"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Mini Brew Tour of Colfax

Colfax Avenue.  Running through Golden, Lakewood, Denver, and Aurora, it’s America’s longest commercial street and, prior to the interstate system, the cities’ main thoroughfares.  Jack Kerouac referenced it in On the Road and, because of the street’s notoriety for burn-outs and prostitutes, Playboy once deemed Colfax “the longest, wickedest street in America.”  On a more innocent note, Colfax also serves as a nostalgia preserve, showcasing our country’s motoring history even if said history is in a decrepit state; flickering neon signs, old-school motor lodges (now seedy motels), and 50’s style diners both authentic and recreated line the 26.1 mile stretch of pavement.  Smattered between those relics of the past are popular concert venues, marijuana dispensaries, and dive bars but, for all its reputation, Colfax Avenue was, until recently, devoid of Denver’s most famous industry: craft brewing.

Mu Brewery opened on Colfax in late July, 2014, thus ushering craft beer onto Denver’s most (in)famous street.  Other brewers eventually followed suit and, since Mu’s opening, three more Colfax breweries have opened for business (and that doesn’t even count Coda Brewing Co., situated only 0.5 miles [by the crow flies] from that roadway of questionable repute).  Over Thanksgiving break, Nicole and I visited two of these newcomers.

Inside Alpine Dog
Lately, Nicole and I have been hitting brewery grand openings (i.e. Mockery & FERMÆNTRA) but we missed Alpine Dog Brewing Company’s big night by half a week.  Nonetheless, it remains the freshest face on Colfax (even if the address technically has it on Ogden Street) and in the entire city.

I've seen lots of chairs made of skis, I've only seen one with a binding cup holder
Located in a space made available by the downsizing of the neighboring music store and seated on one of the grittiest streets in the nation, Alpine Dog is among the most urban of Denver’s breweries.  The décor, though, is anything but urban.  In fact, the name “Alpine Dog” refers to Colorado’s mountain adventurers—skiers, boarders, bikers, hikers, and climbers (not ski bikers, though; they’re stupid).  The brewery shows admiration for the wild and rugged landscape looming to the west of town, honoring a wholly different world from the tarmac and depravity of Colfax.  Alpine Dog’s an island of mountain life amid a sea of inner-city grime.

The two sides of Alpine Dog—its nature-loving and city-slicking sides—mesh better than you might think.  In some regards, the brewery’s quite modern with its enormous, storefront windows, shiny metal chairs, and concrete floor.  In other regards, photos of extreme mountain athletes and a corner full of chairs and benches fabricated from discarded skis and snowboards encapsulates the high country.  The wood on the tables and walls straddles a line; it showcases a natural grain pattern but it’s also smoothed to a fine finish.  A metrosexual lumberjack might use this wood in his log loft. 

We only stayed for a single beer since we were scheduled to meet Nicole’s aunts later that night but the IPA is a solid example of the style and certainly worth a try.  Nicole liked it and she doesn’t normally go for the big, hoppy beers. 

Our second stop on the Colfax beer trail was Lost Highway Brewing Company.  Next to Cheeky Monk and owned by the same folks, the brewery’s name is a reference to Colfax itself, demoted as it was from major highway to lowly city street after the completion of I-70.  It is a highway no more; it’s been lost in the dust of interstate construction. 

The first thing patrons notice when approaching Lost Highway is the signage which pays homage to the glory days of Colfax and, to a larger extent, America.  The neon sign with arrow indicating the entrance (the arrow appropriately sporting highway stripes) harkens back to the days when families packed up the station wagon and toured this great land Clark Griswold-style.  Those were the pre-Thule days when people simply strapped their luggage to the roof of the car, stopping at every roadside attraction and sending brightly-colored postcards from each tourist trap.  It’s not a completely wholesome memory the sign evokes, though; Lost Highway’s logo—a beret-wearing skull—also recalls a certain counterculture, beatnik attitude born from Kerouac’s era and still, in some form, surviving today.  Even if similar signs do exist on Colfax (my favorite being the one at “Big Bunny” hotel which, if you look closely, clearly used to say “Bugs Bunny” until they were likely hit with a copyright lawsuit), Lost Highway’s is the only one pointing to an establishment law-abiding citizens feel comfortable entering. 

