The Breweries With Cult Followings That We Loved at the 2015 GABF
Like the movie Evil Dead, select breweries across the country have a cult following. And while those breweries are responsible for fewer zombie deaths by chainsaw, they do make great brews that people lose their minds for. We sampled beer from some cult favorites at this year's Great American Beer Festival, and we got to find out first hand why these seven breweries are so beloved.
Why they have a cult following: Three words: Embrace the Funk. That's their series of beers produced since 2012 with “wild yeasts, souring microbes” and aged in casks. Unsurprisingly, beers like that attract a crowd. And the brewery actually had to get a distillery license in Tennessee to produce Yazoo Sue, which was pouring at GABF when we stopped by. Also notable that their brewery is one letter off from receiving a cease and desist from a certain Internet juggernaut.
Our favorite beer: Sue is described by the brewery as a "smoky, malt bomb of a beer" and after sampling it, we can confirm. Not as smoky as a glass of Scotch, but more smoke than in any porter I've had recently.
Why they have a cult following: The pious folks at Saint Arnold tout the fact that they're Texas' oldest craft brewery -- they shipped their first keg way back in 1994. And part of what makes their beers a cult fave is that they're still difficult to find outside of Texas, Louisiana, and parts of Florida. Despite their limited distribution, the word about their barrel-aging programs are out.
Our favorite beer: Any beer from Saint Arnold that starts with "Bishop's Barrel" or "Divine Reserve" is gonna be good, so we sampled Bishop's Barrel No. 10, a barleywine they made to celebrate their 21st Anniversary. Delicious bourbon notes.
Why they have a cult following: The hard-to-find brewery has won GABF medals, will let you brew beer with them, and also makes a killer pulled pork sandwich in their brewpub, so it's no wonder Brew Kettle is beloved in Ohio. Thankfully, they're not content to only be a regional beer brand -- they just announced they're building a new 40,000sqft facility.
Our favorite beer: El Lupulo Libre was one of our Editorial Director Ben Robinson's favorite IPAs at the fest. And he tasted 3,699 beers to come to that conclusion.
Why they have a cult following: Aside from having one of the best IPAs in the country (they won last year), Breakside's lead brewer takes his ambitious nature to maybe-absurd levels, sometimes putting out as many as 100 different beers a year, ranging from spot-on sours to chili beers and, once, a brew made by throwing fresh strawberry rhubarb pies into the mash. The only thing more ridiculous than the idea was how good it was.
Our favorite beer: Both the Wanderlust and the standard-bearer IPA both got high marks from our IPA-loving Ben Robinson. No strawberry rhubarb pie beers in the bunch, sadly.
Why they have a cult following: When a supremely popular brewery's beers are only available in one state, that's an instant recipe for cult status. New Glarus and Alchemist are good examples of that, and Short's is another. And Short's does not make your typical specialty beers, like a stout aged in a bourbon barrel. Nope, Short's makes Pistachio Cream Ales and a Strawberry "Short's" Cake golden ale and a Bloody Mary beer. They do not mess around.
Our favorite beer: Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head, told us their Key Lime Pie was worth trying, and he was not wrong. The key lime flavors in the beer were way more subtle than I expected them to be.
Why they have a cult following: Being one of the best breweries in the Northeast is certainly cause for a cult following, and the fact that it's difficult to track down bottles like the Double Sunshine IPA and Maple Imperial Stout (which was pouring at GABF) doesn't hurt either. Take that, Canada! We can do maple beers too.
Our favorite beer: The lines were non-stop at the Vermont craft beer staple, and after drinking their Sunshine IPA at the booth, it was easy to tell why. They also poured the yet-to-be-released Vermont maple syrup-enhanced barleywine Double or Nothing.
Why they have a cult following: Proving that Four Peaks has a fervent fan base, the brewery was a #13 seed in our Best Craft Brewery in America bracket challenge and then proceeded to win the whole damn thing. Their Scottish Ale Kilt Lifter has won six GABF medals dating back to 1998, and the Hop Knot IPA certainly has a following as well.
Our favorite beer: The White Ale is a refreshing witbier with bright orange notes, which is also what you hear when Ed Sheeran plays a song.
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