The Great American Beer Festival just celebrated its 31st year as the premier beer event in the country. The festival takes place in Denver and this year, 2,700 different beers were poured from over 500 breweries - the biggest selection of American beers ever served. Tickets for the festival went on sale in August and sold out in a record 45 minutes, a true testament to the continued popularity of craft beer. (Last year, it took more than a week for the tickets to sell out.) I was one of the 49,000 lucky ones who were able to attend and drink some incredible beer amid a sea of mostly bearded dudes.
Almost every beer I tasted during the three-day festival was top-notch, and rightfully so, as breweries bring their A-game and serve their finest beers. But, a few stood out from the pack for me.
One of the most interesting and pleasantly surprising beers I had was Green Chili from Flat Branch Pub and Brewery out of Columbia, Missouri. The beer isn't for everyone, but if you like a spicy element in your food or drink, this beer sure delivers.
I had a Saint Dekkera Reserve Gose, which is a sour take of a Gose-style beer from Destihl, a brewpub in Normal, Illinois. It was outstanding and made me wish they bottled their beers and distributed them in Georgia.
Speaking of Georgia, I had a great beer at the festival from one of my local watering holes, Wrecking Bar Brewpub. It was their Spring Break TRIPel aged in Chardonnay barrels, which made for some really complex sweet flavors and a nice dry finish.
Another favorite was Abul-Abaz! from Catawba Brewery in Morganton, North Carolina. Abul-Abaz! is a blended Saison brewed with rooibos tea and then fermented solely with Brettanomyces yeast. It was delicious and easily one of my favorites of the festival.
I love beers that push style-boundaries but I also found myself frequently seeking out quality session, or low-ABV, beers. The one I enjoyed most was 3Point5 from Avery Brewing Company, located just about 30 miles from the festival, in Boulder, Colorado. The beer was a great reminder that it's possible to pack a lot of flavor into a beer that contains very little alcohol (3.5%).
Apart from sampling countless beers at the GABF, the other major draw is the awards competition. Over 4,000 different ales and lagers were submitted for evaluation this year and judged by 185 beer professionals from across the globe. The judging takes place over three days in sessions that can take several hours to determine the winners. Medals are given out in 84 style categories ranging from the mostly tasteless Light Lager category, to the big and bold Barleywine style. The Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are among the most coveted awards for an American brewery and can bring relatively unknown breweries into the national spotlight with just one medal win.
Devil's Backbone out of Roseland, Virginia was this year's big winner and took home the most medals, with a total of eight. It also won the award for Small Brewpub/Brewer of The Year.
Below, I've listed some of the beers that took home a medal this year and the full list of medal winners can be found here.
Devil's Backbone Danzig - Silver medal in Baltic-Style Porter
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - Gold in American-Style Black Ale
The Bruery Sans Pagaie - Bronze in Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale
Maui Wee Heavy - Gold in Scottish-Style Ale
Goose Island India Pale Ale - Gold in English-Style India Pale Ale
Cigar City Cucumber Saison - Bronze in Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer
The Church Brew Works Pious Monk Dunkel - Silver in European-Style Dunkel
Peticolas Royal Scandal - Gold in Classic English-Style Pale Ale
Upslope Brown Ale - Silver in American-Style Brown Ale
Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious - Bronze in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer