One of the largest craft beer festivals in the country, BeerAdvocate’s American Craft Beer Fest, kicks off this weekend and if you’ve never been before, let’s just say it can be overwhelming. Almost 700 different beers from 140+ different breweries will be tapped over the course of about 30 hours.

The ACBF might catch a lot of flak from beer nerds when brewers bring the usual suspects to sample, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s still a slew of worthy highlights each year.

There are always going to be lines, but after scouring the complete beer list, we think our top picks, five from New England and five from elsewhere, should help you prioritize which ones to stand in.


AERONAUT BREWING – A Session with Dr. Nandu – Booth 121
This weekend is more or less the coming out party for Aeronaut Brewing, Somerville’s first new brewery since the 1800s. While the collective poured a few beers at the New England Real Ale eXhibition (NERAX) this past March, this is the big time. The brewers plan to pour eight firkins of A Session With Dr. Nandu, a 4.5% session IPA, some dry-hopped with Cascade hops from Oregon, some dry-hopped with Cascade hops from Massachusetts. It sounds like going forward, the beer will be in a constant flux, depending on the hop and yeast strain, so why not try the first expression?

ALSO: See if you can hound them for Aeronaut’s opening date. Once it opens, along with Somerville Chocolate, Barismo Coffee and a farmer’s market, it’s sure to make the Ames Building, just outside of Union Square, a Somerville destination.

Chelsea’s Mystic Brewery, one of our favorite local saison brewers, made an “11th hour decision” to do the ACBF this year and it’s beginning to look like we’re all lucky they did. Bryan Greenhagen, the brewery’s founder/fermenter extraordinaire has promised to pull out Barrel 58, a 100% Brettanomyces naardenensis barrel-fermented saison. Writeups on The Mad Fermentationist and this old 1970s microbiology periodical about the yeast, initially harvested from a soda manufacturer, have us very interested. Whenever the beer is bottled it will only be available to the brewery’s barrel club members, meaning that if you’re not in the club, this could be your only chance to try it, providing it lasts the weekend.

ALSO: If you can’t make the ACBF, Mystic released bottles of its blended Irish stout, Flight of the Earls – also being sampled at the fest – earlier this week in its tasting room.

This is one of those pretty much unavoidable line situations. There’s a line every year. Hell, in a video that recapped last year’s fest, even festival volunteers were clamoring at Lawson’s table before the floors even opened hoping to get a sneak taste of Double Sunshine or barrel-aged Fayston Imperial Maple Stout. Sadly, there’s no Double Sunshine this time round, at least according to the beer list supplied to BeerAdvocate. That shouldn’t scare people away from what’s sure to be another doozy of a line though.  If you’re at the ACBF, chances are you’ll be drinking a lot of beer over a short amount of time – so why not tone it down for a few minutes with a session beer? Spring Fever is a scant 3.8% ABV but has plenty of hop flavor to keep things interesting, making it an excellent lighter option in between those massive imperial stouts and DIPAs you’ll be trying.

ALSO: Cross your fingers that a rogue keg of Triple Sunshine, leftover from last weekend, makes it to Massachusetts. We can dream, right?

TREE HOUSE BREWING – YAHHHRRRGGG! (Collaboration w/ Lawson’s Finest) – Booth 2
The collective beer Internet community damn near exploded when Lawson’s Finest Liquids let its followers know earlier this month that they were brewing a beer with Nate, Dean and co. at Tree House Brewing, a tiny brewery in a barn on a remote hill in Monson, Massachusetts. Tree House isn’t exactly a secret anymore; Julius – also pouring this weekend – was the bona fide hit of ACBF for many in 2013. We’re not exactly sure what YAHHHRRRGGG! is but there’s a very good chance that it’s an IPA and that it’s amazing.

ALSO: For those who can’t make the fest, the friendly folks at Tree House have said they will put YAHHHRRRGGG! on for growler fills at a later date.Once you get past the Mass Pike traffic, the trip to Monson, Mass., in the heart of the Pioneer Valley, makes for one idyllic ride with quite the reward at the end.

