gabf: let’s go drinking!

Posted on: September 25, 2018

Another GABF has passed, and now it’s time to look back at the MyGABF app and recount some of my favorite breweries and beers across the festival.

With the pseudo-alphabetical layout we did find ourselves at far more breweries in areas that we don’t spend a huge amount of time in, but we also spent far less time at breweries in general as we continuously got lost or couldn’t find breweries we were looking for (more on that in another post). Despite constant confusion, all but two beers we tried over the 2 1/2 sessions we attended were at least drinkable, with a handful being very good to great. 

I tried to get the Beerd Wrangler’s list of beers as well, but his response was “I don’t know – there were a lot of great things.” So, I guess that’s one way to review the beers at the fest…

As things go with GABF, I didn’t manage to note down all of the beers I loved, where they were from, or even why I liked them, but I did manage to take snapshots of some of my favorite places and beers or put them into the app. Below is a sampling of the breweries and beers that I loved at GABF this year in no particular order except how I found them on my phone. The standard disclaimers apply: I didn’t try every beer at the fest, nor am I trying to compare one beer to another. I also tend to avoid Colorado breweries at GABF, thus the absence of so many of my local favorites on this list.


Brewery: Speciation Artisan Ales, Comstock Park, MI.

Beer: Protoconsciousness.

There are more-and-more beers coming out that claim to mimic certain cocktails or even non-alcoholic drinks. Some are pale imitations, some completely miss the mark, some are just plain gross, and others are interesting re-imaginings of the inspiration. Protoconsciousness is reminiscent of a classic paloma, but the blend of yeast and bacteria added to the delicate smokiness of the Mezcal barrels it was aged in is so much more complex than the straight-forward cocktail. There is a definite citrus-salt component, but underneath is a depth of flavor that makes it alternately refreshing and perplexing.

The ideal beer for: sand between your toes, a hoodie, and a bonfire.

Turning Point Beer Brewer JP Goytia

Brewery: Turning Point Beer, Bedford, Texas.

Beers: Baby Legs, Oatipus Complex, DDH Extra Pulp.

The first brewery that we discovered purely because of the new “alphabetical” groups. I was drawn in by the cleverly-named Oatipus Complex peanut butter vanilla oatmeal stout. It was a medium-bodied beer with a solid oat flavor, but I think the more subtle peanut butter and vanilla flavors dropped off a little between kegging and pouring, leaving the beer more dry tasting than I expected. This is, unfortunately, true of many beers poured at GABF as the kegs may not always be kept in optimal condition. Both Baby Legs and DDH Extra Pulp were delicious examples of hazy/juicy IPAs being very hop-forward in the nose without any lingering bitterness. Overall, we were very impressed with brewer JP’s skills, especially considering the brewery has been open just a few short months.

The ideal beer for: over medium eggs, vanilla pancakes, and awkward family discussions. (DDH Extra Pulp)

Hi-Wire Brewing Head Brewer Sarah Gulotta

Brewery: Hi-Wire Brewing, Asheville, NC.

Beers: Zirkusfest Oktoberfest, Dark Berry Sour.

A shout-out to one of my parents’ hometown breweries, this circus-themed brewery is one of our favorite stops in Asheville, so we were naturally drawn to their booth (especially since we won’t be taking our annual trip out east). Their Oktoberfest was a gold medal winner in 2016, and you can certainly taste why: it’s a crisp beer with notes of toasted walnut and just a hint of herbal hops that finishes very clean. Their dark berry sour had a beautiful nose of dark berry seeds and a bracing tartness that didn’t veer too acidic. I’m excited to see what new head brewer Sarah is going to bring to an already solid line-up.

The ideal beer for: the back seat of the car post apple-picking. (Zirkusfest Oktoberfest)


Brewery: Piney River Brewing Company, Bucyrus, MO.

Beer: German Road.

Another tasty märzen, this time from Missouri. A mild aroma of toasted grain and faint earthiness. Very clean with a smooth malt backbone and absolutely no sugary sweetness. Both of my parents are from Missouri and we have fallen in love with breweries from Kansas City to St Louis, but getting to try beer from breweries further afield is a real treat when they are this well made.

