Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Best of the 2014 GABF

After a couple of weeks of reflection, the theme statement from this year's Great American Beer Festival finally is coming into focus. It wasn't the year of any one style - like with imperial IPAs, bold sours or barrel-aged dark beers as in years past — but the year in which each of the 700 breweries there put forth something original, something bold that distinguished it from its neighbors and from the growing cacophony of beer makers nationwide.

This is wonderful for its variety of offerings— on Thursday night alone, I was able to taste a Bourbon Carrot Cake, a banana beer and a brew made with Szechuan popcorn. But it makes the job of finding a definitive beer of the GABF — or even choosing best beers in specific categories — hard to the point where such categorization is almost moot.

That said, here as always is one man's thoughts on the best of the very best that breweries had to offer at this year's gathering.

Best in Show: 2x4, Melvin Brewing
For once, even in a year of such diversity, this award wasn't hard, as a number of people seemed to come to the same conclusion. Rarely, if even, has a double IPA been so smooth and so aggressively hoppy at the same time. A spectacularly accessible palate of grassy hops rolled over the taste buds in a way that jolted you and pleased you. It showed why, even without winning a medal, this Wyoming brewery is becoming known as one of the national kings of hops.

Runner-up: Teche Hombres, Bayou Teche Brewing
Out of Louisiana came this Belgian-style wit brewed with agave nectar and aged in French white wine barrels with orange peel. Yes, it was as good as it sounds — and even more complex.

Best Sour Beer: Blue Sunday, New Holland Brewing
An anniversary blend of several previously made sour beers, this shouted a message of sharp, tart cherry and packed more a punch than any similar beers at the festival.

Best Hop Bomb: Notorious, Boneyard Beer
If 2x4 was the best hoppy beer of the show, this was the most mind-blowing: a triple IPA whose flavor seeped into every crevice of your tongue but that still was phenomenally balanced.

Best New Hop Taste: Hop Drip IPA, Magic Hat Brewing (pictured above)
Adding a local coffee to an already bold body created a contrasting and yet strangely complimentary blend of bitter flavors that resulted in a new style of complexity for the genre.

Best Use of Fruit: Serendipity, New Glarus Brewing
This slightly sour ale blending apples and cranberries with a smaller amount of Wisconsin brewery's  traditional cherries during a cherry shortage was heavy with apple and an eye-opener.

Best of the Unusual Beers: Roxie's Golden Bananas, Saucony Creek Brewing (at top)
Fifteen pounds of bananas went into this Pennsylvania brewery's 15-barrel batch of beer, producing a pleasant and interesting beer whose most impressive trait is that it's not overpowering.

Best in Show from Colorado: Swing Se Pliser, Trinity Brewing
Colorado Springs' most innovative beer maker continues to break new ground, this time with a tart and hoppy barrel-aged sour IPA that requires you to think about what you're tasting.

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