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.
When we last left off I had 15 more breweries to chose in my top 25. If you missed the intro and the first 10, check this out. Remember, these are in no particular order. No sense in delaying any further… here is my next 8.
Weyerbacher Brewing Co. – If I where to say that these guys are the best production brewers in my home state of PA, I’d be telling you that they are better than Stoudts, Troegs, and Victory. That would be a very bold statement, so I’m not going to make it, but they are the only one of the four that I’m putting on this list. I miss their brews severly. Double Simcoe IPA is outstanding, as is pretty much anything they attempt in the Belgian realm. Oh, and Blithering Idiot Barleywine…what I wouldn’t give to have one of those in hand right now…
Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Company – You have heard our OH contingent gush about these Akron brewers for a while now. HFB makes some seriously extreme stouts and IPAs. It seems as though they have an endless supply of recipes for both. Or maybe they just take one and let it manifest in as many ways as possible. Either way, it’s very exciting to follow, and I know I’m not alone on that. We all know what styles the beer nerds like the most – stouts and IPAs. Good game plan boys. Keep it up.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company – Over the past few years this NY brewery has been getting loads of praise from media sources of all kinds. I’m sure being based just north of the Big City doesn’t hurt on that front, but they do have 20 beers with scores of 90 or greater on ratebeer.com. From what I have read, they have a passion for sours and they do them very well. Stroll up to their booth, ask about Flemish influence and see where it leads you. I don’t think you will regret it.
Portsmouth Brewery – There is this little beer that comes out of a little New England brewery called Kate the Great. Ever heard of it? Talk about outlandish hype. No matter what feelings you may harbor about wildly hyped beers, you know full well that, given the chance, you would want to taste and build your own opinion. That’s where I’m at and that’s why I want to visit their booth. Even if they aren’t pouring Kate, are they a one hit wonder?
Short’s Brewing Co. – My knowledge of Short’s is actually quite, well…short. Since I have plans to go to MI for the first time this Christmas, I have been doing extensive research about breweries and bars to visit. MI has to be one of the best states in the entire union to visit for beer purposes. There are so many fantastic breweries there, it’s kind of absurd. I’ve already mentioned Kuhnhenn, and will follow this addition with Founders. I’ve decided to leave off Bell’s because, though I love them, they simply aren’t in the top 25 for me. This is not to mention Jolly Pumpkin, Arcadia, Dark Horse, Dragonmead, New Holland, good god… so many to chose from. Alas, I can’t chose them all. Of those that I have never tasted, Short’s seems to have the most community support behind them at the moment, and thus, they make my list. Oddly enough, I received a tweet from Short’s very recently announcing the beer that they will be pouring at GABF. Instead of just posting the link here, in fear of you not taking my word for it and following said link and reading what they are bringing, I’m going to just paste it in below. This is insanity to the nth degree.
In true Short’s fashion, and keeping with the tradition of past Great American Beer Festivals (GABF), this years list of beers to be poured at the 2010 GABF certainly does not disappoint. Short’s will be pouring everything from cult favorites, to popular concept beers, and will even be including a highly rumored yet rarely seen barley wine behemoth!
Blood Orange Wheat Wine
Estimated ABV- 9.6%
Estimated IBU’s- 76
Hops- lots, Simcoe
Malts- lots (from Briess in WI)
Notes- Blood orange puree fermented w/ a super hopped wheat wine, dry hopped and spice w/ blood orange zest and green peppercorns. The blood oranges lend a wonderful purple hue to this amazingly sessionable monster of a beer.
Barley Wine aged in Bourbon barrels for 10 months
Estimated ABV- 12%
Estimated IBU’s- 50+
Malts- 6 different varieties
Notes- This beer had a boil time of 6hrs and 66mins, and was batch number 666 brewed on devils night 2008. It was also fermented w/ 30 lbs of raisins. Big sweet toffee flavors complimented by the sweetness of the raisins. The bourbon barrels add some subtle vanilla tones and slight oak qualities. A very session worthy barley wine.
Black Licorice Lager
Black Lager spiced w/ Vanilla bean, chocolate mint, and anise
Estimated IBU’s- 24
Notes- Sweet chocolate and roasted malt characteristics compliment the additions of vanilla bean, anise, and chocolate mint. The vanilla aromas are found in the nose and in the initial flavors up front, followed quickly by the anise. The finish (especially when it warms a bit) contains the chocolate mint, preventing the anise from becoming too overwhelming.
Key Lime Pie
Golden Ale made w/ fresh limes, milk sugar, graham cracker, and marshmallow fluff
Estimated ABV- 5.5%
Estimated IBU’s- 21
Hops- Cascade, Simcoe
Malts- Pilsen, Munich, Vicotry
Notes- This beer sounds too good to believe, but it’s exactly that. Attempted last year as a new concept beer, it has already been remade twice, and there are plans to distribute a limited amount in six packs. Made w/ fresh limes, milk sugar, graham cracker, and marshmallow fluff we were able to recreate this popular dessert into a heavenly drinkable version.
Imperial Spruce India Pilsner
Imperial Pilsner hopped as an IPA and spice w/ Blue Spruce needles
Estimated ABV- 7.2%
Estimated IBU’s- 90
Malts- Pilsen and maze from Briess Malt in WI
Other Notes- fermented w/ tons of N. Michigan blue spruce tips. The spruce presence is enormous giving the beer a refreshing “gin like” quality when it is cold, that almost becomes “sap like” as it warms up. Surprisingly light bodied considering the big flavors of spruce and complimentary summit hops
Founders Brewing Company – Everyone that I know that has ever tried the product of Founders considers them to be one of the best breweries in America. I have tried their product and I think they are one of the best breweries in America. If you go to their website and take a look at their 5 year round beers, 3 seasonals and 7 specialty releases, you will most likely be impressed. What they do, they do extremely well. This is one of those breweries that you could blindly approach their booth, outstretch a finger, and no matter what ends up in your glass, you will not be disappointed.
Clipper City Brewing Co. – You may know these guys as Heavy Seas. Not at all unlike Founders above, each and every beer that CCB makes is outstanding. I’m a beer geek, and light pilsners are generally boring and worthless to me. Hand me a Small Craft Warning Pils and I’d thank you twice. The thing that would most excite me about visiting the CCB booth at GABF is the fact that, when I lived and drank in PA, the Pyrate Fleet (see brewery website) was all there was. I want some of that Mutiny Fleet so bad!
Three Floyds Brewing Co. – I just laughed to myself. You know, of all of the breweries I have listed so far, for some reason this one seems the most obvious. It’s Three Floyds people, it’s Three Floyds. Ok, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t make such assumptions. TFB makes a beer called Dark Lord. It’s an imperial stout. It’s amongst the most sought after beers in the world. TFB also makes an imperial IPA called Dreadnaught. If Dark Lord didn’t exist, Dreadnaught would easily take it’s place as one of the most sought after beers in the world. Oh yeah, and everything else that they make is delicious. Another note – they host the best brewery tour that I have ever experienced.
Sorry folks, but you are going to have to wait just a bit longer for the remainder of my choices. Don’t fret, you’ll get them before your plane leaves for rocky mountian high…