Shari Caudron's "Beer Nuts" gives an inside look at the world's single largest collection of tapped beers.
Walking into this month's Great American Beer Festival—a sea of tables, laughing beer drinkers, and beckoning brewers—is disorienting. It's best to have a drinking plan before the pours start flowing. So we conferred with beer expert and GABF insider Marty Jones to devise a downloadable list of the 10 breweries—including a few great Colorado shops—you shouldn't miss this year, plus their most noteworthy pours.
Download 5280's guide to the 10 Not-to-Miss Breweries.
- Cambridge Brewing Company: Cambridge, MA
The Wind Cried Mari: Brewers travel to the Massachusetts coast to handpick the fresh heather flowers, wild gale, and lavender that replace hops in this light-bodied heather ale. The beer is dry and tinted with wildflower and honey flavors.
Cerise Cassée: This complex and sour beer goes through three-day process in which it is turned to grist, a sour grain mash, before it's blended with 300 pounds of tart cherries. The mix is set in oak barrels, where it is fermented with wild yeast.
- Dogfish Head Craft Brewery: Milton, DE
Midas Touch Golden Elixir: A medal winner last year, this beer—with wine and mead qualities—showcases ingredients found in King Midas' tomb: barley, white Muscat grapes, honey, and saffron.
60 Minute, 90 Minute, and 120 Minute IPAs: Dogfish's flagship beer was the 60 Minute IPA (with 60 IBUs—international bitterness units—and 6 percent alcohol) until the brewery released its 90 Minute IPA, heralded by Esquire magazine as "perhaps the best IPA in America" (90 IBUs and 9 percent alcohol). If you can handle it, try the 120 Minute IPA. At 120 IBUs and 20 percent alcohol, this beer packs not only bite, but 450 calories per 12-ounce pour.
- Durango Brewing Company: Durango, CO
Derail Ale: Nothing complements Colorado's sunny weather like a big, golden ale. This one is loaded with hops and alcohol (8.5 percent).
Dark Lager: This GABF-medal winner may be simply named, but it's a complex blend of crystal and chocolate malt flavors, which make for a smooth, dark beer.
- Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Paso Robles, CA
Opal: This wheat wine—a cousin of Barleywine—is barrel-aged and has an alcohol content of more than 9 percent.
Parabola: A Russian Imperial Stout that has spent months in bourbon, brandy, and new American oak barrels, this beer features dark chocolate flavors with hints of tobacco, oak, and bourbon.
- Maui Brewing Co.: Maui, HI
Coconut Porter: Maui's canned Coconut Porter is flavored with toasted coconut, a sweet complement to its malts.
Mana Wheat: Flavored with pineapple and coriander, the honey-scented Mana Wheat recalls pineapple-upside-down cake with a touch of lemon and orange.
- Nodding Head Brewery: Philadelphia, PA
Ich bin ein Berliner Weisse: This GABF¬¬-award-winning, German-style wheat beer is more than just your average hefeweizen. Its tart suds are refreshingly light at 3.5 percent.
The Phunk: This wacky beer lives up to its name. It's brewed with several strains of yeast to produce a flavor its brewers describe as "this really sour funky thing."
- Port Brewing Company and Lost Abbey Brewing: San Marcos, CA
The Angel's Share 2006: Such care has gone into this Barleywine—aged in brandy barrels since March 2006—that it might well be the nectar of angels. Expect sweet malt, oak, and vanilla aromas.
Red Poppy: The sour red ales of Flanders inspired the Red Poppy, which was aged in French oak barrels with sour cherries and wild yeasts.
- Russian River Brewing Company: Santa Rosa, CA
Damnation: Keeping in mind Belgian tradition, which allows brewmasters to bestow their suds with devilish names, Russian River tagged this strong golden ale. Expect accents of banana and pear, with a sweet malt flavor.
Blind Pig IPA: Finally, a big-flavored IPA that doesn't put you under the table with its alcohol content. While many craft IPAs are 9 and 10 percent, this one is a light 6 percent.
- Ska Brewing: Durango, CO
Decadent Imperial IPA: Made to celebrate Ska's tenth year in business, this citrusy, big IPA weighs in at 10 percent.
Nefarious Ten Pin Imperial Porter: Another big beer at 8 percent, this dark porter blends chocolate, cream, coffee, and cherry flavors.
- Steamworks Brewing Company: Durango, CO
Colorado Kölsch: Take a break from heavy flavors with this crisp, clean, Czech-style brew, which tips in at just 4.5 percent.
Conductor Imperial IPA: Three kinds of American hops—Warrior, Tomahawk, and Simcoe—work together in this brew to deliver big hops smells, flavors, and finish.
If You Go
2008 Great American Beer Festival
October 9-11, Colorado Convention Center
Call 303-477-0816 or visit www.beertown.org/events/gabf