My Five Favorite Beers from Great American Beer Festival 2015

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I just returned from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this past weekend.  It was an awesome experience, even more so than last year.  Perhaps even a little bit much, but I’m not complaining.  There were 750 breweries, 3,800 beers being served, 60,000 attendees, 3,400 volunteers, and 242 medal winners.  Over 6,000 beers were judged in the competition, which was a 20% increase over last year.  Needless to say, it is difficult to even scratch the surface of the breweries’ offerings even if you attend all four sessions.  I only attended two of the four four hour sessions.  Nevertheless, I followed the buzz, listened to tips from other attendees on breweries to look out for and hunted those down and occasionally tried out a random target of opportunity along the way.  The atmosphere is really fun and people are really there to have a good time.  Even with as many people as there are and as long as some of the lines can get, people from all over the country are just really friendly and jovial.  There was plenty of security, but it almost seemed to me like it wasn’t necessary.  Anyway, as I did last year, 3 Floyds was my first stop to get a hold of the elusive Zombie Dust.  It does run out at each session of the festival if you don’t hurry to their booth.  Nevertheless, my feeling is that it’s a little overrated.  It is, however, truly a good pale ale.  Some of the booths really get a tad crazy with the lines and they will run out of the popular beers quickly.  Cigar City, Dogfish Head, Allagash, Ballast Point, The Bruery, Russian River and Lost Abbey were among those with the longest lines, of course deservedly so.  Anyway, on to my five favorites.  I was able to get to quite a few breweries and with only one ounce tasters, you do have some latitude to get around.  Still, the time goes quickly, especially if you get chatty.  Almost all of the beers I had were really good, with maybe a handful of exceptions.  These five were just ones that really stood out to me.

  1.  Citra Sour from Almanac Beer Company in San Francisco.  This is a single hop, citra blonde ale that is soured.   The sour blends wonderfully with the grapefruit flavor of the hops and gives it almost a champagne like flavor with clear citrus notes and a little earthiness to it.
  2. Imagination Atrophy from Adroit Theory in Purcellville, VA.  This is a caramel macchiato milk stout aged in bourbon barrels.  It sounds like it might be too sweet, but it hits the nail on the head.  It’s creamy with a little bit of sweetness from the bourbon and the lactose, but enough roast and coffee flavor to balance it out.
  3. Imperial Coffee and Cigarettes from Cellarmaker in San Francisco.  You would think this might be smoky given it’s title, but it’s just got a hint of smoke and roast that blends nicely with a rich and creamy brown sugar, coffee and roasty malt.
  4. Mocha IPA from Stone at Liberty Station, San Diego.  This was a surprisingly good mixture of my two favorite genres.  Strong coffee and mocha flavor balances against the hoppiness of the IPA.  Lighter in body than a coffee stout.  Also a less creamy and more crisp flavor.  The hops are a little drowned out by the coffee, but it struck a perfect balance for me.
  5. Sip of Sunshine IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Warren VT.  This may now be my favorite IPA.  There was none of the other famous IPA from Vermont, Heady Topper, at the GABF to compare it against, but this was a mighty contender.  I did also have the Pliny the Elder while I was there and I dare say I enjoyed the Sip of Sunshine better.  This had a juicy tropical fruit flavor, mixed with a citrus hop and a delicate biscuit malt flavor.  Nicely complex and not dominated by any of them.  I would keep an eye out for this one.

