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(I had bolded the major brewery/beer mentions to make recommendations easier to find, didn't bold anything that was just named for reference though.)
Our first stop was Lagunitas, because mother****ing Lagunitas. I tried their Daytime for the first time since I was pacing myself with session beers at first, and it was very enjoyable and exactly what I expected from a Lagunitas lightened-up session ale.
Our most frequent theme, particularly of things we tried in common, was reds, and wish I'd written down more ... I had many more than just one impressive red, although for the first time in my limited experience, I found quite a few examples of reds that fell flat in the middle like some boring browns do. We both really loved the Elysian 7.7% The Good, the Bad, and the Red is what it was called, but as of writing I can't find it on their website to find out more info ... I'm wondering if it was some test-level new release or something.
Sierra Nevada -- f**k yeah Sierra Nevada. I had no idea until this festival that they really produced such a variety of things, and I wish I'd tried more. They had a beer I really liked and that J really hated (it had the "soy sauce" quality for him like some dark IPAs do for me, I think it must be some particular kind of malt that does that) called Walk in the Woods, which was a scotch ale/porter blend. (I also didn't know that he's had a pukey experience with a scotch ale in the past, whoops.) It was insane, this beer was something I would never be able to handle a whole bottle of but it was delicious for a crazy single shot. It tasted like burnt pumpernickel toast with a shot of a very bourbony bourbon and a lot of wood fire afterward. It inspired me to want to try, someday, the probably-insane idea of a reverse drop shot -- finding a very delicate bourbon (like Breckenridge or something) and flavoring it with a shot of this beer, or just generally mixing it. Am I nuts? I dunno. Also their stout, Narwahl, was a learning experience for me -- I used to live in stout world, and now it's overpowering for me as I've graduated to pale ales and their kin. Weird how tastes change over time as vocabulary and experience grows.
Stone's new coffee milk stout is amazing, their booth was cool too, it looked like a real bar, the aesthetic of the whole thing had that cool ironwork look like their graphics, and each of their pitchers was a lot like their bottles with those baked-on designs. I just got the coffee milk stout and boogied out of the way of the pressing mass (REALLY popular booth); J got the Anniversary because he's a major Stone fan and it'll never be made again. He said it's incredible, and he thought the Enjoy By 10/31 was good but honestly lackluster compared to the other Enjoy Bys that he's had (the 4/20 from a couple of years and I think this year2014's 7/10).
I had the Deschutes River Ale for the first time, hard time remembering enough to describe it in detail (there was something unique about the hops profile), but it did exactly what I wanted a pale ale to do except I remember it being even a little extra refreshing in the beginning and a little extra hoppy at the end, like Dale's Pale Ale but a milder version. It was the tastiest, straightforward "tastes like beer but refreshes like water, let's go camping with it" beer I think I've had.
We heard about 180 Shilling from O'Dell's before going, but we didn't see any sign of it at their booths. I wasn't especially concerned because someone on Reddit had said that it had reminded them of barleywine (yuck -- how could it be remotely related to 90 Shilling?) so I got some familiar ol' 5 Barrel on tasty on-tap principle, but yeah, apparently 180 Shilling is special or something. I don't know anything about it. I didn't see it or try any, despite the internet being full of chatter about how it would likely be there. :P I have heard, though, that if you like its sort of family, you will really like it. I can't say I've ever seen O'Dell's screw anything up.
We're both big fans of Magic Hat ... Their limited variation on #9 (the not-quite-pale-ale) is interesting, "Hi 9", it's called. It was more bold than I expected from how chill #9 is, had that edgy back end like a real IPA almost. Reminds me of the flavor of #9 but with some Full Sail IPA thrown in and some different hop flavors.
Since J is from Port Jefferson, Long Island, we saw Port Jeff brewing company and had to go try it on principle. They had a Schooner Ale that was very tasty in a nice relaxed way, and their tripel tastes like a hefeweizen but without that coppery quality.
(Some stuff about realizing I could taste, with reasonable certainty, that "This doesn't taste like a brown ale ... is this a lager?" which was exciting because I'm fairly new to all this, really ... and then karaoke and stuff)
... We bantered with one dude who insisted I try a sour ... "Try it," he said ... "It's the smoothest sour you'll ever taste, though, I don't like them either!" he said ... I wouldn't have, but I said "I feel like I'm being dared" and he said "You are!" so I had no choice! And F**KING UGH, I made the WORST sour face, lol, only beer I truly hated all day! But, to be fair, it was the least disgusting sour I'd ever had, to which the dude lol'd. So, proof has been proven, I hate sours.
Anyway, that dude sent us to the next booth over to try some delicious things before last pour. We tried two by Nanthala Brewing, their Noon Day IPA (delicious session IPA and exactly the light tasty pale-ale-like IPA that everyone wants a light IPA to be, oh my, it was so good -- that dude totally called it when he suggested that to us) and their Bryson City Brown had all the character a good non-boring brown should. The Bryson City guy teased that we needed to come visit North Carolina because everyone is so laid back, and apparently they're in a chill area with tons of breweries and good climbing (always a priority for us), so I told him "See you in a few years" and hopefully someday I'll be telling you about a brewery vacation there.
(... Then I told a story about dropping my commemorative tasting glass RIGHT as the brewfest ended (everyone only gets one, and only attendees to the Brewers' Session of the festival each year get real glass ones), and I totally started crying because I'm sentimental and sh*t and GABF is a special thing for us, but A WILD HERO APPEARED (some brewer dude) and totally gave me an extra and made my day.)
Anyone else into brewfests? I'd never been to any but have been to GABF two years in a row now and love it. I'd love more stories, and recommendations. J and I are planning to move to Germany at some point within the next year or so (ish) and might get to travel around the States a little in the meantime, so we're interested in fests in both countries and other countries near Germany as well. (We're interested in any info about the German beer scene, really -- especially since we're more into English and American styles so far than German ones, and we're wondering if we'll have to resign to retraining our tastes altogether when we move! We're not really that into Belgians and wheats and pilsners, but we can learn if we need to. :P )
For the record, I still haven't tried a reverse drop shot with Walk in the Woods. I'm serious though, I'd chase that beer with bourbon before I'd do the reverse. I've heard of people mixing bourbon with porters or stouts, but it's never made sense to me until then. Any suggestions on that front?
Also taking recommendations on bourbons and especially rye anything, always always.