Fifteen non-Colorado breweries to try at GABF
Colorado represents a huge part of the festivities inside the Great American Beer Festival, both because of the depth and breath of our state's brewing prowess and because we are the host state, so it is fitting - and easy - for our beer makers to represent. As a result, many Colorado residents who are familiar with the craft beer scene here will no doubt skip over the local brewery tables -- in favor of getting some strange. Here's a list of fifteen buzz-worthy out-of-state brewers. Some are old standbys that you have heard of. Some are just making a name for themselves now.
San Diego County, California
This tiny brewery in the low mountains east of San Diego has made a name for itself with its beer -- especially the hoppy ones -- and its decision to stop selling growlers of one of its cult beers because people were re-selling them on the after-market. This year, Alpine teamed up with New Belgium to bottle Super India Pale Ale, making an Alpine product available in Colorado for the first time. But you should try their other stuff, too.
A surprise darling of the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, Destihl makes dozens of beers, of many different styles, but it really blew people away with a half a dozen or so sour beers it was pouring at the festival. Let's hope it has more this year.
The cherries. The raspberries. These guys only distribute in Wisconsin and it's likely to stay that way for a while, which is why people drive to that state to load up their trunks with bombers full of New Glarus's deliciously tart beers. The line at GABF will be long.
Bay Area, California
Well-known home brewer, author and beer judge Jamil Zainasheff opened his own brewery in 2011 and has had a lot of success with his flagship Evil Twin, which you'll want to try at the festival, along with Evil Cousin, Shallow Grave, Gramarye and Worry.
With just a few notable exceptions outside North Carolina, the South has been slow to take up the craft-beer movement and produce breweries with national buzz. But that is changing (see Cigar City, above) in a couple of states, including Tennessee, where Yazoo Brewing was born nine years ago and makes highly rated beers. Particularly cool is its Hop Project, a continuously changing IPA that is never made the same way twice.
Chicago area, Illinois
Two Brothers is owned by, yes, two brothers with the last name of Ebel, and their Cane Is Ebel is simply one of the best rye beers I've ever had. But these guys have been making a lot of other stuff as well since 1996, and are worth checking out.
One of the most loved, most respected and most sought-after brands in the craft- brewing world, Three Floyd's always has a long line at GABF since the beers aren't available much outside the Midwest. While Dark Lloyd, a Russian Style Imperial Stout, is nearly as mythical as Santa Claus, other special beers like Alpha King, Zombie Dust, Dreadnaught and Gumballhead are more likely to make an appearance at the festival.
Kilt Lifter is the beer that made this brewery famous for its hot-sun quenching abilities, but its Hop Knot and Motley Brue RyePA have also garnered attention and won medals.
Sun King is a very small brewery in Indianapolis with deep roots, but it exploded onto the national consciousness at GABF last year with amazing beers like Grapefruit Jungle, Wee Muckle, Johan the Barleywine and Java Mac. The beers generated a buzz inside the Colorado Convention Center and eventually garnered the brewery an amazing seven medals. This year, Sun King is distributing at a few locations around town just during GABF, and has brewed a new collaboration beer with Oskar Blues.
Bay Area, California
A friend in California turned me onto this brewery, which I had never heard of, when I went out to visit him in the Bay Area earlier this year. Since then, it seems like I hear accolades about this brewery and its huge beers every other week. It makes really good beer; check Drake's out.
Cambridge Brewing has been making craft beer in Boston since 1989, and is the city's oldest brewpub. The years have resulted in some amazing brews, including Heather Ale, Abbey Normal and others that keep those in the know returning to its booth every year.
Founded five years ago in the craft-beer wasteland that is California's Inland Empire, Hangar 24 has quickly made a ground-shaking impact, growing from about 1,000 barrels of production to more than 25,000 this year and landing several big distribution deals in Southern California -- a nice trick for an upstart company. Then in May, it won gold at the World Beer Cup for Winter Warmer, a strong ale brewed with maple syrup. Here's hoping it shows up at the convention center.
Bell's is the Stone of the Midwest, the Brooklyn Brewery of the region. It's the stalwart that you judge all other beers by. Loyalists have consistently pushed Bell's to the top of the heap when it comes to attention, buzz and beer ratings. The beer is definitely worth trying, so that you can decide for yourself whether to believe the hype.
Cigar City blew me away at GABF in 2010 with its Humidor IPA and again last year with its Guava Grove -- and I wasn't the only one. The brewery won a medal each of those years and is returning to Denver in force in 2012 by distributing more than a dozen of its California-quality IPAs and other brews around Denver bars and restaurants.
In less than a year, Golden Road Brewing and co-owner Meg Gill have become the biggest craft brewer in Los Angeles and a force to be reckoned with. The brewery didn't get open in time to submit its beers to GABF last year, but it will make a big splash this time around by releasing its latest canned offering, Burning Bush, at The Kitchen Denver, in addition to its booth at GABF. Although the beer won't be distributed here, the party probably won't be forgotten. And since Gill got her start at Oskar Blues, I'm hoping the beer won't be easy to forget, either.
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