By Jennie Lay

Days are only getting longer and the sun is bright over the Yampa Valley. It’s beer drinking season.

Thankfully, you’re in Colorado, home to the Great American Beer Festival and lively haunts where beer aficionados find some of the country’s best pickings. Whether you seek bomber, a can or a hard-to-find tap, the state’s breweries are keen to tantalize your taste buds and quench your thirst.

Steamboat Springs brewers Charlie Noble (brewer and owner of Mahogany Ridge Brewery), Mark Fitzgerald (brewer and owner of Butcherknife Brewing which broke ground on Elk River Road this winter) and Greg Hamilton (filmmaker, writer, homebrewer) picked the Colorado beers they like best – then we poached their lists for unusual suspects and added a few editor’s picks to come up with a must-drink menu for spring. Everyone freely admits that what we love is often as much the culture around the breweries as the brews themselves.

“To me, the whole point of microbrews is variety and Colorado beer's got that down,” says Hamilton. “Speaking of getting it down, I'm thirsty now.”

Ryetous Rye IPA (aka Redacted Rye IPA) from Renegade Brewing Company (Denver): With citrusy hops and spicy rye, Fitzgerald says, “Come for the rye IPA, stay for everything else.”

Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver): Three GABF medals, named one of Beer Advocate’s “Top 100 beers on Earth” and 9.5% alcohol.

Charlie’s Cherry Ale from Mahogany Ridge Brewery (Steamboat Springs): It’s brewer Charlie Noble’s personal favorite and we couldn’t agree more. He uses 252 pounds of red tart and sweet cherries to add sugar but not sweet. Get it during cherry season – in the spring.

Billy’s Chilies from Twisted Pine Brewing Co.: “It seems like a novelty to sip such a spicy beer, but the fresh character of the chilies used in brewing makes it actually a culinary experience. Not to mention fun for dares when you realize after one pint you're losing your ability to taste anything else. Perhaps not the most balanced option, but who drinks beer for balance?” says Hamilton.

Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues (Longmont): Made with 100% pale malt, German specialty malts, and Saaz hops, it’s the style of beer that made Pilsen, Czech Republic famous. In Colorado cans, Fitzgerald says, “It’s a great craft pilsner made by the brewery that began the craft canning movement.”

Sawtooth Ale from Left Hand Brewing (Longmont): Hamilton says, “I've heard it called an amber or a traditional bitter…and the brewer calls it an ‘American ESB.’ I find it leans toward malty flavors with fairly subtle hop aroma and mild bitterness.”

White Rascal from Avery Brewing (Boulder): A Belgian style white ale that’s unfiltered and spiced with coriander and Curaçao orange peel. Fitzgerald says, “When I'm in the mood for a Belgian this is my first choice. Great fun pairing with food.”

Cara De Luna Black Ale from Crazy Mountain Brewing Company (Avon): They call it a “mutt of a beer” with German hops, Belgian malt and American yeast that blend into a black German pale ale. “Our friends in the Vail valley are growing like gangbusters and already delivering beer coast to coast,” Fitzgerald says. Plus, they donate part of the proceeds to their beer sales to lots of worthy Western Slope causes.

Lips of Faith series from New Belgium (Fort Collins): These experimental beers are brewed in smaller, more esoteric batches. “I'm very fond of their series, and how they're not afraid to go a little crazy. Everyone should try the Cocoa Molé, if you can find it,” says Fitzgerald.

Colorado Kind Ale from Mountain Sun Brewery (Boulder/Denver): “Tons of hoppy goodness delivered to you with a crooked smile from your free-spirited server,” says Hamilton.

Honorable mentions
Find it on tap: Milk Stout Nitro from Left Hand Brewing (Longmont).
Find it in a can: Modus Hoperandi and True Blond Ale from Ska Brewing (Durango).

Bombers to Covet
Two breweries are making beer you should never pass up a chance to try. What’s available changes often – but as far as we can tell, every experiment proves exceptional. Elevation Beer Company (Poncha Springs) barrel ages all their beers and batches are small and what’s up for the next two-month installation is unpredictable. The Downpour Imperial Red Ale is divine, as is the Apis IV Quadrupel that uses caramelized Colorado honey.
Funkwerks (Fort Collins) was founded by former Steamboat resident Gordon Schuck, who started brewing in Hayden as the Poplar Street Brewery. Despite pleas to open Funkwerks in Hayden’s historic granary (now home to Wild Goose Coffee), Schuck joined the Fort Collins scene, and was crowned the 2012 small brewery of the year at last fall’s Great American Brewfest. The gold-medal-winning Saison is tough to beat; Funkwerks calls it a “cascade of orange, lemon verbena, ginger and pepper” and we call it YUM.

A Beer Lover’s Companion
Don’t hit the pass without Ed Sealover’s book “Mountain Brew.” It’s a guide to Colorado’s breweries that this award-winning journalist, beer columnist and homebrewer compiled over two years while he visited 101 Colorado breweries. That’s every single one that existed when his book went to press – and he continues to update us about those that came afterwards on his Beer Run Blog (beerrunblog.blogspot.com). Sealover talked to the brewers, tasted their beer, assessed the atmosphere, revealed quirky histories, and wrapped all together into a perfect beer lover’s road-trip companion.
Soft cover, 221 pgs., $21.99