Colorado's Best Craft Beers
We tasted every commercially distributed craft beer we could track down in Colorado, one of America’s true craft-brewing hot spots. (Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.) Here, in nine categories, we rank the very best.
- 1. Alpine Glacier Lager
Tommyknocker Brewery, Idaho Springs
Malt: 2, Hops: 7 ABV 4.5 percent
This beer is in the wrong weight class: Think of a middleweight who moves down to pummel a lightweight in a boxing ring. Although billed as an ultralean lager, this brew’s got more hops than some India pale ales. Bitter, and hoppy, hoppy, hoppy (did we mention hoppy?), Glacier is incredibly drinkable—even if it is cheating. www.tommyknocker.com
- 2. Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Avery Brewing Company, Boulder
Malt: 2 | Hops: 7 | ABV 4.7 percent
Avery’s Joe’s Premium American Pilsner made its debut in June but is already one of our favorites: a bright, canned pils that’s perfect for camping, the park, or just drinking in the backyard. And, at an un-Avery-like 4.7 percent ABV, we can actually have a few without getting sloshed. www.averybrewing.com
- 3. Del Norte Mañana
Del Norte Brewing Company, Denver
Malt: 5 | Hops: 4 | ABV 5.2 percent
This tiny brewery focuses on Mexican-style beers, meaning that the staff will take a German-style lager and add a twist of Mile-High brewing (noticeable malt undertones) for a beer that is a bit of a mouthful but has a clean finish. Consider it Negra Modelo from the United States. www.delnortebrewing.com
- 1. White Rascal
Avery Brewing Company, Boulder
Malt: 5 | Hops: 5 | ABV 5.6 percent
Beer-drinking in Europe left us with a craving for Belgian-style wheat beers that are complex, crisp, and devastatingly delicious. We’re pleased to report that Avery’s homage to all-things-wheat gives us a fix. Weighing in at a doable 5.6 percent ABV—less than many Belgian brews—this beer has a medium intensity with a long aftertaste. (Oranges, anyone?) www.averybrewing.com
- 2. Sweaty Betty Blonde
Boulder Beer Company, Boulder
Malt: 4 | Hops: 5 | ABV 5.9 percent
Featuring a name so offensive that it’s not, this Bavarian-style wheat beer has a thin body that balances out its sweet aftertaste. An unfiltered (read: foggy), low-intensity brew, this is just the stuff we’d serve our “I-only-drink-light-beer” mother-in-law. www.boulderbeer.com
- 3. Mothership Wit
New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins
Malt: 5 | Hops: 4 | ABV 4.8 percent
The love child of a Coors-like brew and a Belgian beer, this “white beer” tiptoes on the edge of being too sour, but lots of yeast and fruit balance it out. To boot: It’s organic, which makes eco-lovers (yes, they love beer too) rejoice. www.newbelgium.com
With more than 450 breweries, 50,000 people, and 36,000 gallons of beer, the Great American Beer Festival can be intimidating. Here, expert tips for navigating the thirsty throngs.
- Be selective Your liver isn’t up to the challenge of sampling the more than 2,200 varieties in the hall. A little pre-show research goes a long way. Create a plan of attack by focusing on a region, but at a certain point, just give up and sample something new and surprising.
- Nosh on a pretzel necklace Tackling the GABF on an empty stomach is a rookie mistake. Yes, you’ll look ridiculous with salty twists around your neck, but at least you won’t be heaving into a garbage bin at the end of the session.
- Let good beer go to waste The one-ounce pours seem measly at first, but after 20 or so, the hall may start to spin. Don’t be a hero: Smell, sip, and savor, then pour the rest into the waste buckets at every booth.
- Show up late Most folks will tell you to line up early so you have first dibs at the hot brewers. We take a different approach: Show up about 40 minutes late to a session to avoid wasting time wading through the entrance lines, which often circle the block but are mostly gone after 30 minutes.
- Call ahead GABF lists the exhibiting brewers, but not the beers so as not to impact voting—this is a competition, after all. Call your favorite brewery ahead of time to see if it’ll spill about what it’s tapping in the hall.
- Hold it The absolute worst wait at the GABF isn’t at a brewer’s booth or entrance; it’s the line for the loo. Skip the overcrowded stalls in the front of the hall and veer to the back of the hall, which had nary a wait last year.
- Forget agua You might not want to waste valuable stomach space on lowly water when there’s so much beer to quaff, but the water stations—located at every column in the hall—are vital. Stop there often. Trust us.
- Ask for more You’ve just discovered your new favorite beer. Your brain tells you to beg for another pour. Wrong! Go to the back of the line. You’ve had your fair share—for now.
- Wait around You can get a six-pack of Deschutes, Dogfish Head, or Avery anytime at your local liquor store, so make sure to veer off the beaten malt path to search out new or itsy-bitsy breweries. This is their chance to stand next to the big boys; help these artisans out.