Walking around the Great American Beer Festival is a beer fan's paradise and a claustrophobic man's nightmare. If you've never been to GABF, let me explain. There are certain breweries with no wait time to taste their beer, and others that attract crowds of people lining up to get a 1oz pour.
These are seven of those popular breweries, what they were pouring, and what makes them so great in the first place.
Timothy DeLaGhetto and David So Light Up Houston's Hops n' Hot Sauce Festival
Akron, OH Why they have cult status:Holy moly does this brewery win awards. Where do they keep all of them? The most impressive one is helping propel Ohio to the 12th best state for food/drink, an honor awarded by this very site. And sure, they have a DIPA with an unbelievable 168 IBUs, but their B.O.R.I.S. stout is legendary in its own right. The rarest beer at their booth: They brewed the Barrel Aged Naked Evil BBW, a barleywine-style ale released for their fifth anniversary, and they only bring it back every once in a blue moon (pun intended).
Funky Buddha Brewery
Oakland Park, FL Why they have cult status: A PB&J brown ale called No Crusts. A Porter considered one of the best in the world called Last Snow. And they're obsessed with food-forward beers: a maple bacon coffee porter, a French toast double brown ale. And considering how loose and fun the Funky Buddha staff at the booth was, they don't seem to take themselves too seriously. The rarest beer at their booth: The bourbon barrel-aged Nikolai Vorlauf Russian Imperial Stout is named as such because it's a play on a beer style and a Russian WWF wrestler from way back when.
Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.
Warren, MI Why they have cult status: Ranked the third best brewery in Michigan, and ranked as the top brewery with multiple "h's" and "n's" confusingly scattered about its name, Kuhnhenn has been winning awards at GABF and the World Beer Cup since '98. We don't know of too many breweries who make a Double Rice IPA -- probably because it's super difficult. The rarest beer at their booth: Nothing at the booth seemed particularly rare, but I sampled the Imperial White Ale White Devil and loved every citrusy sip.
Upland Brewing Co.
Bloomington, IN Why they have cult status:Look at this sour list. Seriously, go look and then come back here. It's all about those lambics, son! Kiwi?! Persimmon?! Check and check. The rarest beer at their booth: One of the brewers claimed theCoastbuster Imperial IPA,a West Coast-style IPA, is something they drink a lot in the brewery. And apparently not much makes it out of there.
Southern California Why they have cult status: These guys are the OGs of the San Diego craft beer scene. And there's been a nationwide following for an equally long time, as they've racked up 83 GABF medals since '94. We've got facts on facts on facts about Pizza Port. Oh, and Lost Abbey used some of their recipes as the basis for a handful of their legendary brews. That's not bad company. The rarest beer at their booth: One of PP's employees pointed me towards the Dusk Till Dawn Imperial Coffee Porter, which is everything you want in a coffee beer.
Toppling Goliath Brewing Company
Decorah, IA Why they have cult status: For starters, they're the best brewery in Iowa. And it's no wonder when they brew the universally loved pale ale pseudoSue, and the Assassin, an imperial stout aged for over a year in 20-year Pappy barrels. The rarest beer at their booth: They were out of Assassinwithin an hour of the doors opening, but luckily I got the last pour. Easily one of the best stouts I've ever had in my stout-filled life.
Prairie Artisan Ales
Tulsa, OK Why they have cult status: People drive to Oklahoma just to try their beers. I always thought Kevin Durant was the best thing about OK, but he's two hours away. Beer nerds don't even care about their semi-close proximity to one of the greatest players of all time -- that's how good this beer is. Those people especially go nuts for their "Noir" series of barrel-aged beers, including a Jamaican stout that's spent time in a rum barrel. The rarest beer at their booth: There wasn't a Prairie rep at the booth when I went by, but I chose the Beer Wasteland (Rum Barrel).It's a barleywine they won't ship to you, even if you ask.
Lee Breslouerwrites about food and drink for Thrillist and encourages you to say hi if you see him this weekend at GABF. Follow him at @LeeBreslouer for blurry photos of beer.