Monday, September 20, 2010

Best of GABF 2010

Change was in the air this year at the Great American Beer Festival. Yes, the long-time best breweries brought their game (Russian River with a still trend-setting pucker-worthy Supplication, New Glarus with its consistently unique Raspberry Tart, Great Divide shaking things up with its oak-aged Rumble IPA). But this seemed to be the year when five other breweries really stepped up to grab the spotlight.

Call it the "line test." When you grabbed a one-ounce pour, where was it that you just wanted to turn around, head to the back of the line and wait, no matter how long, for another beer to see what else that brewer could do? Just within the confines of the Fearless Tasting Crew, these were those places: Cigar City Brewing, Six Rivers Brewing, Odell Brewing, Cascade Brewing and late-session find Weyerbacher Brewing Co.

And so, here is just one man's very abbreviated opinion of the best beers that could be found at the 29th Great American Beer Festival.

Best in Show: Based on its uniqueness as a cross between a sour and a saison alone, Cigar City's Guava Grove might have been the beer about which the most people left the festival buzzing. But what separated it from the sour genre and truly made it special was that the use of the guava for flavor, unlike sour cherries or raspberries, was not especially penetrating or intense. Instead, it just sat on the tongue, making this the most accessible and pleasing sour beer in a show where more and more made their way to the forefront.
Best hoppy beer: Judging by the fact that it, unlike most other types of hop, showed up in several beers' names, simcoe is the "it" hop right now. And nothing made better use of this edgy and intense floral flavor than Easton, Pa.-based Weyerbacher Brewing's Double Simcoe IPA. Introducing itself with a huge burst of flavor but leaving you with a more full-mouthed grassy rather than bitter backtaste, this beer, more so than any others of its genre, straddled the line between sweet and bite.

Best dark beer: Old-school stouts and porters seem to be on their way out. In fact the words "oatmeal porter" were about as rare this year as the term "light lager." But between chocolate-milk stouts and coffee-infused Russian imperial stouts, the taste that stood out the most was Six Rivers' Smoky Joe's Spicy Porter, which deftly weaved together mesquite, roasted malt and pepper spices into its own creation.

Best traditional sour: The three different barrel-aged creations that went into Odell's Friek looked at first like some strange blend of tomato and pineapple juice. But the raspberry-cherry overlap turned out to blend amazingly well and prove as refreshing as it was challenging. Kudos go as well to Cascade's Apricot Ale and its Kriek.

Best wheat/lager/lighter ale: At a festival that seemed to be all about barrels, coffee, smoke and limit-pushing new ingredients, it seemed that just about the only lighter beer turning heads was Dry Dock Brewing's Paragon Apricot Blonde. Accessibly fruit-tinged without being overpowering and without forgetting that the beer is more important than the additive, this calmed your taste buds and left you thinking "Mmm, session beer" more than anything else you tasted at the GABF.

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