Drinking Andre the Giant under the table
The Best of the American Craft Beer Festival
By serving 622 different styles of beer from 143 breweries, the American Craft Beer Festival (ACBF) ensured that even the most seasoned stomach couldn’t sample them all in three hours. For this reason, this list is incomplete, but we did manage to sample quite a few brews (one of us taking a four hour “nap” afterwards) and recorded which were best and which were beast. The following five beers are each a flawless example of their unique style of beer, brewed by a mix of old and new brewers. Most are only available on the East Coast (the festival was in Boston after all) so we included comparable beers from ACBF that are available on the West Coast.
Lawson’s Finest Liquids: Fayston Maple Imperial Stout
While their Maple Tripple, brewed with 100% maple sap instead of water, has taken home both Silver and Bronze at the World Beer Cup, Lawson’s Finest Liquids decided to leave it at home this time around. Instead, the artisanal small batch brewery, nested in the woods on Lincoln Mountain in Vermont, brought along an imperial stout made with the earthy flavor of real Vermont maple syrup. We aren’t usually fans of flavored beers, but Lawson’s is experienced in the art of bringing controlling overpowering flavors and expressing them in subtle ways. Heavy, like any imperial stout, but worth the trip to Vermont. Available only in Vermont. West Coasters, pick up an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing.
Maine Beer Co: Lunch
The Maine Beer Co. has a great backstory and I recommend any aspiring home brewers to read it here. Besides Mean Old Tom, their American Stout, they focus on hop forward beers, meaning freshness is a priority, as these beers don’t age well. This freshness is evident in Lunch, named for a recognizable whale commonly sited off of the Maine Coast since 1982, in which the beer is unnaturally refreshing and balanced, especially for a 7 percent ABV beer. At first I thought Lunch was named for the meal, because it tasted like something I wouldn’t mind cracking open everyday, at around the same time. Available throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. West Coasters, for an easy drinking IPA, pick up the Go To IPA from Stone Brewing Co.
Night Shift Brewing: Ever Weisse
Sours were huge at the ACBF and Night Shift’s Ever Weisse was one of the best. A Berliner Weisse style sour wheat ale, the beer’s pink color comes from strawberries, kiwis and dried hibiscus flowers added during fermentation. However, the taste is anything but a typical “fruit beer”. It reminded me more of a more drinkable saison, with subtle sour fruit notes, making it a great and approachable beer for the summer. The only problem: it’s only available at Night Shift Brewery in Everett, MA. West Coasters, grab up the Hottenroth Berliner Weisse from The Bruery in Orange County (not featured at ACBF).
Trillium Beer Co: Double Dry Hopped Fort Point Pale Ale (DDHFPA)
Trillium opened in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood of Boston in 2013, and has already made a name for itself in the Boston craft beer scene. After waiting in one of the longest lines at the ACBF, I sampled both the DDHFPA and Lineage Rye, the latter of which is a truly great example of farmhouse style, but I prefer the pale ale. An extremely drinkable middle ground between pale ale and IPA, the DDHFPA builds off the success of the original Fort Point Pale Ale — one of the better of its kind available — with the addition of Citra and Columbus hops post fermentation for a better citrus aroma and more bitter palette. Available throughout the Boston area. West Coasters, buy a Rogue Farms OREgasmic Ale brewed by Rogue Ales in Oregon.
Boulevard Brewing Co: Saison-Brett
Kansas City based Boulevard brewed its first batch in 1989 and grew quickly, today representing one of America’s largest craft breweries. This is partly due to their ability to produce year round mainstays like Pale Ale and Double-Wide IPA alongside a fringe, seasonally brewed beer like Saison-Brett. I was surprised by the Saison-Brett because to be honest, I don’t like most saisons. If done improperly, they can taste like uncontrolled chaos being paraded as refined craft, a more “modern art” take on beer. But Saison-Brett is an exception. The fruity esters and earthy flavors are nuanced and complex. They don’t take over and make me feel like I’m drinking a failed science experiment. This saison was dry hopped, giving it a hoppy flavor that helps to mellow the sour flavors, leaving behind the most drinkable saison I’ve ever encountered. Availability is extremely limited, but the Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, on which the Saison-Brett is based, is more widely available. West Coasters, grab a Le Merle from North Coast Brewing Co.