Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Best of GABF, 2012

Picking the best beers at this year's Great American Beer Festival was like trying to discern the best team in baseball this season. Though there wasn't a single standout that everyone was talking about, there were a lot of things there to like, some from unexpected sources.

So, as all of our taste buds slowly begin to function at normal speed again, here is one man's annual toast to the best he found among the 580 breweries and 2,700 beers that called to everyone on the GABF floor.

Beer of the Festival: In a sea of sour beers that seemed willing to push taste limits, The Bruery's Sans Pagaie - a sour blonde ale barrel-aged with cherries - struck a near-perfect tone of tartness with just a hint of creamy softness to make it even more palatable. The California brewery had a full lineup of standouts, but this well-deserved medal winner was the one that sent quite a few members of the Fearless Tasting Crew away remarking it had outdone itself.

Very Close Runner-up: Of all the Texas beers that stood out this festival - and, yes, there were a lot - North by Northwest's Barton Kriek had the tart excitement of a cherry blast that was pushing boundaries but was grounded enough to make you come back again and again to try more.

Best Hop Bomb: Tribute beers can sometimes be overdone by breweries trying too hard to make them memorable. But Pizza Port Carlsbad's 547 Haight, brewed for the The Toronado San Francisco's 20th anniversary, was an imperial red ale that squeezed every grassy ounce of its ton of hops and laid it on a chewy malt under-beer to find a zingy yet balanced wallop.

Best Big Dark Monster: Barrel-aging seems to be reaching its historical peak, with more breweries understanding how oak, whiskey and other characteristics can truly make a beer better. To that end, Sun King's Batch 333: The Velvet Fog brought the biggest hammer down on drinkers, blistering them with a Belgian quad soaking up both the earthy darkness of the aging barrel and lighter, fig-like flavors that made it intriguing and complex.

Best Spiced Beer: Six Rivers Brewery's Chili Pepper Ale is the best chili beer in America, and that point may not even be debatable anymore. This year's offering was pepper-spiced to dance on every taste bud again, but the solid, fuller body underlying it gave just the right cushion to render it challenging and highly enjoyable.

Best Colorado Beer: Both Avery's Oud Floris and Strange's Zora Pale Ale woke a lot of taste buds. But the honor here goes to New Belgium's NBB Love Felix, a sour blonde ale aged in oak foeders that was reminiscent of the best Belgian-style beers ever made in Colorado in its assertive yet citrus-splashed body. Here's hoping to seeing more of this beer around.

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That's the nice thing about the GABF. Hundreds of people can all attend the same event yet each one of them can try completely different sets of beers and have no idea that some of these other beers were even available. I think if the festival was an entire week long then perhaps I might have been able to try some of the beers you described here. I was fortunate enough to attend 3 of the 4 sessions, but didn't get to try any of the beers you mentioned in this post. But you can be sure I'll be taking notes and look for some of these next year. Cheers!
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