The Fourth of July is always cause for celebration, although the designation of that date as Independence Day is not as official as you might think. The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, but the document was approved on July 2, and John Adams always believed that would be the date future Americans celebrated.

And contrary to the ceremony depicted in John Trumbull's famous painting, the delegates did not sign a single document all at once. There were several copies made -- possibly as many as 24 -- and most historians believe that the final signature wasn't penned until November 4.

The judges at the California State Fair commercial beer competition prepare to taste entries for the "best of show" awards.
The judges at the California State Fair commercial beer competition prepare to taste entries for the "best of show" awards. ( Jay Brooks )

But one thing is certain: Early July in Philadelphia that year was a hot and humid one, so it's a sure bet that the first Congress would have adjourned to one of the many local taverns that surrounded Independence Hall. They may have enjoyed a rum or Madeira wine. They certainly would have hoisted a few tankards of beer -- and drinking beer on the Fourth of July is exactly what our forefathers would have done.

Unfortunately, many of the beers made by America's larger brewers, while technically very well made, have been engineered to appeal to virtually everyone. As a result, the amount of hops has been reduced over the years and the taste reduced to lightly flavored barley water.

This year, celebrate Independence Day with an American craft beer that's loaded with flavor and drink a toast to a milestone of a different sort: the opening of the 2,500th brewery in this country. With just a few exceptions, these small breweries are making flavorful beers in a glorious assortment of styles and types. So whether you celebrate at a local brewpub or pick up some six-packs for a backyard barbecue, make it an American craft beer -- or better yet, a California brew.

The state's best beers

Held two weeks ago, the State Fair's giant commercial beer competition showcased more than 700 beers brewed here in California. This year, the judging was done by the Northern California Brewers Guild and directed by Celebrator Beer News publisher Tom Dalldorf. I was privileged to be one of the dozens of judges who tasted all 700-plus over three days, and I was part of the five-man panel to choose "best of show" from among the winners.

There were some unbelievably great beers on the table, in a breathtaking variety of styles. Best-of-show judging is more difficult than regular judging, because you're not comparing the same style against each other. Instead, you're looking for intangible qualities that make one award-winning beer stand out over another.

In the end, it was unanimous: The best of show for the 2013 California State Fair was Una Mas Vienna Lager from Left Coast Brewing in San Clemente.

For the first time this year, we also chose a best of show session beer. It was great fun seeing all the inventive ways brewers are making lower-alcohol (less than 5 percent alcohol by volume) but full-flavored beers. The best of show session beer was Mavericks Ocho Barril Saison, a 4.7 percent-alcohol beer from Half Moon Bay Brewing. It was aged in eight different barrels, including chardonnay, pinot grigio and pinot noir casks.

You'll find a complete list of all the California State Fair beer competition winners at my Bottoms Up blog at ibabuzz.com/bottomsup.

Contact Jay R. Brooks at BrooksOnBeer@gmail.com. Read more at http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup.