Berrong on Beer - The pursuit of hoppiness at the Great American Beer Festival
October 18th, 2012
10:30 AM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and writes Eatocracy's beer column, "Berrong on Beer." He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd.

The Great American Beer Festival just celebrated its 31st year as the premier beer event in the country. The festival takes place in Denver and this year, 2,700 different beers were poured from over 500 breweries - the biggest selection of American beers ever served. Tickets for the festival went on sale in August and sold out in a record 45 minutes, a true testament to the continued popularity of craft beer. (Last year, it took more than a week for the tickets to sell out.) I was one of the 49,000 lucky ones who were able to attend and drink some incredible beer amid a sea of mostly bearded dudes.

Almost every beer I tasted during the three-day festival was top-notch, and rightfully so, as breweries bring their A-game and serve their finest beers. But, a few stood out from the pack for me.

One of the most interesting and pleasantly surprising beers I had was Green Chili from Flat Branch Pub and Brewery out of Columbia, Missouri. The beer isn’t for everyone, but if you like a spicy element in your food or drink, this beer sure delivers.

I had a Saint Dekkera Reserve Gose, which is a sour take of a Gose-style beer from Destihl, a brewpub in Normal, Illinois. It was outstanding and made me wish they bottled their beers and distributed them in Georgia.

Speaking of Georgia, I had a great beer at the festival from one of my local watering holes, Wrecking Bar Brewpub. It was their Spring Break TRIPel aged in Chardonnay barrels, which made for some really complex sweet flavors and a nice dry finish.

Another favorite was Abul-Abaz! from Catawba Brewery in Morganton, North Carolina. Abul-Abaz! is a blended Saison brewed with rooibos tea and then fermented solely with Brettanomyces yeast. It was delicious and easily one of my favorites of the festival.

I love beers that push style-boundaries but I also found myself frequently seeking out quality session, or low-ABV, beers. The one I enjoyed most was 3Point5 from Avery Brewing Company, located just about 30 miles from the festival, in Boulder, Colorado. The beer was a great reminder that it’s possible to pack a lot of flavor into a beer that contains very little alcohol (3.5%).

Apart from sampling countless beers at the GABF, the other major draw is the awards competition. Over 4,000 different ales and lagers were submitted for evaluation this year and judged by 185 beer professionals from across the globe. The judging takes place over three days in sessions that can take several hours to determine the winners. Medals are given out in 84 style categories ranging from the mostly tasteless Light Lager category, to the big and bold Barleywine style. The Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are among the most coveted awards for an American brewery and can bring relatively unknown breweries into the national spotlight with just one medal win.

Devil’s Backbone out of Roseland, Virginia was this year’s big winner and took home the most medals, with a total of eight. It also won the award for Small Brewpub/Brewer of The Year.

Below, I’ve listed some of the beers that took home a medal this year and the full list of medal winners can be found here.

Devil’s Backbone Danzig - Silver medal in Baltic-Style Porter

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - Gold in American-Style Black Ale

The Bruery Sans Pagaie - Bronze in Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale

Maui Wee Heavy - Gold in Scottish-Style Ale

Goose Island India Pale Ale - Gold in English-Style India Pale Ale

Cigar City Cucumber Saison - Bronze in Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer

The Church Brew Works Pious Monk Dunkel - Silver in European-Style Dunkel

Peticolas Royal Scandal - Gold in Classic English-Style Pale Ale

Upslope Brown Ale - Silver in American-Style Brown Ale

Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious - Bronze in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

Tell us what your favorite beer festival is and/or what beers you think should have medaled at this year’s GABF in the comments below.

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soundoff (136 Responses)
  1. voip reviews cnet

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    November 1, 2012 at 7:13 am | Reply
  2. Tesla

    I'm a big fan of wheat beers, myself. The spice notes are what do it for me I guess.

    I know this is a little more of a mainstream beer, but Shock Top just released a great seasonal – End of the World Midnight Wheat. It's very, very tasty, with midnight wheat, and slight notes of chocolate, chilis, and spice. Ok, advertisement over. Go drink some.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  3. lol

    "Even worse, who'd want that"

    Who? People who actually like beer instead of those who simply want a cheap, tasteless drunk so they can drive their lawn mover down the street. "Hey Billy Bob, pass me anuder Bud."

