More than 800 breweries poured more than 3,800 distinct beers at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, which took place from October 5-7 in Denver, Colorado. While the massive lineup can be overwhelming, with enough research (read: beer-drinking), some clear trends emerged:
Restrained wild ales
The running joke about Crooked Stave’s sold-out What The Funk?! Invitational—an annual pre-GABF celebration of sour and wild and barrel-aged beers—is that you need to attend with a bottle of Tums at the ready. This year, however, a different sort of wild ale took center stage: More breweries’ offerings displayed reined-in acidity, subtle tartness and quiet funk. There were still a couple puckering pours in the mix, but beers like Alesong’s Mosaic Touch of Brett; Oakshire’s The Carol Situation; and Green Bench’s Les Amis Grisettes were indicative of the growing appreciation for balance and careful expression of acid and funk.
Pilsners have lately made inroads among the IPAs and barrel-aged beers at GABF, and this year saw a plethora of delicious takes on the category. MacLeod’s Son of Leod Viking pilsner showcased all Scandinavian malts; pFriem’s Mexican Lager added a bit of corn to the grist; Lewis & Clark’s Pompey’s Pilsner, Drake’s Flyway, Reuben’s Brews Pilsner, Chapman Crafted Pils all offered clean, flavorful takes on Czech and German styles.
All the barrel-aging and adjuncts
But subtlety didn’t rule at every booth. Big, bold, barrel-aged and beefed-up stouts still drew huge crowds. Long lines formed for WeldWerks’ Medianoche bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout (which won gold in the wood- and barrel-aged stout category), as well as for Avery’s Rumpkin rum barrel-aged pumpkin ale and Liquid Mechanics rum barrel-aged coconut porter. At Denver Rare Beer Tasting on Friday, Weldwerks Medianoche Reserva was one of the must-tick, buzzy pours … while it lasted.
New England IPAs
Though it may seem like forever since New England IPAs burst forth and “disrupted” the IPA scene, they weren’t a huge presence at last year’s GABF booths. This year, they were everywhere, literally—from the South (Scofflaw’s Goat Milk IPA) to the Mountain West (Epic’s New England Style IPA) to Colorado itself (The Brew on Broadway New Englewood IPA). A notable exception: The gold medal in the American IPA category went to HailStorm Prairie Madness, a relatively clean IPA featuring American, German and English malts, hopped with Mosaic and Simcoe hops.