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4 take-away trends from Great American Beer Festival 2015

Barrel-aged lagers, next-level coffee beers and more from the center of the beer universe.
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GABF 2015There are now more than 4,000 craft breweries in the U.S., per the Brewers Association. Great American Beer Festival, the largest single-event pouring of craft beer in America, rounded up 60,000 beer fans over three days this year at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Craft beer accounts for 1 in 5 U.S. dollars spent on beer.

Given those numbers, it’s difficult to distill the enormity of GABF. Ever facet of American beer was on display: the big, the little, the bold, the subtle, the weird and wacky. To wit: We took note of a few gin and tonic beers (the silver-medal winning Melt My Brain from Shorts Brewing as well as a beautiful, layered gin-barrel aged kolsch brewed with juniper berries from MadTree Brewing). We delighted in citrusy, juice-packed IPAs including medal-winning Old Town Brewing’s Shanghai’d IPA; the American IPA category this year tallied 336 entries, making it GABF’s largest category ever. Kolsches, cream ales and steam beers are the subject of renewed love from craft breweries, and we were glad to see continued interest in goses, contributing to 111 German sour entries in that judging categories. Both O.G. and new-school breweries won big at the awards ceremony: Firestone Walker, Fat Heads, Sun King and Port City cleaned up, each racking up multiple medals.

Having attend all four sessions, though, plus the awards ceremony and numerous incredible events outside of the festival proper, a picture of a few larger trends begins to emerge like a photograph from its developing liquid:

1. Craft lagers are here. We’ve identified the rise of American craft lagers, and GABF only confirmed it. We saw whiskey barrel-aged pilsners including Holy City’s bourbon barrel-aged Smells Like Rick pilsner; clean, classic pilsners like pFriem Family Brewers’ Pilsner (the silver medalist) and Champion Brewing’s Shower Beer (the gold medalist) prove there’s nothing boring about the style; and even adjunct lagers (like Confluence’s Blue Corn Lager) aren’t off-limits to craft breweries. We especially enjoyed Miner Brewing’s Spruce Tip Pale Lager, made with locally grown spruce tips from the Black Hills.

2. Prepare for hoppy sours and hoppy wild- and Brett-fermented beers. Crooked Stave’s What The Funk? festival on Wednesday night introduced us to delicious versions from TRVE Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales, and we saw further versions on the GABF floor from NOLA Brewing (don’t sleep on the Galaxy dry-hopped Lowerline if you find it). The best versions match citrusy, earthy or spicy hops with their complimentary Brett or wild yeast strains, yielding funky-sour-bitter profiles that should appease Americans’ insatiable taste for wild ales and IPAs.

3. Local ingredients help beers stand out. From the gold-medal winning (Field Beer) Beets, Rhymes and Life saison from Fonta Flora to Scratch Brewing’s buzzed-about pours (a few made with all parts of trees: branches, leaves, acorns, etc.), local/foraged ingredients helped distinguish certain beers both in competition and on the floor. Sense of place is increasingly important to brewers, and drinkers responded enthusiastically at the festival. Because of the difficulty in sourcing these ingredients, beers made with them mostly remain small-batch offerings for now.

4. Coffee beers span the spectrum. A good coffee porter is still delicious, but breweries have expanded what coffee additions can bring to a beer. Alaskan Brewing’s Heritage Coffee Brown Ale is brewed with malts roasted right in with the coffee, creating a seamless fusion of deep malt roast and coffee bitterness. Adroit Theory saw a hit with its Imagination Atrophy caramel macchiato milk stout. Coffee and peanut butter proved a popular combo; we spotted lines for Listermann’s Peanut Butter Coffee Porter as well as was Evil Genius’ Purple Monkey Dishwasher coffee and peanut butter stout.

After all the beers we drank, great conversations we had and engaging stories we heard, one message is clear: American craft beer is a prism of people, preferences and styles. Sure, IPAs are popular; sours are a big deal, too. But there was a beer for everyone at GABF, from the newbs to the veteran attendees.