Snallygaster 2015

Each year for the past three years, the owners of Churchkey DC, Rustico and Bluejacket have hosted a massive beer festival in the shadow of Nationals’ Stadium in Washington, DC.  This year there were something like 350 beers from a variety of breweries around the country.  They specialize in finding beers that would otherwise be hard or impossible to get in the DC area.  The main part of the festival starts at 1 and the whole shebang goes until 6.  If you buy a VIP “Kraken” ticket, you get to come in 1 1/2 hours earlier and have 7 1/2 hours of drinking time.  I opted for the VIP option, but left early.  There are a number of food options, including booths and trucks.  I had some awesome chicken fingers from GBD at a booth.  There were also pizza, Vietnamese,  burgers and all sorts of other options as well.  They also have pretty decent bands playing on an outdoor stage for most of the day.  For some reason I’ve gone the last two years and it’s rained each time.  They don’t do a rain date, the festival goes rain or shine.  I like this festival because it’s outdoors (even though it’s been rainy each time I’ve gone) and there is a good crowd of people who also love beer.  I also like it because there are always some really good beers you just can’t get anywhere around here.  The downsides are that once the gates open to general admission, it gets pretty crowded, even on a rainy day.  The other downside, I’m not crazy about is that you get tickets to buy beer.  30 tickets come with your admission and if you want more you have to buy them, essentially at $1 each.  Many of the beers that I am hunting are in the 8-12 ticket range, so it’s not long before I’m buying more tickets.  The least expensive beers are 3 or 4 tickets.  The majority are around 4-6.  This is for about a 4 oz. taster.  The whole cost can add up very quickly.  Highlights for me were the Grey Monday from the Bruery.  An Imperial Stout with a whopping 18.6% ABV and hazelnuts added to the beer as it ages in bourbon barrels, whoa!  There was also the Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pecan Pie Porter from Clown Shoes, which rang it at a much lower 8% ABV, but was also very flavorful.  And one I have chased for a long time and never been able to have – Lunch IPA from Maine Brewing Company.  After chasing it for a long time, I was slightly underwhelmed.  It tasted like IPAs I’ve had some other breweries before.  Nothing too special.  I also had the Bhakti Chai Brown Ale from Avery, which I had heard of before.  I’ve had a Chai Milk Stout from Yak and Yeti in Denver and I’ve made a Chai Milk Stout myself, both of which I really like.  This, however, wasn’t as great.  Maybe it was the brown as a base.  It was too thin in body to support the flavors, I thought.  Not bad, but I’m not sure I would seek it out again.  I also had the Gourd Standard from Flying Dog.  My first pumpkin IPA.  It was a decent IPA, but not a great pumpkin beer.  Along the pumpkin lines, I also had a pumpkin sour from Allagash called Ghoulschip.  It was a tad too sour my taste, alas.  In any case, the festival was a hit.  Hopefully next year it will be sunny. I rate it four out of five proper pints, only because of the ticket thing.

Perennial Pineapple Kumquat Berliner Weisse

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When I saw this combination of ingredients in a Berliner Weisse at the beer store, it made me stop and take notice.  I was hoping it wasn’t too fruity or pineapple-y or too sour.  I decided to try it out with some pizza because it seemed to me the flavor combination with a slight sour I expected from the Berliner Weisse would probably do well with pizza.  Well, I was not disappointed.  I would say the pineapple was not strong, but was present in a subtle way.  I don’t know what Kumquat should taste like in beer, but I didn’t notice anything resembling it, except for a general citrus flavor.  The flavors that stood out to me were citrus, pineapple, maybe also a bit of mango and the slight sour of the Berliner Weisse itself.  The beer was light bodied and well carbonated.  I can’t say I would make it a go to beer, but it was very good.  I would give it three out of five proper pints.

Epic Fermentation Without Representation Imperial Pumpkin Porter

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This used to be a collaboration beer with DC Brau, but it appears this year Epic is going it alone.  This is a great pumpkin porter.  I know some people are getting tired of the pumpkin, but this one really stands out.  It pours dark, almost black.  It has strong chocolate and pumpkin pie spice notes in the aroma.  The mouthfeel is slightly oily, creamy.  It has a little dark roast to it, but strong chocolate in the flavor with a not overwhelming mixture of pumpkin pie spice flavors.  I would say maybe nutmeg, clove and allspice are out front and a little bit of cinnamon as well.  It goes nicely with some popcorn and a football game.  Five out of five proper pints.

