While many people spend their winters craving the white stuff (fresh snow, that is), we prefer to seek out the dark stuff (beer, that is). When the cold temperatures start to evoke thoughts like “Where are my gloves?” to the “Oh, dear lord – I’m not going out there,” it’s time to satisfy your cravings with malty goodness, strong stouts and other winter-only offerings from Colorado’s best breweries.
To help us narrow down the field of winter beers, we talked to some of Colorado’s foremost beer experts who have shouldered the “case load” of sampling countless concoctions from the Centennial State. After incessant pestering and some hard-hitting questions, we compiled their picks for the best winter-only Colorado Beers.
Reporter, The Denver Post
Founder, Upslope Brewing Company
Author, Fermentedly Challenged
Managing Editor and Beer Man, Westword
Communications, Ska Brewing
Great Divide Brewing Company’s Hibernation
Eric Gorski: The Denver brewery’s winter seasonal has stood the test of time, staying true to its recipe since its introduction in 1995. This is one of Great Divide’s best: a heavily dry-hopped English old ale packed with roasted malty goodness. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better winter warmer.
Jonathan Shikes: Great Divide Brewing Company’s Hibernation is a wonderful example of a classic winter warmer: a malty, rich English old ale that manages to blend sweet, caramel-like flavors with a subtle hop bitterness and a roasty finish. Denver’s Great Divide has been making it since 1995 and it is one of the beers that most reminds me of the holiday season.
Odell Brewing Company’s Woodcut No. 7 Russian Imperial Stout
Dave Butler: This is the 7th iteration of Odell’s oak barrel aging program. This particular release just happens to be available during the holiday season this year and makes for one fantastic big beer experience. This is a strong, dark and powerful barrel-aged imperial stout. It’s got a big, bold flavor that imparts notes of roasted chocolate, dark malts and a hint of molasses. The oak barrels add a nice touch to this powerful stout.
Avery Brewing Company’s Old Jubilation
Matt Cutter: Avery’s Old Jubilation was one of the first winter seasonal ales that I ever tasted. With layers of caramel and coffee malts that make this beer rich and robust, it is a great example of what I believe a winter ale should be.
New Belgium Brewing Company’s Accumulation White IPA
Eric Gorski: The Fort Collins giant of craft brewing likes to rotate its seasonals and this beer is new this winter. Accumulation is from the Sierra Nevada Celebration school of winter beers: hoppy, bitter and bright. It’s brewed with Target and Centennial hops, and dry-hopped with Mosaic and Amarillo. That’s a lot of hops.
Bristol Brewing Company’s Winter Warlock
Dave Butler: This has been one of my seasonal favorites for several years. I recall trying this beer on a cold day and enjoying this creamy oatmeal stout. This is a smooth and somewhat dry stout, but is very satisfying and is a great type of dark beer to get you adjusted to the darker days of late fall and winter. It’s one of my fall-back beers that I go to on a regular basis.
Upslope Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale
Matt Cutter: Our goal was to create Christmas in a can. I wanted people to have a Pavlovian reaction, to yearn for this beer as soon as the clocks are changed and flakes start flying. I wanted something ruby red, complex and warming. I wanted to present a beer that was properly spiced and balanced with a Belgian character. In the end, what I really wanted was something distinctly seasonal that anyone could proudly bring to a holiday party, crack open, and pour into a couple of Belgian-style glasses to share with someone they hadn’t seen in a while. From the smiles that I’ve seen emerge from that first sip, yes, I believe that we have created something pretty special.
Dave Butler: Upslope’s Christmas Ale comes in a can that looks like wrapping paper. This is a bold, yet smooth-drinking Belgian-style Dubbel that has just the right amount of spices added to give it a festive seasonal flavor. It has a medium body and a mild bitterness. The mix of spices and Belgian yeast gives this beer a very inviting aroma and taste without going overboard on the ingredients. It mixes well with the holidays!
Odell Brewing’s Mountain Standard
Jonathan Shikes: Mountain Standard, from Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, is one of the finest, most powerful, and most elegant hoppy beers made in Colorado. As the name implies, it’s named for our time zone and only appears during the darkest months of the year. A double black IPA, it is brewed only with Colorado hops and comes in at 9.5 percent ABV.
Ska Brewing Hibernal Vinifera Stout
Dave Welz: This beer has a lot going on and yet it all seems to work in perfect harmony. As those who know beer know, that’s no easy feat. Vinifera Stout pours black with a thick, tan head. The flavor is coffee and dark roasted grains with dark fruits, caramel and subtle oak, and a dry, vinous finish. We added Malbec grapes to complement the dark roast flavors and dry character of this foreign stout. The 8% ABV is well-hidden, but makes a tantalizing appearance in the finish.
Denver Beer Co. Graham Cracker Porter
Dave Welz: They don’t package, but if you’re in Denver, visit the Denver Beer Company and try their Graham Cracker Porter. It won a GABF Bronze in 2011 for good reason. Plus, if you’re not into it, you’re still at Denver Beer Co.— you can try something else.
Though we’ve evolved from the days when we had to forage, gorge and hibernate, our bodies often crave something bigger, something bolder and more filling in the winter months. So, after chomping down on some serious powder, pick up one of these serious seasonal beers. Because like the snow, they’ll be gone before you’ve finished describing your perfect pipe session.