Thursday, September 24, 2015
Having the "What the Funk" festival the night before Great American Beer Festival opens is much like opening your absolute best presents on Christmas Eve. And the 67 brewers who showed up to the Highlands Masonic Event Center with gifts wrapped in oak barrels and a Brettanomyces bow on top did not disappoint - even if I clearly took this analogy too far.
That said, here are a few of the biggest takeaways from the beer-rich event put on by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project - as well as some things to search out at the GABF.
1) Barrel-aged imperial stouts should include little extras.
It's not that the run-of-the-mill, dark-and-thick-as-midnight stouts disappointed. But few things at the event were as eye-opening as Green Bench's Manaphin, an imperial stout doused liberally with chocolate and vanilla to soften its wood-aged body and add a sweet kick. Similarly, Westbrook's 2015 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Mexican Cake - aged on cocoa nibs, vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks - offered a unique taste that stuck with you all night.
2) Cascade Brewing still rules the roost.
The Oregon beer maker's Blackcap Raspberry may have been the stand-out beer of the show not because the barrel-aged sour ale pushed the limits of taste buds so much as it straddled a line between puckering sour and wonderful sweetness. Packed with more raspberry than it seems possible to put into a beer, it was a reminder of just how important the choice of ingredients can be to the most experimental beer.
3) Good things come out of gin barrels.
Less popular than whiskey or oak barrels, the newest spirit vessel to the aged-beer party brings a special kick of juniper overtones that can add to the complexity of a beer. This was most evident in Bellwether, Breakside Brewing's sour double wit aged in gin barrels with Kaffir Lime leaves - a combination that produced a different taste every time it rolled over a different area of your tongue.
4) The idea of a "subtle" barrel-aged sour is picking up.
It's hard to be subdued with so much funk and exterior influence on the beer. But Funky Golden Mosaic - a fantastic dry-hopped sour golden ale from Prairie Brewing - actually managed to be smooth while also being full of flavor. And even Souren, a sour ale made with Pinot Noir grapes by Bruery Terreux, managed to pack a great fruit punch without being overbearing.
5) It's hard to beat a good Nightmare on Brett.
As homer as it sounds, few things were as tasty as the collection brought to the party by host Crooked Stave. Stand-out among them was its port-barrel-aged dark sour that blended dark and woody overtones with a blackberry-like accent.