Lost Highway brew equipment
The second thing patrons notice about Lost Highway is the patio.  The wall dividing the outdoor drinking space from the public sidewalk is abnormally tall and topped with iron spikes.  The floor-to-ceiling garage door opening into the taproom sits several yards behind this fortification.  Lost Highway might be on Colfax but the brewery’s wisely taken measures to keep Colfax from getting in.

Nobody's getting through that barricade 
Once inside, the taproom is as charming and welcoming as is possible.  Brick walls envelope the space, the brew equipment sits behind glass like an expensive art display, steel lintels separate rooms, and the beer menu’s presented in among the cleverest fashion I’ve seen—the wall behind the bar is sheeted in metal, the beer names written out in those plastic, magnetic letters used by children learning to spell.  It’s a creative, colorful, and whimsical touch.

Tap menu at Lost Highway
I enjoyed the 520 Copper Ale, Nicole sampled the Longest, Wickedest Wit and Golden Ghost and, as I bustled about taking photos for this blog, the brewer, T.J. Compton (incidentally, one gangsta-ass name), noticed my flitting about and offered me a quick behind-the-scenes tour.  I got a peek at the brew room, the future barrel room, and what I’m calling The B.S. Room—a place to drink and curse and argue the finer points that separate German-style and Bohemian-style Pilsners without disturbing and/or boring customers.  Apparently, during the last GABF, Lost Highway hosted a few visiting brewers and the beer debates in that room got heated and very, very nerdy.  While I don’t expect or deserve special treatment when I visit breweries, I do appreciate T.J. extending the offer.   

Left to right: Golden Ghost, 520, & Longest, Wickedest Wit (ignore the suggestive placement of the glasses)

Nicole and I had to scurry out of Lost Highway to meet her aunts but, even though our visits to both breweries were brief, I’m confident Alpine Dog and Lost Highway will prove to be two great new additions to the scandalous street.  So, after going to a concert, buying legal weed (or illegal other drugs), and picking up a few hookers, indulge in Colfax’s newest claim to fame and have yourself a craft beer.



Cap art at Alpine Dog
Inside Lost Highway
One day, this will be Lost Highway's barrel room

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The SoBo Brew Quest

Denver has a tendency for two-syllable neighborhood nicknames.  There’s LoHi (Lower Highlands) known for its upscale, yuppie population, there’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) attracting youthful partygoers, and there’s RiNo (River North) boasting a stronghold of starving artists and hipsters.  Then, perhaps because of its relative distance from the heart of the city, the lesser-mentioned SoBo (South Broadway, although it should really be SoBro but I guess that sounds too “frat-y”) famous for dispensaries, antique shops, and, as Nicole and I found out, a high concentration of breweries.

With friends Robin and Justin in tow, we began our SoBo brewery conquest at Grandma’s House, the craft craft brewery.  That’s no typo, I mean to say it’s a craft brewery that, like Nana herself, enjoys a little arts and crafts.  The matriarch’s presence is felt everywhere in the taproom.  The tap handles are wrapped in hand-knitted sleeves.  The bar top is an actual quilt hardened by polyurethane.  50’s-style, folding, aluminum-edged tables are the base for antique vases, jars of hard candy, and tacky bric-a-brac like animatronic singing fish and dancing hamsters.  The old TV box is hooked up to an original NES, the walls are adorned with curios including, but not limited to, Bobbleheads, Elvis paraphernalia, and folksy art.  The theme is even carried into the restroom where, behind the mirror, you’ll find bunion cushions, shoe powder, constipation meds, and an admonishment from Grandma telling you not to peek behind other people’s medicine cabinets.

Yes, Grandma’s House is quite kitschy but that’s entirely the point.  It’s tongue-in-cheek and I applaud their originality.  Too often, brewery taproom themes are repeated ad infinitum.  The industrial, factory look?  Seen it.  The sleek and modern look?  Been done.  The outdoorsy, rustic look?  Join the club.  Hell, Denver alone features two breweries themed to heavy metal!  I’m not knocking these breweries; in fact, I rather enjoy those archetypal taproom designs.  But, being archetypes, they are a bit lacking in imagination.  Grandma’s House, on the other hand, got a bit nutty with their motif and the pay-off is a completely novel taproom design.  Find another geriatric-themed brewery and I’ll give you a dollar. 

