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  • 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.


    Ladies and gentlemen of Denver and beyond, we are here to report that the state of beer in Colorado is strong! In fact, there’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker in the Centennial State—and, if current trends hold, things are only going to get better for the hop heads and the malt mavens among us. (Think: better quality, more diversity, and continuing experimentation.) Consider the numbers: In metro Denver alone, there are more than 20 craft breweries and brewpubs. Add in craft-brewing hot spots like Fort Collins, Lyons, Longmont, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, and it’s clear the Front Range has become the Napa Valley of beer. (Portland, eat your heart out!) This month (the 16th–18th), the 29th Great American Beer Festival descends on our fair city and will offer amazing (and some not-so-amazing) brews from around the world to sample. We decided, a year ago, to do our part to highlight our great state’s contributions to the craft-beer movement and taste just about every commercially distributed beer in Colorado. Yes, we had some late nights and some rough mornings, and we endured the wrath of our jealous colleagues. In the end, we found the very best brews being made here right now—and feel fortunate to be part of this craft-brewing renaissance. Enjoy.

    Ratings Key: On a scale of 1–10, we ranked the maltiness and hoppiness of each beer on this list (1 = mild; 10 = aggressive).

    The Glossary: A primer on beer terms.


    Light in flavor and color; lagers are fermented at lower temperatures than ales, which creates a crisp, clean flavor.

    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.


    Made with malted wheat (or sometimes unmalted wheat), as well as malted barley.

    • 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?)
    • 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.
    • 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.

    Survival Guide

    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.



    Pale Ale

    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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

    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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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).

    The best bars for drinkin’ colorado brews

    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!
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

    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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

    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.

    Brown Ale

    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.
    • 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.
    • 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.


    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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

    A Brief History of Craft Brewing in Colorado


    Slightly more full-bodied than porter; Guinness is the world’s most famous stout.

    • 1. Milk Stout
      Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont
      Malt: 8 | Hops: 2 | ABV 6 percent
      We can’t say enough about this eminently drinkable stout. It’s full-flavored and full-bodied, yet completely smooth and balanced. Slightly sweet and milky on the nose, Milk Stout might just give Guinness a run as our session stout—and that’s about the best compliment we could give a beer.
    • 2. Yeti Imperial Stout
      Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver
      Malt: 10 | Hops: 7 | ABV 9.5 percent
      The folks at Great Divide aren’t kidding when they call Yeti “imposing” and “untamed.” Black and opaque in the glass, this imperial stout—a strong stout style first brewed in Russia in the 1800s—has both toasty malt flavors and a bold, strong hoppy character. Not for the faint of heart.
    • 3. Chocolate Stout
      The Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins
      Malt: 8 | Hops: 4 | ABV 5.3 percent
      We’ll eat (or drink) just about anything that has “chocolate” in its name, but Fort Collins’ stout earns its place on our list of favorite chocolate treats. This brew won’t satisfy a sweet tooth, however—we’re talking dark chocolate here, with strong hints of coffee. With a sturdy malt backbone, this is a serious beer—with a surprisingly low ABV.

    The Sixer

    If we put together the perfect mix-six, here’s what it’d look like.


    1. Dale’s Pale Ale (Oskar Blues)
      Our go-to beer, no matter what the season or activity.
    2. Cutthroat Porter (Odell)
      Will make you rethink what you thought you knew about porters.
    3. India Pale Ale (Odell)
      A balanced IPA that even non-hop-enthusiasts will enjoy.
    4. White Rascal (Avery)
      A laid-back Belgian-style wheat beer; perfect for a warm afternoon.
    5. Milk Stout (Left Hand)
      A smooth, refined, and easy-drinkin’ stout.
    6. Red Ale (Odell)
      The beer that made us love red ales.
    7. Colorado’s craft breweries are furiously fermenting suds.When Oskar Blues ran out of beer this summer, it was a nightmare for hops lovers (the horror!), but the shortage actually signaled a positive trend: Consumers, it seems, just can’t get enough of Colorado brews. Thanks in part to the buy-local movement, drinkers are demanding so much Colorado craft beer that to keep up, local breweries are doubling their efforts. Recently, Oskar Blues added new fermenters to fill orders (whew, crisis averted), and during the past year Odell Brewing nearly doubled its plant in size to increase production and add office space. This summer, Great Divide expanded its brewing capacity by 50 percent—and that’s after a similar expansion last year. Even Denver newbie Strange Brewing Company, which opened up earlier this spring with a one-barrel system, is already planning to grow.

