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.