GABF 2019: Top 40 Breweries
Here at ABV Chicago, we deal heavily in arbitrarity. Weekly, we review and rank beers as they wrap around our particular personal preferences, so we acknowledge that our opinions shouldn’t be taken too seriously. When it comes to narrowing down 800 breweries to a reasonable number to be able to tackle in one session, we try to be a better-informed version of arbitrary than usual. But this is an almost impossible task, and we certainly have left off a large number of great breweries. This list was brainstormed between Craig and myself, and Ryan Tracy and Matt Priest of Beer on the Wall, and the order in which breweries landed are a combination of how high they were ranked on our own lists and how frequently they appeared between our separate lists.
In the listings below, we’ve included a beer for each brewery that would be our choice if we were only to have one pour from each. But in reality, we’ll probably be hanging around each of these for more than one taster, as the crowd allows. The beer choices are based on the tentative pour list, which is subject to change, so we’re sorry if we lead you to a beer that’s not there.
And lastly, there are no Illinois breweries on this list because Craig has his own separate list of highlights from our home state, which you should read. There are excellent breweries from Illinois that deserve high placement on this list, but we are already spoiled by having regular access to them, so our lists are selfishly not local.
Our Top 40 Breweries at GABF 2019
40. Rip Current Brewing Co. (San Marcos, CA)
Our pick: Delaminator Doppelbock
This well-decorated Southern California brewery has been around for about 8 years, making a wide range of styles, both American and International. But it’s their smoked doppelbock that has my interest, because it’s an award-winner and likely one of the few smoked doppelbocks pouring at the fest. And I tend to veer weird when given the option.
39. Bagby Beer Company (Oceanside, CA)
Our pick: ALT in the Family
Practically neighbors to Rip Current, Oceanside’s Bagby has a refreshingly traditional beer list, featuring a baltic porter and an English-style brown. We’ll go with the altbier on a familiar principle of taking the style less traveled.
38. La Cumbre Brewing Company (Albuquerque, NM)
Our pick: Malpais Stout
It’s hard to skip over Elevated IPA or Project Dank, as La Cumbre’s IPAs are perfect. But a viscous Foreign Export Stout absent of adjuncts with a big creamy body sounds like something I want in a one ounce pour.
37. Chuckanut Brewery (Bellingham, WA)
Our pick: Vienna Lager
Though you can say it about most of their beers, the Vienna Lager from Chuckanut has an impressive trophy case, but you’ll also be very happy with any of the other lager beers pouring at this booth.
36. Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL)
Our pick: Criminal Commission
Despite their increasing national ubiquity, never forget Cigar City’s ability to make showstopping specialty stouts. Although we are certainly going to try the Amburana-aged stout, Xbalanque, it’s hard to pass up the Criminal Commission. It’s an imperial stout collaboration with Bottle Logic (who are sadly absent from the fest this year, timed tappings be damned) that mimics a Bananas Foster dessert through rum barrels, vanilla, bananas, and cinnamon. That’s worth the line.
35. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland, VA)
Our pick: Supreme Leader
Honestly, we’re kind of hoping they bring a CBD sparkling water, but Lickinghole Creek also has been dabbling in juicy IPAs. The Supreme Leader is a bourbon barrel-aged stout with peppers, vanilla, and cinnamon. The leader is good. The leader is great.
34. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver, CO)
Our pick: Framboise Traditional
Crooked Stave is bringing a lot of beer this year perhaps to make up for their irregular attendance at the fest despite the home field advantage. But that’s okay, because they’re still one of the best sour producers in the U.S., and count us in for a Lambic-style raspberry beer.
33. Noble Ale Works (Anaheim, CA)
Our pick: Naughty Sauce
Although they’ve since made a ton of other great beers, Noble and Naughty Sauce are forever tied together for me. This was a truly knock-your-head-back experience the first time I tried it in 2014, and I still revisit it every year for its silky smooth body with decadent dessert notes and light coffee roast.
