Colorado’s Best Beers & Breweries from 2017
Colorado craft beer has come a long way. While the old guard of New Belgium, Odell, Wynkoop, Great Divide, Left Hand, Avery, and Ska initially thrust the state onto the national scene the early 90’s, it’s been Colorado’s current brewing renaissance that has propelled its meteoric rise to even greater heights of recognition and acclaim. Just in the past 5 years since PorchDrinking’s existence, we’ve seen alleyway breweries grow to become national powers, startups in rural towns grow to become coveted brands, and a countless number of homebrewers who have their desk jobs to become household names among beer circles.
As large national breweries double down on efforts to remain relevant, mid-sized breweries continue to push for growth, and newly established breweries continue to push the envelope with innovation, consumers reap the benefits of Colorado craft beer’s golden age. 2017 was a year where many breweries began coming into their own.
In a lot of ways, a case can be made that with the emergence of Crooked Stave, Black Project, TRVE, Amalgam, Paradox, Atom, Cellar West and Trinity, backed by the pedigree established by New Belgium and Avery, this was a year when Colorado boldly staked a claim as one of the country’s premier states for spontaneous, wild, and mix-culture barrel-aged sours.
This was also a year dominated by two major trends in the hazy, New England-style IPA, which was quickly well-adapted by the likes of Odd13, Fiction, WeldWerks, Cerebral, New Image, and Outer Range, as well as pastry stouts, which turned kitchen pantry seasonings and snacks into buzz-worthy brewing adjuncts.
At the end of the day, great beer, no matter what the style or approach, will rise to the top. Now as we reflect back on 2017, we aim to recognize those who truly stood above the rest in their craft.
Biggest Breakout Breweries
4 Noses Brewing (Broomfield)
There may be no more underrated brewery in the Front Range than Broomfield’s 4 Noses Brewing. Anchored by an impressive stable of core styles including their Perfect Drift Pilsner, ‘Bount Damn Time IPA, Raspberry Blonde and Proboscis Simcoe American Pale Ale, the family-owned company balances a mix of classic styles with a general proficiency in the realm of hop-forward flavors, as well as experimental specialties, as evidenced by their most recent releases of Cinnamon Toast Stout, Whimsy NE-style IPA and Barrel-Aged Ryeciprocal Cocoa Vanilla Stout. This year’s re-brand has done wonders to elevate 4 Noses to become a true leader in the emerging Colorado craft field.
Cerebral Brewing (Denver)
Another brewery that’s most often associated with their work in New England-style IPAs, really emerged in 2017, as Colorado’s leading innovator in the field of stouts. Here be Monsters, has become one of the state’s top five barrel-aged Imperial Stouts with subtle layers of cocoa, roasted malts, and a big barrel-forward bourbon expression. Also bolstering Cerebral’s arsenal were this year’s debut of Safeword, an Imperial Stout conditioned on Belizean cacao nibs with cassia bark and coconut, as my personal favorite in Peace be the Journey, a rich, multi-layered Imperial Coffee Stout conditioned on Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee specifically roasted for this beer with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans.
Lone Tree Brewing (Lone Tree)
During its first five years of existence, it looked as if Lone Tree Brewing would remain just another dime-a-dozen, neighborhood brewery catering only to locals based in the farthest reaches of the South Denver. However, a significant re-branding and the hiring of Josh West as their new Head Brewer in 2016, has breathed new life into this suburban enigma. This year, Lone Tree took home two medals at the Great American Beer Festival, earning a gold for their Mexican Lager in the American Style Lager category, and a silver for Hop Zombie IPA in the Imperial Red Ale category. The well-deserved accolades represent their full-circle transformation to becoming a formidable contender in Colorado’s crowded packaged marketplace.
