It is a testament to the brewers and the OBF that my list of good beers is longer than my list of Bad and Ugly beers combined (and the Uglies were also pretty good). However, there are good beers and then there are good beers. We'll save the best for last.
I recommended starting out with the Sweaty Betty from Boulder, and sort of failed to take my own advice. Blame the vastness of space and my late arrival at the right truck. Nevertheless, it delivered just what I hoped (and through a hazy scrim of previous beers)--a dry, tart, satisfying beer with classic notes of clove and banana. Just like they make in old Bavaria for breakfast. [Bavarian Weizen, 5.9% abv, 15 IBUs]
The first beer I tried was Full Sail's Vesuvius, so my tongue was completely unsullied as it splashed around John Harris's rich, Belgian brew. The classic brand in this style is Duvel, Flemish for Devil, so named because the beer is extremely approachable, quaffable, and tasty, concealing its substantial alcohol. Vesuvius was too, with nice fruitiness, a very slight Belgian tart, and a long, dry finish. Very tasty and very dangerous. [Belgian golden, 8.5% abv, 20 IBUs]
A slightly controversial beer that I loved was Bell's Hell Hath No Fury, a Belgian dubbel. I confess that I had this late in the game, and while I was happily lapping it up, others in my party were giving the "eh" sign. I found the malt amazingly creamy and rich, but not overly sweet. My somewhat damaged taste buds were telling me the malts were providing some of the balance while the yeast added some interesting dark fruit notes, but even I'm suspicious of my judgment. Still, you gotta go with your experience, and amid the uberhoppies, this was a great change of pace. [Dubbel abbey-style ale, 8% abv, 20 IBUs]
Three others deserve a nod, if not a rave: the McBrothers' White Lightning Whisky Stout was a few pounds of hops from perfection. It was very rich and subtley inflected by the whisky, but, sadly, was overly sweet (I didn't realize until looking just now--it had only ten IBUs!). New Belgium, which tends to under-engineer every beer they brew, got their entry right with 1554 Enlightened Black Ale. It is called a Brussels black ale, purportedly based on an ancient recipe, but it tasted like a German black lager (schwarzbier)--malty rich, but not fruity. Boundary Bay brought a Double Dry Hopped Pale that wowed the nose as much as the tongue. Brewed especially for the Fest, I hope it's one of those beers that received a warm enough welcome to encourage the brewery to put it in its regular rotation.
Okay, to the cream of the cream. Early in the afternoon, a friend went for the Elysian Bifrost, and raved. I suspected it was a palate-destroyer, and waited, only to find, to my surprise, that it was a fantastically balanced, wonderfully aged winter ale. It's hard to make a big beer that offers pretty pronounced flavors of malt, hop, and alcohol but is simultaneously gentle--but that's what Elysian has done (note the rather modest 50 IBSs--modest because they're balancing a lot of malt). It's a big beer that drinks like a porter or brown. (I feel all the more brilliant for having put three 22 ounce bottles down in the cellar to age.) [Winter warmer, 7.7% abv, 50 IBUs]
And finally we come to the beer I came to at the end of the fest--and kept coming back to, at least twice more: Pliny the Elder. At about 7 Friday night, the line was the longest I've ever seen at the fest, stretching all the way past the middle of the tent. I went back the next day to shoot some video (I'll get to that eventually) and at two the next day, the line was already 15 deep--while nearby lines were literally empty. What to say about the beer? Imagine brewing the perfect Northwest pale ale, with that kind of delicious citrus hopping and fruity backbone, and then distilling it. That's Pliny. It has 100 IBUs, and yet I could drink it all night. Apparently I was not alone. [Imperial IPA, 8% abv, 100 IBUs]
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