One of my favorite parts of Great American Beer Festival is tasting all the kooky beers breweries bring to the (judging) table. Some work, while others make you wonder what these hop-masters were thinking. Here, a list of 11 that even the beer faithful will enjoy.
Black Walnut Wheat: Piney River Brewing Co.'s version has shot to the top of my wheat beer list. Inspired by the black walnuts found in the Ozarks, this Missouri brewery adds them in the brewing process for a crisp, mellow flavor.
Coconut Curry Hefeweizen: The aroma of this New Belgium brew (part of the small-batch Lips of Faith series) comes on strong, with coconut, curry, banana, and various spices (cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, kaffir lime, and cayenne pepper) all fighting for attention. I worried that one sip would overwhelm my palate. But, somehow, the brewers nailed it. The coconut carries over to your taste buds, but the rest of the ingredients blend together for a unique but mild curry-inspired flavor.
No Crusts: Funky Buddha Brewery was, by far, my brewery of choice for unique tappings. Take the No Crusts Peanut Butter & Jelly Brown Ale, which actually smells like the childhood favorite—and tastes like it, too, while still maintaining its brown ale foundation. A little too strange for you? Last Snow is a porter that one tester said "tastes like Christmas." (Coffee, coconut, and white chocolate will do that.) Other flavors this game-for-anything brewery has used: cucumber-basil; ginger-lemongrass; blueberry cobbler; apple; raspberry-habanero; blood orange; and passionfruit.
Bodacious Blueberry: Fruit beer drinkers will fall for this heavy-on-the-(real)-blueberry ale from Nevada's Pints Brewery & Sports Bar. One suggestion: Mix it with their Jackass Stout for a Black and Blue. Like fruit? Try the Peach Ale from Four Peaks Brewing Company or the Raspberry Imperial Three Blind Mice brown from Mother's Brewing Company.
Watermelon Basil Wheat: To be honest, I had never heard of Aurora's Dad & Dudes Breweria until GABF. And a watermelon basil wheat beer? Seemed like a flavor combo better suited for an agua fresca. To my delight, however, the ingredients mingled into a light beer ideal for summer sipping.
Ginger Baker: If you didn't read the name of this beer, you could be forgiven for not picking up on the subtle hints of ginger, which is precisely why I enjoyed this Shamrock Brewing Co. American wheat so much. Next time, I'll add it to my Moscow Mule.
Pumpkin Vanilla Chai Lager: This fall seasonal from Saint Patrick's Brewing Company sounds like it's toeing the fine line between unusual and just plain crazy. Thankfully, this Englewood brewery stayed on the sane side with a complex blend of ingredients that meld into a solid lager with all the flavors of autumn.
Kisetsu: Sake, meet beer. With Kisetsu, the brewers at Chicago's Goose Island recognized that the fruity and dry characteristics of a saison are comparable to sake—and that a marriage of the two could be just what the bartender ordered.
Beetnik: Renegade, indeed. Jumping on the beet bandwagon (restaurants seem to be obsessed with the ingredient these days), Denver's Renegade Brewing chops up fresh beets and adds them during the brewing process. The result: A ruby-colored saison that stays true to the vegetable and reminds us more of a cocktail than a beer.
Even More: GABF may only come around once a year, but 5280 covers all-things hoppy (and malty) year-round. Check out our coverage here.
—Photo © Brewers Association
Follow associate editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.