indicate the craft sector is in a bubble, said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. Market demand, measured by production sales, continues to outpace the number of total breweries, he said.

“We’re still seeing (sales/demand) growth,” he said. “That growth is maybe a little bit slower than what we’ve seen in the past.”

Watson attributes that to industry maturation. With a larger base, it becomes increasingly impossible to achieve the high-percentage annual growth rates sustained when the industry was smaller.

At the mid-year point, U.S. craft beer production growth sat at the 8 percent range. That’s down from 13 percent in 2015 and 18 percent in 2014 and 2013, according to Brewers Association data.

“I do think we’re going to reach a point where it’s a little more like the restaurant industry,” Watson said. “We may see a more gradual leveling.”

As craft beer continues steady on its trajectory — acquiring bigger bites of the overall beer market — the industry leaders have not remained sleeping giants.

Constellation Brands, holder of Corona, Modelo, Black Box and the like, made its big splash in 2015, buying Sculpin-maker Ballast Point for a cool billion. Industry leader Anheuser-Busch InBev — while in the throes of trying to combine with the No. 2 SABMiller — has been trotting across the nation, snapping up notable regional craft breweries like Oregon’s 10 Barrel and Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery.

MillerCoors has invested in its craft-focused division Tenth and Blake Beer Co. and wrapping in craft acquisitions such as that of Terrapin Beer Co.

“I think for them, it’s all about diversifying their portfolios,” said Nick Petrillo, industry analyst with market research firm IBISWorld. “I think it’s more about cornering the market, building a portfolio … to pick and choose some of the most popular craft beers that are already well-known brands.”

The spree of craft acquisitions that occurred in 2015, tailed off in 2016. Private equity also appears to have started to shy away from the sector, he said.

“I suspect (they’re) looking a little at the craft beer boom that we’ve had and starting to wonder if this might be a plateau,” he said.

What’s next

Kyle Leingang, a Dorsey & Whitney LLP attorney who specializes in the craft beer industry, believes that merger-and-acquisition activity in craft beer should continue to be on an upward swing.

A lot of those deals could come from within the sector, he added, noting moves by Longmont-based Oskar Blues Brewery. The now private equity-backed Oskar Blues has acquired craft brewers such as Perrin Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cigar City Brewing in Florida.

Leingang said he’s also watching closely to see whether craft breweries will take to the public market, a la Ballast Point.

Just how craft brewers are affected by the consolidation — notably what happens to distribution channels and access to market if AB InBev and SABMiller combine to have a 53 percent market share — remains to be seen, he said.

The small breweries and the large craft operations should remain fairly insulated, he said. But the ones in the middle, who are still trying to get their beer on more shelves and make a name for themselves, will be put at the greatest risk, he said.

Colorado has its own unique challenges, said Kurowski, of the fractured state brewers guild. The new law that puts full-strength beer and wine on some grocery store shelves in Colorado will complicate how smaller craft operations can sell their beer at retail locations, he said.

“Doing business with an organization like Walmart, Target or King Soopers is much more different than doing business with the liquor store down the street,” he said.

The new distribution landscape could lead to an acceleration in the number of community-focused breweries, brewpubs and taphouses, he said.

“I think there’s still a lot of opportunities,” he said. “There are a lot of people who still drink American light lagers out there.”

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Foraged beers find their own way with wild ingredients and techniques

This year’s Beers Made by Walking brew list reads like a trek across Colorado: a sour with juniper berries gathered near Meeker, a pale ale using pine needles and Breckenridge Boubon barrels and a plum saison inspired by a walk along the Highline Canal.

The tasting event in Denver, on Oct. 4 , is one of many amid the jam-packed week of brewery tours and tap takeovers ahead of and during the Great American Beer Festival. And while some brewers hesitated to call foraging-inspired beers a trend, it is certainly adding to the craft beer conversation and inspiring brewers to experiment.

“It encourages you to socialize,” said Brandon Prof, managing partner of Our Mutual Friend Brewing, which has hosted the event in past years. “It’s a matter of making a good decision to go out of your comfort zone to come up with things that are interesting and see what’s out there.”

Beers Made By Walking — which started in 2011 and holds events throughout the country — asks brewers to bring beers inspired by walks they take with naturalists, friends and fellow brewers, and what they see along the way. The planning begins months in advance, and the result is a tasting event of diverse, mostly one-off brews.

“The whole point of the festival is asking brewers to create a drinkable portrait (of the environment),” said David Wright, the Colorado lead for Beers Made by Walking and events and partnerships coordinator for Great Divide Brewing.

