THE BEST COLORADO CRAFT BEER AND BREW­ERIES IN 2016

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Frank

Colorado’s craft beer scene en­joyed a mem­o­rable year, with an ever-grow­ing list of new beers and new brew­eries. To mark the year in beer, the Den­ver Post sur­veyed dozens of brew­ers and in­dus­try experts from across the state and asked them to name the best beers and brew­eries in 2016 — and of­fer pre­dic­tions for what to ex­pect in 2017.

The 6th an­nual Beer in Re­view sur­vey col­lec­tively shows that Colorado beer sits at the fore­front of in­dus­try trends and of­fers over­flow­ing op­tions for the state’s craft beer fans. (To see in­di­vid­ual sub­mis­sions from brew­ers and craft beer experts, visit den­ver­post.com/tag/beer-in-re­view-2016/.)

About 50 craft beer pros an­swered the sur­vey — and here are the re­sults for 2016:

Best Colorado beer: Bier­stadt Lager­haus Slow Pour Pils

Den­ver’s Bier­stadt Lager­haus opened a mere four months ago, and its tra­di­tional Ger­man pil­sner made an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion in an arena where big­ger and cra­zier are often con­sid­ered bet­ter. But this is no fizzy yel­low beer you can find in 30-packs, ei­ther.

“Sim­ple, yet au­then­tic and de­li­cious,” said Brian O’Con­nell at Rene­gade Brew­ing.

Crisp and easy drink­ing, it takes 30 hours to brew and then fer­ments at cold tem­per­a­tures for what seems like an eter­nity. Slow Pour Pils is served with a tall foamy head that ex­tends above the rim of the glass.

This beer is at the fore­front of the move­ment to­ward lighter beers that we will see in the com­ing year. The “at­ten­tion to de­tail and un­com­pro­mis­ing at­ti­tude on how beer should be made ab­so­lutely shines in this beer,” said Sam Scruby at Up­s­lope Brew­ing. Colorado brew­ery of the year: Black Project Spon­ta­neous and Wild Ales in Den­ver

Once un­der the radar, Black Project made its for­mal de­but this year on South Broad­way in Den­ver, re­plac­ing its sis­ter op­er­a­tion For­mer Fu­ture. James and Sarah Howat’s brew­ery spe­cial­izes beer that is

spon­ta­neously fer­mented with mi­crobes in the open air, cre­at­ing beer with com­plex­ity and a sense of place. Other yeast strains are iso­lated in the lab to make unique saisons and In­dia pale ales.

Black Project “con­tin­ues to push bound­aries with their meth­ods of har­vest­ing and iso­lat­ing wild yeast from their Den­ver rooftop and their mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion to solely fo­cus on na­tive mi­croflora for fer­men­ta­tion,” said Chris Mar­chio, the for­mer brewer at Joyride Brew­ing.

The unique ap­proach gave Black Project the nod, but this cat­e­gory was close, with a dozen brew­eries in con­tention. Four of the state’s IPA mas­ters fin­ished tied for sec­ond place: Can­non­ball Creek, Cere­bral, Com­rade and Odd13 are re­defin­ing styles and push­ing hop fla­vors to new places with each brew­ery hit­ting a new level in 2016. Den­ver

Long an­tic­i­pated and worth the wait, Bier­stadt Lager­haus won rave re­views when it opened in Den­ver’s River North neigh­bor­hood in Au­gust. The mas­ter­minds be­hind the project, how­ever, are far from new­com­ers. Bill Eye and Ash­leigh Carter are veter­ans of Dry Dock Brew­ing and helped launch Prost, an­other Ger­manstyle spe­cial­ist, in 2012.

The brew­ery makes three beers — a pil­sner, a helles and a dunkel — on an 84-year-old cop­per brew ket­tle from Ger­many. Bier­stadt’s ethos is clear: “We are ones for tra­di­tion,” the brew­ers pro­claim on the web­site. “We have brewed a lot of beer over the years, and it is our be­lief that tra­di­tion­ally brewed lagers are clas­sics for a rea­son.”

Carter said the Slow Pour Pils came “after more than 2 K years of work­ing and wait­ing. … It was the cul­mi­na­tion of a lot of work, and a lit­tle bit of weight lifted off our shoul­ders.”

