brew trek
Top 10 Draught 2012

top ten draught beers of 2012

Another busy year drinking fresh, craft beer on tap. Another year of packing in a friggin’ huge number of brewery visits.

The pool of beers to draw from this year was almost staggering. We visited 44 breweries in 2012, double the amount from the previous year, nine taphouses, and four festivals providing a wealth of choices. Our Colorado Western Slope Brew Trek in June contributed quite a few breweries to the list, but the ever increasing breweries opening in and around Denver was considerable also.

None of the beers from last year’s list made it to the 2012 selections, which is more of a reflection of the vast number of new beers we had than any of the previous picks lessening in quality; I would still (and often do) order any of them in a heartbeat. And just as last year, these are beers that made an impact on us, not necessarily a comprehensive list of beers from around the country, or the best of the best according to any other rating site.

You may also notice that it’s actually two top tens this year. I drink and love so many IPAs, DIPAs, and barleywines that we’ve decided to break it out to those and ‘Best of the Rest,’ whose picks reflect what both the Wife and I liked.

Finally, as always, these lists reflect the draughts we had, not what was drank out of bottles or cans. I still adhere to the belief that the best most beers can be can only be experienced fresh, straight from the tap. Many of the beers listed here can taste completely different when packaged; some of them, tasted straight out of a can or bottle wouldn’t rate anywhere near what they do here.


  1. Great Divide Brewing’s Hercules DIPA/
    Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger (tie)
    I lucked out this year in that I didn’t have to wait in line or get tickets to drink Pliny the Younger, and I was able to get two! This beer lives up to the hype and should be sought out whenever it’s in your neighborhood, a full bodied, hoppy gem. The same can be said for the Hercules, and as a bonus, you can get it pretty much year round. In a side by side blind comparison (on tap), I’d challenge anyone to determine which one is better.
    Hercules – 10% ABV, 85 IBUs. Pliny the Younger – 10.5% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at: Hercules, Great Divide taproom, Denver
    Pliny, Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe, Denver
  2. Elevation Beer Company’s First Cast IPA
    The generous amount of Chinook, Summit, and Zythos hops sets this beer apart from the usual field of citrusy/piney/fruity beers from other breweries. A truly unique IPA with an earthy taste, I couldn’t get enough when we visited the brewery. Luckily they had four pack mini bombers to go. Now if I could just talk my local liquor store to carry it.
    6.5% ABV, 75 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Elevation Beer Company taproom, Poncha Springs
  3. Avery Brewing’s Maharaja Imperial IPA
    This imperial IPA excites beer geeks the world over, and justifiably so. It had been awhile since I had last tasted it on tap, but after the first sip, I wondered why I had waited. Luckily, I can easily enjoy a draw at one of the many taphouses around town when it’s released every year.
    10-12% ABV, 102 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Avery taproom, Boulder. Ale House at Amato’s, Denver.
  4. Crazy Mountain Brewing’s Hookiebobb IPA
    Nearly every beer in Crazy Mountain’s stable is a winner, which made it hard to pick just one. This aggressively hopped brew is balanced by a generous malt load, but it leans a tad towards being a West Coast IPA. Sadly, outside of the taproom and it’s vicinity, it’s tough to find.
    6.7% ABV, 87 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Crazy Mountain taproom, Edwards
  5. Avery Brewing’s duganA Double IPA
    I could pretty much fill this list with Avery brews, their habit of adding huge amounts of hops to just about any style endears them to me. This DIPA is no exception, being both crisp and flavorful. Look for this seasonal sometime in September every year.
    8.5% ABV, 93 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Ska Brewing’s 17th Anniversary Party, Durango
  6. Renegade Brewing’s Elevation Triple IPA
    Yet another local brewery that could have any number of beers on this, or any list. Their Ryeteous Rye IPA has long been a go to, both at the taproom and in tall boy cans. Elevation takes everything that makes a good IPA and then pushes it to 11. The Summit hops perfectly compliment this full bodied, high ABV sipper.
    11.2% ABV, 100+ IBUs
    Enjoyed at Renegade taproom, Denver
  7. SanTan Brewery’s Count Hopula Blood Red IPA
    I bumped into the folks from SanTan at Carver Brewing before Ska’s Anniversary Party, and was given the lowdown on what to try that night. Like an amber on steroids, this Imperial/Double IPA is full on flavor and hoppy goodness. We’ll make a point of visiting them if we ever get to Arizona.
    7.5% ABV, 99 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Ska Brewing’s 17th Anniversary Party, Durango
  8. Ska Brewing’s Hoperation Ivy Fresh Hop IPA
    Yet another outstanding beer savored at Ska’s anniversary bash, it couldn’t go wrong for me since it was both fresh hopped and from one our favorite breweries. Fresh/wet/green hopped beers are one of my favorite seasonal beers, the immediacy of fresh off the bine flavor is something I look forward to every year. Hoperation Ivy doesn’t disappoint in any department.
    6.8% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Ska Brewing’s 17th Anniversary Party, Durango. GABF, Denver.
  9. Durango Brewing’s Hop Hugger IPA
    We had made a serious oversight in missing this brewery the first time the Wife and I had visited Durango together, a few years back. But we’ve more than made up for it by visiting it every time since. With a strong piney/citrusy hop load, this beer will satisfy the most discerning hophead. When/if it makes a regular appearance in Denver, it’ll sit proudly next to my everyday go-to, Ska’s Modus Hopperandi.
    6.1% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Durango Brewing restaurant & taproom, Durango
  10. Oskar Blues Brewery’s Deviant Dales IPA
    While this beer can’t be believed in tall boys, it transcends on tap, especially if it’s double dry hopped and straight out of a firkin. The resiny hop nose greets you all the way from the first to last sip, giving you a ride on the good ship hopaliscious.
    8% ABV, 85 IBUs
    Enjoyed at 2012 Firkin Rendezvous, Bristol Brewing, Colorado Springs

