Excitement and curiosity about beer has reached a fever pitch in the United States. I saw this firsthand at the recent Great American Beer Festival, October 10-12 in Denver, where 49,000 people descended on the Colorado Convention Center to get their fill of beer and beer knowledge from 624 brewers pouring 3,142 beers. The event is put on by the Brewers Association, which says there are 2,538 breweries in the country as of June, 2,483 of them small, independent and traditional—the association’s guidelines for being called “craft.” And many more are in the works: Right now, the Nevada Craft Brewers’ Association lists six new Nevada breweries in planning.
The big trends at the festival this year included herbal saisons (Belgian-style farmhouse ales), field beers (made with vegetables), and so much chai, spice and chocolate. I even saw an increase in the number of gluten-free cider/sorghum blends and low-gluten beers. At the awards last year, Las Vegas’ Chicago Brewing Co. and Big Dog’s Brewing Co. took the gold and silver for their Cocoa For Coconuts and Red Hydrant Ale, respectively. This year, the accolades increased twofold as four Nevada beers medaled out of the 4,809 entries. Catch them when and where you can, and save the date, October 2-4, 2014 for the next Great American Beer Festival in Denver. GreatAmericanBeerFestival.com.
Citra Rye Pale Ale, Joseph James Brewing Co.
Joseph James Brewing Co.’s Citra Rye Pale Ale beat out 121 other American-Style Pale Ales to take the bronze in that category. It’s the creation of brewer Kyle Weniger, who started his career as a homebrewer and went pro in 2012. “It was surreal going up there and getting a fist-bump from [homebrewing forefather] Charlie Papazian himself,” Weniger says. “It was so cool to share the stage with so many of my heroes.” When the brewery received a long-awaited shipment of citra hops, there was a friendly competition to see who could create the best beer capitalizing on the precious, exotically fruity buds along with Cascade and centennial hops. Citra Rye also took gold in the 2013 Denver International Beer Competition. Joseph James has just tripled its citra-hop order for next year. Find it on draft Downtown at Atomic Liquors ($6) and all eight Southern Nevada Smashburger locations ($3.50). FoxBrews.com.
Quad Damn It!, Chicago Brewing Co.
There’s tough competition in the Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale category, with 80-plus entries, which makes Chicago Brewing Co.’s silver medal for its Quad Damn It! all the sweeter. A quadrupel, this dark, strong, malty, medium-bodied Belgian-style beer has a nose of winter spices and a palate of dark fruits. “You get banana, plum, brown sugar, raisin,” says head brewer David Pascual. “It finishes actually rather dry; it doesn’t give you that cloying sweetness.” But at 10.2 percent alcohol by volume, it packs a mean punch. Despite it being Pascual’s first time brewing this style, entering it into the competition paid off for this brewery-only, draft-only beer. “I don’t think of it as a competition with the brewers here, but I want to make sure I’m doing my part to bring attention to Las Vegas.” $5 per pint, 2201 S. Fort Apache Rd., 254-3333, Facebook.com/Pages/Chicago-Brewing-Company.
Buzzed Bee Honey Ale, High Sierra Brewing Co.
Taking the gold medal in the Specialty Honey Beer category, High Sierra’s honey ale is currently a brewery-only delicacy. “We were very surprised and elated!” brewery president and owner Jim Phalan says. “When Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch went up there [winning] second [place], we were like, ‘OK, it’s over for us.’ Then we experienced a high that we’ve never experienced before.” Buzzed Bee is slated to appear at more locations around Northern Nevada, and hopefully soon, in Southern Nevada. In the meantime, look for it at the Brew Local! Craft Brewers Festival, November 2 in Las Vegas (BrewLocalVegas.com). HighSierraBrewCo.com.
Bitchin’ Berry, Great Basin Brewing Co.
If you haven’t heard much about the Fruit Wheat Beer category in past years, you’re not alone; it’s not been a category of much acclaim. Till now. “People are finally starting to appreciate beers with a lot of flavor right now,” says Dave Miller, head brewer of Great Basin’s Sparks location. “And that includes fruit beers.” No longer disregarded as sweet, unsophisticated “girly juice,” Great Basin’s 100 percent natural Bitchin’ Berry is a wheat beer infused with raspberries and blackberries, and this year, it took the silver. This is not a new creation for the brewery, which has entered Bitchin’ Berry into the awards before. It just so happens that this year, the world was ready for it. Look for it when you’re in the Reno area. GreatBasinBrewingCo.com