For Great Divide, Wright took a walk at Bluff Lake Nature Center, a restored native prairie, wetlands, woodlands and riparian area in Denver, with Denver Museum of Nature & Science paleontologist Rich Busch. There, they found a variety of plants of the amaranthus species, which resemble quinoa. The resulting beer: the Herbivorous One, an unfiltered IPA made with flaked quinoa and juniper berries.

For most brewers, the event is a rare foray into using foraged ingredients or foraging-inspired beers. But a handful of breweries throughout the country are going all-in on the idea. Some of those breweries, including Fonta Flora and Burial from North Carolina, Hopworks from Oregon and Scratch Brewing from Illinois, will have beers at the Colorado event.

“It’s been really important for us from the very beginning to create a beer that had a sense of place,” said Marika Josephson, a co-founder of Scratch Brewing Company in southern Illinois, which is perhaps the most well-known and most committed brewery in the movement. Brewers draw ingredients from their rural setting, she said. “We were really interested in experimenting with these ingredients that we had literally growing in our backyard.”

Josephson, her colleague Aaron Kleidon and former colleague Ryan Tockstein last month released “The Homebrewer’s Almanac a Seasonal Guide to Making Your Own Beer From Scratch.” It is both an exploration of their own trial and error with wild ingredients and a recipe book for the ambitious brewer.

Recipes include a roasted dandelion root stout, nettle-spicebush ale, sweet potato Vienna and a sumac saison. The recipes offer details on the wild ingredients and Scratch’s experience with them.

“We’re trying to make something that’s really unique to this area and hopefully inspire people to make something that is unique to their area,” Josephson said.

Brews inspired by foraging

In Colorado, Troy Casey is equally dedicated to keeping his ingredients as close to his brewery’s Glenwood Springs location as possible.

“We live for fruit season,” said Casey, who ages all of Casey Brewing and Blending’s oak-aged saisons and Belgian-inspired sours using “over 99 percent local Colorado ingredients.”

He doesn’t pick the fruit himself; Casey said his foraging comes from farmers. He’s always looking for a new fruit variety that offers a new flavor. The limitations that come with local ingredients are part of his business plan for creating small-batch, memorable brews, and given the long lines at his bottle releases, a Top New Brewer of 2016 title from Draft Magazine and praise from the brewing world, it seems to be working.

It’s not foraging in the traditional sense, but James Howat at Denver-based Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales spends a lot of time hunting for one of beer’s essential ingredients: yeast. He’ll even swab the surface of a fruit’s skin and grow yeast from it in a lab, said Black Project co-owner Sarah Howat, his wife.

For their contribution to Beers Made by Walking, Black Project gathered the members of Fermentologists, a nonprofit homebrewing and science club, and gave them each a sterilized vial of wort, which members then took on hikes to collect microbes from the environment. That yielded the 40-plus cultures used to brew Microb, one of the beers Black Project is bringing to the festival. The other, Sage Dreamland, takes foraging more literally — it’s a golden sour inspired by neighborhood gardens in Platte Park.

In his book “Brewing Local: American-Grown Beer,” Stan Hieronymus looks at other brewers “foraging” yeast and explores brewing with native ingredients in America, as well as the history of brewing among indigenous people and colonists, and its resurgence in recent decades. The book’s second half contains recipes from brewers around the country working with wild ingredients, along with their stories.

Foraged beers are a niche market, he said. It’s something brewers might integrate, but he doesn’t think it’s the next wave in craft beer. Craft beer drinkers like the local angle, he said, but they still like the variety.

Plus, local can mean local ingredients, or simply the local brewery, down the block.

“If you get to know that beer and live in the region, that means something to you,” he said.

For both brewers and ticket holders at Beers Made by Walking, the event is about unique beers and building relationships, said Proff, of Our Mutual Friend. He collaborated with the brewers from Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette for this year’s Beers Made by Walking to make Dragon Chaser, a blended sour using 500 pounds of peaches.

“We became friends over how much we liked participating in Beers Made by Walking,” Proff said. “It made sense for us to do this beer together.”

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GABF 2016: Top beer picks for the Southeast Region

Ahead of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, we asked beer writers from across the country to offer lists of can’t-miss breweries in each region showcased at the festival — and add a few wild cards they want to check out. This is our sixth of eight previews. 

