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.
Uses pale malts and can be medium-bodied (Bass Pale Ale) to bold and hoppy (Dale’s Pale Ale).
- 1. Dale’s Pale Ale
Oskar Blues Brewing Company, Lyons
Malt: 2 | Hops: 9 | ABV 6.5 percent
Eight years after Lyons’ tiny Oskar Blues debuted Dale’s Pale Ale—kick-starting the canned craft-beer movement (see page 90)—the hoppy hype surrounding Dale’s refuses to die. National publications like Men’s Journal, the New York Times, and Details still give Dale’s regular love, and with good reason: Dale’s isn’t just the best pale ale in Colorado; it’s one of the best in the country. We tip our hat to you, Dale. www.oskarblues.com
- 2. Red Rocket Pale Ale
Bristol Brewing Company, Colorado Springs
Malt: 3 | Hops: 7 | ABV 5.2 percent
The crisp Red Rocket from Bristol is the type of pale ale you give to your friend who claims to hate hoppy beers: Sure, it’s a bit bitter, but it’s not overwhelming—it’s what a balanced and traditional pale ale should taste like. One tester described it as an “old friend,” which struck us as a dead-on description: an old friend with many promising years ahead. www.bristolbrewing.com
- 3. (tie) Jackman’s American Pale Ale
Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont
Malt: 4 | Hops: 5 | ABV 5.8 percent
We hate to sound like a commercial for an international brewing conglomerate, but Jackman’s is smooth and drinkable—your bottle will disappear before you blink. By not going overboard with hops, Left Hand wisely veered away from the rest of the craft-brewing pack. A very fine pale ale indeed. www.lefthandbrewing.com
- 3. (tie) Hazed & Infused Dry-Hopped Ale
Boulder Beer Company, Boulder
Malt: 4 | Hops: 8 | ABV 4.9 percent
Boulder Beer Company, Colorado’s first microbrewery, was started by two University of Colorado professors in 1979. Little surprise, then, that one of the brewery’s flagship beers is named Hazed & Infused, a homage to Boulder’s favorite cousin of the hop plant (that would be cannabis). This aromatic, resiny pale ale is the beer to crack open and sip in a lawn chair while watching the kids run themselves silly. www.boulderbeer.com
India Pale Ale
High ABV (6.5 percent or higher) and massive quantities of hops, which make it bitter.
- 1. India Pale Ale
1. Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins
Malt: 5 | Hops: 9 | ABV 7 percent
Although the label depicts a bucking elephant, this brew is a surprisingly smooth ride. IPAs—first brewed in the 1700s with more hops and a higher alcohol content to survive the long boat trip to British soldiers in India—have a bad rap for being unbalanced behemoths. For any of those naysayers, we’d pour this beer, which is bold without being bombastic. www.odellbrewing.com
- 2. (tie) India Pale Ale
Avery Brewing Company, Boulder
Malt: 5 | Hops: 10 | ABV 6.3 percent
Avery has long been known as a brewer’s brewery—the kind of place that makes interesting, exciting beers just for the hell of it. Little surprise, then, that its IPA doesn’t pull any punches, opting for a mega-load of hoppy bitterness. And that’s what we like about it. www.averybrewing.com
- 2. (tie) Titan IPA
Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver
Malt: 5 | Hops: 9 | ABV 7.1 percent
A word of warning: Don’t treat this as a session beer. The 7.1 percent ABV hits hard—and fast. That said, we love it and keep coming back, regardless of too many morning-after headaches. It’s strong enough to stand up to a spicy meal—just remember to bring along aspirin. www.greatdivide.com
- 3. Hoppy Boy IPA
Twisted Pine Brewing Company, Boulder
Malt: 5 | Hops: 9 | ABV 6.2 percent
We like smelling this beer as much as we like drinking it: Notes of weed (er, hops) mix with citrus as this beer pours out a murky gold. Hoppy Boy is a tasty, complex IPA that won’t knock you over (for that, you’ll need to try its father, the Hoppy Man, a double IPA). www.twistedpinebrewing.com
The best bars for drinkin’ colorado brews
- Cherry cricket
Crowd Families and frat boys eating burgers and drinking good beer.
Toast-worthy A pitcher of a Colorado microbrew is about the cheapest thing you’ll find in Cherry Creek North.
Buzzkill The game might be over before a table opens up.
We’re Drinking Great Divide Titan IPA.
2641 E. Second Ave., www.cherrycricket.com
- Falling Rock Taphouse
Crowd Beer geeks and Rockies fans trying to escape the crowds of LoDo meatheads.
Toast-worthy The overwhelming—in a good way—selection of more than 75 draft beers.
Buzzkill Popular and unusual kegs go quickly; you might need to have a backup beer choice.
We’re Drinking Whatever crazy Colorado seasonal beer we’ve never tried before.
1919 Blake St., www.fallingrocktaphouse.com
- Jonesy’s Eatbar
Crowd Uptown hipsters unwinding after a workday, munching on fries and tossing back bottles of microbrews.
Toast-worthy One of the best local-centric beer lists in town.
Buzzkill Despite the killer beer list, most are served in bottles.
We’re Drinking Odell Double Pilsner.
400 E. 20th Ave., www.jeatbar.com