Many thanks to HQ Beercade, Skirt PR, and Heather Christian of Windy City for organizing this event, keeping all of us judges in line as best they could, and to all the breweries for some very excellent beers. It was hard to judge 25 firkins in one day - I will say I was very impressed with the three that won (listed below), and just wanted to spotlight a few others that stood out.
People's Choice--Goose Island Brewery Coffee-Aged Barleywine
Blogger's Choice--Lakefront Brewery IPA with Grapefruit Peel
Industry Choice--Solemn Oath Brewery Most Important Beverage of the Day
The Boozy Beggar Spotlight!
Thornbridge Kipling - A "south pacific pale ale;" think smooth tropical fruit flavors and a malty creaminess from cask-conditioning. You can find this in bottles sometimes too. Hop varieties are probably Australian and/or New Zealand, given the name and flavors, but this had a very classic british cask pale feel to it, and every week there's more and more indications I love the classics and their inspirations.
Best American Hop Forward Beer
Brickstone Hop Skip N I'm Drunk (w/ Galaxy hops) - Galaxy hops tend to be a mix of tropical flavors and classic IPA notes. This beer's excellently balanced for cask-conditioning, with enough bright hop flavors and a smooth malt-backed body. Impressive, since many of the hop forward beers either didn't taste all that different from their non-cask varieties, or hops couldn't save their body not conditioning as well as Hop Skip N I'm Drunk.
Best Dark Beer
Bell's Special Double Cream Stout (just edging out the Goose Island and Solemn Oath beers above) - this beer is going to appear here again and again for years to come, because I've had it on cask twice this winter and in bottles a few time. A stout like this is a no brainer on cask, AND letting the cask-conditioning shine with no additions is the way to my cask-loving heart. Since when did cask come to mean "infused"? I love how smoky and almost tannic this beer gets from the cask versus bottle, with hints of cocoa powder and roasted chicory. Big stout flavors that finish clean and slightly sweet. You'd swear there's lactose in this like a milk stout, but nope, just finessing a lot of textures and flavors out of 10 different specialty malts.