John Frank helms the craft beer ship at The Denver Post and in an earlier life he wrote a weekly craft beer column for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He also is a homebrewer and craft beer hunter and collector who makes scouting trips across the country for good brews, particularly the Southeast region. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

The Southeast beer scene is exploding with great breweries, with much-hyped beer from Wicked Weed, Cigar CityFunky Buddha and Bayou Teche — all of whom are attending GABF. Hit them early before the lines form, but there are plenty more to add to your list this year.

Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Booth M32: Have you had Sexual Chocolate? Well, now you need to try Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate. The brewery has mastered the imperial stout, and at the same time, Foothills is pushing the hop envelope, which is no surprise given the hype surrounding Jade IPA, a great example of the New Zealand variety. This year, also look for the session IPA and the “Hop of the Month” series featuring Mt. Hood in a pale ale.

Holy City Brewing, Charleston, South Carolina, Booth M28: Even with more and more breweries, not all are good. And it makes you realize that great beer is great beer — so visit Holy City, a South Carolina mainstay that is innovative and delicious at the same time. The Paradise session IPA has an intricate flavor profile (not just a citrus bomb) that will make you wish for a beach chair and an umbrella, and the Pluff Mud Porter is a personal go-to. Two beers on the list that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time: Casco Viejo, a saison with lactose and coconut, and Madam Basil, a basil saison.

NoDa Brewing, Charlotte, North Carolina, Booth Y23: Venture out of the region to try a North Carolina brewery in a different section of the festival. NoDa Brewing is famous for it’s World Beer Cup gold medal IPA, Hop Drop ‘N Roll. But owner and head brewer Chad Henderson is not a one-off beer guy, so let’s hope they bring their Mojito-inspired witbier, NoDaJito, and the rich porter, CocoLoco. It’s OK to get in line again.

J Wakefield Brewing, Miami, Florida, Booth M27: It’s tough for a young brewery to live up to the huge hype at the start. J Wakefield does. Each beer I tried from the brewery at GABF a year ago fit the bill, exhibiting nuance and big flavor. I’m looking forward to trying Stush, a Berliner weisse with lemon flavor and tartness.

Mystery Brewing, Hillsborough, North Carolina, Booth M16: Brewer Erik Lars Myers is president of the North Carolina Brewers Guild and wrote the book on the state’s burgeoning beer scene. His take on beer is always different, and the craft brews Mystery produces reflect his style. Myers’ appreciation of off-beat styles and willingness to push the envelope will keep your palate guessing. The different approach makes it worth the visit for aficionados

Torched Hop, Atlanta, Booth J9: Torched Hop opened earlier this year and Atlanta’s newest brewpub made an immediate mark. Brewer Chris Bivins left the award-winning White Street Brewing in North Carolina to join his brother in this venture. I’m hoping they bring the cucumber cream ale, as a refreshing cleanser to the bigger-is-better beer trend at GABF.

Other breweries (from other regions) I’m excited to try: Outside the Southeast region, there are plenty of great breweries to try — from California’s Societe to Colorado’s Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales and Illinois’ Scratch and Minnesota’s Surly. But I’m interested in trying three ones I’ve never tried before:

Two Roads, Stratford, Connecticut, Booth R29: Right now, I can’t get enough New England-style IPAs, with their soft bitterness and blooming flavor. The region is sorely under-represented at the festival, but I’m hoping Two Roads will satisfy the craving. And the eclectic line up should keep me in line for a while.

Friem Family Brewers, Hood River, Oregon, Booth L15: On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, my suitcase was too full to bring a bottle of pFriem home with me. So I want to try their unique beers (particularly the sours) at GABF this year.

Three Notch’d Brewing, Charlottesville, Virginia, Booth B27: California’s Stone Brewing is not the only one expanding to Richmond, Virginia, which is competing to be the beer capital of the South. Three Notch’d Brewing from up the road in Charlottesville is expanding to the state’s capital. I want to try 40 Mile IPA and Jack’s Java Espresso Stout, which are favorites of my brother who lives in Virginia. And put Bourbon Biggie S’Mores on your bucket list.

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GABF 2016: Top beer picks for the Rocky Mountain Region

Ahead of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, we asked beer writers from across the country to offer lists of can’t-miss breweries in each region showcased at the festival — and add a few wild cards they want to check out. This is our second of eight previews. 

Jeremy Meyer is a former journalist (in recovery) and co-founder of the Denver Post’s First Drafts beer blog – though he wanted to name it “The Great Regurgitator.” When not trying to pass off his homebrew to some resistant friend, he is in search of the Holy Grail of IPAs.