Honorable Mention: Twisted Pine Brewing Hoppy Girl IPA, Moonlight Pizza & Brewery IPA, Great Divide Brewing Old Ruffian Barleywine, Elevation Beer Company Fresh Hop IPA 2012, Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse & Brewery Brain Teaser Barleywine

best of the rest

  1. Ska Brewing’s The Best Part of Waking Up Coffee Stout
    Described by the Wife as “The best coffee stout EVER,” this beer perfectly blended the complexities of both the roasted malts and deep, dark coffee. Having it on nitro at Ska Brewing in Durango just made it perfect.
    ? ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Ska taproom, Durango
  2. Wit’s End Brewing’s One Pale Ale
    It seems hard to believe that we’ve only been savoring Scott Witsoe’s beers for a little less than year, his taproom has become such a favorite hangout. And while it’s hard to pick a favorite from Wit’s End, his recent One Pale Ale made a huge impact on my palate the last time we were in. Using one of my favorite hops, Columbus, this single hop/malt brew sits perfectly between a pale ale and an IPA. Here’s hoping he elevates it from a seasonal to a tap regular.
    6.2% ABV, 49 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Wit’s End taproom, Denver
  3. Colorado Boy Brewery’s Scottish Ale
    Every beer at Colorado Boy is an example of traditional, hand crafted, English style goodness. Tom Hennessey’s Scottish Ale was at the top of what we tasted when we visited back in June. The huge, roasty malty backbone gave the ale a full-bodied taste that was a perfect sipper on a Summer afternoon.
    ? ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Colorado Boy restaurant & taproom, Ridgway
  4. Pagosa Brewing’s Honeymoon Ale Belgian Honey Bier
    Brewed to celebrate the marriage of the owners, this one of the most unique beers we tasted on our journey back in June. Sweet without being cloying, the beer was crisp and refreshing nonetheless. It’s easy to see why this beer has won multiple awards over the years.
    8.3% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Pagosa Brewing restaurant & taproom, Pagosa Springs
  5. Amica’s Pizza & Microbrewery’s Honey Bourbon Brown
    Yet another example of a brewery offering consistently good beers. We ended up visiting them three times this year and the Honey Bourbon Brown impressed the Wife every time it was offered. In addition to the bourbon flavors, hints of liquorice came through in the way the ingredients interacted. A perfect present from Amica’s to its patrons celebrating 10 years of small town craft brewing.
    10% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Amica’s restaurant & brewery, Salida
  6. Brewery Ommegang’s Three Philosophers Belgian Quad
    Belgian style ales are not usually at the top of my list when I’m perusing the tap list, but like any good craft beer drinker, I will always give any beer a try when I get the chance. And to be truthful, there are a number of Belgians that have tickled my fancy from time to time. Nearly everything I’ve had from Brewery Ommegang has struck me as exceptionally good, reaffirming all of the hype I’ve heard about them over the years. The rich and full body Three Philosophers washes over the taste buds like a slightly hoppy tidalwave, rewarding all who give her a chance. The cherry component enhancing the flavor, with nary a fruity ester in sight.
    9.7% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Parade of Darks Festival, Wynkoop Brewing, Denver
  7. Elevation Beer Company’s Signal De Botrange (2012) Saison/Farmhouse
    There’s a good reason so many of Elevation’s beers have made this list; they are simply one of the best new breweries to come out of the ‘class of 2012.’ We could find no fault with any of their brews, tasted copiously at this year’s festivals and at the taproom. The Farmhouse has a slightly sweet taste that is clean and simple in the best tradition of the style. We may be planning intentional detours to Poncha Springs in our future drives to the High Country due to this and all of the rest of Elevation’s beers.
    7.5% ABV, 26 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Elevation Beer Company taproom, Poncha Springs
  8. Breckenridge/Stranahan’s Well Built ESB
    Based upon Breckenridge’s 20th Anniversary ESB that made the list last year, the collaboration is a boozy tasting flavor ride. While it too was aged in Stranahan’s barrels, it seemed to me that the anniversary ale had a bit more body than this incarnation, but still holds its own against the ubiquitous barrel aged beer that dominates today’s cask conditioned beers. The mouthfeel is deceptive, initially being watery, but then filling the palate as you make your way through it. The complex interactions of beer, barrel, and whiskey make this a must-taste, whether in the bottle or on tap. Definitely let this beer warm up before drinking, so much is lost in flavor from the cold temperatures it normally is served at in the taproom.
    7.8% ABV, 55 IBUs
    Enjoyed at Breckenridge Brewery taproom, Denver
  9. Brasserie de Silly’s Saison de Silly
    As mentioned, I’m not a huge Belgian fan, and saisons are particularly low on my list. So it was a surprise for me to actually appreciate this beer. Even so, this is more of the Wife’s pick than mine. At once both sweet and tangy, a light mouhfeel is rounded out by a thicker back palate flavor. The Wife will be looking for this easy drinking beer whenever it’s on tap.
    5.3% ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe, Denver
  10. Prost Brewing’s Pils
    Prost is a truly amazing example of bucking the prevailing trends in craft beer today. Every beer they brew, from the dunkels to the weissbiers are as authentic as you’re going to get this side of the Atlantic. Their Pils exemplifies this attention to brewing authenticity, being both clean and crisply hoppy. Too many American brewers don’t understand what makes a good Pilsner, either making it too light or not hoppy enough, Prost has it nailed on all fronts. Every sip I’ve had at their brewery takes me back to Germany and the incredible beers to be had in every village and hamlet.
    ? ABV, ? IBUs
    Enjoyed at Prost taproom, Denver

