Best of the GABF 2009
When beer aficianados look back on the 2009 Great American Beer Festival, they may view the event as a turning point in the way that American brewers like to push their flavors to extremes.
A good half-decade after the hopped-to-the-hilt double IPA boom began hitting a crescendo, and two or so years after it became the hip thing to brew your own Belgian sour ale, brewers veered in another direction this year. It's no longer enough to push the hops and malts, they seemed to say - you have to find that new flavoring that's going to light out taste buds as well.
So, we saw coconut stouts and lemon pepper saisons and acai berry wheats. There was peanut butter and pumpkin and watermelon beers that somehow seemed to taste like Jolly Ranchers. Sure, you could spend the day drinking IPAs as usual, but then you'd be missing something interesting that is just starting its march against American breweries.
And sadly, you'd be missing some really good experimental flavors that lay out there.
Against that backdrop - and now that I've spent two full days letting my liver recover - I wanted to present my annual roundup of one man's opinion of the finest that the American beer world had to offer.
Best in Show: The Great Pumpkin, Elysian Brewing.
In a year in which the fruited and vegetabled beers leaped to the head of the conversation, it seemed only appropriate that this pumpkin-flavored style-bending masterpiece was harder to keep on tap than most of New Glarus and Russian River had to offer. Almost soothingly cooling as it asserted its nutmeg and pie tastes, this showed how intricately and perfectly a brewery could blend spice notes with a smooth and well-made ale.
Best Sour Beer: Cuvee de Castleton, Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.
New Belgium's La Terroir and Cambridge Brewing's Cerise Cassee were eyebrow-raisers in just how sharp and pucker-worthy a tasty beer can be. But this small New York brewery made the most satisfying and drinkable creation of the genre, one that was smooth and remarkably golden yet wonderfully apple-tinged.
Best Hoppy Beer: Hopnotic Imperial IPA, San Diego Brewing Company.
The 2008 gold-medal winner battered you with hop sweetness, then massaged you with its heavy smoothness. It should enter the conversation as one of America's best IPAs.
Best Dark Offering: Coconut Joe, Papago Brewing.
This gem of an Arizona brewery blended coconut into a coffee stout, giving it more backbone than many of the new coconut offerings while invigorating the stout with just enough distant sweetness to make it more interesting.
Best Wheat Beer: Mothership Wit Organic Beer, New Belgium Brewing.
I tried watermelon, orange, acai berry wheats - and nothing compares to the placid smoothness in this creation that stands above all twists on the classic style.
Best Colorado Offering: Brett Barrel Brown, Odell Brewing.
Making Brettanomyces beer is sort of like making chili beer: If you do it badly, it can go very, very wrong. And there were some awkward brett offerings from some good breweries. But this blend of a brown that is not overpowering with the wild yeast and the barrel aging spawned a greatly balanced dark beer that was just the slightest bit sour.
Labels: Captain Lawrence Brewing, Elysian Brewing, Great American Beer Festival, New Belgium Brewing, Odell Brewing, Papago Brewing, San Diego Brewing