Here are Meyer’s GABF 2016 picks for the mountain region:

WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Booth Z10: Nestled into a community known more for meat-packing and a certain bovinical stench, WeldWerks has become the “it” brewery of Colorado in 2016 — its first full year of operation. In March, USA Today named it the best new brewery in the country. In May, it won a World Beer Cup bronze for its Puesta De Sol Vienna style lager. And beer geeks salivate for WeldWerk’s New England-style IPA, Juicy Bits, as well as any of the brewery’s bottle releases. Neil Fisher, co-owner, says several new fermenters are being added that will increase the brewery’s production by more than 300 percent from when it opened. Can I get a hallelujah? At GABF, seek out the two taproom-only imperial stouts – the 10.4 percent ABV Coffee Maple Achromatic, and the 13.5 percent barrel-aged Mexican Achroatic. And, of course, the Bits. Always the Bits…

4Noses Brewing, Broomfield, Booth F6: In 2014, 4Noses opened in a strip mall next to a bunch of dog-centered businesses (including a dog swimming pool) and has quickly earned due respect with its attention to detail and quality ingredients. Sure, you may get goosed by a furry snout while at the bar, but who cares? You’ll be focused on the beer in your hand – be it a cocoa coffee porter, a hop bomb or a fruit-packed raspberry blonde sweetened with 70 pounds of fresh berries. Don’t even get me started about the Russian Imperial Stout. In my opinion, the brewery slammed a home run this year with its ‘Bout Damn Time IPA, which entered the ever-growing IPA fray and immediately became one of the state’s best.

Odd13 Brewing, Lafayette, Booth Y25: What’s not to love about this brewery? Cans with comic book themes, IPAs that intrigue the palate, unusual sours and even a pink-colored beer made with dragonfruit that is coming out just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Odd13 has killed it this year. A new production facility that opened last year quickly maxed out its space. Now, owner Ryan Scott is moving into even more space and adding more fermenters. Odd13, like its superheroes, may some day rule the world. And that, Earthlings, will be a good thing. At GABF, seek out its two fantastic IPAs — Codename: Superfan and nOOb. And also Duraznodor, a Berliner Weiss with peach and apricot and Curandero, a barrel-aged dark sour with tamarind.

Strange Craft Beer Co., Denver, Booth X-11: Incredibly, the six-year-old Strange Brewing has become one of the grand daddies of Denver breweries. It also may be one of the more chummy, collaborating with several breweries around the state and country. One of my all-time favorites is a blend of Strange’s sweet Cherry Kriek and Epic’s boozy Big Bad Baptist stout – a perfect combination. The brewery — located in an industrial section near whatever they now call the Broncos’ stadium — keeps plenty of styles on tap. A favorite is the finely tuned grapefruit IPA that will be available at GABF. Also, try the Nebulous Pale made with a Patagonian base malt and Australian Galaxy hops as well as a Maibock Spring Lager collaboration with Bierstadt Lagerhaus.

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver Booth V-26: It would be difficult to create a list of Colorado breweries and not include Black Project. The inventive brewery recently dropped its other moniker, Former Future Brewing — and many of Former Future’s finely crafted beers, including its salted porter that may go down as the best porter in Denver. But, alas, all is not lost. Black Project is on an incredible mission, to make complex beers using spontaneously fermented yeast from microbes found everywhere. A bartender recently told me they transferred microbes from plants they collected on a recent hike. How cool is that? The beers come alive in “coolships” on the brewery’s South Broadway roof. It is almost too unbelievable to fathom. But owners James and Sarah Howat are doing just that, and their beers cannot be missed.

Other breweries (from other regions) I’m excited to try:

Reuben’s Brews: I have always wanted to try Reuben’s Brews, the byproduct of a homebrewer who kept winning competitions. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the brewery now is taking home hardware in national and international competitions. Be sure to check out its imperial rye IPA.

Yachats Brewing: Yachats is another one of those great stories. A brewery in a tiny seaside town on Oregon’s coast hired away superstar brewer Charlie Van Meter from the esteemed Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and began producing some of the finest brews in Oregon — which is saying a lot.

Scratch Brewing: Scratch arguably has the most unusual beers at GABF. The Ava, Ill., brewery specializes in beers made from homegrown and “foraged” ingredients, such as dandelions, mushrooms, nettles and hickory.

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The hottest new beer in Colorado taps into the hazy IPA trend

GREELEY — The bartender at WeldWerks Brewing poured a glass of Juicy Bits and managed a polite laugh to a now familiar joke.

“Is this orange juice or beer?”