Honorable Mention: Elevation Downpour Imperial Red Ale & Apis IV, Wits End Messenger Porter, River North Unified Theory Oak Aged Imperial Wit, Hogshead Barge’s Mild

So there you have it, the beers on tap that jumped out at us this year. In reality, there weren’t too many beers we had this year that couldn’t go on this list, but someone’s got to win as they say. What draught beers impressed you this year, why? Let us know in the comments, and here’s to a new year of more, incredibly fresh and flavorful beers!

This entry was published on December 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm. It’s filed under Beer, Beer Festival, Brew Pub, Brewery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

10 thoughts on “top ten draught beers of 2012

  1. A good list with clean earthy descriptions for every pick; I nearly got drunk just reading about the DIPAs. (BTW, I didn’t know that PTY could be found outside of Russian River’s taproom)

    I have to confess that your palate is more adventurous than mine–I’ve met one Belgian that I liked and that was Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch because the hops overwhelmed the off-taste (to me) from the yeast. I’m pretty much a pale ale, India pale ale (American west-coast style preferred), and bitters drinker. But, your list gives plenty of those to choose from.

    Wish you and yours happy holidays and a bountiful new year,

    • Thanks Norm – Happy Holidays to you and yours as well!

      The hoppier Belgians are more accessible to me as well since I’m not big on sours and tarts. But just saying that, I’m drinking Lagunita’s A Little Sumpin’ Wild as I write this and am impressed. The slight sourness when I first tasted it put me off, but as I sipped it more, the hops have made me like it.

      I think it’s all a matter of taste, some people will love anything Belgian and others won’t. But if you give each beer a try, you’ll expand your palate at the very least. The Wife still can’t stand anything all that hoppy, but has been surprised by the somewhat hoppy stuff she does like!

  2. Love the maharaja. I need to try some of your other IPA picks :)

    • Hopefully you live in Colorado, otherwise you’ll have a hard time finding some of them, especially on tap. The only out of state beers that made the lists this year were what we had at beer festivals or at a taphouse, our only trip beyond CO being to New Orleans. Speaking of which, if you ever get to Nola, be sure and check out Jockamo IPA from Abita, or Hopitoulas IPA from NOLA Brewing, both are perfect for the climate!

      • Thanks for the recommendations! I do live in CO :) Do you recommend any breweries in San Antonio? I am going out there next month.

        • The only time I’ve been to Texas, was a business trip to Austin. The closest brewery to where I was staying burned down the month before I visited! Hopefully we can make it back there and have more time to explore the breweries there.

          A good resource for finding breweries across the country is, they also have a mobile app that I’ve used when out of state. It was indispensable when the Wife and I were last in Maine, pointing the way to breweries along our route.

          Good luck and have fun!

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