Here we are, just a few short days away from the Great American Beer Festival and I’m as giddy as a little schoolgirl. But whether you’re a seasoned veteran or this is your first time attending, the GABF can be a little overwhelming. 580 breweries pouring 2000+ beers will do that to you. You’ve got to have some sort of plan of attack.
For me, I print out the GABF Map and mark the breweries that I’d kick myself if I were to miss. The floor is divided up by regions of the U.S. I can generally breeze through the Colorado breweries since I’ve either had or can easily get most of the beers pouring in that area. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stop by and say hi to your favorite brewers. It’s also worth nothing that some are planning on bringing some pretty special beers. Avery Brewing will be pouring both Oud Floris and Odio Equum from their hard-to-find Barrel-Aged Series, while Crooked Stave is rumored to be bringing the super delicious and rare Persica. I’d certainly recommend spending some time in the Mountain Region at the GABF, but for me, I’ll probably limit my time there and focus on breweries I don’t normally have easy access to.
So where do we begin? Russian River, Lost Abbey / Port, Cigar City, Dogfish Head all seem like obvious choices, but there are some really interesting, smaller breweries that don’t distribute out this direction at all. Jonathan Shikes wrote a great article in the Westword last week with his picks, many of which would have made my list as well. Three Floyds, Bell’s and Cambridge are all top-notch breweries. Check out the entire article HERE. I’d like to add a couple more of my favorites for you to check out this weekend.
1. The Bruery, Placentia, CA. Patrick Rue is brewing up an empire and a loyal following through his Reserve Society and awesome lineup of beers. Whether it’s mouth-puckering sours or thick, inky stouts, you can’t go wrong. While they do distribute a handful of beer to Colorado, quite a few never leave California. Recommendations: Oude Tart, Black Tuesday.
2. Upland Brewing, Bloomington, IN. Upland makes quite a few quality beers, but their Lambics are not to be missed. The bottles, which are sold online a few times a year, always sell out within minutes. Recommendations: Any of their fruit Lambics, which range from Strawberry to Kiwi to Persimmon to Peach.
3. Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Center, MN. Beer for a glass, from a can. For the hop heads, they make two great ones, called Furious (IPA) and Abrasive (Double IPA). They’ve also got a Coffee Brown called Coffee Bender that goes great with a brownie or doughnut. Keep an eye out for any of their big, seasonals like Darkness (Russian Imperial Stout) or this year’s anniversary ale, SYX (Strong Ale). Recommendations: Anything.
4. Allagash Brewing, Portland, ME. The little brewery from Maine makes some might fine Belgian-style beers. As a sour fan, I’ll be looking for anything from their Coolship series. If you lean towards the sweeter side, look for their Dubbel, Grand Cru or Quad. Recommendations: From sweet to sour, you can’t go wrong.
5. Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, NC. As the South catches up to the craft beer movement, Foothills has taken the lead with their big stouts and barrel-aged experimentation. They produce solid beers across the board. Recommendations: Seeing Double IPA, Sexual Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout.
6. Iron Hill Brewery, PA, NJ and DE. This east coast brewpub, which has 10 locations in 3 states, always brings a huge beer selection to the GABF Floor. From sweet to sour, light to dark, hoppy to malty, they’ve got something for everyone. There’s a reason why they’ve won a GABF medal, every year, for the past 15 years. Stop by they’re multiple tables and get ready to be impressed. Recommendations: With an ever-rotating beer menu, there’s no telling what they’ll be pouring this year. But, they always have detailed descriptions of every beer and plenty of brewers around to answer your questions.
7. Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI. Where to begin? I don’t remember ever seeing Founders at a previous GABF, so when I saw them on this year’s list, I got pretty excited. These guys are famous for their KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout), which is brewed with vanilla and coffee and aged in bourbon barrels. In addition to their seasonal and specialty brews, they make an exceptional lineup of year-round beers. Recommendations: Centennial IPA, Devil Dancer (Triple IPA), Cerise (Cherry Beer), Backwoods Bastard (Scotch Ale) or any of their Stouts (KBS, CBS, Breakfast Stout or Imperial Stout).
8. Shorts Brewing, Bellaire, MI. I think I did enough preaching for Short’s earlier this week with my post about their limited release of 6-packs to Denver for the GABF. Still, I want to make sure you’ve got them on your list. They love to experiment and take chances, which makes for some very fun and unique brews. Recommendation: Peaches & Creme and any of the other experimental brews they decide to bring with them.
9. Weyerbacher, Easton, PA. Another east coast gem serving up a wide variety of beers, ranging from Belgian-Style Ales to American IPA’s. Although their distribution range has steadily grown over the past few years, they still haven’t made it to our market. Recommendations: Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Riserva Sour, Heresy Imperial Stout and Double Simcoe IPA.
10. Société Brewing, San Diego, CA. Founded in 2012 by Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner, who met while working together at The Bruery. They decided to join forces and open their own brewery this past June. Since then, they’ve been releasing west-coast IPA’s, Belgian-Style Ales and a Russian Imperial Stout. They’ve also got a spacious barrel room, with a variety of sour beers aging away. Recommendations: This brewery’s only been open for a few months and I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but I’ve heard good things and would highly recommend stopping by their booth for a sample or two.
I hope this list helps introduce you to at least a couple new breweries this year at GABF. Get out there, have fun and discover some new beers. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any other suggestions you might have. Hope to see you this weekend!