Ten first-night finds at the Great American Beer Festival

The first session of the Great American Beer Festival is history. We followed our own advice and made a plan and stuck with it, while building in time to wander and discover.
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Great American Beer Fest, Oct. 6, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The first session of the Great American Beer Festival is history. We followed our own advice and made a plan and stuck with it, while building in time to wander and discover.

Here our our faves.

J. Wakefield Brewing, Miami - Haterade

“This is beer?” asked one festival-goer. A bright red fruit punch Berliner Weiss that is like nothing you’ll drink. Running down the line of JWB’s beers is like devouring a pack of tropical Starbursts. This kicked by night’s end, so don’t hesitate.

Societe Brewing, San Diego - The Pupil and The Coachman

Smooth, well-balanced West Coast IPAs from a brewery that has street cred in one of the nation’s brewing meccas. Not a huge fan of session IPAs (why not just brew a pale ale?) but The Coachman’s pitch-perfect blend of Saaz, Simcoe and Mosaic hops delivers big flavor and aroma in a small package (4.5 percent ABV).

Farnam House, Omaha - Dry-Hopped American Sour

Stumbled onto these guys traversing the Midwest region. Dry-hopped with El Dorado hops, fermented with Brettanomyces. A nice marriage of hoppy and funky.

Scratch Brewing, Ava, Ill. - Chaga Old Ale

The crowds have discovered this farmhouse brewery that likes to learn by brewing with ingredients discovered on its woody grounds. This strong ale was brewed with birch sap and chaga mushrooms, then aged in southern Illinois wine barrels. Truly like nothing you’ve tasted, which applies to all of Scratch’s inspired creations.  

Bagby Brewing, Oceanside, Calif. - Continental Cream Ale

Great Divide owner Brian Dunn steered us here. The head brewer used to run brewing operations for Beachwood Brewing. After an evening of experimentation, the clean, crisp cream ale was a welcome treat.  

Brewed by Gnomes, Portland, Ore. - Dark Flowers Ale

Look for the scruffy guy in the red stocking cap pouring his solitary beer: a dark Belgian Schwartzbier with Mugwort, Fennel and Kaffir Lime. How can you not be enchanted by “ancient organic ales with magical herbs?”  

Rhinegeist, Cincinnati, Ohio - Margarita Monday

Tastes like exactly that -- a tequila-aged gose with lime and salt. We came away digging everything pouring here, from a Mexican-style lager to a peach-infused ale and a triple IPA.

Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, Long Beach, Calif. - Amalgamator IPA

These guys know their way around hops, so if the brewmaster proclaims this IPA his favorite in their lineup, you trust him. Kettle-hopped with Amarillo, Warrior, Columbus and Mosaic hops.   

Bruery Terreux, Anaheim, Calif. - The Wanderer

Maybe it was fortuitous timing, but there was no line at the booth pouring top-notch farmhouse-style beers fermented with wild yeasts and oak-aged sours. This was the biggest and best of the bunch -- a special blend of sours with blackberries and big cherries tossed in. Next door at The Bruery booth, people were lining up for Chocolate Rain, an 18.5 percent ABV barrel-aged stout with vanilla bean and cocoa nibs.

Pabst Brewing, Los Angeles - Old Style

Because the Cubs are playing playoff baseball and one ounce (or maybe a little less) of Chicago’s Beer is good karma.  

A couple of only-in-town-for-GABF breweries that were on our list but had kicked all their beers by the time we visited: Funky Buddha and Bayou Teche, both in the Meet the Brewer section.

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