Of course, the problem I had this year was I somehow lost my program with all my notes. Luckily, now that I'm done kicking rocks about it, I realize this presents a pretty good opportunity to go back through the guide (and my friend's check-ins... bless you, Untappd) and not only reconstruct what I tried, but to be able to rely solely on the beers that were so dang good that I don't need no stinking notes to remember them. Only these could be beers truly worth of Top Ten status. That and because I was originally going to do just five, then had so many honorable mentions I wanted to do that it ended up being ten beers anyway. And I'm incapable of being brief. Obvi.
Just to clarify, these ten are "new" to me. In fact, with very few exceptions, I focused on beers I had never tried before at ACBF. So, while there were many brewers and many beers there that I know and love and would dump Untappd stars all over until the break of dawn, one has to prioritize at these fests, you know? Anyway, let's get right in to it.
- #10 : The Tap Brewing Company's Intergalactic Acid - Yeah, ok, breaking my own rule immediately. I'm starting with a bit of a cheat, as I've had this one before... that's most of the reason I'm sticking it at 10. But, to justify myself, this was the first time I had this beer with the syrup The Tap special orders to mix in the weiss. They had two flavors, raspberry and woodruff (sour apple), so this ended up being the only beer I waited in line twice for. So worth it.
- #9 : Hidden Cove Brewing Company's Bourbon Pecan - Heck if I ever heard of these guys before yesterday, so this was a total surprise. This beer smelled amazing, and had exactly the roasty-toasty, nutty and warm flavor you would expect. Just delicious. I love discovering new beers, and new-to-me breweries even more. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for these guys from now on.
- #8 : DC Brau Brewing Company's Maple Whiskey Barrel Aged NATAS - DC Brau doesn't distribute up here, so I've only had the opportunity to try their stuff at festivals and group tastings. It's a shame, too, because I think I'm more impressed with them with ever beer I try. Like the Bourbon Pecan above, this one was balanced and warming. The advertised flavors popped up and sang. Not too much maple, though. Just enough.
- #7 : Uinta Brewing Company's Birthday Suit Sour Brown Ale (20th Anniversary) - So, every year, Uintas does a slightly different take on this beer. 19th Anniversary, for example, was a sour cherry. 21 was a sour saison. This one, a slight vintage, had a good amount of the malt you'd expect out of a brown, but was just super sour to boot. Maybe the sourest sour I soured as a scoured the fest floor. Not even funky, just good and tart. Lactobacillus like whoa. You catch my drift, I'm sure.
- #6 : Cambridge Brewing Company's Benevolence - I have an interesting relationship with CBC. With most breweries, I feel like my like or dislike of them is pretty consistent. With CBC, I'm all over the map. I've probably had about as many 1 or 2 star beers from them as I have 4 or 5 star. The more I think about it, that's probably a strength. A sign that they're not playing it safe. That they, too, are making beers all over the map. This one came so close to my top five that I nearly had a fight with myself. A barrel-aged wild ale, this was boozy, sour, tart and complex. Maybe some honey, too? A lot going on. I guess even this single beer was all over the map!
- # 5 : Maine Beer Company's Dinner - Let's talk about hype for a second, and I'll try to choose my words carefully so that no one wants to stab me. This beer's younger sibling, Lunch, is probably the most hyped beer anywhere east of Heady Topper. It only hits the shelves every couple of months (at least around here), and when it does, people lose their freaking minds. Lunch is a very good beer but, in my opinion, it's not even the best beer MBC makes. I would give that award to MO, which in comparison to how people talk about Lunch, is practically ignored. As for Dinner, take the Lunch hype and put it on steroids. Even more demand was created for this one by making it a "brewery only" release that (they said, at least) was never going to be distributed. In fact, this beer isn't even listed in the ACBF program book, but there it was at the booth. The second coming of IPAs had clearly arrived, and people stepped over their own grandmothers to get in line for this one. Now, I may sound disparaging, but do remember this is on my list. This was a very good, very well-balanced IPA. Not too bitter, but too powerful of any particular flavor, really. Citrusy, but not bashing you over the head with it. Very good but, to paraphrase one of my co-attendees, not "kill my family" good. Ignoring the hype, it's very much worth of the list.
- #4 : Tree House Brewing Company / Lawson's Finest Liquids' YAHHHRRRGGG! - A Tree House / Lawson's collaboration, you'd expect, would simply have to produce something amazing. This did not disappoint. Tropical fruit nose and flavor. I really just love and appreciate these kind of "juicy" IPAs, but I feel like there are too few of them out there. So many just try to, as I've mumbled many times before, blow your head off with hops. To be sure, this one has some hop bitterness to balance the fruit, but "balance" is the key word there. This is simply well-made, like you'd expect from these two brewers. Fresh, crisp and just a delight to drink.
- #3 : Mystic Brewery's Barrel 58 - Oh, are you noticing the sour trend on this list yet? Well, stick around because it ain't stopping here. Funny enough, Mystic Brewery didn't appear in the ACBF program, so when I saw their booth I didn't know what to expect. Like I did all day, I went with the thing I hadn't had before... and I'm so glad I did. I found out later that Mystic joined up with the fest at the last minute, and that this particular beer is only going to be available in the future to Mystic's "club members". So this is likely the only time I'll ever try this funky Brett wonderfulness. To be specific, this beer was barrel fermented with Brettanomyces naardenensis, which was initially (in the 70s) harvested from soda. There's all kinds of geeky articles out there about this one. I felt like I was drinking science. Tart, awesome science.
- #2 : Night Shift Brewing / NoDa Brewing Company's Stop, Collaborate and Glisten - This was so, so close to being #1. Honestly, I could probably have flipped a coin and just decided to call it the other way. It was really that close. And again, like the Cambridge Brewing Company, I feel like I have an interesting relationship with Night Shift. To be sure, these guys have some of the most devoted fans I've ever seen, especially on social media. It seems that most people feel like literally everything they put out is the new best beer they've ever had. For me, while I've had a lot of beers I really do love from them, I've had a number I just didn't get. And so fervent are the fans that I always feel like I'm "wrong" the few times I've felt that way. Luckily, I'm stubborn enough not to have my views corrupted. And then, on the other half of this collaboration, is NoDa, who I know nada about. Anyway, this beer was strange and wonderful. A wine barrel-aged wild beer, this was like a crazy good, funky white wine. Not only that, but it hides it's nearly 9% ABV. And it definitely wins best beer name at the fest.
- #1 : Jack's Abby Brewing's Cherry Barrel-Aged Berliner Braun - One who knows me well enough might accuse me of crowning the king before even getting to the castle with this one, but despite that this was the beer I was most looking forward to, it totally lived up to the hype. I'm a big fan of the original version of this beer, and the barreling and sour cherries upped the game even further. In many ways, this was more mellow than the base beer, which I definitely was not expecting. I was expecting to have a permanent pucker on my face, but instead this was just... really pleasant. Pronounced, of course, but pleasant. I shouldn't be surprised, because nearly everything from Jack's Abby has this same quality. As I took my first sip of this, I just had to smile. Although that famous Ben Franklin quote about beer and God and love and happiness (as we've covered) is fake, the feeling I got drinking this made me feel all at once why I do this. Good beer makes me happy. This beer set that tone for me this day, and that's why it was my #1.
What were some of your favorite beers from ACBF?