The best Colorado beer and breweries in 2021
The top Colorado breweries and brews in this year's Axios Best Beer survey epitomized both ends of the spectrum: hop-crazed hazy IPAs and traditional, full-flavored lagers.
What we found: We surveyed 150 beer lovers, brewers and industry pros — in addition to crunching Untappd ratings data — to find Colorado's best breweries, beers and trends for 2021 and what to watch in 2022.
- This is the sixth consecutive year our resident beer expert John has conducted the survey, dating back to his days at the Denver Post and through his recent tenure at the Colorado Sun.
- In a tribute to the state's diverse scene, nearly 200 different breweries were nominated in the various categories.
Best brewery: Outer Range attracted attention soon after it opened five years ago with the state's most pillowy, hops-popping hazy IPAs. In 2021, it matured into a beer destination with its taproom/restaurant/coffee shop at full throttle in Frisco.
- Untappd's Top 3 (average rating out of five): Burns Family (4.29), Knotted Root (4.28) and Casey Brewing (4.22)
- John's pick: Cerebral. The Denver brewery hits on all levels with drool-worthy hazy IPAs, sticky stouts, delicate sours and barrel-aged lagers. And it hosts fun-filled events.
- Honorable mentions: Bierstadt, Cohesion, Cannonball Creek, Crooked Stave and Sanitas
Best beer: Bierstadt's Slow Pour Pils and Helles (tie). This German-lager maker's pilsner has been at the top since the brewery opened, and this year its leading competition came from within. A mug of tried-and-true Helles gave the delicate Slow Pour Pils a run.
- Untappd's Top 3: WeldWerks' Extra Extra Juicy Bits (4.5), WeldWerks/Casey Transmountain Diversion (4.4) and Knotted Root's Perpetually Unimpressed (4.3)
- John's pick: Cerebral's Krocodile Kilometer. A collaboration with New York's famed hazy IPA master, Other Half, is the beer I still remember most from earlier this year. I'm not alone: Untappd users put it at No. 5 in Colorado.
- Honorable mentions: Our Mutual Friend's Inner Light IPA, Outer Range Pillow Stacks and 4 Noses 'Bout Damn Time
- John's pick: Knotted Root specializes in what I think of as hyperbole beers — over the-top fruited sours and hop-heavy IPAs. They are fun sips from this 2-year-old upstart.
- Honorable mentions: Wild Provisions, Little Dry Creek and Lady Justice
Brewery to watch in 2022: Ratio and 4 Noses (tie). What these two breweries have in common is growth. Ratio is opening another location next year. 4 Noses acquired Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette; saw success with its affiliated Wild Provisions in Boulder; and announced a new Denver taproom and production facility.
- John's pick: Jade Mountain Brewery is leaning into its Asian influences and making eye-opening beer, like a tart Mochi ale with tea and a spice-forward lineup.
Top beer trend for 2021: Lagers. Whether it was pilsners or other lager styles, independently-made beer-flavored beer dominated as an easy-drinking alternative to seltzers. "I love drinking a few beers with my friends, and these crispy bois let me do so," says Devon Adams, an Advanced Cicerone.
- John's pick: The return of tap rooms — especially those with outdoor patios like Sanitas, Cannonball Creek and Telluride. Likewise, beer sales platform Arryved declared the return of QR codes as its top trend.
- Honorable mentions: Seltzers, hazy IPAs and tart sours
Beer trend to watch in 2022: Non-alcoholic beers (and similar hop-infused beverages) are becoming more prevalent and popular. "People are looking to take care of themselves … while still engaging in social drinking situations," says Sam Real at CSA Distributing.
- John's pick: The reinvented and more refined West Coast IPA, with less bitterness and more juicy hop flavor, like Crooked Stave's edition, will compete with the murky and belly-filling hazy IPA.
- Honorable mentions: The staying power of IPA and lagers.
The bottom line: Jonathan Mueller echoed the sentiment of many who completed the survey: "Comparing the Colorado craft scene to other U.S. breweries is like letting gods into a mortals-contest: unfair at best, mortal defenestration at worst."
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