Breweries at the Great American Beer Festival not to miss

27 breweries not to miss at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

The early stages of a brew pub in the future Stanley Marketplace. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  beer; stanley marketplace; aurora; development; food; construction; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;

The early stages of a brew pub in the future Stanley Marketplace. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

More than 750 breweries are expected to have booths at this week’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver — here are 27 not to miss. 

Comrade Brewing,  Denver – One of the city’s consistently superb breweries, Comrade is best known for its Superpower IPA, with floors the senses with a big aroma of Amarillo, Citra and Simcoe goodness. The fresh-hop version has won a couple of GABF medals, so don’t miss that. Comrade is also bringing the heat with Yellow Fever, a Citra Blonde Ale infused with hand-cut jalapeno peppers. The beer won a gold medal at this year’s World Beer Cup.

Barley Brown’s, Baker City, Oregon – The little brewpub that could on the high desert of Oregon has been racking up awards the last few years and is renowned for its Pallet Jack IPA. Try it alongside Comrade’s Superpower. Comrade brewmaster Marks Lanham is a Barley Brown alum and took inspiration from it.

WeldWerks Brewing, Greeley – The most exciting new brewery in Colorado, WeldWerks has beer geeks making the hour-plus haul from Denver on a regular basis and returning with trunks full of crowlers. (For the uninitiated, that’s a 32-ounce can). The hype is warranted for Juicy Bits, a hazy New England-style IPA with big flavors of grapefruit and orange juice. Looking forward to trying the Barrel-Aged Mexican Achromatic, an imperial stout brewed with cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans and aged in bourbon barrels. One ounce sounds like enough!

Our Mutual Friend, Denver – Our Mutual Friend struggled out of the gate. But the RiNo spot has seriously found its footing and was rewarded with a silver GABF medal last year in the hard-fought wood and barrel-aged sour category. OMF is going all-in on sours and wild beers this year, bringing a gose aged on cherries, a framboise and a mixed fermentation sour aged in red wine barrels.

Station 26 Brewing, Denver – This nearly three-year-old brewery housed in a renovated brick fire station in Park Hill does hops splendidly, with its flagship IPA Juicy Banger and single-hop series worth checking out. S26 also deserves credit for putting a craft beer twist on the cream ale, the domain of Pabst. Hopefully they’ll be pouring the crushable Tangerine Cream, one of the brightest new arrivals of 2016.

Night Shift Brewing, Everett, Massachusettes – Hazy New England-style IPAs from the source! You’ll find quite the debate raging in craft brewing circles about whether hazy, turbid, juice-packed New England-style IPAs are a welcome addition or blasphemous distortions of the style. Night Shift’s Santilli IPA won bronze at this year’s World Beer Cup in the American-style IPA category, which was stacked with 275 entries, so you could argue the judges have spoken. These guys also are bringing a coffee porter, and a gose brewed with oysters and coriander.  

Odd13 Brewing, Lafayette The runaway success of Odd13’s Codename Superfan — yes, another hazy IPA! — caused the brewery to rethink its business plan. Now you’ll find no shortage of variations on these juicy, hazy hop bombs along with an always-changing mix of boundary-pushing sours.

Melvin Brewing, Alpine, Wyoming – Hop heads rejoiced when Melvin Brewing began distributing this year in Colorado, made possible by the opening of a new production facility. These guys dole out some serious palate wreckers. We’d say start with its 2 x 4 double IPA, but you might want to work up to that.

Breakside Brewing, Milwaukie, Oregon – Breakside out of the Portland ‘burbs is another brewery renowned for its IPAs (it won gold in the category, the competition’s most competitive, in 2014). But don’t stop at the hops. Breakside also is decorated for its portfolio of barrel-aged beers.

Jack’s Abby, Framingham, Massachusettes – Lagers are hard. Brewing lagers takes care, patience and time. That’s why most American craft brewers invest their energies in ales, which are a quicker, more profitable turn. These guys are not German-style lager purists, though. Hoponius Union IPL and Excess IPL — which have crept onto select Denver liquor store shelves during GABF week — are top-notch hoppy lagers.

