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.
A malty, chocolaty brew that was once extremely popular with working-class Brits.
- 1. Ellie’s Brown Ale
Avery Brewing Company, Boulder
Malt: 8 | Hops: 3 | ABV 5.5 percent
A little nutty, like its namesake (a chocolate Labrador retriever), Avery’s Ellie’s Brown is easy drinkin’, light, balanced, and clean. On tap or poured from a bottle into a glass, Ellie’s has a foamy head and, yes, some nutty (and chocolaty) notes. Pairs nicely with everything from cheese to grilled meats. www.averybrewing.com
- 2. Flashback Anniversary Ale
Boulder Beer Company, Boulder
Malt: 6 | Hops: 7 | ABV 6.9 percent
From the good folks at Boulder Beer comes this fun, creative, unique brew. (Is it a brown ale?! Is it an India pale ale?!) This beer will surprise you with its aggressive hops character, but the malt keeps Flashback balanced. One of the most interesting beers we tasted during our research—and that’s saying something. www.boulderbeer.com
- 3. Wooly Booger Nut Brown Ale
The Grand Lake Brewing Company, Grand Lake
Malt: 7 | Hops: 2 | ABV 5 percent
For the uninitiated, the wooly booger refers to a specific kind of lure used in fly-fishing, not a…well, never mind. In any event, this English-style brown tastes better than it sounds, with a medium body and a toffee-nut, slightly sweet taste. Maybe not our pick for a day of casting on the river, but we’d order a bottle at the pub any day of the week. www.grandlakebrewing.com
George Washington brewed this rich, dark ale himself—enough said.
- 1. Cutthroat Porter
Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins
Malt: 7 | Hops: 4 | ABV 5.1 percent
Forget the cloyingly sweet porters you’ve tried in the past—Odell’s Cutthroat is a smooth, dark ale that you’ll return to again and again and again. You’re not going to be tossing back porters on a scorching hot day, but whenever the weather drops below 55—including on summer nights—we reach for the bottle opener and a Cutthroat. www.odellbrewing.com
- 2. Black Jack Porter
Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont
Malt: 8 | Hops: 3 | ABV 6.8 percent
If Count Chocula and the Dunkin’ Donuts guy got together to brew some beer, they’d end up with Black Jack: an English-style porter loaded with chocolate and roasted espresso flavors. This is the perfect beer to warm your belly and brain after trudging out to shovel your driveway at 11 p.m. www.lefthandbrewing.com
- 3. Ten Pin Porter
Ska Brewing Company, Durango
Malt: 9 | Hops: 3 | ABV 5.5 percent
A robust, dark porter from Ska Brewing in Durango, Ten Pin is worthy of being poured into a pint glass—the beer is jet-black and topped with a frothy, tan head. Don’t let the color fool you, though: The coffee-heavy Ten Pin is smooth and creamy and goes down easy. www.skabrewing.com
A Brief History of Craft Brewing in Colorado
- 1979 Boulder Brewing Company opens and becomes Colorado’s first microbrewery.
- 1982 First Great American Beer Festival in Boulder. Moves to Denver two years later.
- 1989 Odell Brewing Company established.
- 1990 Breckenridge Brewery & Pub established.
- 1991 New Belgium Brewing Company established.
- 1996 Avery Brewing Company (founded in ’93) becomes the first brewer to bottle an IPA in the state of Colorado.
- 2002 Oskar Blues Brewing Company pioneers the craft-beer canning revolution by distributing their brews in aluminum cans.
- 2008 Left Hand Brewing Company creates Ales 4 FemAles, a women-only club founded to teach women about craft brewing, and robs Longmont book clubs of their participants.
- 2010 U.S. Representative Betsy Markey submits House Resolution 1297, which would champion American Craft Beer Week, to Congress.