Friday, October 12, 2012

Some Thoughts on GABF 2012, Day One

It's certainly a bigger, bolder festival this year, and the beers that were being poured proved that quite amply.

* Everyone, it seemed, is bringing a taste bud-wrecking barrel-aged big stout. Fiftyfifty Brewing's Eclipse Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout was black as night and twice as thick. Goose Island continues to pour on a shockingly drinkable Bourbon County Brand Stout. And (512) Brewing showed off a Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter that managed to be both sweet and highly, highly alcoholic.

* The lines at the name breweries continue to get longer each year - and sometimes with disappointing results. After waiting 10 minutes for Cigar City's Cucumber Saison, I got a beer that seemed to be all vegetable and no Belgian spice. Yet, festival goers seemed to ignore a lot of the up-and-comers. You could slip right in and taste a fantastic barrel-aged quad (Batch 333: The Velvet Fog) from last year's most awarded brewery, Sun King. And while everyone I ran into - literally, everyone - was talking about Destihl brewpub of Illinois becoming the new sour king with superb creations like its Sour Strawberry Ale, that line was never more than four or five people long. These are trends of which drinkers should take advantage.

* At a time when chili is becoming a more common ingredient - and often a good one - Six Rivers Brewery continues to stand far and above the crowd with a solid-bodied Chili Pepper Ale that somehow exudes spicy balance. Mad River Brewing brought its A game too with a more kick-you-in-the-teeth Super Chili Pepper Madness.

* Once the sole domain of Blue Moon Brewing - which still serves its Peanut Butter Ale solely at the GABF - peanut butter is showing up as a more common ingredient these days in beers. And there seems to be a clear secret to its success: The darker the body, the better it blends. Beer Engineers of Alabama used it perfectly in its Leadbelly Peanut Butter Porter. Meanwhile, when Catawba Valley Brewing of North Carolina tried to make a lighter-bodied PB&J, every ingredient was too quiet.

* Finally, in the often-discussed category of sours, it seems that people are cranking the pucker meter up a few decibels this year. Just try Allagash's Coolship Resurgam, a spontaneously fermented ale that is golden and tart like a sour pixie stick. Or go to Cambridge Brewing and find its Cerisse Cassee, a beer of the show from a few years back, even more jarringly good - and with a distinct barrel taste this year.

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