Other new­com­ers to put on your must-visit list: Cheluna in Aurora; New Im­age in Ar­vada; Lit­tle Ma­chine in Den­ver; Wibby in Longmont; Moun­tain Tap in Steam­boat; and Zwei in Fort Collins. Brew­ery Liberati in Den­ver

The brain­child of Ital­ian brewer Alex Liberati, who moved to Colorado from Rome two years ago, Brew­ery Liberati is ex­pected to take craft beer in new in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tions with wine-beer hy­brids. The ad­di­tion of grapes is seen in a few com­mer­cial ex­am­ples but re­mains a rel­a­tively un­ex­plored arena.

“I don’t think any­body’s be­ing an­tic­i­pated in 2017 like Liberati,” said Chris Black at Fall­ing Rock Tap House. “Alex Liberati and his crew of Ital­ians should bring in some new blood to the scene. Their fo­cus on food and food-friendly beers will be in­ter­est­ing to watch.”

The brew­ery is ex­pected to open with a restau­rant in fall 2017 at 2403 Champa Street in down­town Den­ver.

WeldWerks and Wi­ley Roots in Gree­ley and Baere Brew­ing in Den­ver are three other brew­eries that are ex­pected to be­come big­ger play­ers in 2017. So keep an eye on them, too.

The craze for the haze hit Colorado in 2016. Cloudy New Eng­land-style IPAs be­came pop­u­lar at a dozen or more brew­eries. In­stead of bit­ter bombs, these IPAS are “juice bombs” — ex­plod­ing with softer, fruit fa­vors from the huge dose of hops late in the brew process.

The style is not with­out con­tro­versy, as many brew­ers con­sider them in­fe­rior be­cause of the hazy ap­pear­ance. “They were the topic of many de­bates,” said Alan Si­mons at Dry Dock Brew­ing. “It was fun to watch the pas­sion ex­pressed with these beers. Peo­ple love them, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to watch how the style evolves.”

The best ex­am­ples of the style in Colorado are avail­able at Odd13, WeldWerks, Cere­bral and Fic­tion. And it’s only ex­pected to grow in pop­u­lar­ity in 2017.

The year ahead in craft beer is dom­i­nated by pre­dic­tions (and fears) of mar­ket forces re­defin­ing the land­scape. The con­cerns in­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of lay­offs, brand over­hauls and even more sell­outs to mega beer com­pa­nies like An­heuser-Busch.

The en­trance into the craft mar­ket of so-called “Big Beer” and the ev­er­grow­ing list of new brew­eries will only in­crease com­pe­ti­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I fear the AB InBev in­fil­tra­tion of craft beer will not slow down,” said Scott Wit­soe at Wit’s End Brew­ing in Den­ver. “The heart of this in­dus­try is strong, but they are a pow­er­house and have the re­sources to per­ma­nently change things as they see it. I’m not sure how ev­ery­one is go­ing to fare in their wake next year.”

One sec­tor fac­ing par­tic­u­lar pres­sure are brew­eries in the mid­dle — big enough for re­gional dis­tri­bu­tion but not big enough for a na­tional foot­print. “I strongly be­lieve there’s room for a brew­ery in ev­ery neigh­bor­hood, but (the com­pe­ti­tion) is start­ing to get real for those with more re­gional goals,” said Brett Wil­liams at Lit­tle Ma­chine Beer.

Pa­trons en­joy some craft beer at Black Project Spon­ta­neous & Wild Ales. The Den­ver Post sur­veys dozens of craft beer pro­fes­sion­als around the state about best beer of 2016, beer trends and best brew­ery of the year. Black Project was named by their peers as the best brew­ery of 2016. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bar­tender Michael Brock­off draws a Slow Pour Pils (Best Colorado beer) at the Bier­stadt Lager­haus in­side the Rack­house Tast­ing Room and Kitchen. Andy Cross, Den­ver Post file

Pa­trons en­joy some craft beer at Black Project Spon­ta­neous & Wild Ales. Black Project was named by their peers as the best brew­ery of 2016. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Juicy Bits, a very pop­u­lar hazy IPA beer (the most notable beer trend of 2016), is one of many beers at WeldWorks Brew­ing. Andy Cross, Den­ver Post file

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