With the medals awarded and Charlie Papazian's fist bumps all passed out, it was time for the brewers to head upstairs for the tasting session. Given that Saturday afternoon was just for card-carrying AHAers, this was supposed to be the "quieter" session; if that was indeed the case, then Saturday night must have been something else because this was quite bananas.
Before I set in, I want to assure you that I won't bore you by recounting my every move, drink-by-drink – you'd be bored to death and I'd be hard-pressed to recall all of them. For the sake of brevity and pertinence, I'll pick out a few tasty morsels from the scrum.
So then: after sidling up the back escalator and locating my tasting companions, I set about finding the Mid-Atlantic section; however, upon realizing that our local brew teams had not yet arrived, I made my way toward other regions. In my swing through the Pacific Northwest, I chatted with the good folks at No-Li Brewhouse, whose gold-winning ESB, Crystal Bitter, will soon make its way to our fair city. After bringing on Odell/Oskar Blues/Deschutes vet John Bryan and undergoing a rebranding, the Spokane, WA brewery formerly known as Northern Lights is looking to grow. Having tasted the Crystal Bitter both at GABF and at the brewhouse, I can give them an enthusiastic endorsement.
Unsurprisingly, the Mountain West section abounded with choice. One highlight was Funkwerks, the Fort Collins purveyors of the night's top Saison. While they distribute only in their immediate surroundings, you might catch a bottle here or there, as I did at Boundary Road a month or two ago. If you see it, get it. Top notch stuff.
Out West, some of the big names showed up strong, pouring medal-winning beers available in our market: Bear Republic poured Cafe Racer 15; Firestone Walker its Jacks, both Wookey and Double; and Green Flash had Le Freak and the Trippel, as well as Silva Stout, which I've not yet seen here. But I think it was The Bruery that had me most excited. With many of its offerings reaching our shores – although, sadly not Sans Pagaie, as far as I can tell – this was a reminder to pick up each and every last beer from them I encounter. If anyone sees that one, drop me a line.
The Midwest is just lousy with perennially superb breweries. Everything from Bell's, Boulevard, Jolly Pumpkin, Short's, etc. knocked off socks. Lesser known is upstart Lucid, which was founded in part by John Messier, a former homebrewer with ties to DC. They don't yet distribute outside of MN, but given the hometown pride of #DCbrews, I figure it's right to send some positivity their way.
The Southwest was all about Jester King for me. After missing them during a recent Austin trip – the team was out in Belgium for a festival – I was thrilled to taste their stuff. And boy oh boy, did it deliver. I got to try some Gotlandsdricka at the Rare Beer Tasting (more on that at a later date). Yowza. With our enterprising beer directors, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a rare bottle pop up
on a menu at some point.
New England's section was tiny, but not without quality. Allagash brought its A-game, with some rarities that I hadn't met before. One beer that stood out not only in the region but over the entire day was Watch City's BeeJeezus Botanical Belgian, which contained lemon balm, bee balm, and jasmine tea in lieu of hops. It's unlikely we'll see anything from this tiny brewery down this way, but be sure to keep an eye out during any Boston trips.
In the Southeast, there's Sweetwater, which had on hand its hoppy 420. The past couple years, the Black Squirrel has brought them in on April 20th for a mellow evening. Assuming they do the same this year, I'll make sure not to miss it.
A trip to the little boys' room put me in contact with the Alstroms of Beer Advocate. We look like three peas in a pod, right?
And that brings me to the Mid-Atlantic, from whence I came. This was my last stop at the tasting. Thankfully, a bunch of the brewers had returned to their stations. Port City's Bill Butcher was serving up glasses with the bronze on, clearly reveling in the big day. Even though I'd had it plenty of times, I couldn't help but take a sip of porter during my visit.
Bill Madden of Mad Fox also worked his table, although he had passed his award onto another employee. That didn't stop a volunteer from recognizing the brewmaster and asking for an autograph. The sublime Kellerbier Kolsch appeared to be a particular hit.
There were stations for both Blue Mountain and Blue Mountain Barrel House, and I have to say, the Local Species definitely earned its hardware. If you get a chance, do partake, even if that means a trip down through Shenandoah. On the same note, get up to Union Craft Brewing for their gold-winning Balt Alt. Even this late in the day, the flavors sang.
DC Brau and Devils Backbone were booth neighbors, so Jeff Hancock brought his medal by to visit theirs.
Brewer's Alley and its affiliated packaging brewery Monocacy got a bunch of love. I've made it up to the Frederick brewpub, but a trip to the packaging facility is definitely in order. And huge lines formed for the Heavy Seas tent, where pirates drew samples off a number of casks.
Everyone from our region – DuClaw, the Chophouse, Lost Rhino, Starr Hill – showed super strong. I'm not sure if it was my timing or my temperament, but it sure seemed like the Mid-Atlantic was drawing a huge crowd, perhaps
second only to Mountain West. Regional pride emanated from my very pores.
If the session taught me anything, it's that we're in a really good place right now, with tons of respected breweries and a lot of the country's best beer. Good job, everybody.
Next week, I'll cover a few of my extracurriculars while in Colorado before wrapping up the coverage. Stay tuned.