32. Austin Beerworks (Austin, TX)
Our pick: Super Awesome Lager
This booth is the perfect oasis after you make a run on over-flavored ales, as their two-time medal winner Super Awesome Lager is as advertised. Or grab a Tickle Fight and enjoy a hoppy yet crisp lager.
31. Odd Side Ales (Grand Haven, MI)
Our pick: Bombon De La Muerte
Odd Side is really going heavy on the barrel-aged beers for their pour list, and they have a tendency to make adjuncts the star of their dessert-inspired beers, so it’s a bit hard to settle on a single flavor experience from these weirdos. Bombon De La Muerte is a bourbon barrel-aged stout with chocolate and dead sea salt, of course.
30. Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville, NC)
Our pick: Sour Brown aged on Palo Alto
This brewery has four taprooms. FOUR. That’s not a measure of beer quality, but all of my previous experiences with Hi-Wire at GABF make this a solid recommendation. Plus, that sour brown aged on a mix of bourbon and wine barrels sounds like an adventure, and I want in.
29. Brink Brewing Co. (Cincinnati, OH)
Our pick: Hold the Reins
If you include this year, Brink has only been a brewery long enough to send beer for judging at GABF for three years – and they already have three medals. They also were recognized as the best Very Small Brewery of the Year last year by GABF, so quality abounds. Although their Imperial Moozie – an amped up version of their gold medal-winning Moozie from last year – looks awfully attractive, I can’t pass on an English Mild that has both a silver and gold from GABF already.
28. IMBIB Custom Brews (Reno, NV)
Our pick: Triad
Like the country of France, this brewery’s name relies on a macron to do a lot of work. Oof. I am…so sorry. This is another well-decorated brewery, and they seem to specialize in Weisse beers and sours, although they have a range of flavorful styles. The Triad is a Gueuze-inspired blend of 1, 2, and 3-year aged mixed culture fermented beers.
27. Barrage Brewing Company (Farmingdale, NY)
Our pick: Assault N Fudgery
If you like your New York breweries to be obsessed with Seinfeld references, well you are in luck. Though they left most of the reference beers out east, the Assault N Fudgery salted caramel and fudge porter is like an expensive chocolate-dipped pretzel that stays drinkable through and through.
26. Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)
Our pick: PB & J Stout
Being 70% owned by Mahou-San Miguel doesn’t have to take away from one of the best barrel programs in the country. We’re eager to try the PB & J Stout and the Double Barreled Maple Stout, both at Avery’s signature “Inappropriate Amount of Alcohol” with 13% and 15.3% respectively.
25. Societe Brewing Company (San Diego, CA)
Our pick: The Pupil
A great thing about Societe is that they’re less concerned with releasing three new beers a week, but instead they dial in a somewhat smaller stable of beers and show adept execution in an array of styles. The Pupil is a perfect West Coast IPA that is on the lighter and fruiter side, with a crisp and somewhat bitter finish.
24. Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles, CA)
Our pick: Old Man Hattan
While I’m stopping by their booth to scream hoarsely at anyone who will listen about how they need to somehow resurrect Black Xantus, I will also sheepishly request pours of just about anything they’ve put into barrels. Though it was bottled and somewhat widely released, the Old Man Hattan sounds like something I should’ve already tried by now.
23. MadTree Brewing Company (Cincinnati, OH)
Our pick: Joon
Kudos to Cincinnati for having two great breweries on this list. I will mainly be at MadTree for their Joon, a gin barrel-aged kolsch with juniper and ginger. It’s like a refreshing early evening summer driveway cocktail you sip on while your kids trip over a field of broken pretzel necklaces.
22. Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME)
Our pick: Windfall
You’re absolutely allowed to yell at us for letting one of the best breweries in the country fall this far in any list, but we are spoiled to have access to Allagash in Chicago. Both the Coolship Balaton and Windfall, a brett-fermented wild ale with peaches, will undoubtedly be highlights of the fest.
21. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (Columbus, OH)
Our pick: Clear Sky Daybreak
Wolf’s Ridge is a must-seek brewery any time I encounter them, as evidenced by multiple awards from GABF and even our local FoBAB. Though I will also definitely have the Terre du Sauvage Blue, the Clear Sky Daybreak is a lovely coffee-infused cream ale that is just so darn comforting.
