October 28, 2011

This Post Has Nothing About the Oxford Companion to Beer In it

But it has a bunch of other stuff.

First, from the "Homebrew Design" part of the Internet comes a new application, Labeley. It's a very cool, user-friendly program for designing homebrew labels. Ana Brady, who contacted me about it, said that the design team behind it is international, with one person in Canada and a couple in Europe. It's free and was a labor of love by some homebrewers, and definitely worth taking a look at if you're in the hobby. Nick at A Tale of Two Brewers did a nice review, where as a designer he found it a bit restrictive but ultimately a promising program.

Next, I got a note from Karen at Victory about the Dark Intrigue release party scheduled for Nov. 23, which they are calling "Dark Wednesday." There are some interesting (intriguing? groan.) things about this.

First, the announcement comes one day after the release party for The Bruery's Black Tuesday sold out in one hour and bottles began appearing on eBay immediately for as much as $100, and after the massive hype that accompanied the Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout release. As these hyped releases gain more and more traction (and garner the breweries more and more funds and attention), they have become also more of a bone of contention with some, who find the prospect of lining up in the wee hours to spend $200 on a case of beer a bit of a "circus," even if they appreciate it. Still, as many people as were annoyed by not getting tickets to this year's Dark Lord Day kefuffle at 3Floyds, no one foresees demand dropping next year.

So it's unsurprising that Victory has built up an answer to those national release parties that we see every year (Surly Darkness, Black Tuesday, Dark Lord, etc.). What's surprising is that this is the last year they'll be doing it for a while. Karen said it's basically that the barrels take up a lot of room and it's just not economical, so it's at least going away for a while. One has to wonder if there's a vacancy in this part of the state/country for a much-hyped annual release of some soul-crushingly potent quad-imperial barrel-aged dark nonsense?

Links, then art:

Our art this week comes via the always lovely Oh Beautiful Beer, and it's a bit of homebrew action by Shea Stewart:

“The label design was done for my aunt in Charlotte, North Carolina. She and a friend brew a beer every summer called “Hummm N’ Hammer Hefeweizen.” She asked me to design a label for the bottle, and this is what I came up with. I decided to create these two characters, “Hummm” (a hummingbird) and “Hammer” (a hammerhead shark), and create this quirky odd couple type relationship between them. Kind of like Timon and Pumbaa, but they brew beer together instead of searching for and eating bugs.”
Brewing: better than eating bugs (Note: Which is, generally, Kosher. My Torah portion was Shemini, the part in Leviticus where Yahweh lists all of the things you can and can't eat. Most bugs are cool, as far as dietary purity laws go.)

Very cute style, somewhere between children's book and the juvenile style we see in lots of natural-based marketing these days. Shea even even came up with bottle caps that, if they went into production, would be a great find for some other beer packaging bloggers. Lots of pastels, soft hand-drawn shapes, and of course the adorable title characters.
Next, via unkown origin, a new campaign that came from Jay Brooks' blog, originally via Firestone Walker's Twitter feed:
Now, some will say that this demeans the very sincere suffering of the 99% of America who is put upon by the wealthy 1% etc. etc. Those people are entitled to their opinion. But most craft beer drinkers are likely to be on the side of Occupiers, so any outrage would be ill-spent.

From a design and branding standard, though, I love it. The hashtag #occupythepub and the surrounding rhetoric is a really cool way to take a topical phrase and convert it into a fun type of marketing. Craft beer people are quite likely to empathize with the protesters, as we usually feel put upon by the 95% of the market that is the macrobrews. So there's some solidarity, which is nice for a brand, and some humor, which is nice for a beer brand, and I love the simplicity of the design. Some good varying of font sizes, a nice watermark of a stock retro beer bottle, a distress effect, and bam! I'd buy this t-shirt.

If anyone knows who made this or from whence it came, Please chime in in the comments.

October 25, 2011

Garrett Oliver: The Adult in the Room?

Ed: This is a long post with no art.