Inside Grandma's House
Inside Grandma's House
Inside Grandma's House
Initially outdated though the decor might be, the beers of Grandma’s House, well, they’re not you’re grandma’s beer (although they’re served in your grandma’s glassware, emblazoned as they are with Hamm’s logos and Looney Tunes characters).  Session IPAs with peach added, oatmeal stouts with hatch green chilis, along with classic styles such as ESBs and Scottish-style ales means there’s plenty of “cough medicine” from which Grandma can choose.

Scottish Red at Grandma's House
Our next stop was a few blocks off Broadway on Pearl Street.  Platt Park Brewing Co. née Denver Pearl Brewing Company is a recent GABF silver medalist and the victim of a two-pronged litigious attack from both Pabst and an unnamed (but obvious) local brewery that took umbrage with the word “Denver” (golly, who could that be?).  I felt Denver Pearl’s pain when I heard the news; there’s too many nasty cease-and-desist letters floating around the industry.  That said, I always thought “Denver Pearl” was a lame name.  I can’t pinpoint exactly why.  Maybe it just didn’t have that snap, y’know?  Platt Park’s a good name—it’s alliterative, both words are monosyllabic, and both end with a hard, definitive consonant.  Denver Pearl had none of that.  No alliteration, no uniformity of syllables, and there’s not a clean finish to either word—the word “Pearl” extends into a slur making it sound sloppy and guttural.

I didn’t like the formula for the name, either i.e. the city + the street.  It’s an awkward way to name a brewery.  What if everybody did that?  Care to visit Wheat Ridge Wadsworth Brewery? Fort Collins Linden Brewing CompanyColorado Springs Garden of the Gods Beer Co.?  It’s plain weird. 

Former titles put to the side, Platt Park’s taproom is best defined as modern bucolic.  Although the tables and doors are wooden and although “Platt Park’s” been spelled out in rusty metal squares, there’s still a sense of consistency.  It’s not a hodge-podge, everything matches, and the overall feel is that of a city-slicker attempting to emulate a countrified abode.  The massive windows looking into the brew room and walk-in cooler are also nice touches of contemporaneousness.

Inside Platt Park
Inside Platt Park
Platt Park’s beer, like its interior design, walks a line, a line between standard and experimental.  Nothing at Platt Park is totally off-the-wall but many place a foot or two off the beaten path.  Nadare, for example, is a classic Japanese-style rice lager.  Typically, such beers are brewed with rice and Nadare is no exception—except it’s brewed with jasmine rice.  It’s those minor deviations that make a beer special.  It could have been a boring old Sapporo but, instead, leaned closer to a CAUTION: Brewing Co. Lao Wang Lager.  A pumpkin beer on nitro, a Berliner Weisse with choice of syrups (as I mentioned in an earlier post, an option sorely lacking in the American market), and several others completed the laudable tap menu.  

Our third stop, FERMÆNTRA, was the furthest from Broadway and is more accurately attributed to the Denver University neighborhood.  But, it was in the vicinity of Platt Park so it felt as if it belonged with the other breweries we hit that day.

We were at FERMÆNTRA for their grand opening so it was a crowded room.  We muscled our way to the bar and glanced over the list of beers.  The list was intimidating, a lot of the beer names were technical and it took some effort to pronounce them correctly e.g. Terrarum, Canticle, Aphion.  Tricky words should be expected, though, from a brewery that spells its name with the none-too-common æsc grapheme.

After practicing the word “Meristem” a few times, I ordered the Russian imperial stout of that name.  It was everything I needed on a snowy, chilly day—robust, roasted, and high in alcohol.  We all enjoyed our respective beers huddled in the corner of the taproom, handsome and cultured with its brick walls and solid-colored splashes of vibrancy, attempting, with not much success, to keep out of the path of the hordes.  We downed our brews, placed our empty glasses where the servers could easily retrieve them, and, with shoulders tucked in, waddled through the masses, out the door, and on to our next brewery.


Former Future Brewing Company is a brewery Nicole and I had visited previously but a) we didn’t blog about it at the time, b) Robin and Justin hadn’t been there, and c) Nicole and I had a coupon we wanted to use.

