It’s not polite to brag. But we just can’t help naming a few beers we got to try at the festival that caught our eye. Not many are available in Colorado, but it’s worthwhile to see what other parts of the country are trying with their beers.
Breakside Brewery’s “Just The Tip” Spruced Wheat
In an increasingly crowded craft beer market, breweries are doing whatever they can to innovate and bring something fresh to the table. Several breweries have been experimenting with actually flavoring their beer with spruce pine trees, and Breakside’s was the best of the lot: piney, earthy and crisp, with a wonderful balance between citrusy hops and the au natural spruce flavor.
Free State’s Cloud Hopper Imperial IPA
High gravity beers — such as imperial IPAs — often carry a pungent sweetness that is the result of the increased amount of sugar the brewers add to up the alcohol content. The Cloud Hopper from Free State Brewing Company from Kansas (yup, Kansas! Beer actually is legal there) somehow hops over that hurdle, making a high-alcohol IPA that is startlingly balanced and drinkable.
Watch City Brewing’s Pumpkin Ale
What’s with pumpkin ales this year? It seems like every one I’ve tried so far has only been hinted or scented with pumpkin, which seems to be a waste of an ingredient. It’s only here for a short time, so why not run with it? Watch City Brewing Company (Waltham, Mass.) goes all-in with this pumpkin ale, with a flavor that hits you in the face rather than hiding just out of sight.
Short’s Brewing Company’s Sagejuana
With a beer festival like GABF, there’s bound to be not just endless variety but also endless repetition: How different can 200-plus IPAs be from each other, anyway? But Short’s Brewing Company’s (Bellaire, Mich.) Sagejuana really had an interesting profile, one we didn’t encounter anywhere else at the festival. Dominated by sage in the nose, the flavor was much more balanced, the sage, other spices and the piney hops combining quite nicely for a crisp, unique beer.
Short’s Brewing Company’s beers
The beer roster at Short’s looks like Avery on steroids. Nobody we know can match Avery for creativity and experimentation, but on straight up variety, the Michigan brewer is pretty darn impressive: a Kentucky common lager, an India pale lager, an Irish lager, an iced rye IPA. After a longer-than-usual stay at the Short’s table, I came away impressed with everything I tried.
Lakefront Brewery’s My Turn Series: Chris Maple Vanilla Doppelbock Lager
Chris, nice job. This beer, part of a series by the Milwaukee brewery to incorporate its employees’ homebrew concepts into beers, was awesome. Roasty, mellow and pleasant, it’s a smoother alternative to winter warmers or Christmas ales. In our book, it’s hard to go wrong with maple and vanilla, especially if they don’t dominate, and the Chris balances them well.
Ninkasi Brewing’s Vanilla Oatis Stout
It’s not easy to get hype at GABF. Sure, among friends, you might pass on a tip or two about a particularly good or bad beer. But for strangers to approach and endorse beers from a brewery we’ve never really heard of? That’s a pretty good sign. And Eugene, Ore.- based Ninkasi lived up to its billing with Vanilla Oatis, a roasty and complex stout thankfully free of a metallic aftertaste.
Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Churchville Lager
Neshaminy Creek Brewing’s award-winning Vienna-style amber, Churchville Lager, was a surprise leap to the front of my list for favorite beers. The traditional-centric lager, made near Philadelphia, has a clear, crisp start and a rounder finish that leaves the sipper with a full-bodied feeling from a relatively light beer.
Darwin Brewing Co.’s Charapa Porter
For a taste of the Andes, I stopped to sample some of the stellar offerings from Darwin Brewing Co. The Florida-based head brewer, originally from Peru, still sources his cacao and his Aji Charapita peppers from South America. The Charapa spicy porter puts both to good use — mmm, spicy!
Lexington Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Ale
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, from the Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., was my top choice. It had a hint of caramel and barely a whisper of whiskey.
Other favorites included the smooth Domaine DuPage French Country Ale from the Two Brothers Brewing Co. in Warrenville, Ill., and the Mosaic Single-Hop Pale Ale from Pfriem Family Brewers in Hood River, Ore., which featured mango, citrus and hints of lemon.
And here’s my pick for quite possibly the worst beer tasted during the festival: 80 Shilling Scotch Ale from the Morgantown Brewing Co. in West Virginia. It caught our eye because of how closely the name resembles one of our favorites up the road in Ft. Collins, Odell’s 90 Shilling, but that’s where the comparisons end. The West Virginia one has a definite hint of manure in its finish, rarely a good thing when drinking a beer.