Simply put, hot sun, lots of beer, ten tickets, go have fun. It was so good this year I skipped Russian River and Dogfish Head simply because I know their beers enough now, not that they aren't delicious. I wanted to hunt the unknown, and our merry band did just that, with sudsy abandon. It's good to have drinking friends, and I hope you all have them too (that is beyond those of you who are already my drinking friends on this blog, which might be everyone who reads it anyway. It's a small, besotted world. I love you all, and have only had one beer tonight.)
As for this year's trends, it seems brewers like this one now:
Imperial + anything that has deep roasted flavors + stout/porter
For instance there was the Pizza Port Carlsbad Night Rider Imperial Stout that one witty not-yet-that-tipsy person dubbed a "kitt" beer and then there was our last ticket, 20 seconds to last call shared beer, which was only fitting as the brewing of the beer was shared, a Ken Schmidt/Maui/Stone Kona Coffee, Macadamia, Coconut Porter. Sort of like a Hawaiian island in your mouth minus the dirt.
That said, my top 3 faves were:
1) Bear Republic Racer X
Yes, I'm a ridiculous hophead, but this double IPA is pungent while still wonderfully balanced. Not put on tap until halfway through the tasting, and they had a line the rest of the day. For very good reason.
2) Lost Abbey Angel's Share (Brandy Barrel 2009)
I like brandy. I like beer. Put them together you get this brandy-tasting beer, all oaky goodness with enough vanilla to source all the bakeries on the west coast, no doubt. Sure, you know the alcohol's there (12.5%), but you're only having a 4 oz. taster. Plus, angels would never kill you. Especially drunken angels, cause even if they tried, they'd miss. (Be sure to drink with someone expendable nearby, just in case.)
3) Craftsman Burly Barley Wine
I had to try this one as Craftsman is usually so good at the subtle stuff--their 1903 Lager got me to admit I like lager (well, their lager)-- that something with "burly" in the title intrigued. And while it might not have reached burly, it certainly was full-figured, rich in all that caramelly goodness I like in a barley wine.
If you want to see most of the list of beers, it's PDFed here. If you want ones to avoid, the stuff from Brew Dog didn't thrill, neither the Punk IPA (how could it live up to its name?) or the Paradox Isle of Arran, an imperial stout aged in whisky casks but nowhere as compelling as the Lost Abbey, say.
(2 of 31 in the drive to 2500)