The 7th Annual Blues & Brews festival is this weekend. What is Blues & Brews you ask? It’s only the best Northeast Ohio craft beer party of the summer, occurring on this Saturday, August 6th in Akron, OH. Thirsty Dog and the Winking Lizard throw the event with support from many distributors and breweries that contribute to Ohio’s awesome Craft Beer scene. This year, the fest has moved from the sprawling estate of Stan Hywet Hall (where the first 6 years were held) to the convenience of Akron’s centrally-located Lock 3 Park. This new location may not have a mansion with gardens, but it’s a great outdoor venue that should help keep the focus where it counts – on the beer! With over 73 breweries pouring upwards of 300 different beers, there’s something for everyone to sample plus music and food. The bottom line is you should be there. If you don’t have tickets yet, go get them now.
Personally, I can’t wait until Saturday. I’ve been looking forward to this event since the days started getting hotter – see, for me, this Blues & Brews is always a highlight of the year. As excited as I have been, my interest completely piqued when the beer list was released early this week. This year, Ohio breweries are bringing the heat, and it’s no surprise as we have some of the best in the country and many brewers see this as a time to pour their best beers. Couple that with national breweries serving the brews that put them on the map and you have a fantastic fest! While a list of 300 beers can be a bit daunting, I’ve dissected and cross-referenced the offerings with my database of personal favorites and my wish lists to come up with the following featured beers. No matter what beers you pick, you’re going to have a great time, but hopefully this overview can encourage you to try some new things and not forget about some of the great one-offs and specialties that I’m calling my ‘Can’t Miss’ brews. Hope to see you at the festival – I’ll be wearing my “Craft Beer Cowboy” hat from Montana, so say hi if you see me! And, if you want to meet me & other Northeast Ohio Craft Beer Enthusiasts, come to the Winking Lizard food tent at 3:00 (more information here).
For those who purchased Brewer’s Circle tickets, you’ll get in 2 hours early and you’ll also get some exclusive offerings. These beers are some of the best of Ohio, plus a few national rarities. Here are 5 beers I feel are exceptional treats, plus some other honorable mentions that aren’t far behind!
5 Brewer’s Circle ‘Can’t Miss’ Beers
- Weasel Boy’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Anastasia Russian Imperial Stout – the base for this beer won a bronze medal in 2010 at the GABF. Basically, we have a rare opportunity to try a bourbon barrel aged version of the third best RIS in the world. Do I need to explain more? Think roasty barrel-aged deliciousness!
- Willoughby’s Hop Jam Black Rye IPA – a Hop Head’s delight, this black rye IPA is a treat, especially considering this batch will be less than a week old. Look for huge citrus with just enough malt roast and rye spice to make this a truly tasty beer.
- Thirsty Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged Wee Heavy – While the Barrel Aged Siberian Night and Barrel Aged 12 Dogs are also making appearances, this kicked-up Wee Heavy is my favorite of the bunch. With perfect barrel notes of coconut and vanilla accompanying a wonderful malty base, this is a world-class beer flying under the radar.
- Jackie O’s Hogwash – I’ve never had this beer. Neither have you, unless you made it down to Ohio Brew Week. But this sounds so incredibly unique I have to give Jackie O’s brewer Brad Clark a shout-out for innovation. The smoked beer is made with lavender, lemon peel, honey and maple syrup and smells like sausage. Pair it with a brat and prepare to experience Hogwash Heaven.
- Elevator Big Vic Imperial Mogabi – I love wheat beers with hops, and the normal (non-imperial) version of this is probably one of the best Elevator offers. I’m so excited to see how the ‘kicked-up’ imperial version is, especially if there’s more of that delicious Amarillo hop aroma and flavor. Think ‘Super Gumball Head’.
