Saturday, October 01, 2011
The Fearless Tasting Crew waited through the endless line at Cigar City Brewing last night, grabbed some Guava Grove saison and collectively shrugged as the less exciting version of the beer it found last year. Then we wandered over to Captain Lawrence Brewing (of New York state), strolled up to the lineless booth and went back again and again. Everything - but particularly the Rosso e Marrone grape-fermented, barrel-aged ale - was that good.
It's a growing adage that is proving particularly true this year: A crafty brewery, no matter how small, can make products on par with the greatest beers in the world. And those wares are on display at this year's Great American Beer Festival.
Nobody seemed to be talking about McKenzie Brew House in Malvern, Pa., before the start of the show. But one sip of its Saison Vautour, a bitingly sharp barrel-fermented citrus explosion, and the conversations should turn to that brewpub quickly.
Ditto with Freetail Brewing of San Antonio, whose Bandito - a double honey red wheat ale aged in barrels from a local winery - provides a rich apple-like taste that jumps out as one of the most unique at the GABF.
More than one person has now fawned over Angry Birds, the American Belgo Rye IPA trucked out to the festival by Haymarket Pub & Brewery of Chicago. It really is as complex as it sounds.
And the too-often-overlooked Six Rivers Brewery of McKinleyville, Calif. may have the best combination of completely opposite styles of beer. Try the Chili Pepper Spicy Ale to see how a company makes a hot beer drinkable, and then wash it down with a Raspberry Lambic Style Ale to see how a brewery makes an ancient beer style relevant.
It isn't that the big guys didn't bring great stuff. Odell's Myrcenary IPA may earn its true place on the landscape if it rightfully captures a gold medal in the double IPA category today.
But the lesson is this: Don't spend all your time in the big lines at the biggest booths, as you'll miss some incredible finds at the smaller ones.