20. Beachwood BBQ & Brewing/Beachwood Blendery (Long Beach, CA)
Our picks: Mocha Machine/Funk Yeah w/ Apricot
This is a bit of cheating since these are technically separate booth entities, but you’re going to need to jump in each line a few times here. Beachwood was already making some massively flavorful beers like the fabulously fudgy Mocha Machine, but then they went and started making exceptional lambic-style beers that win awards every year.
19. Odd13 Brewing (LaFayette, CO)
Our pick: Bubblestar Princess
Odd13 pulls no punches when it comes to flavor, and their whole GABF pour list is filled with beers as colorful as their artwork. So why not just go for the Citra and Galaxy-hopped New England-style Double IPA? It won’t suck.
18. New Realm Brewing Company (Atlanta, GA)
Our pick: Hoplandia
Listed as the first beer made by Brewmaster Mitch Steele (famously formerly of Stone Brewing), Hoplandia is an IPA with Simcoe and Centennial, so I’m expecting a wonderful throwback of bitterness and crisp drinkability. Just don’t Feel The Steele.™
17. Pure Project Brewing (San Diego, CA)
Our pick: Corylus
We had some excellent hazy IPAs from this Costa Rican-influenced and sustainable brewery, which is enough to bring us back this year. But this year we really want to get dirty with their Corylus, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with hazelnuts, cacao, and coffee that sits at a velvety 16.5%.
16. Ology Brewing Co. (Tallahassee, FL)
Our pick: Dynamic Fermentum
Though we don’t know which version of Dynamic Fermentum is set to pour, we know that this fruited sour series has a stellar reputation that is absolutely worth the time. Throw in an over-fruited Berlinner and a DDH IPA, and their pour list is shaping up to be a favorite of hype chasers – which is totally okay.
15. Prison City Pub & Brewery (Auburn, NY)
Our pick: Mass Riot
Their NE-style IPA, Mass Riot, is about as well-rated as any beer in that style, so it’ll be a must-try before it kicks for the session. But Prison City also has a huge adjunct stout and hoppy brett wild ale to fall back on, so you’ll be fine with anything they pour you.
14. Fremont Brewing (Seattle, WA)
Our pick: Brew 3000
Oh baby I hear the brews a-calling, adjunct stouts and barleywines. Fremont’s barrel-aged beers are undoubtedly some of the best in the world, but we’ll have to put a barleywine on this list to appease the meme-loving masses or whatever. But really, this or Coconut B-Bomb will likely be many attendees’ favorite beers of the fest.
13. Oozlefinch Craft Brewery (Fort Monroe, VA)
Our pick: Habitual Hesitation
We had a great time tasting through Oozlefinch’s entire lineup last year, and when we see a barrel-aged saison pouring at their booth, you can bet we’ll be regulars there again.
12. Speciation Artisan Ales (Comstock, MI)
Our pick: Saltation
This brewery is on the verge of losing the distinction of being one of the Midwest’s best kept secrets, as people are catching on to their incredible barrel-aged and wild sours. Everything on Speciation’s pour list sounds spectacular, but the only one we can vouch for is the fruited tequila barrel-aged sour accented with enough salt that you could fall into a trap of infinite sipping with this one, if it were possible. (Mitch please make that possible, somehow.)
11. Modern Times Beer (San Diego, CA)
Our pick: Good News
This pour list includes “Special Beer Releases” as one of its items, and I can only assume that there will be much more contained within that term than what is currently listed. As interested as I am in a New England-style Double IPA from this brewery, they had a few barrel-aged adjunct stouts last year that were in my top 5 beers from the entire fest. So, I’m counting on something along those lines, but Modern Times is a sure bet through and through.