    October 23, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  4. Big Mike

    Here in Downingtown, PA we have Victory Brewing with a wide selection of excellent beers. Love the Hop Devil IPA and the Golden Monkey Tripel. And the Sly Fox is just 10 miles up the road.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:52 am | Reply
    • George monahan

      Certainly cannot leave out Rock Bottom at King of prussia – their cask conditrioned IPA is over the top, and also within 1/2 hour drive of Victory or Sly Fox.

      October 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  5. Breadbus

    I like to mix my lager with a concentrated lime juice 2:1, refreshing on a hot day! The Brits call it a shandy but they use lemonade instead. All beers are an acquired taste just like the Tenn. stumpy hole(moonshine) i'm sippin' on.Love the seasonal Octoberfest especialy draft Sam Adams and Richmond Virginias Legend Brewery Octoberfest, draft or bottle and anything else they brew! Thanks Nelson for the ruby red, Rest in peace

    October 22, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Reply
    • lol

      Hmmm, sounds like a slightly more refined version of what they once called in the ghetto a brass monkey, which was usually malt liquor and OJ.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
  6. Joe

    If you find yourself in the great NW, namely Redmond, WA- Black Raven Brewery, killer IPA- The Trickster or perhaps the Second Strike Strong Scotch Ale, mighty fine products!

    October 22, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  7. Olaf Big

    Folks, rooibus, orange peel and the like belong in herbal teas and maybe hard lemonade, not in beer. You know who is good at brewing beer? Germans are. And their brew it mostly according to the 500+ year old Rheinheitsgebot (purity pledge), which says that only three components belong in beer: water, barley, hops. Prost!

    October 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  8. ohhai

    Best beer in the US hands down: PBR...
    Sigh... I'm not good at this trolling thing.

    October 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • Barry

      Keep at it. I was thinking about maybe some Old Milwaukee, or Genesee Cream Ale, or maybe Pissing Rock. LMFAO

      October 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Reply
    • Barry

      Keep at it. I was thinking about maybe some Old Milwaukee, or Genesee Cream Ale, or maybe Rolling Rock. LMFAO

      October 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Reply
  9. Marcel

    Question: i love trying new beers – i don't like having the same thing consecutively even if i really like it, because there could be something better – but the list of all these brews can be intimidating. the names are often long and exotic and don't really describe the beer, and the bottling often matches suit. hard to pick out. so i tend to go with the more "commerical" microbrews (if that's not an oxymoron), such as dogfish head, for one example. it is my limited experience that these beers don't travel very far, so to speak. if you are in NJ like i am, you have NJ and DE and PA microbrew offerings in your liquor store – and old-time, bigger ones like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada – but not ones out of Tennessee, or Minnesota, or wherever.

    Can anyone comment on the geographical spread of microbrews – is my understanding correct that it's limited, if so, why (legal, economic?), and is this likely to change anytime soon in people's opinions?

    October 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • J. Hunstiger

      There are some beer exchange programs out there, but I don't know how the shipping works. I live in Minnesota and we have some great craft breweries, they don't have large distribution, though.

      October 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Bob Saccamano

      Hi Marcel,

      You may find http://beeradvocate.com/ helpful

      October 23, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  10. SteveDave

    Best beer has to be Old English Malt Liquor. (j/k) Or better yet, Ye Olde Fortran.

    October 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  11. DJ

    For the best beer in the USA come to Portland,Oregon. Beer is our middle name.

    October 22, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply
    • --

      agreed on the beer part. but 'heroin" is also portland's middle name

      October 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
    • davetharave

      I was in Portland for the first time 2 years ago, and I want to go back. I thought I died and went to heaven.

      October 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  12. BZQill

    I must say 1st thing that I drink lots of The Beast, because after all, beer is a rental product. When I have the chance, Sly Rye Porter by Yazoo in Nashville is quite tasty.

    October 21, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
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