Cloudy as if filled with pulp, with a tropical aroma to match, it’s easy to think the India pale ale is a fruit smoothie — or just bad beer.

One sip, however, answers the question. The palette is overwhelmed with a burst of flavors — tangerine, cantaloupe, grapefruit and pineapple — and the IPA finishes with a smoothness rather than traditional bitterness. It defies perception.

The confusing but exciting result is what makes Juicy Bits one of the hottest new beers in Colorado and the poster child for the latest rage in craft beer, the hazy IPA.

“It’s just a different way of thinking about brewing IPAs,” said Neil Fisher, the owner and head brewer at WeldWerks. “Instead of it all being about bitterness, which is what it has been, it’s all about hop flavor and aroma.”

WeldWerks is one of a dozen breweries in Colorado now replicating the hoppy goodness that is more common in New England, where legendary brewers Alchemist and Hill Farmstead, along with newcomers like Trillium and Treehouse, make some of the nation’s most-coveted IPAs.

The top Colorado hazy IPAs

The Colorado versions offer variations on the theme but share the turbid, fruity and soft-hoppiness characteristics.

The most noted are Odd13 Brewing’s Codename: Superfan, Fiction’s Cosmic Unity, and Cerebral’s Rare Trait. Together with WeldWerks, the four breweries recently collaborated on a hazy double IPA called Robot Librarian, now available in cans.

Odell Brewing, the state’s third-largest craft brewer, tapped into the trend with its slightly hazy Drumroll APA, a new year-round pale ale. Other local breweries are adding their own spin, such as Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales The hard-to-find brewery known for sours released a succulent wild pale ale this month named Hypersonic at its sister operation, Former Future. The beer is made with a native yeast cultivated in Denver.

The “hype” in the name of the Black Project beer is not unintentional. This new version of the IPA — the most popular craft beer style — is getting huge interest, from hop-heads and hop-haters alike.

“It’s more approachable than a West Coast-style IPA,” said Sean Buchan, Cerebral’s owner and brewer. “The people who typically come in and say that they don’t like IPAs usually end up liking ours because they are not incredibly bitter.”

Why the haze?

What gives the hazy IPA its name is how it is made.

To start, the water chemistry is different, with more chloride lending a softer mouthfeel, rather than sulfate additions to amp the bitter hop punch.

The recipe typically includes high-protein grains, such as wheat and flaked oats, and hops added during the fermentation, both of which will leave remnants suspended in the beer. The yeast, often an English variety, imparts its own fruity ester touch, and a portion remains suspended in the beer because it is a less flocculent strain.

All together, it creates an unfiltered, cloudy look that otherwise would signal a defect in most styles. But it also transforms the IPA experience.

“I think the hazy most comes through in the mouthfeel,” Fisher said. “I think that’s what everyone is going after. A softer, creamier, more fluffy mouthfeel … that makes an IPA a bit more palatable.”

Others brewers are less enamored. Comrade Brewing’s David Lin, one of the IPA masters in Colorado, thinks the cloudy appearance suggests the beer is not ready. He credits the popularity to the growing trend of homebrewers entering the industry with less professional experience.

Andy Sparhawk, the craft beer program coordinator at the Boulder-based Brewers Association, notes that clarity often equals quality, except in unique styles, such as a hefeweizen. But the hop craze is changing the game.

“Hop haze is a permanent haze brought on by aggressive dry-hopping,” he wrote on craftbeer.com. However, he continued, “the addition of more and more hops can have repercussions on clarity — and some brewers, as well as their hop-head fans, are OK with that.”

A huge following

WeldWerks’ Juicy Bits only debuted in March but is building a national cult following, thanks to internet beer traders. A 15 barrel batch (or roughly 3,700 pints) will last less than a week at the taproom, which is usually the only place to find it.

The brewery drew a line of more than 300 people by 10 a.m. on a recent Sunday in June for a beer release. The 32-ounce crowlers of Juicy Bits sold as fast as debut bottles of two limited-edition barrel-aged stouts.

Sam Bailey, a 35-year-old from Fort Collins who works in Greeley, stops by the brewery every time a new batch debuts. “I’m a fan. A lot of people feel that it is really unappealing, but I actually put it in the pro side of the beer,” he said, adding that the haze signals a style he enjoys.

He trades once a month for beer from New England and ranks Juicy Bits “up there with all of the best IPAs.”

Sitting nearby, Lorenzo Ors, a 31-year-old financial analyst, is drinking a Robot Librarian. He drove from Denver to snag Juicy Bits. “For the summer, to me this style is the perfect beer — it’s so refreshing,” he said.