Since I spent some time summarizing the criticism that Brooklyn Brewery founder and brewmaster Garrett Oliver has received for his editing of The Oxford Companion to Beer, I wanted to spend a few moments doing the same for his response, which is now up on OCB Wiki Alan McLeod started to help gather edits, corrections and marginalia for the opus.

You should go and read it if you have a lot of time. And if you've read or joined the criticism of Oliver, you should make the time.

He starts by meeting Martyn Cornell's withering comments head-on, and weaves an eloquent defense of his work and tactics. I stated before that perhaps it would have made sense to have a professional writer handle this job, and it occurs to me I did not include the disclaimer that it is not Oliver's writing ability that lacks. On the contrary, anyone who has read Brewmaster's Table or, really, anything Oliver has written knows that the man can use words. I'll come back to that in a second, but it's worth pointing out now.

He rebuts some of the specific historical claims, pointing out the difference between seeing historical documents and interpreting them. Particularly compelling are his rebuttal to the origins of cider (he argues that humans have fermented everything possible since they first arrived, which is probably true) and his takedown of Cornell's weakest point - arguing about how "likely" the rise of the India Pale Ale style was in the 1700s:
“Foaming at the mouth” – these his own words – [Cornell] even goes on to complain about the use of the word “unlikely” to describe the rise of India pale ale, saying that such use is “unsubstantiated and unexplained assertion-making.” No doubt Mr. Cornell, having been there personally in the late 1700s, found the rise of IPA to be very likely indeed. In fact, by now I feel certain that he predicted it himself in the broadsheets.
As that makes clear, though, Oliver's purpose in responding is not substance but style. He is smart, he can write, he knows beer, and so by extension the claims that he was just "a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots" seem to ring false on a instinctive level. He reassures us with comforting numbers ("“The Oxford Companion to Beer” is a peer-reviewed work, and 166 learned people from 24 countries expended many, many thousands of hours, for virtually no remuneration, to bring it about. I can assure you that neither I nor any of the OCB contributors have “made anything up”."), and later admits some small oversights - he left out Centennial hops ("an actual error"), and Leipzeiger Gose was a casualty of timeline - in a kind of humility that manages to avoid ever acknowledging that he was exactly wrong so much as overambitious.

Oliver devotes a good deal of time and space to answering open-ended questions about process and reception, and does so - again - with excellent thoughts and prose. They are interesting and valuable to those of us who care and who will read and own this book no matter what.

What he did not do was answer all of the specific factual errors (as some of them really are), particularly the major ones about the origins of stout and porter as styles. He does not explain why Cornell and Ron Pattinson were not allowed to just write the history parts on which they are experts. His jabs aside, he does not get down in the mud and trade blow for blow with Cornell. He defends the inclusion of associate editor Horst Dornbusch - a nemesis of beer historians thanks to his willingness to repeat myth and legend without evidence - with Dornbusch's credentials as "a Fulbright scholar, a brewer, a brewing consultant, a writer, a translator, and spent 10 years in magazine editing."

Indeed, he recasts the entire debate as not one of being right or wrong, but as one of history, interpretation and progress. In Oliver's telling, the victory is in the effort and process and existence of this colossal work, not in whether some nerds want to debate tiny details about origin and derivation.

History, far from being pure science, is a thing in constant motion, with much or it arguable or interpretable in various ways. People still argue about the precise make-up of George Washington’s false teeth, and he was the founding president of the United States, spoke before thousands and sat for portraits barely more than two centuries ago. I feel very confident that the OCB’s percentage of errata, though it must surely be more than zero, is probably as good as that of The British Museum, and no one is speaking of tearing that down. No one is more interested in the factual accuracy of the OCB than I am. However, it is famously said that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. Well, I have not, in my time on this earth, seen perfect yet. I do not expect to, either, and any wise person will approach attempts at perfection with at least an ounce of humility. Beer is a human thing, and one does well to remember that. We have made, I think, a very good start, and no one, least of all me, has claimed that the work is or will be finished any time soon.
Some of you know that in a former life, I used to be a political blogger. I've also, at times, worked in communications in politically sensitive fields. So perhaps I can't help but see this in political terms. But the one thing that Oliver's response reminded me most of was... Mitt Romney.

