Thursday, October 11, 2012

The 50-Stop Guide to the GABF

With a record 578 breweries pouring more than 2,700 beers, there's no way that Great American Beer Festival -goers can try even a scintilla of what is on the floor over the next three days. The best thing you can do is this: Don't stop. Keep moving. Keep searching out the next great beer as you traipse across the convention center floor.

And with that in mind, I've put together a very basic list of how to make it from the entrance point at the festival to the far end of the room in bursts that will allow you to grab a great beer, walk just far enough to let you finish your sample and grab another. It's rudimentary and skips a lot of fantastic brewers because of the goal to do this in one session, but you can't really go wrong with any of these options.

The lettered and numbered locations represent points on a map that you will get once you enter the festival or that you can download here. But the general idea is that you're moving up and down each of the rows.

1) Bell's Brewery - A7 - Just inside the entrance, jump-start your taste buds with a Two-Hearted Ale, a hop monster that's annually voted one of the five-best U.S. beers.

2) Capital Brewing - A13 - A few booths down you'll find Autumnal Fire from this Wisconsin brewery, last year's gold-medal-winning doppelbock.

3) Fat Heads Brewery - E19 - Skip the whole next row but stop at the end booth, where this Cleveland-area brewery with catchy logos will serve you up its 2011 gold-medal-winning BattleAxe Baltic Porter.

4) Allagash Brewing - I2 - In the next group of breweries, you'll find Belgian heaven in anything they serve, through Vrienden really rocks.

5) Ballast Point Brewing - M8 - Ask for the Victory at Sea, an imperial vanilla coffee porter that any taste bud will enjoy.

6) The Bruery - M16 - Black Tuesday is a barrel-aged stout that runs about 20 percent ABV, and the lines to get it are well worth it, a California friend tells me.

7) Avery Brewing - Q8 - Do not avoid the Colorado breweries, because some will serve hard-to-find gems, such as the barrel-aged Oud Floris sour.

8) Caution Brewing - Q16 - Round the corner at the end of the row and grab the Lao Wang Lager, an Asian-spiced beer that will be the most unique light-bodied effort you'll try all night.

9) FiftyFifty Brewing - M27 - Beer-geek buzz is off the charts for this California brewery. Try whatever suits your fancy.

10) Oskar Blues Brewery - I10 - These guys occupy two booths, so the lines should be shorter. The whiskey-barrel-aged Ten FIDY is worth it.

11) Three Floyds Brewing - E31 - RateBeer called it the world's best brewery. Others have called its Zombie Dust the best pale on the market.

12) Sun King Brewing - E35 - Expect long lines at the Indiana brewery that took home a GABF-high seven medals last year. The Wee Muckle is probably the best scotch ale you'll find.

13) Founders Brewing - A22 - Near the end of this row, you'll find a Breakfast Stout that is unlike just about any you've tried.

14) Jolly Pumpkin - B11 - As you start the second of the four brewery rows, just ask these guys how sour they go. The answer may shock you.

15) Boulevard Brewing - F1 - Look for new collaborations they may be pouring. If none appeal to you, the Saison-Brett is a good backup.

16) Green Flash Brewing - J14 - Skip over two groups of breweries to find arguably the hoppiest brewer in America. Go big with Imperial IPA or Rayon Vert.

17) Blue Moon Brewing - N1 - I know it seems wrong to stop at a major-label brewery at the GABF. But try the Peanut Butter Ale, and you'll never look at Blue Moon the same way again.

18) Odell Brewing - R1 - You can pay $25 for the limited-edition Woodcut #6 that is filled with tropical-tasting Mosaic hops. Or you can sample it here.

19) Equinox Brewing - R18 - Turn the corner and find a non-bottling Fort Collins brewery that does classical styles right. Try the O'Rion Irish Red, a gold-medal winner last year.

20) Firestone Walker Brewing - N19 - Hopheads will find few tastier options than the Double Jack. Yes, it's available out here. But it's still worth stopping for.

21) Cigar City Brewing - J20 - This Florida goldmine does everything well. But just the name "Cucumber Saison" makes me want to try it.

22) Jailhouse Brewing - F33 - Looking for the next great find? Brewers tell me this Georgia newcomer may be it. I'm trying the Conjugal Visit red ale, just to support a great name.

23) Nebraska Brewing - B29 - Before jumping into the giant line next for New Glarus right next to this booth, pick up a gold-medal-winning Melange a Trois barrel-aged strong beer here to pass the time.

24) New Glarus Brewing - B28 - After your five-to-seven-minute wait in line, beg them for the Raspberry Tart, even if they say it's gone.

25) Trinity Brewing - Brewpub Pavilion - The Brewpub Pavilion is a new addition spotlighting local brewpubs and featuring some of the food they serve (for sale). Stop one is here for Saison du Tomme, an example of the great sour twists this Colorado Springs brewery does.

26) Six Rivers Brewing - Brewpub Pavilion - Chili Pepper Ale, infused with four types of fire-roasted chiles, is the best chile beer in America, hands down.