The ideal beer for: one last autumn night sitting on the screened porch at the lake.

Quality reference.

Brewery: Mirror Twin Brewing Co, Lexington, KY.

Beer: I Wanna Talk to Sampson Key Lime Pie NEIPA.

In Colorado, we would call this beer a “milkshake IPA” as it contains lactose, vanilla, key lime, and graham crackers. However, unlike so many of the cloyingly sweet, virtual hop-characterless “milkshake IPAs” here, this beer was balanced between the adjuncts and the hops, with the ingredients being highly complementary instead of clashing. The key lime is brilliant with bright, American, citrusy hops, enhancing their flavor. The vanilla and graham cracker definitely bolster the idea of key lime pie, and the lactose adds to the mouthfeel. I had several tasters of this beer and would make it a regular purchase for when I was feeling like a dessert beer.

The ideal beer for: watching that one road trip movie that makes you feel like part of the journey.


Brewery: Finch Beer Co, Chicago, IL.

Beer: Galactic Coyote.

I hate watermelon beers. I’m going to put that out there right now. They are largely super-sweet, Jolly Rancher palate bombs. There are very few brewers I would let talk me into trying a watermelon beer, and Eric McNeil is one of them, and even then, it was only because I saw two of my favorite words – “Thai Basil” – and was intrigued. It was almost like drinking a very good pickle – sour, herbacious, with a bright green-quality to it. It was both complex and palate cleansing and the most surprising beer I drank at the fest this year.

The ideal beer for: planting things, fresh dirt under your nails.

It’s surprising that no one could intuit what style “Not the Helicopter, ya Dummy” might be…

Brewery: Brieux Carre Brewing Company, New Orleans, LA.

Beers: Pomeranian Fight Club, Wookiee Sounds.

Brieux Carre definitely wins for best beer names in the festival with Pomeranian Fight Club, Wookiee Sounds, It’s Pronounced Gose, Big Beautiful Malt, and Not the Helicopter, ya Dummy. Beyond their names, which definitely draw you into the booth, they are making very good, complex beers. Wookiee Sounds is a DDH saison that had a very hop-forward nose, but managed to maintain the peppery saison notes in the flavor. Pomeranian Fight Club is an imperial sour French saison that had a lot going on between the high alcohol, the deep sourness, and the more earthy French yeasts, but it all came together harmoniously.

The ideal beer for: your breed not winning Best of Show. (Pomeranian Fight Club)


Brewery: On Tour Brewing, Chicago, IL.

Beer: Low Boy.

Maibock is a style traditionally brewed for the spring celebrations in Germany, and despite modern brewing practices allowing for all styles to be brewed year-round, they are typically hard to find at more autumn-centric GABF. The 2017 GABF Very Small Brewer of The Year’s Low Boy Maibock is smooth, medium-bodied, with a moderately low sweetness that is warming in the front and finishes crisp on the back. It has enhanced properties of its little brewther, Helles, with just a slightly more pronounced hop presence to balance the increased alcohol and dextrins.

The ideal beer for: dresses that make you look more buxom than you really are.

The entire Front Range Brewing crew

Brewery: Front Range Brewing, Lafayette, CO.

Beers: St Nigel’s Doppelbock, Novemberfest Amber Lager Märzen.

I’ll be honest, I probably would not have given these guys another chance if it weren’t for head brewer, Mitchell. We ended up chatting for an extended period of time at Wibby Brewing’s Hooplagers festival this summer, which we followed up with a visit to the brewery.  I was not overly impressed with their beers when they first opened and with so many great beers in Colorado, I didn’t find the time to return. However, through changes in the business, 23-year-old Mitchell took over in the brewhouse and has completely changed their beers. Their standout, and bronze medal winner, is St Nigel’s Doppelbock – a smooth, not overly alcoholic doppelbock with toasted nut, bread crust, and melanoidin characteristics that make it complex and comforting. Their Novemberfest is a well-constructed märzen with all of the light bread crust and slightly sweet malt notes you could want while, like their doppelbock, finishing very clean.