If you've been following the circus that is the current race for the GOP nomination, you have seen the rise and subsequent fall of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain as major contenders. As they all scramble now to get back in the race, the one thing that remains clear is that the electorate wants an alternative to the frontrunner, Romney. To listen to analysts, the alternative has to be acceptable to "the base" (which does not like the professional Romney), and must play to the "Tea Party." That generally means that we are seeking someone who is VERY far-right, and gets people excited with the small conservative geek credentials Romney - a former moderate governor of a liberal state - will never have.

Romney's strategy for each of these challengers so far has been to act above the fray. He makes the debate as not about who is more right on any one issue, but who is competent, presentable, and can represent the community the best. He plays the adult in the room.

Oliver has always played that role for the craft beer world. He is always impeccably dressed, arguing for beer's place in the finest restaurants with his aforementioned verbal strength. His brewery has resisted the "extreme" beer rush and focused on restrained balance, all while maintaining a genial relationship with Sam Calagione (the plain-spoken jeans-wearing man who embodies all things extreme in beer). He's the mature one.

I am certain this debate will go on, because many of Cornell's points are real and unsanswered. Some will say that it is all well and good for Oliver to talk about incremental progress, but his job was to edit a book that was accurate, and he still appears to have failed in at least some major ways. His vague description of how the breweries were chosen - which avoided specifically addressing the seeming correlation between availability in Brooklyn and inclusion in the book - probably did not satisfy anyone with a gripe. Perhaps all of it will be fixed in the second edition. Most likely, the Internet has made us all aware of the eternal fact that there is no such thing as a definitive anything.

When I said before that perhaps Oxford University Press should have had a writer tackle this task, it was my hope that a career with words might have allowed a different editor to avoid some of the pitfalls. I still believe that. Perhaps, though, that belief is naive. Perhaps there will always be a zealous fringe, and no amount of accuracy or fairness would forestall this debate. And if one believes that to be the case, then one can easily see how the OUP would want, first among all things, a statesman. By having someone with the skills and gravitas to recast the debate, you can relegate bloggers and nitpickers to the jabbering crowds trying to stand in the way of progress.

And for those of you who think I'm being melodramatic:
And [the criticism] goes on, reminding me of nothing so much as McCarthy’s House Committee on UnAmerican Activities... All the negative comments I have seen so far are about historical matters. Well, even though Mr. Cornell has surely done yeoman’s work digging up old brewing records, the reading of a historical record and the interpretation of it are two different things.
It is excellent writing indeed. Bloggers are laborers, and perhaps they ought to leave interpretation to the scholars. Worse, by criticizing factual errors in an encyclopedia, they send the message that we should not even try, and that all who do are... Communists?

For what it is worth, I do not have much of a dog in this fight. Yes, I'm a blogger, but I also understand the strategy and importance of Oliver's work with OUP, and I don't necessarily disagree with his overall point. What I find interesting is where this puts craft beer - and craft beer writing - as an industry, in meta-terms (what Jeff Alworth or Alan might call "navel-gazing"). It's a signal that the maturation of the industry - both existentially and economically - is a becoming a bigger and bigger issue.

Oliver has been saying for a while that it is time for us to stop being geeks and join the mainstream, that sustained non-niche success requires us to sit at the grown-ups table. While Cornell - a scholar and respected writer himself - may seem not the ideal stalking horse, here he is.

UPDATED: Via Adam Nason's site, we learn that Cornell himself finds it odd:
It worries me that he attacks me as “the blogger Martyn Cornell”. I’ve written two books about the history of British brewing and the history of British beer styles, which have involved many years of research – that’s my bona fides – and I’d like to hope I have a reputation as a beer historian rather than a blogger.
Yes, Martyn, but he's drawing battle lines.