27) Cambridge Brewing - Brewpub Pavilion - These East Coast experimental masters stole the show a few years ago with the sublimely sour Cerise Cassee.

28) Pizza Port Orchard Beach - 04 - Head toward the back of the room when you leave the Brewpub Pavilion to find a number of Pizza Port booths. The Bacon and Eggs Imperial Breakfast Porter is nice.

29) Russian River Brewing - 014 - Some classics - i.e. Supplication and Consecration - aren't on the pour list this year. But you probably can't go wrong with the Framboise for a Cure.

30) Grand Teton Brewing - S3 - This Idaho brewery's Howling Wolf Weisse Bock may be one of the 10 best beers in America.

31) Telegraph Brewing - O25 - California Ale won last year's gold for Belgian and French ales. And I bet the lines here are still short.

32) Stone Brewing - 01 - The joy of Stone is all of the barrel-aged experiments they bring to the GABF, such as the double-dry-hopped Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale with Nelson Sauvin and Citra.

33) Chuckanut Brewery - G15 - Stroll for a while toward  the front before finding this Washington brewery that took home a boatload of medals last year for classic styles. It might be time for a Helles.

34) Brooklyn Brewery - C8 - In the next group of booths, you may find the sharpest dressed brewer in the hall, Garrett Oliver, pouring high-alcohol treats like Brooklyn Black Ops, a Russian imperial stout.

35 and 36) - End of C row - Round the corner and you run into the Pro-Am Competition booth, where professional brewers work with homebrewers to make some of the most daring and interesting beers on the floor. (Anyone remember the Curry Porter last year?) You'll want to try at least two.

37) Iron Hill Brewery - C23-25 — As you start back down the other side of the row, this Philadelphia-area brewery will occupy three spaces and serve the entire spectrum of flavors. To truly enjoy them, go big with something like a Bourbon Porter or Chocolate Factory Stout.

38) Elysian Brewing - G30 - The Great Pumpkin is the closest thing you'll find to sticking a straw in a pumpkin pie. Don't miss this unique experience.

39) Breckenridge Brewery - H1 - Rather than continuing south, jump across the aisle. And, yes, you can find Breck beers at nearly every bar in Colorado. But it's a lot harder to find their  Stranahan's WellBuilt ESB, a high-alcohol special bitter aged perfectly in the whiskey barrels of its name.

40) Short's Brewery - D18 - Facing Breck is the Michigan brewery known for its absurd yet tasty flavor additions. Try the Strawberry Shortscake or Peaches 'n Creme. Unless you love sucking on pine needles, it's best to avoid the Spruce Pilsner.

41) Weyerbacher Brewing - D22 - This Pennsylvania brewery is one of the great hoppers in the country. Grab for the Double Simcoe.

42) Deschutes Brewery - H18 - Stay focused, as you have one goal here: The Abyss, a break-your-tastebuds imperial stout that can be harder to find out here.

43) New Belgium Brewing - L1 - Same story as Breckenridge: Skip the known and grab for a Lips of Faith sour like the superb Tart Lychee. Or ask what they cooked up just for the festival. You'll have to get your sour fix here, as neither Cascade nor Captan Lawrence breweries are on the floor this year.

44) Ranger Creek Brewing - L37 - Texas, once a beer wasteland, is now brimming with adventurous brewers. Beer geeks I've met say the Mesquite Smoked Porter is a must-try.

45) Wynkoop Brewing - P22 - If you drink just one beer in which filleted bull testicles were added to the boil, make it the limited-edition Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.

46) River North Brewery - T10 - Denverites likely already know about the beer formerly known as Hypothesis, a Belgian-style double IPA that is breath-takingly complex. Outsiders should learn about it.

47) Snake River Brewing - P13 - Along with Altitude Chophouse, this is one of two low-profile gems located in Wyoming. And its Pako's Eye P.A. is the reigning strong pale ale gold-medalist.

48) Papago Brewing - L14 - This Arizona brewery is on the leading edge of new flavor profiles. This year, it will unleash on the GABF its Hop Tamale, a chile IPA.

49) Papago Brewing - L14 - No, I haven't recommended double-dipping a brewery yet. But you've just hit 48 breweries, you're tired and your mouth might be burning from the Hop Tamale. So, ask for the Orange Blossom, an orange-vanilla wheat that's the closest thing to a Creamsicle in beer form.

50) La Cumbre Brewing - L6 - Finish up at a brewery that won multiple golds last year, including one in the most popular category at the festival - American-style IPA - for its Elevated IPA.


Mighty fine list Ed. I agree with the majority of your recommendations. Sometimes the smallest breweries can put out some might fine beers.

While I've had the Raspberry Tart from New Glarus and also the Black Tuesday from The Bruery and both are very excellent, I wondered if spending from 7 to 20 minutes in line for just one sample was worth it. They are tasty though.
Only 50?? Well, I suppose you could do them all again. But great list!
Ed, it was great meeting you last night at GABF. I wish I had this list before I went. Maybe I'll have to scalp a ticket on Saturday...
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