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Denver’s secret brewery set for reveal at Black Project launch party

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales is essentially Denver’s secret brewery.

Housed inside Former Future Brewing on South Broadway, it’s the side project of owners James and Sarah Howat that focuses exclusively — as the name suggests — on limited batches of beers spiked with wild yeast or spontaneously fermented in the open air.

It’s most visible once a month when it opens for a bottle sale, visible only because of the hundreds standing in line on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning. The sour and wild ales sell out in minutes — and the brewery often quickly runs dry at festivals, such as Avery Brewing’s impressive Sour Fest last weekend — making them among the most hard-to-get beers in Colorado.

But now the two-time GABF medal-winning brewery is lifting the curtain for a “launch party” July 1.

Black Project will pour its beers at Former Future for one of the first times for what it is calling a tap “takeover.” It includes two never-before-released saisons, as well as the return of Peach Rye Whiskey Dreamland (a golden sour aged in whiskey barrels with peaches) and Kalmar 100% Spontaneous Gose (a German salted sour) that won rave reviews when first released in 2015.

The brewery is also offering a more intimate tasting it’s calling The Brewer’s Table. Taking a cue from the wine industry, the experience offers a tasting from a barrel and a tour — as well as plenty of beer. Tickets for the Brewer’s Table cost $75 but admission to the tap takeover is free.

The event starts at 2 p.m. and coincides with the release of Black Project’s new sour red called Elsewhere, a solera-aged wild ale. More details here.

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Collab Fest 2016: Tasty and unusual craft beer collaborations

An amber with sweet tea blended with a Berliner weiss. A light American lager named Kurr’s. A saison with lemongrass and kumquat. And a full bouquet of floral and citrusy IPAs.

Collaboration Fest 2016 made heads spin with an array of craft beers unlike any other festival. More than 2,000 beer fans and brewers attended the sold-out 3rd annual event Saturday at Mile High Stadium.

The event showcased the innovative and downright weird brews that ferment when two or more breweries put their heads together for a collaboration, furthering the camaraderie in the industry and the unquenchable thirst these days for rare and special beer.

With more than 85 beers from 151 participating breweries, it’s impossible to offer a “best beer” list from Collab Fest. But here’s a montage with our standouts from the festival.

OUR FAVORITE: Hop masters Cannonball Creek Brewing in Golden paired with Pizza Port Brewing in Carlsbad, Calif., for a wheat IPA that wowed us — and a few of our beer writer friends. Maybe it was the idea that spring is here and wheat beer season is near? Or maybe it was the massive hop flavor that left an impression. Citra, Mosaic and Pacific Jade hops gave this beer a big tangerine flavor with a soft bitterness that complemented the 50 percent wheat malt base. Best news: Cannonball Creek will have it available at their tap room soon, so don’t miss it.

EXPERIMENTAL: At Collab Fest, you can expect to find a few beers that you never expected to find. Denver’s Former Future Brewing and South Carolina’s Brewery 85 managed to showcase both breweries home states with their sweet tea amber ale blended with a Berliner weiss. The sweet tea flavor comes through prominently on the front and then a surprising tartness from the berliner hits on the back end. Never thought to combine the two — until now.

Denver Beer Co. joined with D.C. Brau for what they called “an exploratory ale” named Peanut Butter Lunchbox. Technically a brown ale, the brewery spackled peanut butter from Justin’s in Boulder inside the fermenter Jackson Pollock-style and put in a hefeweizen yeast that lent a slight banana flavor. Oh, and it included local honey. So it’s a peanut butter honey brown hefeweizen?

BEST NAMES: The best part of collaborating for brewers is apparently picking an off-the-wall name for the beer. Denver area hop heads — Station 26, Cannonball Creek and Comrade — brewed a double IPA they named “IPA is Dead.”

“It’s obviously a tongue-in-cheek reference,” said Jonathan Lee, the brewer at Cannonball Creek. “That’s a running joke in the industry — that IPA has been around so long it’s dead. IPA is very much not dead.”

Despite the three breweries reputation for making great hopped beers, originally they didn’t want to make an IPA. “We knew everybody expected an IPA out of us,” Lee said, but they pushed back. The more the brewers talked, however, the more they realized they couldn’t resist.