Craft beer is now clearly large enough for two communities, and with the OCB, the "adults" are trying to establish - both internally to the geeks and externally to the rest of the world - that they will take us to prime time (perhaps kicking and screaming, if necessary). To them, public squabbling over history is unseemly and sets us back. Of course, there are those geeks who have no interest in mainstream acceptability. To them, beer is important in part because of its small community and inaccessibility to squares. The last thing they want is for bloggers to shut up about small things so that a big shiny book can sell better. Most of us, of course, have elements of both parties.

Every niche culture that ever "made it big" went through this process of purists versus evangelists, or evolutionaries versus revolutionaries if you like. Some, like American wine 40 years ago, managed to keep a balance. Some, like video games, keep having the debate. Some, like comic books, never quite resolved it and have paid the price.

Craft beer is there, and, while there was never a mystery as to which side Oliver was on, it looks for the moment like he's done being friendly with the other camp.

October 21, 2011

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, and A Contentious Week in the World of Craft Beer

So, a busy week, and as I get back up to speed, it seems I need to recommit myself to a return to the halcyon days of writing about label art.

I consulted the best beer minds of my generation,
and then ignored their research. Cheers!
First, there's this whole big deal about the new massive opus of The Oxford Companion to Beer. Every beer blogger worth his salt has chimed in, most unflatteringly. The most damning criticism came from historian Martyn Cornell, who called it a "dreadful disaster" and pointed out glaring, avoidable inaccuracies. It's bad, and  is building into arguably the first real setback of Garrett Oliver's quest to become the face of craft beer. If these other contributors are to be believed, Oliver was given accurate material, and eschewed it for popular myth more than once. We'll see how much sloppiness and wrongness are held against an encyclopedia editor. I understand all of the self-serving bias in the following statement, but: There is a reason we have writers, and perhaps Oxford should have considered hiring one to write and edit its supposedly authoritative book.

Second, Advertising Age had a much-discussed couple of stories about beer, where we were all told "rich people beer" is one the rise. You know how we know? Wal-Mart is bolstering its craft beer selection.

Other things:

  • Joe Sixpack has a nice set of interviews with some women of craft beer.
  • From the "formerly covered by Brady Walen" department: Bomb Lager is giving away handpainted skatedecks for all followers of their social media campaigns. They have 6 decks by four artists, which is pretty cool. Definitely the best "follow us" contest I've seen in the industry so far.
  • Great piece by Patrick on the economics of brewpubs expanding.
Okay, enough of the news.

Art!

First, since I can't really rip it, take a look at the new TTB approvals (thanks always to Beerpulse/Beersage/Adam for staying on top of this) for the home draft system that Anheuser-Busch is coming out with:


Great. Shock Top on draft. From a bag. Or something.

Best of the week is twofold, and the first is from the Mexican craft brewery Cerveceria Sagrada, which might be fictional (I can find no online presence outside of Jose Guizar's incredible design), but is still awesome:

He based it on the traditional heroes of Mexican wrestling, known as Lucha Libre.
Lucha Libre is one of the most iconic symbols of Mexican popular culture, and has been exported as part of the country's identity. I created the concept, brand, and designed the identity and packaging for this premium Mexican craft beer. The brand's identity is inspired by the golden era of lucha in the 1950's, when movie heroes were not Superman or the X Men, but El Santoand his wingmen, fighting creepy monsters on a silver '52 Alfa Romeo with surf music in the background. The variety of styles are named after fictional characters also inspired by the 50's lucha style; Black King (Imperial Stout), Blond Gomez (Lager) and The Vampire's Son (Red Ale).
Also, continuing our International theme, we have Wold Top's Against the Grain, from Yorkshire (via Michigan):
Very nice two-color woodcut design. We have a bunny, some birds, offset type, and faint crops. Conveys both a classic agrarian theme and a contemporary mindset. I particularly like the rocky earth on which the bunny and man sit. One question, though: Is the guy very small, or is that a rabbit of unusual size?