Squeezed into a tight row of brick storefronts, Former Future has a kind of steampunk/hipster vibe.  With airplane wings as bar tops, masculine dark wood tables, black-and-white photos, globular, metalwork light fixtures, and antiquated terrarium jars housing sundry plants, the interior of Former Future might be mistaken as the den of Professor Phineas Barleyhop, the bygone, mustachioed man on the brewery’s prior logo.  I only mention that because Former Future, before they opened, held a naming contest for that man and I was responsible for one-third of the total appellation i.e. I contributed the “Phineas” part.  I got a free shirt out of it.  Now, they don’t even use that logo and I can no longer point it out and brag to anybody who will listen.  I’ve resorted to regaling blog readers with my former glories.  Soothing my troubled mind was Brettly So…, a rye ESB with brettanomyces; the taste of that expertly-crafted beer lessened the sting of my great accomplishment being lost to the sands of time.

That's actually Justin's good side--at Former Future
Then, finally, we visited our fifth and final SoBo brewery and Nicole and I’s 139th Colorado brewery, Bære Brewing Co. (another damn æsc!), so named for the Old English word for “barley” and the precursor to the modern word “beer.”  When we started this brewery mission about five years ago, our 139th brewery would have meant we were in the home stretch, only a few isolated places left to visit before we’d been to all Colorado breweries.  Because of craft beer’s exponential growth, though, Nicole and I are hardly closer to our goal than that day in 2009 when we saw the Beer Drinker’s Guide to Colorado map hanging in the Odell taproom and decided to embark on this impossible journey.  In truth, I’m glad we’ve fallen behind because the sooner our quest ends, the sooner our fun ends.  And nobody wants that.

Inside Baere
Bære, located in a former martial arts dojo in the middle of a commercial strip, is a pastoral cabin oasis on busy, urban Broadway.  The walls are absolutely covered with weathered, reclaimed planks and the bar top is a nice, solid piece of butcher block.  Walking off the street and into Bære is an abrupt transition from gritty streets to faux mountain lodge.  I enjoyed the Bære-liner Weisse, a pleasantly tart beer so brightly yellow it almost looks like somebody soaked a highlighter in a glass of water.
Baere-liner Weisse

We’ve come to a point where we can’t talk about Denver breweries anymore—it’s too broad a term.  Each Mile High neighborhood has its own beer-y reputation, separate from the rest.  Denver is, in practice, a conglomeration of several smaller beer cities, each component part boasting an enviable quantity and quality of beer.  As such, when out-of-towners ask me for suggestions in regards to great Denver breweries, I always tell them to pick a section of town lest my list of recommendations be lengthier than The Bible.  Shall we discuss the RiNo breweries?  The LoDo breweries?  The Colfax breweries (a brew crawl I hope to complete soon)?  Whatever section of town you may choose, as of now, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed with the SoBo package. 



Dino bike rack outside FERMÆNTRA

Friday, November 14, 2014

River North's newest additions: Mockery and Beryl's

I didn’t grow up on the mean streets of East St. Louis or in the ghettos of Compton but my hometown wasn’t exactly The Hamptons, either.  A burg of nearly 30,000 people in north-central Indiana, one might not imagine Marion as a bastion of criminal activity.  Indeed, it’s home to a private Christian university and it’s an island in a sea of cornfields—two things not associated with the thug life. 

I think Mockery's facade is pretty rad

At the same time, it’s a factory graveyard.  Poverty rates are high and with them the crime rates.  Marion’s a stopping-off point for drug runners en route to Chicago and Detroit.  Murders and shootings aren’t everyday but neither are they uncommon.  Gang activity is ever-present.  There’re more dangerous places in America than Marion but significantly more places are safer. 

I bring this up to elucidate a point—Denver’s not that treacherous.  Bigger, yes (604,626 more people than Marion, in fact), and not without its fair share of shady characters but, all told, there’s not a neighborhood in Denver I’d deem too sketchy.  The worst of Denver is Marion’s average.  It’s all a matter of perspective, though.

