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.

September 2010

Red/Amber Ales

Ales, beers brewed with quick fermentation, whose names refer simply to the color of the beer.
  • 1. Red Ale
    Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins
    Malt: 6 | Hops: 6 | ABV 6.5 percent
    We’ve never been huge fans of red ales, which are usually overloaded with malts, but Odell’s Red Ale is a revelation. Sure, it’s malty and just a tad sweet, but it’s balanced out with a dose of hops that makes this incredibly drinkable. Our only complaint: This red is a seasonal, available only between January and April. Odell: We beseech you, add this to the year-round lineup! www.odellbrewing.com
  • 2. Gordon
    Oskar Blues Brewing Company, Lyons
    Malt: 6 | Hops: 9 | ABV 8.7 percent
    The crazy guys up at Oskar Blues are hops junkies, so when they went to work on making an imperial red ale, they said, “Hell—let’s make it a double IPA as well.” The result: Gordon, a beer balancing on the knife-edge between too floral and too heavy. At 8.7 percent ABV, it’s a good thing that Gordon only comes in four-packs: Any more than two will knock you flat on your rear. www.oskarblues.com
  • 3. (tie) Legendary Red Ale
    Golden City Brewery, Golden
    Malt: 6 | Hops: 3 | ABV 5.4 percent
    Bottled beer from the “second largest brewery in Golden” isn’t easy to find—you can really only buy it at the brewery, Applejack Wine & Spirits, and Golden Town Liquor—but it’s worth the trip. Legendary Red Ale, an Altbier (or “old beer”), has a malty heft with a hint of hops and goes down easy. www.gcbrewery.com
  • 3. (tie) Levity Amber Ale
    Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins
    Malt: 7 | Hops: 5 | ABV 5.1 percent
    Odell may have stretched when it named this amber “Levity,” which means excessive frivolity. Nonetheless, Levity is a wonderfully drinkable brew. The honey malts provide a bit of sweetness, and it’s nicely carbonated, making Odell’s tagline—a “lighter take on the amber ale”—feel just about right. www.odellbrewing.com

Scottish Ale

Light on hops, these ales are malty, often a little sweet, and sometimes have a smoky flavor.
  • 1. Old Chub Scotch Ale
    Oskar Blues Brewing Company, Lyons
    Malt: 9 | Hops: 4 | ABV 8 percent
    Pretty much nothing that Oskar Blues sells is subtle; Old Chub is no exception. At 8 percent ABV, Chub runs hot: It’s smoky on the nose, thanks to the beech wood–smoked malt; creamy; and rife with rich caramel, coffee, and chocolate notes. Oskar Blues has dubbed this Scottish ale “Rocky Mountain Mutha’s Milk,” but we say it’s a good winter sipper that pairs nicely with a slice of flourless chocolate cake. www.oskarblues.com
  • 2. Laughing Lab Scottish-Style Ale
    Bristol Brewing Company, Colorado Springs
    Malt: 8 | Hops: 2 | ABV 5.3 percent
    On the lighter side of the Scottish-style ale spectrum in flavor and booziness, Laughing Lab is a study in contradictions. Very drinkable at just (just!) 5.3 percent ABV, this shaggy dog has a silky texture and hints of coffee and bittersweet chocolate flavors. www.bristolbrewing.com
  • 3. Plaid Bastard
    The Grand Lake Brewing Company, Grand Lake
    Malt: 9 | Hops: 1 | ABV 8 percent
    From our friends at the highest packaging microbrewery in perhaps the world (yes, that would be Grand Lake Brewing at 8,369 feet), we get this monster malt bomb, which is made with peat-smoked malt from Scotland and English ale yeast. Very dark. Very smoky. Very strong. This is one crazy bastard indeed. Drink with care. www.grandlakebrewing.com

Brewery of the Year: Odell Brewing Company

Odell, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. First, simple math: A stunning half of our six very favorite beers in “The 5280 Sixer” are brewed by Odell. Second, the diversity of the brewery’s portfolio: Four Odell beers made our list, including a hoppy-as-hell IPA, a creamy and silky porter, a full-bodied red ale, and a very fine amber.

Many breweries can put out one great beer; few breweries can handle four. And, finally, we simply love Odell’s laid-back, Fort Collins vibe: Sure, it’s nearly doubled the size of the plant in the last year, but it’s managed to increase quantity without letting quality go down the drain. We lift our pint glass to you, Odell. Cheers. Keep up the good work.