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Great American Beer Festival 2012

Michael Jackson looking over the Great American Beer Festival

For the third consecutive year, I was fortunate enough to attend the Great American Beer Festival. I attended the Saturday evening session this year, and the medals had already been passed out by the time I got to the Convention Center. The highlight of my day was wearing a Tröegs shirt after they cleaned up with three gold medals (Dreamweaver Wheat, HopBack Amber Ale, and Sunshine Pilsner) and the 2012 Mid-Size Brewery of the Year. Many festival-goers, distributors, and brewers thought I worked for Tröegs and kept congratulating me. I had to break the news that I did not work for the brewery, but living five miles away I was there quite often. Furthering my excitement was that Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh won the 2012 Large Brewpub of the Year, as my fianceé and I are having our wedding rehearsal dinner there.

Me all ready to sample Dogfish Head’s Choc Lobster.

After having a few samples, I decided that I was brave enough to sample Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. Yep, that beer. Made with actual bull testicles! While I’ve drank plenty of oyster stouts, I’ve never had any made with these oysters. I was hesitant at first, but it was quite a delicious beer. It had a strong chocolate presence with toasted malts that gave it a nuttiness (pun intended?) and a slick and dry finish. Interestingly enough, it really tasted like a sea oyster stout.

Of the sixty-eight beers that I sampled at the Saturday evening session, four really stood out and left a lasting impression

  • Jester King Boxer’s Revenge was an impeccable sour with a strong pucker on the front end before making two transitions: first into the now familiar farmhouse funk that Jester King favors, and then into a warming and spicy whiskey finish. It really provided a workout for the tongue and I would love to get my hands on a full bottle.
  • Stone Bourbon Barrel Aged Suitable for Cave Aging, a porter made in tribute to Danny Williams who worked for the Brewers Association , fit the profile of recent bold and vibrant Stone beers. It starts with the very recognizable dark chocolate flavor with strong caramel and vanilla accents, but the bourbon and oak accents that dry out the finish really provide this beer it’s character. Certainly it’s a beer that Danny would have aged in his cellar, and it was wonderful to see the toast at the beginning of the awards ceremony to Danny using this beer.
  • While it was nearly impossible to try all of the Rock Bottom beers from all of their locations, the Phoenix location left a lasting impression with their Desert Ridge Sweet Sour Stout. I’ll be honest in saying that I didn’t know any Rock Bottom location had a barrel aging program, but if more turn out like this they should invest heavily. A sweet milk chocolate stout flavor met with a cherry tartness and orak accents to make this beer extremely complex and quite delectable.
  • The best beer I tried all day at the festival was the Flat 12 Cucumber Kölsch. While I very much enjoyed Cigar City’s Cucumber Saison, that beer doesn’t even deserve to be in the same beer hall as the Cucumber Kölsch. The refreshing musings of a kölsh came first, but the coolness of cucumber spiced up the beer and gave it some extra earthiness. I pointed several people in the direction of this beer, and none returned disappointed. In talking with the brewmaster, this beer went from a six gallon test batch last year to a 10 barrel batch this year. He hopes that next year’s batch is even bigger, and I hope to secure a few bottles.


Me with Stone’s Greg Koch, one of the few brewers present.

My only complaint is the same complaint that I’ve had in previous years: not enough brewers and/or brewery representatives present at the pouring stations. I wholly expected since the awards ceremony was held earlier in the day, that the brewers would be free to spend their time with eager drinkers. I found that some brewers were more than happy to be at their table, but more often than not I was greeted by a yellow-shirted volunteer who was just trying to give me beer quickly so I could get drunk. Some times I knew the beers I was going after, but other times I wanted to speak with someone from the brewery to ask about a beer or their processes. I’m not quite sure how the festival will be able to require the brewers or representatives to be present a the table, but it sure would be a nice touch.

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Written by Jeff Kupko

Jeff is a traffic engineer that loves his beer, and especially loves trying new beer. As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, Yuengling was a staple and the beginnings of liking something better than fizzy yellow water. This has evolved into an entire hobby, with Jeff keeping a blog of all of the beers he tries. Vacations most certainly involve at least one brewery or bottle shop visit to gather a region’s coveted fruits. Now, Jeff has ventured into homebrewing, and there is probably no saving him from being engulfed entirely by beer. While Imperial Stouts and IPAs rank highest in Jeff’s eyes, sours are sneaking up on those styles, and Jeff loves to try all different styles. Find Jeff Kupko on Google Plus

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