That said, some parts of Denver are still—shall we say—“rougher” than other parts.  The neighborhood colloquially referred to as River North (there is no official “River North”; it’s comprised of pieces from Five Points, Cole, Globeville, and perhaps a touch of Elyria-Swansea) being one such neighborhood.  A gritty, industrial area that seems like a nice place to conduct a mob hit or receive a shipment of primo Colombian coke. 
Change is not on the horizon for River North, either.  That’s because the metamorphosis is already happening.  What was once no-man’s land is currently transforming into the hippest hangout in the metro.  Denver can thank local artists for getting the ball rolling, for taking loading docks and turning them into studios, for converting factories into galleries, and for lifting the neighborhood from skid row status to a haven of creative types.  Yes, the artists certainly got the ball rolling.  But, it’s the breweries that are accelerating that ball, rolling it at supersonic speeds.  Two of the newest establishments helping to thrust River North upward: Mockery Brewing and Beryl’s Beer Co.

You can tell from the outside the business of Mockery 
To the uninitiated, the walk up to Mockery seems a harrowing experience, especially at night.  Industrial lots of rusted equipment, chain link fences with barb-wire tops, and the absence of streetlights imparts a sense of foreboding; one expects a hooded assailant to appear at any moment.  But the attacker never comes.  The trained eye notices an underlying benignity.  That creepy looking garage across the street?  That’s actually where the police service their vehicles.  The two buildings adjacent to Mockery?  A doggy daycare and what looks to be a small but expensive condo unit.  Perhaps the shadiest business on the block is Mockery itself, those moonshinin’ ne’er-do-wells!

Inside Mockery
It was Mockery’s opening night when Nicole and I (along with cohorts Robin and Justin) visited and, like our last brewery grand opening, patrons were pressed together like Terrance Knighton and Chris Katechis in a Smart car.  Despite the sardine-like conditions, we plowed our way to the bar where I noticed a sight most pleasing: a full tap menu of solid and innovative beers.  Usually, a grand opening is epitomized by two or three beers (because the brewers haven’t had time to make more) that, while probably tasty, are pretty basic e.g. an IPA or a stout or some other prosaic style.  One doesn’t typically see a salted Scotch ale, a sessionable red IPA, a rye saison, a peach blonde ale, or a vanilla Bourbon porter until at least a few weeks into operation but Mockery put forth these astounding beers right from the start.  For that, I tip my proverbial hat.

Mockery's beer garden
Fortunately for us, the beer garden featured several space heaters; the taproom constrictiveness would have crushed us like Garbage Compactor 3263827.  For such a traditionally unappealing neighborhood, the outdoor seating at Mockery is actually quite posh.  It’s sunken in among three buildings which provide privacy and big, bulbous festival lights strung overhead offer a welcoming ambiance, an oasis of hospitality in an otherwise utilitarian locale.

Justin toasts to America and Mockery's game room
Speaking of the three buildings enclosing the beer garden, the taproom is one, the neighboring condo is another, and the “Game Room” is the third.  I guess sticking a shuffleboard table against the wall is enough to constitute a game room but it’s more accurately described as “The Homebrewers Clubhouse” because this garage—with an American flag draped on one wall, an around-the-room collection of growlers, and bottle cap art—is the space a group of homebrewers would hang out in as they wait for wort to boil.  It’s a stark, functional room save for the few splashes of incongruent decorations and I really liked it; it suggests a suburban, neighborly charm in the heart of the city.

Mockery was tout-worthy but I needed to escape the hordes.  So, we gave the crowd the slip and headed for a place not hosting a grand opening and River North’s second-youngest brewery—Beryl’s.

I’m usually pretty quick on the uptake but I can admit when I’m confused; I didn’t immediately get the name “Beryl’s.”  I assumed it was a cutesy way of phonetically spelling “barrels” since they specialize in barrel-aged beers.  I was at least half right in that assumption.  Then there was the matter of their logo, this thing that looks like jagged mountains of bluish green.  It’s cool but, until Nicole explained it to me, I didn’t realize the secondary (primary?) meaning.  Apparently, beryl (or beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate) is a mineral, oftentimes teal, found in Colorado (most notably Mt. Antero) and that’s the depiction in the logo.  I hope this wasn’t obvious to everybody except me.

Barrels at Beryl's
Beryl’s, like many River North breweries, sits on an unadorned, no-frills plot of land.  There’s a fenced-in lot in front that serves as outdoor seating with the brewery itself lying within a nondescript, metal-sheeted building.  The interior, however, is a bit cozier with repurposed, antique tables and chairs around which guests can congregate, vertical log stumps where one may sit their glass or their butt, interpretations of the state flag in the medium of rustic wood, and the barrels themselves all lend to the make-yourself-at-home atmosphere.

