GABF 2009 Observations Part 2

Here are the rest of our correspondent’s observations from this year’s Great American Beer Festival:
(Read
Part 1)

Strong Flavors and Higher Alcohol Content – As Americans are drinking
more craft beer than ever before, the taste for higher alcohol content
and more strongly flavored brews is growing similarly.  In
this year’s GABF, it seemed Barleywines were being adopted by more
breweries than in past years.  Although the variety of
Barleywines differed widely (from ‘barley-wine style’ ales to something
akin to thin molasses) in consistency,  it is clear that
flavor profile of Barleywines is becoming more popular among the craft
beer drinker.  I tried a number of brewer’s renditions and a
must say the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is the most polished, both in
consistency and flavor, in my opinion.  Incidentally, a
barleywine produced by Rob Miller of Albuquerque, New Mexico won one of
the three slots in the LongShot homebrew six pack to be produced by
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams).

Fruit – New Glarus Brewery in Wisconsin makes an incredibly fruity
Raspberry Tart beer which you could put on your pancakes in the
morning.  The Cranberry Lambic, although less to my liking was
still quite good, and would also be suitable for pancakes. 
Pumpkin Ales were more prevelant than in past years, with many of the
breweries running out before the Saturday sessions.  It was
easy to pick out the crowd favorites (New Glarus, Shorts, Dogfish Head)
from the exceedingly long lines.  Other, more mild fruit
flavors were also represented by various breweries: pear, apple (see
‘sour’ below), blackberry, blueberry.  These other fruit
flavors were often extremely subtle and usually found in very light
beers, probably in an attempt to cater to a more feminine palate or the
non-beer drinker.

The Oatmeal Stout – The secret is clearly out.  Oatmeal stouts
are a winning breed.  I must have tried two dozen oatmeal
stouts and I can honestly say there wasn’t a real loser in the
batch.  All were smooth and rich, classical aromas, with
variation mostly in depth of flavor.  The flavors themselves
were quite consistent between the breweries but my preference was the
well-balanced, highly quaffable and simply titled Oatmeal Stout from
Hays, Kansas.

Packaging – It is interesting to see small breweries struggle with
growth.  Also interesting is the prejudice a craft beer
drinker shows toward ANYTHING packaged in an aluminum can.  So
here we have our conundrum. Will the craft beer maker potentially
alienate his customer by stuffing his product into a can?  I
talked with many people about this, brewers and consumers and here is
the consensus.  Roughly 40% of the consumers I talked to
prefer bottles to cans, most did not have a preference or had never
quaffed a canned, craft beer.  Some consumers preferring
bottles suggested the can seemed to impart a different flavor on the
product. Others preferring bottles suggested the visual distinction
between craft beers and mass production beers has always been bottles
versus cans, making adoption of craft beer in cans a work in
progress.  Brewers and distributors prefer the can for obvious
reasons such as shelf life, ease of distribution versus bottles, and
cost.

Without question the Great American Beer Festival has taken on a life
of it’s own from it’s humble beginnings 30 plus years ago.  It
is a cornucopia of flavors and good times that is now an integral part
of the fall season here in Colorado.  New ideas and flavors,
some rehashed after a few thousand years,  are making craft
beer more palatable to more people; and with the successful craft beer
operations moving toward packaging in cans, distribution of craft beers
in can now reach far beyond their home state and perhaps outside the
country.


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