 

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8 Comments

  • Juan Valdez says:

    Weizenbock is not a lager:

    15C. Weizenbock

    Aroma: Rich, bock-like melanoidins and bready malt combined with a powerful aroma of dark fruit (plums, prunes, raisins or grapes). Moderate to strong phenols (most commonly vanilla and/or clove) add complexity, and some banana esters may also be present. A moderate aroma of alcohol is common, although never solventy. No hop aroma, diacetyl or DMS.

    Appearance: Dark amber to dark, ruby brown in color. A very thick, moussy, long-lasting light tan head is characteristic. The high protein content of wheat impairs clarity in this traditionally unfiltered style, although the level of haze is somewhat variable. The suspended yeast sediment (which should be roused before drinking) also contributes to the cloudiness.

    Flavor: A complex marriage of rich, bock-like melanoidins, dark fruit, spicy clove-like phenols, light banana and/or vanilla, and a moderate wheat flavor. The malty, bready flavor of wheat is further enhanced by the copious use of Munich and/or Vienna malts. May have a slightly sweet palate, and a light chocolate character is sometimes found (although a roasted character is inappropriate). A faintly tart character may optionally be present. Hop flavor is absent, and hop bitterness is low. The wheat, malt, and yeast character dominate the palate, and the alcohol helps balance the finish. Well-aged examples may show some sherry-like oxidation as a point of complexity. No diacetyl or DMS.

    Mouthfeel: Medium-full to full body. A creamy sensation is typical, as is the warming sensation of substantial alcohol content. The presence of Munich and/or Vienna malts also provide an additional sense of richness and fullness. Moderate to high carbonation. Never hot or solventy.

    Overall Impression: A strong, malty, fruity, wheat-based ale combining the best flavors of a dunkelweizen and the rich strength and body of a bock.

    Comments: A dunkel-weizen beer brewed to bock or doppelbock strength. Now also made in the Eisbock style as a specialty beer. Bottles may be gently rolled or swirled prior to serving to rouse the yeast.

    History: Aventinus, the world’s oldest top-fermented wheat doppelbock, was created in 1907 at the Weisse Brauhaus in Munich using the ‘Méthode Champenoise’ with fresh yeast sediment on the bottom. It was Schneider’s creative response to bottom-fermenting doppelbocks that developed a strong following during these times.

    Ingredients: A high percentage of malted wheat is used (by German law must be at least 50%, although it may contain up to 70%), with the remainder being Munich- and/or Vienna-type barley malts. A traditional decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness. Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character. Too warm or too cold fermentation will cause the phenols and esters to be out of balance and may create off-flavors. A small amount of noble hops are used only for bitterness.

    Vital Statistics: OG: 1.064 – 1.090
    IBUs: 15 – 30 FG: 1.015 – 1.022
    SRM: 12 – 25 ABV: 6.5 – 8.0%
    Commercial Examples: Schneider Aventinus, Schneider Aventinus Eisbock, Plank Bavarian Dunkler Weizenbock, Plank Bavarian Heller Weizenbock, AleSmith Weizenbock, Erdinger Pikantus, Mahr’s Der Weisse Bock, Victory Moonglow Weizenbock, High Point Ramstein Winter Wheat, Capital Weizen Doppelbock, Eisenbahn Vigorosa

  • Chris says:

    You guys must’ve missed our presentation Saturday!
    https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/events/coffee-and-beer-treating-beans-like-hops-to-tailor-flavor-2/

    Using lighter roasts in light beers is becoming a specially for us. Fun times in craft beer, for sure!

  • These strike me more as “highlights” rather than trends. A few years ago, everyone was making Rye IPAs, that was a trend. Gose’s and Berliner Weiss’s were hugely common a year or two after that, that was a trend. I don’t think any of the four you cite were anywhere near prevalent enough to qualify as a trend, with the possible exception of craft lager, which has been an ongoing trend for a couple years and arguably is broad enough to not constitute a trend.

  • ed says:

    I have a new kegerator – I am reading that non pasteurized kegs must stay cold
    I should not keep a backup in my basement

    Is that true I am finding conflicting info online (go figure)

  • […] with the best. They’re producing beers that are keeping up with national trends and tastes. According to Draft Magazine the GABF highlighted the following 4 trends in craft beer. I’ve gone through and shown how […]

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