10. Orpheus Brewing (Atlanta, GA)
Our pick: a light threatens meekly
We’ve known for a while that Orpheus is a great brewery, but let me just paste the Untappd style descriptors for the five beers they’ll be pouring and then you’ll understand their placement on this list: blend of whiskey barrel-aged barleywine, adambier, and stout; imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with roasted macadamia nuts and vanilla beans; Méthode Traditionelle spontaneous coolship beer with oblacinska cherries; imperial stout aged 14-39 months in bourbon barrels with vanilla beans and black coconut (white coconuts we slowly cooked for 5 weeks); wild ale aged 3 years in wine barrels and refermented with blueberries. Sorry, I should’ve tagged this article as NSFW.
9. Live Oak Brewing Company (Austin, TX)
Our pick: Grodziskie
Even though they make one of the best Hefeweizens in the world and make almost universally perfect lagers, I’m dying for a good smoked Grodziskie made by a brewery that truly understands the style.
8. Great Notion Brewing (Portland, OR)
Our pick: Blueberry Muffin
Get a sample from a nearby brewery and line up for this one, as Great Notion’s reputation for huge flavors done incredibly well on a variety of styles will result in a crowd. Blueberry Muffin is a playful and accurately named sour beer that is definitely worth a pour.
7. Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales (Denver, CO)
Our pick: Oxcart
There are no wrong choices when it comes to sampling Black Project, but we’ll go with the gueuze-inspired Oxcart as our recommendation, because it’s stellar. But you should really try as much as you can here if you love spontaneous beer and fruited sour beers, as they are doing them as well as anyone.
6. Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Waitsfield, VT)
Our pick: Triple Sunshine IPA
Never miss an opportunity to try Lawson’s and any of their maple or Sunshine beers. Screw it: we’re going to request a blend of Double Sunshine and Triple Sunshine to make a Quintuple Sunshine. That’s how that works, right?
5. The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)
Our pick: Duck Duck Gooze
Another brewery whose reputation didn’t need our recommendation, The Lost Abbey doesn’t make bad beer. In fact, they make some of the best beer, like Duck Duck Gooze – maybe the consistently best American take on a gueuze-style.
4. Russian River Brewing Co. (Windsor, CA)
Our pick: Intinction – Merlot
Now with two fully operational locations, Russian River can expand to two booths at GABF which is great news for people who don’t like waiting in lines. There will still be lines, but perhaps they’ll be shorter? It’s a theory, but then they go and bring new “-tion” beers like Intiction, with two barrel variations, and it’s appointment drinking.
3. J. Wakefield Brewing (Miami, FL)
Our pick: Miami Madness
Just about everything here will run out early, so this one needs to be near the top of your priority list if they’re important to your GABF plans. And J. Wakefield should be – they have some hype-y stouts, but those don’t move me like the Miami Madness, a “Florida Weisse” that belies any traditional style designation and just tastes like exquisite tropical fruit juice.
2. pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River, OR)
Our pick: Druif Rouge
It doesn’t make a ton of sense to put the best brewery in the country at number two, but I hope the next entry explains it well enough. But yes, we believe pFriem represents as close to brewing perfection as one could hope to get, whether it’s complex aged sour beers or crisp pilsners or surprisingly juicy IPAs. Nothing pFriem does has disappointed us or even fallen below exceptional in our minds.
1. WeldWerks Brewing Co. (Greeley, CO)
Our pick: Medianoche Premiere
WeldWerks has become GABF, and GABF is WeldWerks. Their growth in the last four years of the fest is reflective of the trends at the fest itself, love them or hate them. They do all the milkshake thingies, fruited this-and-thats, and adjuncted what-nots that you could imagine (in addition to a few well-crafted traditional styles), as they average like 120 new beers a year. What makes them stand out is how consistently these flavor experiments work out better than they should. And then they go and throw out their Achromatic and Medianoche stout series, winning significant medals and leaving a remarkable impression on a few Chicago-based podcasters. This Medianoche Premiere is aged in nine freakin’ barrels that represent five different spirits and GOD DAMN IT I’m only mortal. Then I’ll follow that up with a “Hot Sauce Barrel Aged Taco Gose” because it’s GABF and it’s the best time of the year.