On Saturday, Oct. 7, the Brewers Association will hand out the formal awards for the best beers of the 2017 Great American Beer Festival. But the people sampling the more than 3,800 offerings have already spoken.
Before the awards, beer lovers have two days to sample the wares of the 780 breweries attending the show. And in a cavernous convention center that’s the size of more than two football fields, word of mouth is critical.
Some breweries known for their whales (hard to get beers), like Russian River or The Lost Abbey, always have a line of 40 people or more (often topping 100). Other well-known brewers with special offerings, like Dogfish Head or Avery Brewing, are reliably crowded as well.
But sometimes, it’s the lesser-known breweries that become viral sensations at the show.
Here’s a look at the brewers who have been reinforcing their iconic status (or building it) among craft beer fans at the 2017 show:
Great Notion – With a consistent line of 30-40 people throughout Thursday evening, Great Notion is quickly expanding its fan base. The Oregon-based brewer specializes in hazy, New England IPAs, but also makes a terrific sour that tastes just like a blueberry muffin and a hearty stout.
Melvin’s Brewing – It’s hard to call one area of the GABF floor “party central,” since the show is so widespread, but if you had to, Melvin’s Brewing would be a strong contender. Pouring in front of a decorated school bus with music blaring and WWE star “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan posing with fans, it turned the head of anyone who walked by. But it’s the beers that are the real star. The Wyoming brewery has a terrific assortment of IPAs as part of its catalog, but the GABF newcomer “Drunken Master,” a double IPA, is the big hit among showgoers.
Abnormal Brewing Co. – Abnormal’s M3 stout would be enough to get people to line up, but when it announced it would tap a barrel-aged version of M3 for the first time ever, the line quickly grew to between 100-150 people, who waited for up to 30 minutes for a one ounce pour. It was worth the wait. Silky smooth, with chocolate notes, it had GABF attendees swooning – and many quickly got back in line again, something that’s exceedingly rare for long lines at the show, since there’s always a good beer nearby with no wait.
Scratch Brewing Co. – This Ava, IL-based brewer has a wide assortment of offerings, but the most popular seem to be Bark, a sour beer made without hops that includes cherry, oak and hickory bark, and Dead Leaves and Apple, a wild ale. Scratch might be the wildest of wild scientists at the GABF, but fans are eager to test the results of their experiments.
Odd Side Ales – If anyone is giving Scratch a run for its money in the mad scientist category, it’s Odd Side. The brewer is pouring nine different outside of the box brews. They’re all popular, but POG, an ale with passion fruit, orange and guave, and Rye Hipster, a rye stout with maple syrup that’s aged in rye whisky barrels with coffee and bacon, that seem to be most popular with attendees.
Weldwerks – Even late on Thursday, the line at Weldworks was 20 people deep. Extra Extra Juicy Bits, a double IPA that features more than 11 pounds of Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado hops per barrel, and Medianoche, an imperial stout, were the first kegs to run dry.
The Rare Barrel – The Rare Barrel may need to be retired from the people’s choice GABF awards, since it’s a perennial favorite. The Berkeley, CA maker of sour and funky beers constantly has a line of 50 or more—and, since the Brewer’s Association apparently loathes the idea of smooth egress, they’re positioned right next to beer superstar The Lost Abby, meaning people walking the floor will have to make their way through two long lines.