19 Great American Beer Festival Winners You Can Get in Arizona
Denver is a sadder, quieter place this week. The vendors have broken down their booths; the brewers have packed up their jockey boxes; the drinkers have sobered up. The 2013 Great American Beer Festival is over and done.
But all is not lost. Held every year since 1982 in the Mile High City, the GABF is not just a huge festival wherein revelers can sample the best beers from the best brewers across the country -- it's also the country's largest beer competition. This year, 160 invited judges blind-tasted 4,875 beers from 714 breweries, awarding bronze, silver and gold medals to the brews they felt were the best in 84 categories. Many of the medal-winners are brewed on a regular basis, and some are even available on shelves and on tap right now. Here, we list the best locally available award-winning brews -- find them and do a GABF tasting of your own.
See also: 8 Beer Cocktails in Metro Phoenix
Gold Medal Winners Alesmith Old Numbskull - Barleywine-style Ale San Diego-based Alesmith is a GABF vet, having won 16 total medals since 1998, including two silvers for this very beer. This doesn't surprise -- Old Numbskull blends caramel, raisin and orange oil flavors and a skull-numbing 11 percent ABV with such finesse it's dangerous.
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack -- American-style Black Ale Firestone Walker cleaned up this year, winning a silver medal for the citrusy Union Jack IPA, a gold for Pivo Pils and a gold for this American black ale, which is a confusing way of saying black IPA. Dark, hoppy and alcoholic (8.3 percent ABV), Wookey Jack tastes and smells like a pine tree that grows oranges downwind from a campfire.
Great Divide Chocolate Oak-Aged Yeti -- Chocolate Beer Take Yeti, Great Divide's imperial stout that won GABF medals in 2005, 2008 and 2009, then age it with oak chips, cocoa nibs and cayenne. BOOM. Chocolate Yeti.
Left Hand Milk Stout -- Sweet Stout or Cream Stout Another big winner at GABF, Left Hand earned golds for this stout as well as for its foreign-style stout, Fade to Black Vol. 1, and its English bitter, Sawtooth. Whereas most beers get their fizziness from carbon dioxide, Milk Stout uses nitrogen, which gives the beer a smooth, creamy body to play with flavors of charred bread, peanuts, dark roast coffee and sweet cream.
Lumberyard American Pale Ale -- American-Style Pale Ale Lumberyard was the only Arizona brewery to take home gold this year, and they did it in the hotly contested American pale ale category.
Odell 5 Barrel -- Classic English-style Pale Ale Odell infuses 5 Barrel with whole hop cones at eight different stages throughout its brewing process. The result is a brew that exudes the malty balance of an English-style pale while still showing off bright hop flavors.
Ska True Blonde -- English-style Summer Ale English summer ales and American blonde ales have a lot in common: golden color, light body, low bitterness, sparkling carbonation. Brewed with a bit of honey, True Blonde exhibits all these characteristics as well as a refreshing, thirst-quenching quality that allows it to transcend stylistic labels.
Speakeasy Prohibition Ale -- American-style Amber/Red Ale Once upon a time, San Francisco-made Speakeasy Ales were available on Arizona shelves. Then, suddenly, they were pulled from the shelves as if we were back in the Prohibition era to which the brewery's labels refer. Thanks to a new agreement with Arizona distributors, however, Speakeasy is back, meaning you can once again grab bottles of this flagship red ale and enjoy its bright, citrusy hops balanced with toffee-like malt.
Silver Medal Winners Big Sky Power Wagon -- Other Strong Beer Power Wagon's an example of a fairly uncommon beer style known as wheatwine -- basically a barleywine brewed with a high percentage of wheat. The grain adds a smooth fruitiness as well as a bit of body, adding a physical heft that matches the brew's 11 percent ABV.
Dogfish Head Midas Touch -- Specialty of Honey Beer Not just a medal-winning flavor, but a cool story: in 2001, Dogfish teamed up with a molecular archaeologist to recreate a liquid found in vessels stored in the thousand-year-old tomb of King Midas. Brewed to 9 percent ABV with Muscat grapes, honey and saffron, the historic brew is sweet and complex.
Fate Candy Bar Milk Stout -- Specialty beer GABF judges apparently understood why we would name Fate this year's best new brewery. The Scottsdale brewpub's Candy Bar Milk Stout, brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla bean, sea salt, and honey-roasted peanuts, is a winner no matter how you look at it.
Four Peaks Kilt Lifter -- Scottish-style Ale In its winningest year ever, Four Peaks brought its total medal count to 12 and gave festival judges and attendees a taste of this caramelly, über-drinkable nectar Arizonans have come to know and love.
Four Peaks Hop Knot -- American-Style Strong Pale Ale Hop Knot took gold in this category two years ago, but although the medal's color has changed, the beer's winning flavor hasn't -- the brew gains bright citrus and pine notes from an intricate brewing process that weaves in hops at six different stages.
Wasatch White Label -- Belgian-style Witbier Brewed with orange peel and coriander just as the first witbiers were, White Label is as solid and flavorful an example of the style as you're likely to find -- even in Utah, where Wasatch does its brewing,
Bronze Medal Winners Lost Abbey Red Poppy -- American-style sour ale Undoubtedly one of the best sours made in America, Red Poppy begins life as a brown ale before spending six months in oak barrels with souring yeast and bacteria. The finished bottles bloom with flavors and aromas of chocolate-covered cherries, raspberry, balsamic vinegar and funky oak.
Ommegang Three Philosophers -- Belgian-style Abbey Ale Ommegang only brews Belgian-style ales, and they brew them right. In Three Philosophers, the Cooperstown, New York-based brewery mixes 97 percent dark, figgy Belgian Quadrupel with 3 percent sour cherry ale, adding complex and enticing fruit flavors to the brew.
Thunder Canyon Dark Lightning Milk Stout -- Sweet Stout or Cream Stout Tucson's Thunder Canyon makes about a hundred different beers, but some stand above the others -- Roadrunner Red Lager and Countdown Honey brown have earned the brewery five GABF medals since 2000. Dark Lightning is a new addition to the portfolio, melding nuttiness and roasted flavors in a body as chewy as an oatmeal cookie.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.
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