Powder Keg Brewing (Niwot)
Like Lone Tree, the geographic location of Niwot’s Powder Keg Brewing doesn’t make it easy to gain national acclaim. However, Powder Keg’s head brewer Phillip Joyce has amassed one of the strongest overall portfolios of beers in the entire state. From mixed culture sour releases of Palisade Reunion, Fruitful Union and Palisade Reserve, to bold expressive Stouts such as Twilight Rendezvous, Coconut Telegraph, and their most recently released lineup of variant Supervoids, Powder Keg has quietly become one of the most prolific breweries in the entire state.
Best New Breweries
Outer Range Brewing (Frisco)
I’m always a little skeptical of trendy styles, as their moment of glory is often fleeting, and they’re oftentimes replicated to a lesser quality. However, when it comes to the haze craze of New England-style IPAs, Outer Range, which just this month celebrated their first anniversary, has it dialed. Co-Founder Lee Cleghorn, who previously spent time interning at Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing, was inspired by his time on the east coast and wanted to bring that familiar approach toward brewing to Summit County. Cleghorn was also inspired by time spent living in Belgium, which lends to Outer Range’s other area of expertise in Belgian-style beers.
Amalgam Brewing (Niwot/Denver)
It should come as no surprise that the spinoff brewing project of Phillip Joyce, previously mentioned with Powder Keg Brewing, and Eric Schmidt, would become an instant standout. Amalgam Brewing focused on spontaneously fermented beers, also boasts the distinction of one of Colorado’s most unorthodox breweries, renting brewing time from Powder Keg through an alternating proprietorship, and holding nomadic bottle releases at various liquor stores, such as Denver’s Small Batch Liquors. However, this year’s release of Ascension and Composition #1 prove that Joyce & Schmidt are ready to make a major splash and join the ranks of Colorado’s elite sour & wild beer producers.
Cellar West Artisan Ales (Boulder)
Speaking of funk & wild producers, Boulder’s Cellar West Artisan Ales, which focuses on oak barrel-fermented Brett beers, has quickly risen to become one of Boulder’s best breweries.Founder Zach Nichols, formerly a co-founder at Sanitas Brewing, contract brews at Boulder’s Wild Woods Brewery then barrel-ferments that beer with wild yeast, hops, spices and other adjuncts back at the industrial alley-way brewery in North Boulder. The result is tremendous out-of-the-box Farmhouse Ales, Wild Porters, Saisons and Wild Stouts with tremendous nuance and expressive flavors,
New Terrain Brewing (Golden)
If you had the chance to plan your dream microbrewery, you might come up with a little something similar to New Terrain. Overlooking the city of Golden, CO, New Terrain boasts one of the most picturesque breweries with an impressive and diverse beer lineup to boot. Producing one of the better overall beer visit experiences at a young brewery, New Terrain often hosts folk/bluegrass festivals in the summer that draws throngs of visitors.
Purpose Brewing (Fort Collins)
Imagine this: you’re enjoying a delicious black ale matured on top of coconut, orange peel, vanilla beans, grains of paradise, and Brazilian Amburana wood when Peter Bouckaert, former brewmaster at New Belgium Brewing, casually walks up to you and asks how you like the beer. He then produces a slab of wood, the Brazilian Amburana, and recommends that you smell it while drinking the beer to see what additional flavors might open up. In August of 2017, Purpose Brewing and Cellars opened their doors and while we can’t guarantee that you’ll always get a personal interaction with the legendary brewmaster, you will most likely walk away with a new appreciation about the art of beer making. This is Bouckaert’s newest venture along with his wife Frezi, and Zach and Laura Wilson formerly of 1933 Brewing. Located inconspicuously in a strip mall in Midtown Fort Collins, Purpose Brewing aims to provide a thoughtful and artistic approach to beer (think blonde ale laid to rest on top of pie cherries and then aged in Viognier white wine barrels). Their small, yet versatile lineup of beer changes weekly, allowing you to experience what it’s like when Bouckaert and team let their imaginations run wild. – Chea Franz
Best Brewery from 2017
Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales (Denver)
In August 2016, Sarah and James Howat of Former Future Brewing announced that they would be shifting their brewing operations entirely to Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, a side project that began within Former Future in 2014. That ambitious decision to focus solely on spontaneous & wild styles has proven fruitful (no pun intended), as they’ve garnered three GABF medals in the past four years. This year’s ambitious release of Roswell, a spontaneously fermented barrel-aged, Lambic-inspired series featuring six heavily fruited variants. Each variant take exhibited brilliant unique individual fruit-forward notes while carrying a delicate nuanced base just a perfect touch of tartness. With a recently expanded barrel-aging facility and more room to experiment on releases like their recent Altair, a tart table beer with wild-foraged Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Lunex, their three year blended spontaneous ale with Corvus coffee, Black Project has already established itself as one of Colorado’s best in the field of sour & wild beers.