10 Brewers Circle Honorable Mentions
- Samuel Adams Maple Pecan Porter – part of the ‘Beer Lovers Choice’ for 2011
- Ommegang Aphrodite – A wonderful Belgian w/ pear juice and lots of raspberries
- Great Lakes Pub Rye of Tiger – Another hop-heads wet dream, this is a stellar beer
- Great Lakes Pub Grand Cru – A dark Belgian with dark fruit and spicy yeast
- Jackie O’s Dark Apparition – One of the best stouts anywhere
- The Brew Kettle AltMonster – A kicked-up Alt Bier that maintains it’s malty, smooth personality
- Dogfish Head Black and Red – A mint stout, this is a strange bird but worth a try
- Thirsty Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged Siberian Night – Huge vanilla and bourbon atop a great stout base
- Thirsty Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged 12 Dogs – delicious notes of vanilla & toasted coconut with Xmas spices
- Thirsty Dog Whippet Wheat – 6 versions of this Hefe w/ strawberry, peach, mango, pineapple, raspberry & TBA
At 2:00, the gates open to general admission. Some of the beers mentioned above could still be pouring, but don’t worry if they’re not – there’s a bunch of great offerings outside of the Brewer’s Circle. Here are my picks, including 5 more ‘Can’t Miss’ brews that will appeal to a broader audience than the beer-geek focused ones noted above:
5 General Admission ‘Can’t Miss’ Beers
- The Brew Kettle Production Works White Rajah – this is perhaps the premier IPA in Ohio, with rave reviews about its hop-forward character and huge citrus notes. If you like IPA’s and haven’t had this, now is your chance!
- Willoughby Brewing Company Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter – it may sound like this beer wouldn’t work, but the guys at Willoughby pulled it off. It features huge flavors of coffee, chocolate and a distinctive note of peanut butter.
- Thirsty Dog Brewing Company Old Druid – this saison is incredible, with a refreshing fruit presence, huge yeast esters and a bit of spice. If you like Belgian beers, don’t miss this – probably one of the best beers out there for a summer day!
- Goose Island Dominique – if you like bourbon barrel aged beers and have never had a sour or wild beer before, now is your chance to fall in love. This elusive offering from Goose Island is soured Matilda aged in bourbon barrels. It’s absolutely delicious!
- Hoppin’ Frog DORIS Double Imperial Stout – DORIS the Destroyer is a larger-than-life American Double Stout with notes of chocolate, coffee and dark fruit. If you’re a dark beer lover, you owe it to yourself to hop over to the Frogs and give this a go!
20 General Admission Honorable Mentions
- Avery Joes Pils – if you’re just getting into craft beers, this is a great one to start with
- Cellar Rats Brewery Ratsberry Porter – one of my faves from last year, nice fruit porter
- Chardon Brew Works Pride of Geauga Maple Porter – looking forward to trying this beer for the first time
- Columbus Brewing – no list yet, but these guys are good
- Elevator Brewing Company Heiferweizen Wheat Beer – a nice refreshing hefe from Elevator, one of their best
- Fat Heads Brewery – no list yet, but hopefully some hoppy offerings
- Gordon Biersch Marzen – one of the best German beers around
- Great Black Swamp Brewing Co Pale Ale – another one I’m looking forward to trying for the first time
- Main Street Grille & Brewing Possum Hollow Pucker – a huge malty beer with apple and spice in the finish
- Maumee Bay Total Eclipse Breakfast Stout – Haven’t tried it but I love Breakfast Stouts, likely with coffee & oats
- Thirsty Dog Brewing Company Barktoberfest – This year’s batch is exceptional…malty & delicious
- Weasel Boy Bitter Sable Imperial Black IPA – a piney, hoppy black IPA with just a hint of roast
- Willoughby Brewing Company Moonshadow IPA – a wonderful IPA for a summer day, balanced and refreshing
- Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace – this lemony Belgian has a crisp finish and is delectable
- Bells Java Stout – coffee lovers look out, you have a new favorite beer
- Epic Sour Apple Saison – don’t let the ‘sour’ fool you – it’s more tart and smooth
- Hanssen’s Kriek – if you’re a sour beer fan who’s never had this, here’s your chance
- Mardseous Brune – a dark Belgian beer than has great depth of flavor
- Rochefort 10 – one of the best Belgian beers in the world, hands-down
- Southern Tier Crème brûlée Stout – dessert in a glass, if you like vanilla you’ll love it
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