Yes, that’s right, it’s time for the third and final installment of my Top 25 Breweries to Check out at GABF. Just in case you missed the first two installments, click here for part one (first 10 choices) and here for part two (next 8 choices).
My final 7 choices begin now, and remember, these are in no particular order.
Flossmoor Station – When I think of Chicago area breweries I immediately think of Goose Island, Three Floyds and Flossmoor Station. Oddly though, I have never had a single beer from FS. I know them only by reputation. Since they are technically a brew pub, they utilize their smaller scale and constantly experiment, more often than not, with positive results. If I were going to GABF, I would be strongly inclined to check them off my list.
Stewart’s Brewing Co. – These guys are from Bear, DE which really isn’t that far outside of Philly, but oddly they don’t have a very strong distribution in the area (at least they didn’t when I lived there). If things haven’t changed in a big way, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a decent amount of Northeast residents that are unfamiliar with Stewart’s completely. They are extremely low-key to say the least. I remember seeing them at some of my first ever beer fests in PA like Kennett Brewfest and Philly Craft Beer Fest and wondering who they were and where they came from. Quite a few festivals came and went before I actually was brave enough to try their product and, once I did, I was appalled that I had missed out on so many opportunities. From then on I never passed them by, and was never once disappointed.
Odell Brewing Co. – It wasn’t until Odell started their Woodcut Series back in ’08 that my radar picked these guys up. This past May saw the 4th release in the line, an oak aged lager. All four have a 96 or higher on ratebeer.com. From what I understand, their standard offerings are pretty darn solid as well, especially the IPA. Working with wood, a lot of hops, brett…these guys might be on the trend train, but I want on board.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co. – You know that other massive American-based brew fest, The World Beer Cup? Yeah well it’s huge and Firestone Walker has won the Champion Mid-sized Brewery three times now. As far as I know, that’s unprecedented. It’s quite clear, these guys are one of the best around when it comes to making beer. Union Jack is probably my favorite single IPA in the world. Double Jack is easily in my top 5 favorite double IPAs in the world. Abacus is very possibly my favorite all time barleywine. Their anniversary beers are outstanding, Parabola, I mean come on… If I didn’t put these guys on the list somewhere I would have to kick my own ass.
FiftyFifty Brewing Co. – I would imagine that there is a few of you out there that read Draft Magazine. You know, the Playboy of beer. Beer porn. Anyway, do you know the section called “What’s In a Name?” That is where I first heard of FiftyFifty. Though I can’t exactly recall the details of the story, I remember being intrigued. I also liked the imagery and design that they evoked through their labels and website. As it turns out, they make a killer imperial stout, or so I gather. It’s a 100 on ratebeer.com and it won bronze at last years GABF in the “Other Strong Beer” category. Obviously, Timperial Stout wants to take a stab at this one.
Ballast Point Brewing Co. – The San Diego beer scene is a force to be reckoned with. Stone, Green Flash, Alesmith, Port/Lost Abbey/Pizza Port, Alpine, Coronado…I’m out of breath. All of these breweries make amazing beer and It’s really impossible to dispute that. If you were to fish for one thing that seems to tie all of these breweries together, it would be hops. Every one of these breweries, with the exception of the Belgian style based Lost Abbey (but Tomme’s other labels pick up the slack there), make stellar IPAs. Ballast Point makes at least three and each is more stunning than the last. If you find yourself in dire need of a little IBU boost at GABF, take a gander at BPB’s booth and see if Sculpin is a flowin’.
AleSmith Brewing Co. – I shudder a little bit when I think about Alesmith, in the very best way possible. I love this brewery so much. I wish everyday that Seattle would distribute their product, though all it really takes is a trip to Portland for purposes of stocking-up. I love Alesmith so much because I very passionately enjoy a lot of their beers. I’ll never forget the first time I tried, well, most of the beers that I’ve tried by them. The IPA is, like I said above, from San Diego. There’s just something special about those SD IPAs. Horny Devil is so perfectly Belgian with its fantastic sweetness and remarkably balanced spiciness. Old Numbskull is all that you could ever ask for in a barleywine. And Speedway Stout my friends…to drink Speedway Stout is to have a religious experience. I can tell you that there was a large period of time when I was very quick to answer any brave soul willing to ask me what my number 1 favorite beer of all time was with, Speedway Stout. Now I’m a bit more cautious to answer that question but, if I was forced to at gun point, my answer would be Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Possibly if I were to get a hold of the barrel aged version of Speedway, that answer would be different.
Well that about covers it. If you are going to GABF this week, damn you, I am super jealous. Please do your very best to enjoy each and every minute of it. Visit the breweries that you know and love, but also visit the breweries that you have always wanted to try but couldn’t for whatever reason. I am very hopeful that my musings can be found valuable to you in some way. If you have other suggestions for our readers, please do not hesitate to post a comment. If you end up checking out a brewery that I recommended and you have an opinion on their product, good or bad, let us know. Safe travels to you all.