Another fun name game: Kurr’s Light. Durango’s Ska Brewing combined with Gordon Biersch and Virginia’s Devils Backbone to pay homage, of sorts, to Colorado’s best known light American lager. “We knew everything was going to be big, imperial or barrel aged so we thought, “Let’s go another direction,” said Ska’s head brewer Thomas Larsen. The twist: the beer used an heirloom barley and Nelson Sauvin hops, which gave it a white wine touch that only hit at 3 percent ABV.

HOP IT UP: For the hop fans, it was a never ending list of goodness at the festival. Fat Head’s Brewery, the Ohio (and Oregon) brewers who took home a suitcase full of GABF medals in 2015, contributed their hop goodness to a number of collaborations with great Colorado breweries.

Comrade Brewing and Fat Head’s made a tasty Lupulin Manifesto IPA, and Boulder Beer and Fat Head’s collaborated on a hoppy hefeweizen appropriately dubbed Co-Hopitation. Then you had Twisted Pine and Kansas brewer Blind Tiger combine for a clean and bitter Ties That Bine double IPA.

SOUR CITY: On par with hops at the festival: sours. Denver’s Trve and Oklahoma’s Prairie Artisan Ales made an oak-aged gose (pronounced goes-uh) on peaches from both breweries home states that sold out. Same with Fort Collins brewer Funkwerks and North Carolina’s Wicked Weed, which combined for a fruited barrel-aged sour. And Our Mutual Friend in Denver led a team with all-stars Scratch from Illinois, Hopworks Urban from Portland and Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina for a “beers made by walking” brew that highlights beers made with plants in each state. The Golden Fang, barrel-fermented sour golden ale, included persimmons from North Carolina, rose hips from Oregon, bittering roots from Illinois and all Colorado malt and hops.

DARK GOODNESS: The sunny day didn’t melt all the snow on the ground, so good dark beers still felt at home. Odell and California’s Stone Brewing made a big and boozy Reunification Imperial Stout. Oskar Blues and Horse and Dragon offered a flavorful coffee mocha porter called Smoka.

The barrel-aged favorites came from Telluride Brewing and Elevation Beer Co. with their American Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels. The bourbon provided a pop and the beer finished with a smooth roasted malt. WeldWerks Brewing and Snowbank paired to make barrel-aged mocha imperial stout with big flavor all around.

THE UNUSUAL: How does a chocolate orange cream ale sound? Big Choice in Broomfield and Black Bottle in Fort Collins decided to give it a try. It was interesting, to say the least, and recalled an orange chocolate after-dinner mint. Epic Brewing in Denver and California’s Green Flash made a saison with lemongrass and kumquat, a brain teaser for the palate. And Platt Park Brewing in Denver worked with California’s Old Redwood and Chicago’s Moody Tongue for a brett IPA with nectarines. Light on the funky brett sourness, it went from sweet into citrus and left an almost cotton candy flavor on the back end for us.

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First Drafts’ favorite Colorado beers of 2015

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 FrankJeremy MeyerJon 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.

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Beer in Review 2015: Brandon Boldt of Odd13 Brewing

As 2015 comes to a close, we’re once again asking leading figures on the Colorado beer scene to reflect on the past year and look ahead to next.

This next installment in our 5th annual Beer In Review features Brandon Boldt, head Brewer at Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette and also newly announced co-founder of Primitive Beer, a sour beer side project he and his wife Lisa Boldt are in the process of creating. Odd13 scored a big win with a silver medal in the competitive Pro-Am competition in the Great American Beer Festival, brewing homebrewer Mike Froehlich’s recipe.

Now, on to Brandon’s picks:

Favorite beer of the year: Picking my favorite beer is like picking my favorite child — really difficult as I don’t have any kids. Nevertheless, as the type of consumer who tends to buy a different beer every time I shop, my most repeated purchase has been Prairie Artisan Ales’ Funky Gold Amarillo. This dry-hopped sour ale has an incredible balance of farm funk, lactic sour, and tropical/citrusy interplay between the hops and brettanomyces that allow this beer to be both supremely quaffable yet contemplative.

Colorado brewery of the year: I’m going to redefine this question to “which brewery do you most wish you could drink every day (and all your beers are free)?!”. The answer to this question would have to be Casey Brewing and Blending. No elaboration necessary, Troy Casey and his beers speak for themselves.