If you missed it the first time it was brewed, get in line immediately to try Trillium Brewing’s Mettle, a citrusy 8.4% double IPA brewed with a boatload of hops and grain sourced from Valley Malt out in Hadley, Mass. I was only able to try a small 4 oz. pour at Lord Hobo a few weeks ago and it was an explosion of all things citrus — oranges, grapefruit, etc. There will be plenty of DIPAs at ACBF but if this batch of Mettle is anything like the first batch, which the Fort Point outfit brewed up for its first anniversary back in March, it’s not to be missed.

ALSO: The brewery will be pouring two beers at ACBF that pretty much never make it to taps – its Lineage Rye wild and the already delicious Fort Point Pale Ale, double dry hopped with copious amounts of Citra and Columbus.

For those that can’t make ACBF: Trillium is also planning on selling growlers of Mettle at the brewery downtown tomorrow, starting at noon. Folks waited in line all day on a frigid Friday afternoon for growler fills earlier this year and now that the weather’s nicer the line is bound to be double what it was then.


GRIMM ARTISANAL ALES – Double Negative – Booth 83
I’ve been wanting to try beers from Lauren and Joe Grimm’s Artisanal Ales project ever since reading Joshua M. Bernstein’s excellent Beer Advocate article (.PDF) about the duo last summer. As the piece notes, the Brooklyn-based couple operate in a similar capacity to Pretty Things, brewing limited batches of beer wherever they can, meaning if you want a sample, get in line early. According to a blog entry on their site, Double Negative, a 10% imperial stout was brewed with so much grain, the mash tun nearly overflowed. The beer reportedly has aromas of “coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel, black currant and blueberry.” Sign me up.

STONE BREWING – Passion Project – Booth 27
Even those relatively inexperienced with beer are familiar with Stone because of their hop bombs but this beer, a sour fruited with passion fruit, aims to buck those presuppositions. A Belgian Style Abbey ale aged for nine months in both red wine and rosé barrels, Passion Project, known by some as Reason Be Damned, has made the rounds at beer fests over the past year or so and finally makes it to Boston this weekend.

BONUS: The brewery will also have its tasty smoked porter on tap for samples. This variation has been brewed with Congo coffee and orange peel.

NoDa BREWING COMPANY – Hop, Drop ‘N Roll – Booth 74
This North Carolina brewery beat out over 200 other IPAs when it won Gold at the World Beer Cup in April for its Drop ‘N Roll IPA. The brew, a piney 7.2% West Coast style IPA, brewed with Citra, Amarillo, Centennial, Warrior and Chinook hops, is available in 16 oz. tallboy cans throughout N.C. but not distributed here. If you could try the number one IPA in the country this weekend, wouldn’t you?

ALSO: Keep an eye out for the beer NoDa brewed with Everett-based Night Shift Brewing during last year’s ACBF, a high gravity sparkling sour ale, aged in Chardonnay barrels.

DCBRAU – Maple Syrup Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged NATAS – Booth 4
Washington D.C.’s DC Brau is set to pour NATAS, a Belgian-style imperial porter the brewery initially made a few years ago with Stillwater Ales’ Brian Strumke at the festival this weekend but it won’t be the same beer it once was. The beer sounds delicious as it is, chocolaty and jet black, but this particular batch has been sitting in LangdonWood barrels (previously filled with maple syrup from Pennsylvania and whiskey from Virginia) since at least since March.

ALSO: Maine’s Baxter Brewing will be pouring their new collaboration with DC Brau, The Daughters of Poseidon, a 8% Black IPA brewed with oysters this weekend too. The beer was just put into tallboy cans on Tuesday.

BOULEVARD BREWING – Saison Brett (2014) – Booth 72
An oldie but a goodie and a favorite of ours and many others, Boulevard Brewing is slated to pour this year’s version of Saison-Brett this weekend. Notes of biscuit, lemon and a whole lot of Brett funk dominate this beer. If you’ve never had it, Saison-Brett is super drinkable, even at 8.5%, and absolutely worth seeking out.

ALSO: If you can’t make ACBF, no worries – bottles of Saison-Brett hit Massachusetts earlier this week.