By DCBeer contributor Peter Zuk.
Every year I like to take the time to plan out how I am going to approach SAVOR. There are 76 breweries and 152 beers to try, and you just can’t try everything or appreciate it the same way (your 30th glass will never be as good as your first). What I have done here is to comb through the list to come up with the beers/breweries that are what I would consider the best, and that research tells me are the rarest, and that I believe should be sampled. There are a few things to consider when looking at this list:
These are MY preferences.
I may have discounted something because I have tried it and don’t want try it again or didn’t like it. By no means should you take this as any more than my opinion.
I don’t look at the food. The food is nice, but I am more about the beer.
I didn't consider pale ales and generally lighter beers as I am more interested in trying bold beers that I haven't had before.
I tended not to consider breweries and beers that are commonly available in the DC market.
It’s just beer. Don’t stress about it.
The Rare Beers
Every year someone breaks out their special sour or imperial stout to show off at SAVOR, and this year we have a few that are really worth a try. I based rarity on volume of production, geographic availability, and level of demand/level of effort to track down the beer. Rarity is based on production, location, and what you have to do to get that beer.
Maui Imperial CoCoNut PorTeR: This may surprise some because Surly Darkness will be at SAVOR, but Maui's offering, to me, is the rarest beer that will be available. Unless SAVOR is a rollout party for this beer getting distributed, this beer is ONLY for special occasions and at the brewery. It is an amped up version of their coconut porter, which I would put on any beer bucket list because the toasted coconut makes the beer silky and roasty and really brings out the vanilla-like flavors.
Surly Barrel-Aged Darkness: Ah, Darkness. Wonderful imperial stout, and the brewery finally decided to chuck it into bourbon barrels. Some have called this “the Bourbon County Killer.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that this is a big imperial stout that everyone will want to try.
Surly Eight: This is an oatwine aged in rye barrels. I have been enamored with oats lately because I have started to appreciate what they do for the texture of a beer. This is essentially a big barleywine that has a lot of vanilla character. These anniversary ales are just brewed once, so I always try to at least get a taste every year.
Funky Buddha Snowed In: Yay more coconut porters, but this time with coffee. This is one of the beers Buddha is known for, and when they say “this beer tastes like X,” they mean it. This beer will be highly sought after at SAVOR. Additionally, keep an eye out for any Buddha events that may be happening in the week preceding SAVOR because they will most likely roll out more of their delicious brews.
Cigar City Caffé Americano and Cubano Espresso Brown: Two beers, both with coffee, but it's Cigar City, and my love for their beers knows no bounds. They use great coffee, so both of these will be quite rich. Cuban Espresso is essentially espresso with sugar and a proof so that one will be quite good if you're a caffeine fiend.
Hardywood Trickery: Yes, Hardywood also has a peach tripel that is worth a try, but this beer is the real gem. Not a lot is apparent from looking at it, but this is an imperial milk stout aged in apple brandy barrels. It was a brewery-only release, and apple brandy barrels always seem to impart a nice fruity flavor to stouts that is a foil to their richness, so this one might surprise some people.
Four Hands Madagascar: Imperial vanilla stout aged in bourbon barrels. I heard nothing but good stuff about this beer, which debuted at the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston. Four Hands brews are always top notch so definitely worth a try as we aren't able to get any of it in this market.
Allagash Mattina Rossa: Oak aged sour ale with raspberries. Alright, enough with the dark beers. This is a limited edition sour from Allagash that I am sure will taste wonderful. Allagash has one of the premier barrel aging and sour programs in the country. Whether you love sours or just want to try an example of a great one, give this a go. Sours can be a tough sell because many people are put off by the taste (at first) and also the price. These beers can be pricey because dealing with wild yeasts is hard, yields are often low, and there can be a huge failure rate. Batches can get infected and the price reflects the skill and difficulty going into making them. Trying them in the SAVOR setting is nice because it's a much lower risk if you don’t like the beer.
Here are some other quick hits that should be on your radar:
Brooklyn "K is for Kriek": This was an experimental beer from last SAVOR, and it has now been officially released. This is kriek (sour cherry ale) aged in bourbon barrels. Old world style, American twist.
Dogfish Head Raison Brett'ra: Raison d’Extra with Brettanomyces, first time they have done this.
FATE Brewing Company Barrel-Aged Uror Gose: I think gose, as a style, is going to become the new saison. I feel you are going to start seeing them everywhere. It’s a great sessionable beer because it takes a wheat beer and makes it tart and adds salt. These are not usually barrel-aged, but this was a crowd favorite at SAVOR last year. Definitely give it a try.
Have you been reading DCBeer's SAVOR profiles? You should check them out as they are a great resource that covers every brewery and beer that will be at SAVOR. You've heard what some of my picks are, leave some of yours in the comments. See you at SAVOR!