GABF 2014: Best In Show

I was impressed by Short's Brewing from Bellaire, Michigan.
I was impressed by Short’s Brewing from Bellaire, Michigan.

I’ve been to the Great American Beer Festival for the past several years. Normally I don’t run into too much of a problem paring down my list of favorites…but this year is proving to be the most challenging yet. Perhaps it’s that, with all the beer drinking I do on a regular basis, my palate is improving. Or maybe it’s that breweries are brewing better and better beer. Or–most likely–a combination of both. Regardless, this is a good problem to have! So I’ll just go with it and share all of the ones that I truly loved.

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Without a doubt, one of my top picks is Belching Beaver‘s Peanut Butter Milk Stout. I usually end up with a peanut butter beer on my final list, which is no surprise considering my love of beers that taste like food. But this one blew me away! So much peanut butter, exactly as it should be. And an exciting side note: Belching Beaver won this year’s Alpha King Challenge with their double IPA Pound Town. Congratulations!

2014 Alpha King Champs! Belching Beaver.
2014 Alpha King Champs! Belching Beaver.

Next up: Bourbon Carrot Cake from Short’s Brewing. Another beer that tastes like food?! But of course! Bourbon Carrot Cake is a dessert ale made with carrots, marshmallow, vanilla, maple syrup, orange zest, walnuts, pecans and spices and then aged in bourbon barrels. While it might not be for everyone, I feel it is something that can certainly appeal to craft beer lovers as well as those who “don’t like beer.” I only wish I could get my hands on some to test out this theory! Short’s won a Gold in the Experimental category for their Key Lime Pie. Way to go!
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Since I seem to be on a roll with beers brewed with food, this would be a good time to mention the Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine by Almanac Beer Co.. I don’t consider myself to be a big fan of barleywines in general; I find most of them are too sweet for me. But I didn’t run into that with the Heirloom Pumpkin. I thought it was quite easy to drink, which could be dangerous considering it’s actually 12% ABV.

Pretzel necklaces: great for cleansing the palate. Necklaces with jerkey, cheese crackers, candy, etc. = you're too cheap to buy food. I loved these guys' idea for bread necklaces! Different, yet practical.
Pretzel necklaces: great for cleansing the palate. Necklaces with jerkey, cheese crackers, candy, etc. = you’re too cheap to buy food. I loved these guys’ idea for bread necklaces! Different, yet entirely practical.

Not a food beer, but a delicious combination of coffee and beer: Coffee IPA from FATE Brewing. This is a local beer brewed just 30 minutes away in Boulder, Colorado. Why would I “waste” time stopping at a booth whose beer is a but half hour drive away? Because it’s just that good. And FATE doesn’t currently distribute this beer, so it was definitely worth a trip (or three) to their booth. A shout out to them for winning a Gold for their Laimas Kolsch!

The crew from Black Star Co-op in Austin.
The crew from Black Star Co-op in Austin.

I have a special fondness for Texas beer. Having family & friends there, it’s the one place I’ve spent more time than anywhere else outside of Colorado. And my favorite thing to do while there is to explore the craft beer scene. One in particular really did it for me at GABF, and that was Benedictum from Real Ale Brewing Company. This sour brown with tart cherries is part of Real Ale’s Mysterium Verum (Latin translation: Real Mystery) barrel aged series. Very solid sour ale. I will be looking for this during my upcoming Austin trip–fingers are crossed that I’ll find some!

Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Texas' Oldest Craft Brewery) brought this chapel where people could actually wed at the festival.
Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Texas’ Oldest Craft Brewery) brought this chapel where people could actually wed at the festival.

Over the past several months I’ve begun to realize what an outstanding barrel-aging program Avery Brewing has. There have been many Sundays I’ve made the trip up to Boulder for their special releases, and the one that I constantly rave about is Opuntia, a tequlia barrel-aged sour. Pretty much every sour I’ve had from Avery has been top-notch, but the combination of prickly pear and tequila makes Opuntia one of the most unique tasting sours I’ve ever had.
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I don’t have any specific order for my favorite beers at this year’s GABF. I consider every beer mentioned above to be “amazing.” And here are some more for you:

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I know there were so many more worthwhile beers present. If only I was somehow capable of sampling them all! But I can only do so much, and I’m anything but disappointed in the beers I elected to try at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. Check out my Facebook album for a few more photos. Until next year!

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