Last weekend, to kick off medal-hunting season two weeks in advance of the GABF, Bear Republic's founding father-son team Richard and Rich Norgrove plus their crack team of brewers welcomed a crowd of about 100 to try this year's entries, on the patio out behind the brewpub.
We weren't able to get through the entire lineup, but we did manage to sample more than half (barely).Starting with the lighter lagers, the Volksbier (4.1 percent alcohol by volume but 30 international bitterness units), will attempt to steal the crown from Coors Banquet, last year's winner in the American-style Premium Lager category. Late Harvest, Bear Republic's Oktoberfest-style lager, rocked the fresh, caramel flavor. Bear Republic benefits, awards-wise, by being one of the few American breweries to even do an Oktoberfest, especially one this far west of Milwaukee. There were six different IPAs (including two ― Racer X and Mach 10 ― vying for gold in category 48, Imperial IPA), including two of its three distinctly different rye ales (Hop Rod Rye from Bear Republic's annual lineup, and Ryevalry, which is fermented with a Belgian yeast strain).
The brewing staff were pouring three sour beers, too. Already a love-'em or hate-'em style, the sour we leaned toward was Toyon Brut (aged in French Oak and wine barrels), over the muskier Cuvee de Bubba, a special blend aged in wine barrels. We suspect that the latter will appeal to fans and judges in Denver, since it's more like a Flemish Red, a la Duchesse de Bourgogne. The dark brown Prickly Pear Barrel Aged Grizz (aged 10 months in neutral oak on roasted prickly pears) had wild yeast flavors subverted by roasted malt and fruit.
Finally, there was Clobberskull. Called an "English Estate October Ale," it's brewed with 10 percent split peas. Yeah, it's barrel-aged for 100 days in French Oak barrels, but did you not see the part about adding split peas? What possible category could that fit in? Possibly Vegetable Beers, which is indeed a style, or perhaps a new one, Field Beers. Don't look for that category to be as crowded as American IPAs or Sour Beers. We predict Clobberskull to win, place, or show ... especially in a slot with only three entries.
Stay tuned for a full list of Bay Area winners when we report live from Denver in two weeks.