GABF 2017 first night finds: Ten standout beers we discovered at the opening session of the Great American Beer Festival

Billed as “part imperial stout, part churro,” Dragon Mask is an imperial stout brewed with cinnamon, cacao nibs, salt and vanilla.
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New Belgium Brewing Co.’s booth at 2007 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (Paul Karolyi for Denverite)

New Belgium Brewing Co.'s booth at 2007 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (Paul Karolyi for Denverite)

The Great American Beer Festival is all about discovery.

Whether you are a roamer who likes to randomly walk up to booths or you strike with military-like precision the breweries pre-loaded on your handy GABF app, finding new delicious things and keeping your ears to the ground about what’s good is a huge part of the fun.

Here are 10 first-night finds — beers worth checking out when the festival resumes this evening.

Mornin’ Delight — Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.

Not as much a discovery as a destination … This decorated Decorah, Iowa, brewery was the first place we headed when the clock struck 5:30 p.m. At 12 percent alcohol by volume, this rich, decadent imperial stout brewed with coffee and maple syrup is a serious wake-up call.

Rhubarb Vanilla Incipient — Speciation Brewing

A bright new star on the craft brewing scene, Speciation of Comstock Park, Michigan, opened in January and specializes in wild ales using open fermentation. The brewers took 350 pounds of rhubarb from Holland, Mich., hand-pressed it and added the pure juice right to its golden sour base beer, Incipient. Delicious.

EBK — Adroit Theory Brewing Co.

The “it” beer style in craft brewing right now is the hazy, juicy New England-style IPA. Enjoyed an iteration of this one at Paired, the crazy-good gourmet food and beer pairing event that requires a separate entry ticket. The Purcellville, Virginia, nanobrewery is also pouring a version on the floor.

Bark — Scratch Brewing Co.

A true original. It can be hard to stand out in a room with 800 breweries, but U.S. craft brewing has nothing else like Scratch, which brews beer with stunning technique and a potpourri of ingredients foraged from its farmhouse property in southern Illinois. Scratch turns to plants, flowers and trees instead of hops to bring out flavor and aroma. This is a sour beer made with cherry, oak and hickory bark with the brewery’s wild house mixed culture. Try all their beers — really! One is brewed with 33 different leaves. Another has marigolds tossed into the boil.

Chaos is a Friend of Mine — Beachwood Blendery

The guys at Beachwood earned their reputations for great West Coast IPAs, but the sour beer program has just about eclipsed it. Fermented and aged in oak from nine to 14 months, this is Beachwood’s homage to a Belgian lambic. Another brewery where all beers are worth drinking.

Passion Weisse — Night Shift Brewing

Crisp, sour and fruity. A mixed fermentation ale brewed with passion fruit — and just 4.1 percent ABV.  If you are among those mourning the absence of Miami-based J. Wakefield Brewing this year, this Boston-area brewery will satisfy your fix for a Berliner Weisse bursting with fruit flavor.

Glorious — Lord Hobo

Speaking of the Boston area … Some of Lord Hobo’s beers are available locally in 16-ounce cans, but this pale ale isn’t one of them so it’s a chance to try something new. A dry-hopped, single-hopped pale ale hopped with Galaxy hops. Flaked oats bring out the haze.

Manhattan NW — Cascade Brewing

If you are a fan of sour beer, Portland-based Cascade is a can’t-miss. Large-format bottles for sale in local liquor stores could put you in serious debt, so sampling at GABF is a treat. This tribute to the Manhattan cocktail is bursting with different flavors. It’s a blend of sour quad and blond ales aged in bourbon barrels with sour pie cherries and apricot noyaux.

Magnificent Pagan Beast — Lickinghole Creek Brewing

A magnificently huge bourbon barrel-aged old ale from a Virginia “farmhouse” brewery pouring in the GABF “Meet the Brewers” section. At 17.5 percent ABV,  you might want to ask for a half-ounce pour.

Dragon Mask — Modern Times

Billed as “part imperial stout, part churro,” this imperial stout is brewed with cinnamon, cacao nibs, salt and vanilla. Part of a deep roster of beers worth checking out from the San Diego brewery that is branching into Portland in the soon-to-be former Commons Brewery space.

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