Okay, the worst is not actually all that bad, from a design sense. I actually like the Art Nouveu thing in general, and Lazy Magnolia does some nice work. The border, color and font are all very well-done.

But, for the love of God:
If we're going to make every blonde beer represented by a blond woman, MUST SHE NEVER WEAR A SHIRT? Who are these mythical blondes that brewery artists know that run around clad only in their flowing locks? Have they had too much beer? Are they cold? Do they singlehandedly keep conditioner companies in business?

Then there's this, from the great minds at Great River Brewery:
I beg of you, breweries: Stop. Just stop.

 


October 16, 2011

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week features Bud, Westvleteren and Brewer's Alley

The worst art of the week is an easy target, and it's less for bad design than what it represents:
Yes, that's right, our macro friends at ABI have cleared the way for 7-oz. bottles of Budweiser Select 55. Bud Select 55 is the lowest-calorie beer on the market, at (yes) 55 calories per 12-oz. serving. Simple division (or multiplying by fractions!) gets us 32 calories in the smaller "nip" bottle.

Yes, the design is dumb. It's bland, boring, macro. The only interesting thing is the watermarked crown on the backdrop, but it looks closer to a cheap 40 than a select anything. So there's that. But more importantly, the feeling one gets from taking a quick look at this label is that the name of the beer is "32 Calories." It's in white on red, and by far the brightest and most prominent element. By comparison, "select" is black on gray, in boring font. The focus of this beer's identity is not even that it's beer.

Which is, I guess, good, because you probably can't get drunk on it. Calories in beer come from the same place as the alcohol, so when you make a beer with 55 calories, you get something that clocks in at about 2.4% ABV. At which point, you're going to consume a whole ton just to feel a buzz, and (while I haven't had it), my guess is that we're not swilling this for the taste. Trying to consume a beer that low in ABV in tiny bottles makes less than no sense, and would be dumb even if the bottles weren't called "nips." If you're that concerned about calories, order yourself a Diet Coke (or better, a water), and save yourself the trouble. In the post where this label was approved, Adam Nason mentioned the possibility of a synthehol zero-calorie beer. I'm officially rooting for that, so we can get this off the market.

Another disappointing piece from the week comes to our attention via Joe Stange's blog Thirsty Pilgrim, which tells us that the famed monks of Westvleteren will actually sell about 100,000 bottles of their rare and sought-after XII beer on shelves this year to fund an expansion for the abbey.

It will look like this:
Okay, so Westy doesn't need to have good design. The name alone will ensure not just a sellout but a robust arbitrage trade on Ebay and similar sites, along with a thriving gray market economy. So they're probably right not to worry too much about it.

All that said, this is really lame. Stones, an overdone medieval font, and pointed arches to look at bottles. The simple bottle art is nice and classic, but the packaging is quite banal. I mean, you guys are Westvleteren, the most storied of the Trappist brewers! Give me something that looks different from every other Christmas or commemorative beer box set.

The best of the week comes from the Brewer's Alley, in Frederick, Maryland. It's the label design for their Wedding Alt:
Just a gorgeous soft blue-green color for the background, complete with brushstrokes and gradients to keep it from becoming too monochrome. The disappearing bride is festive and a great way to introduce a ribbon (ever notice that most ribbons are floating in space for no reason at all?). The font matches the classy, vintage style. That ribbon extends into the interpretation text, keeping it connected in a way that most labels don't. It's actually a bit of a theme here, as no border element on the label is strong or even uninterrupted, and none of them overpower for even an inch the dominant color field that forms the background. The runner along the bottom helps unite the whole thing. Very nice piece, all in all.

October 14, 2011

New Boards by Alex Clare at Bethlehem Brew Works

All right, friends, we are back on the proverbial horse here. I don't think that saying actually comes from a proverb, and the word "proverbial" always seems strange to me when it's used to mean "from a common phrase whose meaning is now separate from its origin," but I have yet to find a better option.

So I'm back, grammar tangents and all.

