Written for the Burlington Free Press by Jeff Baker http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2016/10/14/beer-trends-found-great-american-beer-festival/91988114/
A week ago today, I was standing in a massive convention center surrounded by hundreds of brewers and thousands of thirsty craft beer fans. If this sounds familiar, you may have guessed that I was in Denver, attending the 2016 Great American Beer Festival (GABF).
If you’ve never been to GABF, it’s hard to explain how massive this showing of American-brewed craft beer really is. Nearly 800 breweries exhibit over 3,800 beers in a hall that would fit about a half dozen football games going at once. In addition to all the beer, there are vendors selling beer-related gear, food vendors slinging beer-friendly dishes and even a cheese booth operated by the American Cheese Society. An additional fee will gain you entrance to “Paired,” a food-and-beer pairing experience, plus there are seminars and meet-the-brewer sessions during the fest.
This year, I attended two sessions and essentially split the room in half, a tactic which I would recommend to anyone planning to attend the fest next year. After poring over my notes from the fest, some trends and a handful of breweries stand out.
General GABF Trends: When you’re in a room with this many beers, trends tend to pop right out at you. India Pale Ale is still the reigning king, no question; nearly every booth had at least one. Gose (“goes-uh”), that German-style lactic-sour wheat beer, is perhaps reaching its trend pinnacle. Dozens and dozens of breweries exhibited Goses, and many of them were barrel-aged, spiced or fruited. Which brings me to my next point: fruit beers are officially back “in.” I’ve been loving the new wave of fruit beers for the past couple years and it looks like the trend has been normalized to the point where almost every other booth had at least one fruited beer. A smaller, but still noticeable trend was that of the “New England-style IPA.” What started out as the “Vermont IPA” style, one typified by Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist, has morphed into “New England-style IPA” as the style spread to breweries like Trillium (Massachusetts) and Bissell Brothers (Maine). I saw at least 10 beers at GABF claiming to be in this vein, but only Weldwerks Brewing (Greeley, Colorado) “Double Dry Hopped Juicy Bits” lived up to the style.
Rhinegeist (Cincinnati, Ohio) – While Gose-style beers were at almost every booth, “Margarita Monday” was a unique and attention-grabbing spin on the old style sour beer. Aged in tequila barrels with lime and salt, this was a dead-ringer for its namesake. “Stryker” was another noteworthy brew: a Triple IPA that showed off a juicy, modern hop profile on top of a massive malty frame. Some Triple IPAs taste like glorified barleywines, but Stryker retained its IPA qualities.
Kane Brewing (Ocean, New Jersey) – I’d heard of Kane Brewing before coming across the booth at GABF, but had never had the chance to taste any of its beers. Michael Kane himself served up my sample of “Sunday Brunch,” an Imperial Milk Porter with Sumatra coffee, Vermont maple syrup and cinnamon. Whoa! This beer is hella good and I can see why it’s designated for Sunday brunching. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time to come.
Fair State Brewing Cooperative (Minneapolis, Minnesota) – The logo and branding first drew me to this booth and I must say that the beer kept me in line for a few turns. “Citra Sour,” a barrel-fermented sour ale hopped and dry-hopped exclusively with Citra hops did not disappoint: citrus-y, sour & palate refreshing. “Roselle” showed well, too: a sour saison infused with hibiscus flowers. But the real standout for me was Fair State’s rendition of the mostly-defunct historical style “Lichtenhainer:” a tart, barrel-fermented ale brewed with 100 percent beechwood- and oak-smoked malt. Sour and smoky? Yup. And down-right delicious. A beer history lesson never tasted so good!
Societe Brewing (San Diego, California) – I find it rather difficult to get into “session IPAs” in general. Most I find to be lacking in mouthfeel, coming off as paper thin with a whack of hop bitterness – almost like hop tea. But Societe’s “The Coachman” grabbed my attention. Described as a “really small IPA,” this brew grabs all of the SoCal gusto of stronger West Coast IPAs and is still sessionable. I didn’t get to taste “The Volcanist,” but it’s worth noting that it grabbed a Bronze Medal in the American-style Stout category this year.
Did you attend GABF? Tell me about your favorite finds on Twitter: @aPhilosophyOf.
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf. Jeff co-hosts the “It’s the Beer Talking” podcast found on iTunes and Soundcloud. More info at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/news/podcasts