The design of the taproom is nice but the beers at Beryl’s are certainly worth mentioning as well.  Riga Doms, a Baltic porter aged in brandy barrels?  Elsie Mae, a saison aged in white wine barrels?  Man, their aint nothing’ wrong with that!  It’s a general rule of mine but it’s held up thus far: a good beer is made great through barrel-aging.  Beryl’s got the message and delivered expertly. 

Inside Beryl's
If you haven’t been to River North, you haven’t experienced the Denver beer scene.  This statement’s all the more true after the addition of Mockery and Beryl’s and, truly, the neighborhood’s become so much more than it’s intimidating façade.  It’s a place of creativity, of imbibing, and of socializing and quite frankly, as crowded as the beer market may be in River North, I’d welcome, say, five or six more.  Because the beer geeks will keep a-comin’.



Bar at Beryl's
Barrels upon barrels at Beryl's
The whole gang (besides me) at Beryl's

Sunday, October 12, 2014

GABF 2014: The Awards

Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has once again blown through Denver and, once again, Nicole and I were on-hand to experience the wonder that is America’s premier beer festival.  How does one encapsulate the essence of GABF in a blog post?  Not easily; the festival is multi-faceted, nonlinear, and inconsistent to the narrative storytelling format.  Ergo, I shall recall my experiences via vignettes separated into broad categories: The Festival Itself, The Media Luncheon, and The Awards.

The Awards

·        Admittedly, I’ve already written an awards re-cap for Denver off the Wagon and much of the information in this post I’ve pulled from that previous article.  Nonetheless, I intend to add a few extra tidbits to make this version slightly more distinct.

·        Colorado was second in overall medals accrued.  Here’s a list of the top five:

1. California (46)
2. Colorado (39)
3. Oregon (22)
4. Texas (16)
5. Pennsylvania (12)

·        Colorado was also second in most gold medals.  This leads one to conclude that Colorado was the second best state at GABF.  I prefer first, of course, but that’s how 2014 shook out for Colorado:

            1. California (15)
            2. Colorado (10)
            3. Oregon (7)
            4. Texas: (6)
            5. Pennsylvania & Washington (5)

Good times at GABF

·        It doesn’t do much to sooth the emotional wounds of local football fans but, to the satisfaction of beer geeks, Colorado avenged its Super Bowl loss against Washington in the arena of craft beer.  The Seahawks may have pounded the Broncos 43-8 but Colorado nearly reversed the score in overall GABF medals: 39-9.  That’s a spread of 35 points in the Super Bowl and 30 points in GABF.

·        Colorado’s massive medal count is all the more impressive considering the total’s the sum of several diverse breweries working together from across the state.  34 different breweries representing 16 Colorado towns and cities snagged medals.  They included very, very big breweries (e.g. Coors, Rock Bottom, C.B. & Potts), exceeding small breweries (e.g. BRU, Diebolt, Former Future, Wit’s End), veterans of craft beer (e.g. Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Avery), newcomers (e.g. Platt Park, The Post, Station 26, Coda), mountain brewers (e.g. Dostal Alley, Telluride Brewing, Bonfire), and front range brewers (a lot of them).  Colorado’s not the land of one or two hotshot breweries, it boasts a team of breweries all doing their part to bolster the state’s prestigious brewing reputation.     

Spotted at GABF

·        Coors’ craft division, AC Golden Brewing Company, earned the award for Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.  I sometimes wonder how event organizers determine a brewery’s size.  True, Coors is a large brewery.  Hell, it’s the largest single-site brewing facility in the whole damn world!  AC Golden, though, while owned by Coors, operates with near 100% autonomy, hardly ever answering to Coors’ big-wigs.  AC Golden’s equipment, likewise, is separate from Coor’s colossal, sequoia-wide kettles; the system on which AC Golden brews is actually on par with many mom-and-pop breweries around Denver.  Really, the only thing “large” about AC Golden is their wallet—Coors is footing their bills.  I suppose its financial magnitude puts it in the Large Brewing Company category. 

