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Beer of the Year: A look at the best Colorado breweries from 2018

The inaugural Colorado Sun survey of the state’s beer industry and fans showcases the top trends and what’s to come

Steve Froom gets a beer from one of the many taps at WeldWerks Brewing in downtown Greeley. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Ask any five Colorado brewers or beer fans for the best brewery in the state, and you’ll probably get five different answers.

For The Colorado Sun’s inaugural beer of the year poll, we asked hundreds of brewers, industry experts and beer enthusiasts and found a similar result — each has a favorite and their own reasons for it.

But a handful of breweries get mentioned more often than others — and those are the ones we crown here in our contest for beer and brewery of the year.

4 Noses Brewing in Broomfield makes IPAs that draw crowds to its taproom. (Provided by 4 Noses Brewing Co.)

Brewery of the Year

4 Noses Brewing and WeldWerks Brewing (tie)

It’s no coincidence that the two breweries at the top in Colorado are IPA masters.

4 Noses Brewing in Broomfield makes standard-setting American IPA called ‘Bout Damn Time, and pushes flavor limits with a range of hazy, brut and milkshake versions of the style that keep it interesting. If IPAs are not your speed, grab 4 Noses’ Perfect Drift Pilsner, which is a go-to for any occasion.

WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley celebrates its flagship Juicy Bits as the best hazy IPA in the state with its softer touch and big citrus flavors. And it goes further than any brewery in the state with its IPA variants, many of which came in its project to brew 130 beers in 2018. The brewery had the longest lines at the Great American Beer Festival, and for good reason. In addition to hazy IPAs, the Medianoche barrel-aged series is phenomenal.

Other breweries that received recognition in this category included Bierstadt Lagerhaus and Cerebral in Denver, Jessup Farm Barrel House in Fort Collins and New Terrain in Golden.

Editor’s pick: Too often forgotten, Cannonball Creek Brewing is making some of the best beers in the state. In 2018, the Golden brewer picked up its eight GABF medals in six years. Grab a Trump Hands session IPA and try to drink just one. It’s too good.

Lisa Nuss slides out a glass of WeldWerks award winning hefeweizen on Thursday night at WeldWerks Brewing in downtown Greeley.

Beer of the Year

WeldWerks Brewing Juicy Bits

This New England-style IPA from WeldWerks Brewing is loaded with so many hops it’s hard to imitate. (The recipe is here for homebrewers, but good luck.) The mosaic, citra and El Dorado hops lend a pillowy or fluffy mouthfeel with tropical fruit flavors and a mild hop bite that even appeals to those who don’t like bitter beers.

Juicy Bits is often hard to find, which wasn’t the brewery’s intention, so look for more production and distribution in the coming year. It’ll soon become a staple.

Other beers that landed at the top of the survey included Bierstadt Lagerhaus’ Slow Pour Pils and Epic Brewing’s new Quadruple Barrel Big Bad Baptist.

Editor’s pick: Cerebral Brewing in Denver made a beer that I’m still thinking about months later: the Barrel-Aged Ancient Ruins Rocky Road Stout. The so-called pastry stout manages to go big on flavor without being too sweet, like most in the category.

Best New Brewery in Colorado

Liberati is a new restaurant and brewery in Denver that focuses on beer-wine hybrids. (Provided by Liberati)

Liberati Osteria & Oenobeers and Primitive Beer (tie)

These two newer entries to Colorado’s beer scene stand out because they do it different than other breweries.

Liberati stakes its claim as “the only brewery in the world” devoted to oenobeers, which are a beer-wine hybrid. Alex Liberati is from Rome and so is the chef at this Italian brewpub in Denver. The beer list looks familiar — pale ales, kolschs, stouts and more — but each beer is made with different wine grapes to add whole new complexity that will defy expectations.

Primitive Beer specializes in spontaneous, barrel-fermented beer, much of it blended batches to add nuance to the sour taste. The Longmont brewer is only open a handful of times a month but it packages its beers without carbonation in a box. (Yes, like boxed wine.) It also features 100 percent Colorado ingredients.

Editor’s pick: Cerveceria Colorado is a refreshing take on craft beer in all the good ways. The Mexican-inspired brews feature ingredients such as nopal, churros and peppers, and pour in a colorful taproom.

Kyle Carbaugh is one of the founders of Wiley Roots Brewing in Greeley. In 2019,the brewery is planning a significant expansion. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Brewery to Watch

Westbound and Down Brewing

The favorite beer-stop for skiers and hikers off Interstate 70 in Idaho Springs is becoming so much more with a new brewpub planned for Denver. Westbound and Down’s new brew system will allow for new beers and innovative styles that will only add to solid IPAs and hefeweizen you can find at the original location.

But it’s the sour beers in collaboration with Amalgam’s Phil Joyce (formerly of Powder Keg) that are drawing renewed attention to the brewery — hype that will only grow in the year to come.

Editor’s pick: Once considered the other Greeley brewery, Wiley Roots Brewing is emerging from the shadow of WeldWerks. The brewery will expand production and push the limits on production with dozens of styles and small-batch releases expected in the coming months.

Beer trend to watch in 2019

Lagers and pilsners

The trend toward lower-alcohol and simpler beer is starting to take hold in Colorado with a resurgence of lagers, pilsners and other session beers. And beer-industry experts only expect it to grow larger in 2019.

“I expect pilsners and lagers to rise in popularity because the consumer will grow tired of the constant bombardment of extreme flavors,” one survey respondent wrote.

The lighter, less boozy beers fit with the state’s outdoor lifestyle. And just because the styles are traditional, don’t expect there won’t be creativity. The new dry-hopped pilsners and oak-foeder aged lagers will keep even the beer geeks interested.

Editor’s pick: The brut IPA trend is here to stay. And Colorado has one of the better ones on the market with Ska Brewing’s Moral Panic. The use of enzymes or yeast to make IPAs bone-dry (like brut Champagne) also appears to the above consumer trend for lighter, easier-drinking beers.

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