Best New Beers
Peach Climacteric | WeldWerks Brewing
WeldWerks Brewing was last year’s breakout brewery of the year, and they’ve continued their conquest of the Front Range in 2017 with cultish releases of Vanilla Medianoche, Medianoche Reserve, and their entire Achromatic series. However, Peach Climacteric kicked off the year as a brilliant blend of various batches of pale golden sours, fermented with Brettanomyces and bacteria then aged in oak barrels for periods of between 4-16 months. The final blends were then aged on over 1,600 pounds of fresh peaches from Palisade, CO.
Triple Barrel Baptist | Epic Brewing
Supervoid Breakfast Stout | Powder Keg Brewing
Palisade Reserve | Powder Keg Brewing
Wavering Radiant | TRVE Brewing
Loveless Dark Sour Saison | Ratio Beerworks
Secale Barrel-Aged Black Rye Day | Baere Brewing
Blocks of Light IPA | Outer Range Brewing
Handpicked: Danube Cherry | Amalgam Brewing
Most Interesting Beer from 2017
King of Carrot Flowers Carrot & Elderflower Saison | Ratio Beerworks
Full disclosure, I work for Ratio. So take this for what it’s worth, but admittedly even I was a bit skeptical when Head Brewer & Co-Founder Jason zumBrunnen pitched the idea of brewing a Carrot & Elderflower Saison for EatDenver’s Harvest Week. However, the result is an illuminate bright orange hued Saison with juice-forward notes of cantaloupe, pear, coriander and vanilla.
Best Beers from 2017
La Folie Geisha Grand Reserve | New Belgium Brewing
Built upon the shoulders of two industry giants (see what I did there The Rare Barrel?) in Peter Bouckaert and Lauren Limbach, New Belgium Brewing emerged not just as pioneers, but luminaries in the field of American sours and wilds. The Fort Collins-based brewer has spent much of 2017 doubling down on the storied sour program with the debut of their Cellar Reserve Series that has included the likes of Le Kriek Noir, Single Foeder Oscar #65, Oscar Aged in Blackberry Whiskey Barrels, and Felix Aged in Apple Whiskey Barrels.
However New Belgium’s most impressive offering this year came with the release of Geisha, a harmonious blend of NBB’s Oscar sour base, which is used in La Folie, a “smuggler” beer, named for the “smuggling in” of essential oils to help promote foam retention, which utilized malts from local Troubadour Malting, and an infusion of the world’s most exclusive coffee bean. The Geisha coffee bean originated in the town of Gesha, Ethiopia, but was popularized after being imported by Hacienda La Esmerelda in Panama.
The result is the most brilliantly nuanced coffee sour we’ve yet to experience. The bright roasty coffee flavors meld so perfectly, exhibiting subtle floral citrus notes and its Oscar base is subtle and perfectly tart so as not to overwhelm the palate. $45-$50 admittedly is a lot of money to spend on a single bottle of beer, but we can say with absolute certainty, Geisha is worth it.
Roswell Series | Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Peace be the Journey | Cerebral Brewing
Medianoche Reserve | WeldWerks Brewing
Handpicked: Danube Cherry | Amalgam Brewing