Another messy COVID-marred year is in the books. Despite the societal hardships, I kept drinking beer – 1764 of them to be exact, 1381 of those being unique. The total is nearly identical to 2020 while I had 100 less uniques. Identical to 2020 are my most drunk styles – Double Stouts followed by 4 different types of IPAs (Double Hazy, Hazy, Single, and Double).
While I drink IPAs the most often, none of them cracked my Top 10 this year, a first in the 4 years I have been compiling this list. I think this makes perfect sense. While I obviously love IPAs, it has become extremely difficult for breweries to distinguish themselves in this crowded space. The old meme of “it’s all the same recipe, just slightly different hop schedules” rings pretty true. Since moving to Denver I have fallen in love with Knotted Root, makers of some of the best Hazies in the country. I religiously buy every weekly release they put out and thoroughly enjoy every one of them, but this style is just no longer distinct enough to warrant inclusion on my Top 10 list. I suppose I value ingenuity and taking risks. Hazy IPAs can be incredibly good, but these days they are certainly nothing special. Honorable Mention does go to Cannonball Creek and their Project Alpha releases, an experimental series of West Coast IPAs using all manner of hops and different brewing methods. Project Alpha #46 narrowly missed inclusion on my list.
The beers that did make my list include 4 stouts, 3 lagers, 1 barleywine, 1 Wild Ale, and 1 surprise beverage. What could it be?!? Read on to find out.
A beer so good I had to write an article about it. Cohesion took Denver by storm when they started brewing this year, and I was fortunate enough to cover the opening of this Czech Lager focused brewery. With Cohesion 10° Wet Hop, a base Czech Pale Lager has five lbs per barrel of fresh Colorado grown Cascade hops added to it, transforming the mellow into something spectacular. Fruity grapefruit and piney resin elevate the 3.9% light Lager to new levels, creating one of the most flavorful crushers I had the pleasure of drinking this year.
9. Cerebral Mysterious Forces (Blend 02)
Another amazing local Denver beer I had to proselytize about to the masses – sensing a trend here? This 13% Stout does an incredible job of highlighting all its various barrels (rye cognac, Eagle Rare, and 15 year Pappy Van Winkle) and adjuncts (almonds, coconuts, and vanilla beans) while maintaining a well integrated final product. Such a complex creation could quickly veer off into messy territory, but Cerebral has done a masterful job here.
8. Modern Times MT Ultra: Coconut Edition (2021)
The ultimate expression of Modern Times’ barrel aging and adjuncting program, Ultra is a collection of 3 barrel blended stouts with different additives added to an extreme degree: coffee, vanilla, and coconut. While Coffee and Vanilla are phenomenal beers in their own right, Coconut is the winner here. A silky smooth 15% stout provides the base for an insane amount of coconut to shine. Raw, Macaroon Cut, and toasted coconut do the heavy lifting here, leaving liquid Mounds in your mouth. Aside from Coconut Convergence this is probably the most coco-forward beer I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.
7. Primitive Back In Vogue — Red Globe Peach / Family Jones Rye Whiskey Barrels
This is the only sour to make my best beers list this year, a shortcoming I will try to rectify next year (looking forward to those Casey and Black Project memberships!). The complexity Primitive exhibits here is astounding. The American Wild Ale they’re known for is amped up through the use of rye barrel aging and peaches. Tart, crispy, very fruity, and a hint of barrel all add up to a memorable experience. Primitive is a Colorado brewery I will be seeking out more in 2022.
The name does not lie! This hoppy lager is the extreme cousin of Cohesion Wet Hop. With a bold juicy hop profile, one would think they were drinking a Hazy IPA, but the light crushable body quickly dispels any such thoughts. This beer falls in the “I wish I had bought a case yet sadly only had one can” category, another delightful all day easy drinker.
Is this beer? No. Do I give a shit? No. The “beer” market has become so infiltrated and inundated with super fruited smoothie sours and other beer adjacent concoctions that I have no qualms including Smooj in a list of my favorite beers. I suppose smoothie seltzer is the most appropriate category for Smooj. It’s thick and loaded full of fruit – strawberry and banana in this case. Since it’s not sour, it thankfully lacks the one-dimensional tart of kettle sours, replacing it with soothing creaminess. Alcoholic Smoothie King is a more apt comparison. I’m down for more of this in my life when I need a fun respite from “normal beer.”
4. Resident Barrel Aged Baby Sips
Being a sucker for coconut and barrel aged stouts (this is the third such beer to appear on this year’s list), Resident got me hook line and sinker with Barrel Aged Baby Sips. The big brother of Baby Sips, this 14.5% Stout rests in George Dickel Whiskey Barrels to lend some wonderful barrel character and an extra 2% to its ABV. Vanilla and coconut dance gingerly atop the booze profile while Mostra coffee delivers the encore performance.
A series of beer I had been wanting to try for years, I finally came across a 1,000 beer from Fremont during a GABF adjacent event at Hops & Pie. The 4,000th batch of beer made by the brewery is this massive barrel aged Barleywine. Their barrel aging expertise has left a malty caramel masterpiece perfectly blended to yield a beer with no flab or distracting elements. It is creations like this that solidify Fremont as having one of the best barrel programs out there.
I drank this beer a lot in 2021. Untappd says 22 times, but I feel like that might be cutting me a little bit short. Surprisingly I had not drank this perfect crusher before this year – huge oversight in my previous trips to Denver. Now that I live here, I am making up for lost time. I fell in love with this beer quickly after first drinking it at Bierstadt Lagerhaus, and I chose to write my first PorchDrinking article about it. Slow Pour Pils is the quintessential easy drinking lager. You don’t have to think hard about it. There are no rough edges to distract you. It’s beer, plain and simple and perfectly executed. I always have this beer in my fridge, and it is my desert island beer. Give me 12 of these per day, and I will never complain or grow tired of it.
1. Side Project Beer : Barrel : Time (2020)
Here it is: the undisputed best beer I drank in 2021. Rare is the occasion that something is hyped to the moon and actually delivers on that potential. BBT is every bit deserving of the massive hype it receives. All Side Project needs is a simple equation of beer, barrel, and time to create the ultimate expression of what a barrel aged stout can be. Possessing incredibly deep and rich barrel flavors of oak, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, caramel, and toffee without being overly boozy, BBT is perfect which is reflected by its position atop the top rated beers all-time on Untappd (currently #2). It was a treat and an honor to get to drink this, and I can only hope that someday I will have another beer as good as this – I’m too young to have reached the summit of ticking!