Revolution Brewing, Chicago – Not long ago, the Chicago brewing scene was Goose Island. The Windy City is now flowering with a number of stellar craft breweries, from Half Acre and Off Color to Pipeworks. Revolution will have a heavy presence at GABF, pouring 10 beers from across the style spectrum.

Two Roads, Stratford, Connecticut – A number of smart people are recommending this new-on-the-scene brewery in veteran hands. Master brewer Phil Markowski, a former electrical engineer, has racked up an unbelievable 22 medals at GABF over the years. On the Two Roads pour list: a Belgian-style lambic, a hazy session IPA made with four unsung hops, a passionfruit gose and a saison.

Devils Backbone Brewing, Roseland, Virgina – Along with having one of coolest brewery names out there, the Virginia brewery makes some of the best lagers in the country and does traditional styles as well as anyone. This is one of those breweries you will only see in Colorado on the GABF floor, so include them on your list.

Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, California – Consistently excellent across the board. From Pivo Pils to Union Jack IPA and its growing sour program, you are in excellent hands.

Bell’s Brewing, Comstock, Michigan – The novelty for locals has worn out just a bit, since Bell’s can now be found on Colorado shelves on a limited basis. One of the craft beer’s stalwarts is bringing a haul of specialty beer, including a stout aged on retired oak bourbon barrels, a blended raspberry brown ale and more.

Noble Aleworks, Anaheim, California. – A five-year-old brewery near Angels Stadium, Noble has won praise for its Naughty Sauce (a golden milk stout served on nitro with coffee) and I Love It IPA.

Scratch Brewing, Ava, Illinois – This farmhouse brewery in the woods of southern Illinois is gaining more and more attention for its unique foraged beers. Last year, Scratch blew beer geeks away with its tree beers, brewed with parts of a single species of tree, including leaves, bark, sap and branches. This time Scratch is back with an all-mushroom theme.

The Brew Kettle, Strongsville, Ohio – The guys at Paste Magazine did a blind tasting of 116 IPAs in 2015. The Brew Kettle’s White Raja was the winner.  

Bayou Teche, Arnaudville, Louisiana – This unique farmhouse brewery crafts beers aims to complement Cajun and Creole cuisine. That means beers like a French-style passionfruit and lime juice ale aged in white wine barrels. Mingle with these guys in the Meet the Brewer pavilion.

J. Wakefield Brewing, Miami –  Is there a better beer style to pair with tropical Miami than the fruit-infused “Florida weisses” that have become the scene’s signature style? Former homebrewing rock star Jonathan Wakefield is bringing one with dragonfruit and passionfruit, another brewed with guava, mango and passionfruit and yet another inspired by fruit punch. Pink, pretty and delicious.

Funky Buddha, Oakland Park., Florida. – More inventiveness from south Florida, this time taking culinary inspiration. Here, you can drink a coconut and coffee porter, maple bacon coffee porter and — get this — a brown ale that smells and tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No, this doesn’t count for dinner.  

Verboten Brewing, Loveland – Quick, can you name the only two beer styles indigenous to the U.S.? They’re the California Common (think Anchor Steam) and the Kentucky Common. Verboten’s Angry Banjo revives the latter style, which uses the spent grain and sour mash from distilleries.

Brasserie St. James, Reno, Nevada – Traditional German and Belgian styles along with fun experiments that make your head spin — like a butternut squash and white sage saison aged 14 months in a barrel.

Rare Barrel, Berkeley, California. – Co-founded by the former manager of The Bruery’s barrel program in 2013, the all-sour brewery Rare Barrel has racked up honor after honor for its oak-aged offerings. These beers are limited and guaranteed not to last so go early.

Wicked Weed, Asheville, North Carolina – Delicate and delicious Belgian-style ales and hoppy West Coast style IPAs are the focus of these talented Carolinians. Wicked Weed is going big at GABF with 13 tap handles. The brewery is now distributing in Colorado on a limited basis.

Drake’s Brewing, San Leandro, California. – Anxious to check out the barrel program of this winner of World Beer Cup silver in the wood- and barrel-aged beer category.

New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus, Wisconsin – Go straight to the Raspberry Tart Framboise, Belgian Red Cherry Ale and whatever other fruit beers they’ve brought. It’s only sold in Wisconsin.

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