      It’s quite a success story, considering that three years ago Colorado craft breweries were in the middle of a perfect storm: Hops were scarce after farmers cashed in on ethanol incentives to plant corn instead of hops, and malt prices spiked 40 to 80 percent because of barley shortages and a weak U.S. dollar. But instead of getting competitive, craft breweries turned to each other for help. They traded ingredients, created new beers, and installed canning lines. Not only did they stay afloat, but sales also increased by 12 percent in 2007, an upward trend that continues to this day.

      Last year, things began to brighten even more as thousands of acres of newly planted hops were on the verge of blooming after three years of germination. This year, local craft-beer sales numbers are likely to be up again, and many breweries credit their continued growth to Colorado drinkers spending their beer dollars closer to home. We’ll drink to that—locally, of course. —Jennie Dorris

      What’s in a Name?

      Colorado’s top wild, wacky (and plain weird) beer monikers.

      • Gubna: Oskar Blues Brewing Company
      • Plaid Bastard: The Grand Lake Brewing Company
      • Pandora’s Bock: Breckenridge Brewery
      • Skinny Dip: New Belgium Brewing Company
      • Wooly Booger Nut Brown Ale: The Grand Lake Brewing Company
      • Ten Fidy: Oskar Blues Brewing Company
      • Hibernation Ale: Great Divide Brewing Company
      • Butt Head Bock: Tommyknocker Brewery
      • Mephistopheles’ Stout: Avery Brewing Company

      The Beer Can Revolution

      • 1959 Coors debuts the United States’ first all-aluminum can. Drinkers get one cent back per can returned to the brewery.
      • 2002 Oskar Blues hand-cans Dale’s Pale Ale one at a time, becoming the first U.S. craft brewer to do so.
      • 2008 New Belgium jumps on the bandwagon by canning Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat.
      • 2009 Breckenridge Brewery releases its flagship brew, Avalanche, in cans.
      • 2010 The Golden Age of Canning: New Belgium starts canning Ranger IPA; Boulder Beer Company starts canning Hazed & Infused; and Avery introduces Joe’s Premium American Pilsner in cans, along with Avery IPA, White Rascal, and Ellie’s Brown Ale.
      • 2010 In June, Oskar Blues hosts the inaugural “Burning Can” festival, which celebrates canned beer.

      Golden Opportunity

      Coors’ craft-brewing operation uses Colorado as its testing ground.

      Launching a new beer is no joke for gigantic brewing conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors: A minimum of $18 million is lavished on each product launch for research, package design, advertising, sales, and the actual brewing. But that money often goes to waste—more than 90 percent of new beers introduced in the past few decades have failed.

      So, a few years ago, Pete Coors had a smart idea: He wanted to grow a beer’s popularity slowly and locally, like craft brewers do. In 2007, he launched AC Golden Brewing Company, named after his great-grandfather (Adolph Coors), with the hope that the company’s experimental, Colorado-only beers would become incubators for new brands. This is, after all, how Blue Moon became a national success: The Belgian-style witbier was born in the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field in 1995 before exploding into a national brand.

      AC Golden has launched two beers since its founding: the flagship Colorado Native Lager, an amber lager brewed with all Colorado ingredients that tastes a bit like Sam Adams Boston Lager; and Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve, a sharp, drinkable pilsner. (They also took over the brewing of Winterfest, a seasonal Vienna lager, from MillerCoors.) All three are the kind of beers you’d expect to find at a small brewpub, not from a MillerCoors subsidiary. Even the beer junkies at—notorious big-brewery haters—have professed their admiration for the AC Golden brews. And at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, the outfit took bronze for a non-commercially released dunkel beer.

      Glenn Knippenberg, AC Golden’s president, brushes off the frequently leveled accusations that the company is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “We invite those people to come see for themselves how small we are,” says Knippenberg, who points out that his four brewers not only brew beer but also clean bottles and package the suds. AC Golden will brew just 5,500 barrels this year, a drop in the beer keg for MillerCoors, which churns out more than 50 million barrels annually. “We out-craft most craft brewers,” Knippenberg boasts.

    Editors' Picks


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