Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Coloradan's Guide to the Essential GABF Breweries

With 466 breweries pouring 2,375 beers at Great American Beer Festival, it can be a bit intimidating trying to figure out where to go. So, here is one GABF veteran's thoughts on 18 booths you have to stop by, even if you are going for just one session.

While I normally fawn over Colorado breweries, I've shied away from listing most of the state's best beer makers here - with a few exceptions - because you can find the brilliant beers from Great Divide or Avery or Odell largely in liquor stores or on tap. Instead, this is meant to serve as a quick-hit guide to what you can't get easily in Colorado and, therefore, should be prioritized in your tasting hunting this weekend.

1) Altitude Chophouse and Brewery - Booth N5
This Wyoming brewpub is one of the quiet stars of every festival it attends, showing off complex beers with an edge. And because so few people know about it, lines are fairly short at its booths
Required tasting: Mexican Chili Ale: If this is half as good as the brewery's 2010 chili porter, it will be memorable.

2) Bell's Brewery - C3
People haul this beer cross-country from Michigan, ala Smokey and the Bandit. It's easy to drink at the festival.
Required tasting: Any of them

3) Boston Beer Company - M1/M2
You may think you know Sam Adams. But its booth will also be serving a kriek, a tripel, five beers made by winners of an amateur brewing contest and Utopias, a $100-a-bottle, 25% ABV creation.
Required tasting: Utopias. It's divisive, but worth trying.

4) The Bruery - F5
Nothing made by this Orange County brewery fits a style, and everything is eyebrow-raising.
Required tasting: Oude Tart. Good sour stuff.

5) Cambridge Brewing - D36
Sold only in the Boston area, Cambridge makes experimental sours and tosses in ingredients to more normal styles that other breweries won't.
Required tasting: CBC Heather Ale, the only beer I know that literally uses heather as an ingredient.

6) Captain Lawrence Brewing - H32
Often overlooked because of its small size, this brewery consistently medals for its sours and Belgian ales.
Required tasting: Pretty much anything

7) Cigar City Brewing - G20
The best thing ever to come out of Florida, this brewery experiments with many styles and ages its beers in cedar barrels, giving them a cigar-like aroma.
Required tasting: Guave Grove, a guava saison that may have been the best beer at the 2010 GABF.

8) Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery - G23
Here's a great debate: Does the best milk stout in America come from Left Hand Brewing or this North Carolina brewery? This is your chance to find out.
Required tasting: Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout

9) Elysian Brewing - B16/B17
Some of this Seattle breweries more mainstream beers are circulating through Colorado, but not the ones that make your eyes bulge.
Required tasting: The Great Pumpkin, the closest thing you'll find to sticking a straw into a pumpkin pie.

10) Grand Teton Brewing - O14
Quite simply, the Howling Wolf Weizenbock is one of the most complex beers made in America. The others ain't bad, either.
Required tasting: Howling Wolf

11) New Belgium Brewing - H1
Why on earth would I include the state's largest and most accessible craft brewery on this list? Because, aside from Fat Tire and Ranger IPA, nothing it will be serving is easy to find or available year round - except La Folie, which might be the best beer in Colorado.
Required tasting: It's not on the serving list, but ask them if they brought any La Terroir - one of the most sour beers you'll find.

12) New Glarus Brewing - D18
I once counted a 93-person line at this Wisconsin brewery that doesn't distribute very far. It's worth it.
Required tasting: Raspberry Tart. Nothing like it in the fruit beer world.

13) Papago Brewing - M36
An Arizona brewery with a penchant for sweet, creamy and easy drinkers, this shouldn't be skipped.
Required tasting: Orange Blossom, a wheat beer that tastes like a Creamsicle.

14) Rocky Mountain Brewery - P14
The king of Colorado's flavor experimenters, Rocky Mountain doesn't stray far outside of its Colorado Springs brewery.
Required tasting: Tatonka Blueberry Cobbler, which tastes exactly like a blueberry pie.

15) Russian River Brewing - F36
This California brewmaster sends its wares to Colorado these days, but it's bringing some beers that are rare or not out here at all.
Required tasting: Supplication, the sour ale against which all others should be measured.

16) Six Rivers Brewery - F35
Small and quiet, this California brewery doesn't get nearly the attention it should for its multiplicity of American, Belgian and spiced beers.
Required tasting: Chili Pepper Spicy Ale, made with four kinds of chilis that set off a party in your mouth.

17) Trinity Brewing - P29
Jason Yester may not be well-known to the general world outside of Colorado Springs, but brewers from across the country call on him to talk about how he pushes the envelope.
Required tasting: Slap Your Mammy, a double IPA oozing with hops.

18) Weyerbacher Brewing - M4
One of the quiet hop kings of the festival, this uses simple ingredients very well.
Required tasting: Double Simcoe, which takes a trendy new hop and makes you want to beg for more.


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