Coney Island Hard Root Beer vs. Not Your Father’s Root Beer

So I had a little backyard cocktail hour over Labor Day weekend to do a head to head comparison of the two biggest (at least in Northern Virginia) hard root beers. First of all, I love root beer, so this was almost a no brainer. I’ve also tried making root beer before, so I had an idea of how it works. I needed to see what this hard root beer thing is all about. Mind you, root beer is (or can be) made similarly to beer, e.g., you add sugar, root beer extract and yeast to some water and let it sit for a while. The yeast in that case is mostly just to produce carbonation. In contrast, most commercial root beers you find in a store today are just a root beer flavored syrup and carbonated water. Nevertheless, the old school way to do it is to use yeast. I had not previously attempted to get the yeast to produce alcohol. It’s all about the type of yeast you use. Still, I figured since yeast eats sugar, if you aimed to make an actual beer, it would not be sweet because the yeast would have consumed the sugar to make the alcohol. Anyway, both of these root beers taste like soda, albeit a little flatter than soda. Nevertheless, they are just as sweet. The ones I tried both had an ABV of about 5-5.9%, but the Small Town Brewery (who makes Not Your Father’s Root Beer) also makes a 10.7% and a 19% ABV version. I think those may only be available in Illinois. On to the comparison. They both pour a dark brown, almost black color with a very thin white head that dissipates quickly. The aroma of both is of root beer, no familiar beer aromas like hops or malt are present. In terms of taste, I would say Not Your Father’s Root Beer tastes more like a familiar root beer to me. The flavor is sarsaparilla, vanilla, maybe molasses and the body is a little syrupy. The Coney Island root beer added licorice, which gives the beer a slightly spicier flavor. I would say for those who don’t like licorice, it doesn’t taste a lot like licorice, it just adds some spiciness to the other flavors of sarsaparilla, vanilla and molasses. I preferred Not Your Father’s Root Beer a little more, but these are both very good beers and they are both very good root beers. I don’t know if I would have more than one at a time because it’s pretty sweet like root beer and while I may have been able to put away some soda as a kid, I can’t do it now. Still, I really liked both of these beers a lot. I would certainly recommend it for someone who doesn’t like beer as a good introduction. However, even for beer aficionados, these are both great beers, but in sort of a category of their own. I would say they go perfectly with burgers, pizza or hot dogs and are great on a hot Summer day. I give both five out of five proper pints.

Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Extra

I’ve seen this one called a double IPA, but it is curious. It does taste like an IPA for certain. It has strong floral and citrus notes in the aroma and in the flavor. However, it is made a heavy dose of wheat. In fact, the “extra” is extra wheat over what is used in the smaller version, “Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’.” If this is an IPA, it is oe of my favorites. The floral and citrus notes are fantabulous. The wheat gives the beer a little pineapple and a little spicy flavor, but the body is kept light, unlike a lot of double IPAs. This is a very refreshing summer hoppy beer. Almost as much as the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin. I love this beer with pizza on a Friday night. Five out of five proper pints.

Avery Perzik Saison

This is a great canned summer beer, perfect for the backyard or a camping trip. Very refreshing after a long bike ride too. It’s not heavy on the peach flavor, if you worry about that like I do. There is nothing worse that too much peach or that fake peach flavoring taste. It’s pour a light straw color and has a nice light fruit flavor, probably more from the yeast than the peach, but the peach does give it a slightly richer after taste than just the yeast would. I would choose this over some other canned ales, just because it’s more refreshing and thirst quenching with a little more flavor than some. I would not go for an IPA for example and doing some sweaty backyard work or a long hike. This would be just fine for either of those. Four out of five proper pints.

Adroit Theory Imagination Atrophy

First, I like the name. I worry sometimes that people’s imagination, especially kids’, are atrophying. I’m not sure what the connection is to this beer, though it seems consistent with AT’s manifesto. I think a Caramel Macchiato Milk Stout is pretty darn creative. Maybe it’s ironic? Anyway, I like milk stouts and I like caramel macchiatos, so I figured I’d try it out. This beer pours dark, almost black. It had a thin off white or beige head to it. There was definitely caramel and coffee in the aroma, along with some bourbon and malt. The bourbon was not overwhelming at all. It was slightly in the aroma, and then at the very end of the flavor wave. I would say it didn’t seem as creamy in body as what I would expect from a milk stout, or as sweet, but it was not at the thickness of a Russian imperial stout either. A very enjoyable beer for sure, either way. I would say it was a nice after dinner digestif. I had some dark chocolate with it that paired well with the caramel and coffee flavors. Five out of five proper pints.