We have new boards (and one new label) from our friend Alex Clare at the Fegley's Brew Works. Sadly, my photography with my HTC Droid Incredible 2 leaves much to be desired, but you can get an idea.
The apricot coriander is hilarious, even though I'm not sure why the fruit is pulling up its tighty-whities. Why is it even wearing underwear? But the color, as you can see, uses a nice blue-orange complement, and the text is really well done. The Bagpiper's Scotch Ale is one of the more popular beers, and while the art is maybe what you'd expect, I like the off-center composition and the fact that the piper is facing left while his pipes face right.
On the left, you can see the other half of the board for the Golden Ale, which has Clare's rendition of Indiana Jones' Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. I guess in this case, the Brew Works' lightest ale is the equivalent of the holy grail from Last Crusade? The Pumpkin-headed Jack-o-Lantern is a dramatic image for the Devious Imperial Pumpkin, and I like the lack of unnecessary text (seriously, what else would that indicate?).  The Steelworkers Stout might actually be my favorite of these boards, with the industrial, Art Deco-like look of the steelworker. It's like a 1920s labor poster, updated with a very contemporary dark color palette and simplicity.
This photograph is really terrible, but you can see the boards for the ESB and the (delicious) Green Monsta.
On the left is the Steelgaarden Wit, held by a farming robot. If you know Clare's art, this apparent nonsequitur is not all that surprising, because the man has a talent for envisioning strange characters. The Devil's Hearth was a nice surprise; I would never have expected the art for this to literally envision a fireplace owned by Satan, but Clare makes it work. The text foreshortening isn't perfect, but again the rich color of the pastels on slate give the image a nice, deep resonance.

Also, we have a new label:
Once again, we see the QR code with a link to "tasting notes and secrets," and The Brew Works has been on the forefront of using that technology effectively. But the artwork by Clare is a nice, show-stealing piece. The caricatured Ben Franklin, tipsily hoisting a brew (with Fegley's logo) because it's too nice to fly his kite and discover electricity (yes, the kite-and-key thing is probably a myth), is a fun and happy character that matches the name (a play on the popular FX show). Compositionally, the sun manages to balance Ben, and the yellow of the text doesn't even clash with it. One expects from this label to get a pale that is light, effervescent and brightly flavored, which means the label is doing its job communicating the visual identity of the beer.

From a strategy and branding perspective, one wonders if this beer is the beginning of the Fegley's Brew Works establishing more of a connection with Philadelphia. Despite being no farther than Stoudt's or Lancaster, and much closer than Dogfish Head, the Brew Works has been less affiliated with the City of Brotherly Love than those brewery. Of course, it could also just be one beer. We'll see if they're more of a present force at, say, 2012's Philly Beer Week.

October 5, 2011

The Pour Curator's 2011 GABF Rundown

As you know, I went to Great American Beer Festival in Denver last week.

Before I give my notes, I want to draw your attention to some of the comments by notable beer writers:

Jeff Alworth saw it as a "force of nature" and "a bit challenging," but noted some trends in beer with particular upsurges in wits and sours. I saw more sours two years ago than this year, but he's right in that everyone makes a wit (and most are unremarkable). He's also right in that the Brews Association needs some new signage.

Andy Crouch notes some good things, including that "Denver is becoming a hell of a city" (it really is), and one major disappointment: "Where did all the brewers go?" There is no question that brewers are less present, certainly among the booths and hoi-polloi of the fest. Some of it is that GABF was apparently unwilling to guarantee floor space to everyone, and some of it is clearly, as Andy suggests, that it's just not a must-attend event for brewers anymore.

Kurt Vonnegut signed a poster at Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Pete Brown saw a mix of good and bad, including too much rowdiness. His amusing comment:
    This event is louder, more raucous, more masculine than it was five years ago, last time I was here. There are fewer women here than there used to be. The vast hall is a constant roar. I think there might be a link between extreme hops and elevated testosterone.
I actually think there were many more women than there were two years ago, but I can't comment on the changes in five years.