·        You like American-style brown ales?  Colorado’s the state for you!  We swept that category winning the bronze, silver, and gold!  From top to bottom, the victorious breweries were Upslope Brewing Company, Diebolt Brewing, and Telluride Brewing Co.  Unfortunately, Colorado’s category-sweeping achievement was overshadowed by California which dominated two categories: Barley-Wine Style Ale and Session Beer.

·        If you really want to get into some specific mathematics, according to the Brewers Association (BA):

“Top three states by ratio of medals to entries by state:
o    New Jersey: 19% with 16 entries and three medals
o    Alaska: 13% with 16 entries and two medals—tied with federal district Washington, D.C.: 13% with 8 entries and one medal
o   New Mexico: 10%  with 84 entries and eight medals”

You wouldn’t call these three states (four counting D.C.) the best of GABF due to their high percentage of wins but you might call them the most precise; instead of shot-gunning a bunch of entrants and hoping for a medal, instead of throwing the proverbial poo against the wall and seeing what sticks, these states streamlined the competition, sending only their most phenomenal beers.  They sent King Leonidas’ 300, they sent quality over quantity.  I give them kudos for cutting out the fluff.

Fat Head taps at GABF
·        Also according to the BA:

“Four breweries tied for most medals won, with three medals each:
o   Left Hand Brewing Co.”

That’s an unfair statement to Barley Brown’s and Devils Backbone, though, because they each netted four medals except each of their fourth medals came from a separate brewing facility.  Not all the medaling beers were born under the same roof but the same logo hung on each of the two buildings.  All were nurtured by the same company.  Ergo, two breweries tied for most medals won so congratulations to Barley Brown’s and Devils Backbone.  Colorado’s own Left Hand was right in the hunt with three silvers.

·        Longtime readers know I’m native to Indiana and, while the Hoosier State didn’t exactly mop the floor with the competition, Indianapolis-based Sun King Brewery won a silver and gold in the same category!  They do a Wood-and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer right!  One brewery claiming two-thirds of one category is seriously prodigious.  Did they load up on the category, hoping at least one of their beers would medal?  Was it a twist of fate they ended up with two awards?  I don’t know but Sun King earned their bragging rights with that one.

·        This year, I participated in PorchDrinking.com’s GABF Fantasy Draft.  Five points for gold, three for silver, and one for bronze plus an additional 20 points if any of our breweries were crowned in one of the seven “brewery or brewpub of the year” categories.  Take a look at my team in the chart below.  On paper, it looks like a can’t-lose line-up.  I lost anyway (technically, I tied for ninth out of 12 players).  It was rough.  I tried to be scientific with my picks, taking into account past wins for each brewery but, in the end, I would have done better on random mode because, as it turned out, there were a lot of out-of-nowhere winners at this year’s GABF—newcomers and breweries who haven’t won in ages decided to show up in 2014.  Regrettably, many of my fantasy draft competitors happened to have those longshots on their teams. 

I represented Denver off the Wagon for the draft 

·        Let’s all point and laugh at Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island because they didn’t win anything at the 2014 GABF.



Friday, October 10, 2014

GABF 2014: The Media Luncheon

Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has once again blown through Denver and, once again, Nicole and I were on-hand to experience the wonder that is America’s premier beer festival.  How does one encapsulate the essence of GABF in a blog post?  Not easily; the festival is multi-faceted, nonlinear, and inconsistent to the narrative storytelling format.  Ergo, I shall recall my experiences via vignettes separated into broad categories: The Festival Itself, The Media Luncheon, and The Awards.

The Media Luncheon

·        This was the second time Nicole and I attended the media luncheon; first in 2012 then skipping 2013.  Held on the 38th floor of the downtown Denver Grand Hyatt, this summit of journalists, Brewers Association (BA) reps, and brewery personalities offered networking opportunities, exclusive facts and figures from the BA, and all while perched in a lofty tower, overlooking the city and mountains.  An awe-inspiring view, certainly, and I couldn’t help trying to spot my favorite breweries from that sky-scraping vantage point.  No luck; from that height, all the buildings blur together.

