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Ten Breweries to Visit During the 2018 Great American Beer Festival

You’ll get your fill of haze and pastry stouts; hops are everywhere.

John Holl a month ago

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Photo © Brewers Association

There are more than 750 breweries from around the country pouring at the Great American Beer Festival, which kicks off tonight in Denver, Colorado (with three more sessions on Friday evening and Saturday). There’s a ton of beer being poured in every conceivable style. For a serious beer drinker this is the place to be.

Return visitors will tell you that there’ll always be a line at breweries such as Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, California) or Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales (Milton, Delaware). Breweries with limited distribution but big reputations such as Shorts Brewing Company (Bellaire, Michigan) also usually garner big crowds. Still, there’s a lot to be discovered where lines don’t exist. So as you’re exploring, roll the dice. Hopefully you’ll like your small pour, but if not, there are plenty of dump buckets and more taps to try.

Here are ten breweries that are pouring at the festival this year that are worth stopping by for a visit and a tick off your beer list.

Fernson Brewing Co.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The Pride of South Dakota! From lagers to kettle sours to IPA, this brewery has been serving it all up for thirsty locals while making big waves globally. Try the 2018 Gold Medal–winning Farmhouse Ale and enjoy not only its refreshing character, but also its brilliant subtlety and easy-drinking nature. This beer will make you wish pours were larger at this fest.

Social Kitchen & Brewery

San Francisco, California
The brewery that invented the Brut IPA—the style of the moment—is worth a visit. Get a taste of this uber dry IPA and talk with brewer Kim Sturdavant (if you can) about how this style came about and where he currently is in the innovation process. Plus, they’ll be pouring the award-winning English pale ale, Admiral Kite’s (it has won in the past as Mr. Kite’s, but now the brewery is using California-grown barley from Admiral Maltings in lieu of Maris Otter).

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Chico, California, and Mills River, North Carolina
I know, I know! You’re going to say, “but we can get their beer everywhere! Why would I drink it here?” Well, I’ll tell you. This stalwart of American craft brewers brings their A-game to GABF year after year. Sure, the classic pale is a wonderful refresher in between hazy pours and experimental lagers, but where Sierra Nevada really shines each year is the small-batch offerings that showcase the brewery’s talents. And in years past, some of the beers poured at GABF were early sneak peeks at beers that would later hit the national stage. Stop by the booth and be among the first in the know.

Bagby Beer Company

San Diego, California
Haze is great. All hail, haze! But as beer drinkers, it’s important to remember where this current craze came from, and we should look to our past. Jeff Bagby is a long-time brewer who knows how to craft a stellar pint of traditional West Coast pale ale. Clear, slightly bitter, and bursting with pine and citrus aromatics, his classic hoppy beers are inspiring.

Sun King Brewing Company

Indianapolis, Indiana
Only recently available outside of their home state of Indiana, this can-only brewery goes deep into its considerable wood-aging collection to bring the best to Denver. Taste beers such as Cherry Busey or Stupid Sexy Flanders, and you’ll quickly understand why this brewery racks up the medals each year.

Mad Fox Brewing Company

Falls Church, Virginia
Washington, D.C., has become a beer destination in recent years, and with so much happening in the city, a lot of folks might not take a trip out to the suburbs. So, don’t miss a chance to sample beers from this European-leaning brewpub that has been serving up stellar glasses of Kölsch, mild, wee heavy, and more since 2010. It’s a good bet that next time you’re in the area, you’ll make the in-person pilgrimage.

Chuckanut Brewery

Bellingham, Washington The trend in craft is headed toward lagers, and if you’re unfamiliar with all the styles in the category, stop by Chuckanut for some serious education. Brewmaster Will Kemper has spent a career making flavorful and technically perfect lagers. More than a palate cleanser, these beers are good for the soul.

Vista Brewing

Driftwood, Texas A relative newcomer to the Lone Star State’s beer scene, Vista has already started to impress folks with its diverse lineup (it’s not everywhere you can go from a black Pilsner to a tripel to an old-school IPA) and commitment to quality. This could be one of the breweries you get to say, “I had their beer before they were famous.”

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

Wilmington, Delaware
This mid-Atlantic chain of brewpubs routinely takes home GABF hardware, including some of the larger industry awards. Multiple locations mean a lot of different beers get made. So, for the diversity hunters, this is a good place to go.

Haymarket Pub & Brewery

Chicago, Illinois
Under the direction of Brewmaster Peter Crowley, this brewpub in Chicago has been turning out top-notch “classic Belgian and contemporary American” beer recipes for the better part of a decade. Stop by the booth and see what they are pouring from the wood. There’s a reason Crowley regularly wins awards at the Festival of Wood & Barrel Aged Beer each year, and this weekend in Denver you’ll be able to taste it.

von Trapp Brewing

Stowe, Vermont
Yes, von Trapp Brewing is owned by the family portrayed in that movie you watched as a kid. A recent brewhouse upgrade has meant more lagers coming to market. Even the hardest haze hunters and Hill Farmstead fans are now making the trip to this hilltop brewery for proper Pilsner glasses of helles, Oktoberfest, and more. This brewery is a reminder of where beer came from and what it can aspire to be in the future.

John Holl is the Senior Editor of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email tips and story suggestions to [email protected].

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