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Top 25 Breweries to Check Out at GABF, Part 1

September 3, 2010 6 comments

"Great" is in the name for a reason.

The 29th edition of the Great American Beer Festival is just 2 weeks away.  Sadly, I’m not going to make it this year.  Even sadder, I’ve never made it.  It’s on my bucket list, I assure you, but I can only really afford one big trip a year and the last few years…well, it didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.  I already took my trip this year.  I went to Belgium.  I think that that’s a pretty good excuse.

But, just because I’m not going doesn’t mean that I can’t pretend.  I’ve decided to make a list of the 25 breweries that I would visit at the fest if I where going.  Hopefully, this will be of assistance to some of our readers out there that are going.  Of course, this list is strongly influenced by my beer experiences, which are most likely very different from yours.  Maybe you grew up in WI and have had all the New Glarus you can handle.  That’s OK, but I have had a very minimal experience with NGB and given that it is a very well-respected brewery with minimal distribution, I’d visit their booth.  Just a small example of the way this will go down.

Considering that there are roughly 460 breweries pouring at the fest, one needs to develop a game plan.  Otherwise, ones head would likely explode.  My general rule would be to make sure that all of the brewery’s booths that I visit fit into 1 of 3 main categories.

These categories are as follows:

1) Breweries whose product I have never tasted, due to never living or visiting within the distribution area, and whose product is met with great respect in the beer community.  Breweries who I may have never heard a “buzz” about before but have been big winners in past GABFs would also fit into this category.

2) Breweries whose product I have tasted before, but whose product is met with such a profound respect in the beer community that I would desire to drink said product at anytime, anywhere.

3) Breweries whose product I have tasted before in my time living and drinking in the Northeast, but are either missed greatly by me or have released new products since my departure that I have not yet tasted.

With as many breweries as are attending this year’s fest, these rules alone would by no means whittle the list down to 25.  I’ll tell you right now that I will be forced, quite painfully I may add, to leave some true gems off the list, but no one ever said it was easy to make lists like this.  Here’s my first 10 choices, in no particular order.

New Glarus Brewing Co. – I mentioned these guys above so I might as well put them on here first.  NGB only distributes to WI.  That makes it a bit of a challenge for a lot of us to get.  Thanks to a good friend’s willingness to share, I was able to taste a few of the standard releases about a month ago.  They were quality brews with great ratings from the community, but it’s their rarities that really put NGB up on a pedestal.  If they were pouring Raspberry Tart I just might get in line twice.

Dry Dock Brewing Co. – This is a very small brewpub out of Aurora, CO but it was awarded the Small Brewery of the Year at last year’s GABF.  That’s enough to pique my interest.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. – I hope to visit this Michigan brewery in December when I visit my girlfriend’s family.  Their Raspberry Eisbock and 4th Dementia Old Ale are both subject to a cult following in the beer community.  These are two of my favorite styles and I would have a hard time coming up with many beers in the world that I want to get my hands on more.

Foothills Brewing – This North Carolina brewery is mostly famous for their imperial stout called Sexual Chocolate.  Not only is it massively hyped on the internets, but it won the bronze metal last year in the Impy Stout category.  That gives it some pretty respectable cred if you ask me.  Timperial wants.

Pizza Port/Port Brewing/Lost Abbey – This is Tomme Arthur’s world.  Tomme is a living beer legend for a reason.  I’d steer more toward the Pizza Port offerings simply because I have not tasted their particular brand of grog.  There are four different Pizza Port locations that enter beer, and they all seem to do very well in the competition.  I’d lean more toward the San Clemente and Calsbad locales.

McKenzie Brew House – Even the biggest beer junkies in the West may have never heard of this one.  It’s actually in Glen Mills, PA which is the town that I grew up in.  The “town” (no actual downtown) is so small that I very rarely tell people that I grew up there in order to combat the blank stare that I would no doubt receive.  I just tell people that I grew up in West Chester, PA because there is at least a remote chance that they would have heard of that one.  Anyway, this is not only on the list because it fits into category 3 above but because they have been winning a bunch of awards lately.  Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.

Iron Hill Brewery – Another small brew pub that is near and dear to my heart from back east.  I’d venture to say that these guys make some of the best beer I’ve ever had.  Not a single trip back home will pass without a stop here.  Seattleites just may have sampled some of their product at Elysian’s Pumpkin Fest.

The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery – I couldn’t really name one particular reason to check these guys out, I just know that I have read about them for various reasons for quite some time now.  Another very high quality brewer from North Carolina.

Cigar City Brewing – If you have never heard of Cigar City, you need to read more.  These guys are absolutely blowing up the world of craft brewing right now, and they are still super new.  If I could get a little bit personal with you for just one moment.  I have a goal that I’m working toward.  That goal is to open my own brewery in the next few years (I know, aren’t I just so unique).   With this in mind, I am constantly analyzing breweries – learning from their positive and negative attributes.  There are two American craft breweries that have opened in the past few years that exploded in popularity right from the onset.  Obviously, I want my brewery to open in such a way as well.  Tampa, FL’s Cigar City and the next brewery on my list are two businesses that should be analyzed by all future entrepreneurs.

The Bruery – I feel like we talk these guys up on the blog all the time.  These guys are amongst the top ten breweries in America, hands down.  I really shouldn’t have to go into it any deeper.

I have 15 more to choose, so check back frequently in the waning days of the pre-GABF calendar.

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