Drinking beers a mile high (plus 38 floors)
·        The reasons a beer writer should want to attend the GABF media luncheon are myriad but, for me, the food and the beer pairings are the strongest siren call.  As I write, I’m remembering our luxurious feast and making that Homer Simpson gurgling noise.  Check out the menu, keeping in mind each beer is also a past GABF medalist:

Smoked Trout Fuille de Brick, Grapefruit and Chervil Persillade
paired with:

Granny Smith Apple with Ginger and Grapefruit
paired with:
Napoleon Complex Berliner Weisse from the BA homebrewing team

Grilled Ribeye Filet, Roasted Shallot Demi, Salsify, Yukon Gold Potato and Horseradish Gelette, French Green Beans, Horseradish Chip
paired with:

Dusty Miller Semifreddo, Warm Toffee Sauce
paired with:

For those not schooled in culinary terminology, a more prosaic description of the food would be as such:

Yummy fish eggrolls
paired with:
A citrusy, tart beer and a dry-hopped saison

A thin slice of apple folded over ginger and grapefruit and then held in place with a toothpick
balanced on the rim of:
A shot glass of bready-more-than-sour Berliner weisse

One of the best pieces of steak you’ll ever put in your mouth sitting atop a hash brown
paired with:
Two very decadent porters

A weird sphere of chocolate mousse encased in a hard, chocolate shell
paired with:
A robust altbier and a gut-filling stout

Fit for the snooty, rich antagonist of a 1980’s “slobs vs. snobs” comedy, the meal was several sumptuous notches above the stereotypical beer geek fare of dripping hamburgers, pizza, and pretzel necklaces.  

The intermezzo
·        Quick!  Picture a beer geek.  What do you see in your mind’s eye?  A beard?  A flannel shirt?  An epidermis hailing from the Caucasus region?  Basically, a white dude who’s doing well financially, right?  That demographic is the majority at any beer festival but, according to the BA, there’s a cultural shift happening in the world of craft beer.  A rising number of women, Hispanics, and people in lower SES brackets are joining the party.  Women age 21-34 account for 15% of craft volume, the lower 60% in terms of income account for 40%, and Hispanic craft drinkers are quickly becoming a target audience.  On one hand, this is awesome news; diversity benefits the industry as a whole.  A wider customer base equates to more money generated.  The world tends to be a more pleasant, tolerant place when people of different backgrounds share a common interest, too.  On the other hand, the statistics remain paltry; it’s still a European-descended male’s world.  The BA’s figures seem “token,” like Photoshopping a minority student into a BYU newsletter.  Perhaps I’m just cynical.  Perhaps craft beer is truly experiencing the onset of a major demographic change.  I don’t know if that’s true but I hope it is; beer is for the people—all the people.  I do know, however, my wife, who boasts Hispanic roots, didn’t like beer until she met me.  You can thank me for bumping the BA’s percentages up by a decimal or two.

Get in my mouth!

·        75% of Americans age 21 and up live within ten miles of a brewery.  There’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be drinking local.

·        Beer is a $100 billion market, the subset of craft beer is $14.3 billion, while wine is at $36 billion.  Meanwhile, craft is steadily eating away at the mega-brands’ share—craft, like Pepé Le Pew pursuing his object of affection, is slowly but surely overtaking the remaining $85.7 billion.  My point: I’m not sure.  But it’s an interesting bit of data.

·        Throughout the luncheon, brewers expounded on their stories of origin, successes, failures, and future plans.  Kevin DeLange of Dry Dock Brewing Co., for example, told an anecdote of when he won his first GABF medal.  When they announced his beer as the winner, the first thought that ran through DeLange’s mind was “who stole my name?”  Of course, Dry Dock’s used to hearing their names called now; they have 20 career medals, after all.  Additionally, the folks from Piney River explained their unique situation: they’re way out in the boondocks of the Missouri Ozarks.  If you survive the snaggle-toothed opossums and similarly dentally challenged backwoodsmen, you’re rewarded with award-winning beer!  Fun side note: Piney River, since 2011, is the only brewery in the Missouri Ozarks that cans their beer.  However, it’s such a localized operation that they have no liquor store presence in the state’s two major metros, St. Louis and Kansas City.

DeLange et al speaking to the crowd
·        The website for your next favorite brewery may not end in .com, .net, or any other dot whatever to which you’re accustomed.  Rather, it may well conclude with .beer.  I’m not much of a techie (as you may assume from this blog’s primitiveness) but this new format seems like a natural progression befitting the dramatic rise of craft beer’s popularity.