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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.