New Colorado brewery of the year: Identity is seldom formed in a year, even for niche breweries, which makes selection in this category particularly difficult. That said, I’ve been most excited by the openings of four new breweries, which all happen to be in Denver. Call to Arms has more than exceeded the initial hype associated with these well-respected brewers starting an exciting new venture. CTA has consistently crushed hops with the Hamiltonian Pale Ale, has cleanly dabbled in the process of kettle souring, and is experimenting with open fermentations. Spangalang Brewery and Ratio Beerworks have also been able to cleanly rock textbook styles and have shown some interest on the “fringe” as well. I’ve been blown away by Spangalang’s Cucumber Gose (collaboration with The Real Dill) and Ratio’s Strawberry Berliner Weisse (one of the few strawberry beers I’ve had that actually tasted like the fruit). Lastly, and not by rank, opening with only eight weeks to spare in 2015 is Little Machine Beer. Brewing on a Colorado-manufactured brewhouse with an emphasis on Colorado grown/sourced ingredients is pretty cool, but brewing those same beers well is even cooler!

Colorado brewery to watch in 2016: Atom Brewing Company. After nearly four years of preparation and experimentation, Jeff Porn (yes, that is his real name) has a pipeline of barrel fermented/aged beer developing in his compact Erie fermentory. Following the model of brewers like Troy Casey (Casey Brewing and Blending), Chad Yakobson (Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project) and Cory King (Side Project), Jeff is producing his wort on a third-party brewhouse and toting the “feed” back to his facility for inoculation with a range of microflora. Jeff is a brewer with many connections to the industry and a taste for the wild. He plans to offer an array of open-fermented rustic ales, American coolship ales, and other oak-borne offerings. In other words, more great style-defying mixed fermentations from oak fermenter to facehole! I really just needed an excuse to say facehole.

Most notable craft beer news or trend of 2015: Possibly eclipsed by the billion dollar murders and executions (American Psycho, 1991) are the exciting and evolving style trends of 2015. If you haven’t heard, sour beers are the bomb dot com. The rate/technique of souring (e.g., quick sour vs. aged sour) produces widely different results and 2015 witnessed an explosion in popularity of all types of sour beer and other mixed fermentations. The acceptance of sour beer by mainstream consumers is evidenced by:

Increased production volume (I’m looking at you Gose, fruited Berliner Weisse, and American Brett Beer)

Experimentation with traditional techniques (incorporation of koelschips at a number of CO breweries and the release of world class wild and spontaneous beers by the likes of Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales)

Continued development of educational resources (Michael Tonsmeire’s American Sour BeersMilk The Funk’s wiki and message board, Jay Goodwin/The Brewing Network’s Sour Hour podcast).

The growth of artisan yeast labs like The Yeast Bay, Inland Island and Bootleg Biology (offering a range of non-traditional fermenters, laboratory work, and strain banking to both homebrewers and professionals). While many sour styles have existed for hundreds of years, experimentation by American breweries with souring bacteria and wild yeast has only really developed in the last couple decades. In other words, the fun has just begun!


Craft beer trend to watch for in 2016: Hops are back baby! While hops have not and will not go out of style, new brewing techniques and cultivars will allow them to be incorporated into beers like never before. One particular area of research that has gained support by the craft beer community pertains to the biotransformation of hop compounds, such as “hop glycosides,” during fermentation. Not only are new techniques gaining notoriety for IPAs/APAs, but some of these methods are likewise being incorporated into mixed fermentations. On the clean side of the aisle, I anticipate hop-stars like Comrade, Cannonball Creek, Four Noses, and Station 26 will continue to push the limits for hops in Colorado. I also predict that many breweries getting comfortable with mixed fermentations will start to incorporate hops and new-age hopping techniques, standing on the shoulders of giants like New Belgium, Crooked Stave, and Casey Brewing and Blending.

Here are previous entries:

Troy Casey from Casey Brewing and Blending.
Lauren Salazar from New Belgium Brewing Co. 
Darren Boyd of Spangalang Brewery.
Andy Parker of Avery Brewing. 
Nick Nunns of TRVE Brewing.
Drew and Leah Watson of Hops and Pie Pizzeria & Craft Beer Taproom.
David Lin of Comrade Brewing. 
Matt Thrall of Left Hand Brewing.
Eli Kolondy and Tony Rau of Odell Brewing. 
Jesse Brookstein of Call to Arms Brewing. 
Tommy Bibliowicz of 4 Noses Brewing. 
Sam Scruby of Upslope Brewing. 
James Howat of Former Future Brewing Co.
Brian O’Connell of Renegade Brewing. 
Bill Eye of Bierstadt Lagerhaus. 
Mike Lawinski of FATE Brewing Co.
Jason Yester of Trinity Brewing.
Patrick Annesty of River North Brewery.
Thomas Barnett of Fort Collins Brewery.
Ro Guenzel of Great Divide Brewing Co.

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