The ten biggest Colorado beer stories of 2011
You could say that 2011 was the year that Denver's men and women matched its mountains when it came to beer culture. Seven new breweries opened in the metro area and stayed so busy that all seven have already expanded -- or are considering it.
Avery Brewing's second annual SourFest.
But good beer can also be found on the menus of fancy restaurants and, equally important, on the chalkboards at bars that previously focused only on mass-market brews. And as drinkers became more demanding, more sophisticated and more experimental, so did the state's 150-plus breweries. It was a great year for beer in Colorado, and here are the ten biggest reasons why:
10) Sour beers continue to rise
The surge of sour beers and wild ales began in Colorado in 2010, but the trend took off in 2011 as breweries big and small began to experiment -- and quickly perfect -- the hundreds-year-old Belgian tradition of using souring agents like brettanomyces and lactobacillus to add odd and funky flavors to some of their beers. Three of these, New Belgium's Le Terroir, Odell's Friek and Crabtree's Berliner Weiss all took home gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in three major sour-beer categories. In the meantime, a brewery dedicated to sours, the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, was founded in Fort Collins and plans to move to Denver in 2012, while Avery held its second annual SourFest, an event that sold out in minutes.
9) Influence of the Breckenridge/Wynkoop brewing empire
The Breckenridge and Wynkoop breweries combined their financial operations at the end of 2010 in hopes of finding ways to improve both of their companies. But there has been a lot to manage. In 2010, they opened two new craft-beer-heavy restaurants, Ale House at Amato's and Ghost Plate & Tap while closing another, Pearl Street Grill. On the brewing side, the Wynkoop added some brewing space, but the federal government still hasn't approved its application to use Breckenridge's primary facility, meaning that the growth of its canned-beer lineup has had to wait. Still, both companies have big plans for 2012. Breckenridge is adding a new set of tanks and has a few new beers in the works, while the Wynkoop could be on the verge of statewide distribution.
8) Beer legislation fails again
For the third consecutive year, state lawmakers killed a bill that would have allowed groceries and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer. Craft brewers fought tooth and nail against the bill, saying it would put many small liquor stores out of business, which would, in turn, hurt sales of craft beer. The supermarkets argued that they would continue to carry craft beer and that the bill would offer consumers more choice and convenience.
7) Barrel-aged beers
Barrel aging got a big boost in 2011 as various breweries either ramped up or started new projects in which they aged some of their beers in wooden barrels that had once held bourbon, whiskey, run, wine or other alcohols. Some of the loudest splashes were made by Avery, Odell, Great Divide, Breckenridge and Dry Dock, but Crabtree, Rockyard, Crooked Stave and others also entered the field. The biggest news, though, was a decision by Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, whose barrels are used by many a brewery, to allow only Breckenridge Brewing to print its name on their labels. Breck plans to release a new beer based on the partnership in February.
6) Left Hand's Nitro Milk Stout
On the eve of the Great American Beer Festival, Longmont's Left Hand Brewing shocked the world by unveiling the first American-made nitro beer in the bottle from a craft brewer. Okay, maybe the news didn't shock the world, but it was pretty cool. Milk Stout Nitro pours like a draft beer, complete with a thick, billowy head and bubbles that cascade up from the bottom, similar to the way that bars are able to pour Guinness drafts with special taps. But instead of using a device known as a "widget" to recreate that effect in the bottle, Left Hand spent two and half years and hundreds of thousands of dollars figuring out another way to gas its beer with a blend of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. It was worth the effort.