The ideal beer for: a steak on the grill and an ax in your hands.

Foothills Brewing Marketing Guy Ray Goodrich (center)

Brewery: Foothills Brewing Co, Winston Salem, NC.

Beers: Craft Happiness IPA Project – Nurture IPA, Oktoberfest.

A brewery we have long loved after multiple positive experiences at their taprooms in North Carolina, we were happy to see them return to GABF this year. Their Nurture IPA is brewed to support organizations, such as The Ronald McDonald House, that support families with sick kids. The blend of hops in the beer are piney, woody, with some bright, clean notes in the front. Their Oktoberfest is a more American take on the style, with more caramel in the flavor and finishing slightly sweeter.

The ideal beer for: a walk amongst the pines after a rain.


Brewery: More Brewing Co, Villa Park, IL.

Beers: Barrel-Aged Henna: Karma, Mehndi, Henna-Swirl.

This was a recommendation from Porch Drinking’s first night recap, and I’m glad we were able to stop by. Their Barrel-Aged Henna: Karma has cinnamon, coconut, and chocolate in addition to several layers of depth added by the barrel. I’m not a huge coconut fan as it goes “sunscreeny” very quickly, but all of the different flavors played off each other to create an almost mole quality to the beer. Mehndi was much more straight-forward with wood and vanillin notes from the barrel and a medium-high mouthfeel without any overwhelming alcohol taste. My favorite was the Henna-Swirl, which tasted exactly like a boozy ice cream swirl. It was sweet, but didn’t leave any stickiness on the lips or palate, which is certainly welcome at a beer fest where, as good as a beer is, you don’t want to be tasting it all night.

The ideal beer for: surprise ice cream stops on the way home from school. (Henna-Swirl)

Ridiculously blurry photo of the Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter sign. I’m going to blame the lighting and not that it was 3 hours into the session.

Brewery: Moody Tongue Brewing, Chicago, IL.

Beer: Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter

It’s hard to produce a dark pastry-style beer without making it cloyingly sweet and/or completely unrecognizable as a beer. The Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter is a porter first with roast and caramel notes coming through both on the nose and in the flavor. The vanilla and chocolate are the most pronounced adjuncts with the cinnamon playing a background note to balance out the sweetness.

The ideal beer for: enchilada night.


Brewery: Fremont Brewing Co, Seattle, WA.

Beer: The Rusty Nail.

An interesting, complex combination of stout, rich barrel flavors, and licorice backed by an interesting sherry oxidation. I wish I had an entire bottle of this beer to cuddle up with as one ounce certainly didn’t do it justice.

The ideal beer for: reading Hemingway in a wool sweater.

Wayfinder Beer Assistant Brewer Kelsey Cable

Brewery: Wayfinder Beer, Portland, Oregon.

Beers: Czech Pils, Freiheit Oktoberfest Wiesn, Wayfinder Hell.

This is one of the breweries we visited in February when we made our short trip out to Oregon. The brewery itself is beautiful: modern while maintaining coziness with a gorgeous outdoor space. Their dunkel is one of the best beers I have ever had. I was on a mission this GABF to try as many
märzen and wiesn beers as possible (I know it was hard to tell), and was delighted that Wayfinder decided to bring one. Anyone who says that all of the lighter German beers taste the same should have stopped by Wayfinder: the mineral, hop-forward nature of the pils, the soft toastiness of the wiesn, and the crisp, clean flavor of the helles were all distinct and beautifully executed. I had met head brewer Kevin in Portland and was delighted to meet assistant brewer Kelsey at the fest. Another newer brewery, they brought home a silver medal this year for the Freiheit – some very well-deserved bling.

The ideal beer for: resting under a tree, the dog playing in a stream. 


Every year I am impressed at the quality of beers showcased by brewers large and small from places as diverse as the beers in the hall. I am incredibly grateful that I get to experience GABF yearly and meet such fun, enthusiastic, geeky people who are putting out beers that I can pine over long after the fest is over. Thank you to all of the great brewers, owners, and reps who came out for the 2018 GABF. Let’s do it again next year, shall we?


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