Great American Beer Festival

Editor’s Choice: 5 Standout Beers from the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

Find the most interesting beers from a collection of nearly 4,000 offerings at the annual Great American Beer Festival (held in October)? Impossible!

Even if you could sample that many beers, trying to recall the unique aroma and flavor attributes of the truly special ones would be hazy at best.

So this list isn’t a showcase of the “best beers” in America. In fact, none of them earned a coveted GABF medal this year. But all of them have the one trait that so many beer executives have sought for years: The potential to bring new drinkers into the category. That’s desperately needed, now that brewers, over the last 20 years, have collectively lost 11 billion servings of beer to wine and spirits.

5. Woods Beer Co. – Islay Double IPA

Want to get that scotch drinker a beer? Hand her a pour of Islay IPA from Woods Beer Co., a small but steadily expanding, taproom-focused brewing operation out of the Bay Area. Founder Jim Woods first launched onto the craft brewing scene back in 2006 with his yerba mate-infused IPA, MateVeza. The company’s Islay IPA goes through primary fermentation in used Laphroaig barrels with Brettanomyces. The 9.5 percent ABV double IPA has an earthy and smoky character that is sure to win over the most serious scotch drinker.

4. Avery Brewing Co. – Ginger Sour

Pucker up!, This incredibly tart barrel-aged ale brewed with fresh ginger juice, part of Boulder-based Avery Brewing’s Botanicals & Barrels series, stood out among the sours at this year’s GABF. Plus: a subtle dryness made it approachable for more adventurous cocktail connoisseurs. With a little convincing, they could be tempted to reach for something a little less potent.


3. Almanac Beer Co. – Passion Project

If you read Almanac’s description of this beer, you might be left with more questions than answers. The mad chemists over at San Francisco’s Almanac Beer coax tropical aromas and flavors out of a special “Pichia” yeast strain and pair them with a blend of brettanomyces, saccharomyces, and lactobacillus yeasts as well as ginger, grains of paradise, cedar spirals and passionfruit. The finished product is both refreshingly tart and perfectly balanced – and aims straight for the wine drinker exploring the fringes of the craft beer space.

2. Forbidden Root – Fernetic

Last year, Chicago’s Forbidden Root convinced Italian amaro producer Fernet-Branca to collaborate on an imperial black ale that drinks so much like the spirit company’s namesake product, I’m not sure if I would want to order a shot of the real stuff ever again. Made with 20 different botanical ingredients, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the cordial and the craft beer if you were blindfolded. Will it get hipster mixologists in places like San Francisco and Boston, where a shot of Fernet is basically the equivalent of a secret handshake, to take beer more seriously?

1. Madtree Brewing Co. – Joon

This beer from Cincinnati’s Madtree Brewing Company was hands down the most unique beer I sampled. First released in 2014, Joon is Madtree’s attempt to redefine what a Kolsch can be. The beer is aged in twice-used Watershed Distillery barrels that were first filled with bourbon, then gin, and Madtree also tosses juniper berries and ginger into the mix, which adds notes of citrus and pine. The result is a delicately balanced offering that, at 4.7 percent ABV, will appeal to beer lovers and non-beer lovers alike. Joon is bubbly, clean, pleasantly tart and produced in limited quantities. Seek it out and share it with a friend.