As far as beer, here were some notable ones. As always, I'm not a reviewer, so I just make a few quick notes in case you're in a position to try any of these:

  • Minneapolis Town Hall
    • The Mango Mama IPA was a beer of intense mango, and the Thunderstorm had a very dry finish for a beer loaded with honey and lemongrass
  • Darkside Fermentation
    • Winning my award for the best names, with beers like The Golden Mean and Mark of the Yeast, the Austin brewery put up intriguing flavors to match their creativity in nomenclature.
  • Steamworks
    • Sadly, the Durango, CO brewery just pulled out of PA. We spoke with the brewer, who spoke highly of the Kolsch and Helles. That was deserved, but the Ned's Red and the Diablo blew us away. Ned was a blend of three malts aged in Chardonnay barrels with cherries, and the Diablo used Gewurztraminer in the mash, but managed to avoid any sweetness.
  • Brugge Brasserie
    • Indiana as a state cleaned up at GABF, and this was probably my favorite of the ones I got to try. Also with great names, beers that were great included sours like the Diamond Kings of Heaven (aged in Cabernet barrels), Super Kitty Fantastico, Tripel de Ripple, and The Spider.
  • Short's
    • QR codes are definitely
      becoming more widely used
    • The meteoric rise of Short's continued with an endcap booth and 20 beers, including the craziest and most experimental stuff you can imagine. I got to try the Whiskey Sour (loaded with lime) and the tomato-and-dill-infused Bloody Beer, both of which I loved.
  • Snake River Brewing Co.
    • The Jackson Hole, WY brewery produces a light and awesome International Beer of Mystery, which at 4.9% is the most heavily hopped (per pound) beer they make.
  • Thirsty Bear 
    • The San Francisco Brewery's Ryeison combined two of my favorite beer things - rye and saison - in a delicious way.
And it wouldn't be a writeup from me without a focus on Session Beer
  • Freetail
    • One could not walk around GABF without hearing of the San Antonio Brewery's Chile Fumando, a smoked chili beer that was a rare excellent and interesting chili beer, which changed on the tongue long after the sip. But they also have a very strange 3.9% health beer called the Spirulina, named for the blue-green algae which gives it its teal color.
  • Magnolia
    • One of these days, I'm going to write up the crazy art on their coasters. For now, though, their session beers deserve a shout-out. Sara's Ruby Mild  is a nice 3.5%, the Branthill ESB clocks in at 4.3%, and the Kalifornia Kolsch, at 4.7% is close enough for me, if not for everyone.
  • Elysian
    • Two great names for two great session beers from this Seattle brewery. The Slight Return (3.6%) was a session IPA, and Yuzu's Belgian-Style Golden was a very citrusy 4.5%. 
  • Mad Fox
    • I love me some kolsch (see below), and the Virginia brewery produced one of the best ones I found, at a delightful 4.4%.
  • Cambridge Brewing Company
    • My favorite place from two years ago is just as good, reprising their crazy awesome beers like Heather and Arquebus and the very un-sessionable sake-infused Banryu Ichi, but they've added to those massive brews a Sessionable IPA, which was loaded with hops and clocked in at 4.0%
  • McCoy's Public House
    • The Kansas City brewpub had some tasty lighter offerings, including a lovely sessionable Ginger Shandy and a Blackberry Tart, a 5.2% sour brown ale that's one of the very few blackberry beers I've ever liked.

One thing I did see a lot of was Kolsch. For those of you who are unaware, the traditional German style is one of my favorites, and is a strange hybrid, being warm fermented (like an ale) and then cold-conditioned (lagered), which gives it a delightful round bitterness and a light hoppiness. It used to be a fairly rare beer around the US, but now appears to be a common brew. Beeronomics links a great story on the spread of this beer, which of course we're now supposed to call something else thanks to EU and traditional safeguards (neat idea, Cologne, but not gonna happen).

I did get to talk to a number of cool brewers and industry people, so I'll have a bit more on such things in the coming days and weeks. Too much to write about, too few hours in the day.