"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!

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.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

GABF 2014: The Festival Itself

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.

My beer was so manly, my glass sprouted a 'stache
The Festival Itself

·         Do long lines at a booth indicate a particularly good brewery?  Perhaps.  It’s equally likely the meandering queue is the result of hype.  I’m not saying Three Floyds Brewing Co. doesn’t brew stupendous beer (although, if you read one of my recent posts, the attitude of their taproom employees leaves something to be desired) but I am saying Sun King Brewery, only a booth or two down from Three Floyds, is, in my humblest opinion, a superior brewery and featured no line.  On the other hand, the folks in front of Three Floyds might as well have been waiting for a roller coaster at Six Flags.  I get it: Zombie Dust is highly-regarded and people covet the bragging rights that go along with having tasted it.  But, would you rather have a great and famous beer or a great and unknown beer?  Is the thought of a “celebrity” beer really that alluring?  Personally, I prefer to be a trendsetter, not a trend follower so, on that note, might I recommend Sun King’s Kung Pao Brett?  Perhaps their 2014 GABF medalists Lonesome Dove or Barrel Aged 666: Sympathy for the Devil

·         Platt Park Brewing Company, formerly Denver Pearl, poured next to Denver Beer Co. at GABF, Denver Beer being the brewery that recently threatened Platt Park with a trademark infringement lawsuit.  That was probably awkward for both parties but don’t blame the festival organizers; it makes alphabetical sense considering Platt Park registered for GABF under the name “Denver Pearl.”  It was only recently the change of name occurred, after all.  Platt Park probably forgot about their little litigious spat, though, when they took home the silver in the Vienna-Style Lager category.  

Hopefully, these booths were run by objective and unbiased volunteers the whole night.

·         Wish to avoid a Platt Park/Denver Beer Co.-type situation?  Name your brewery something ridiculous so no other brewery could (or would want to) imitate it.  GABF was ripe with absurd brewery and beer names and among my favorites were Belching Beaver Brewery, British Ugly from Four Fathers Brewing, and the suggestively named (to perverted minds e.g. my own) Golden Avalanche Brewing Company.  Technically named for a local college mascot, “Golden Avalanche” sounds more like an intense golden shower (again, I admit it may take a warped individual to make that leap).  Having been in business since 1999, Golden Avalanche has been around too long to operate under a new name.  However, it would be wise to update the logo.  The imagery of cascading, yellow liquid is supposed to be beer, I guess, but looks like, well, let's just say it looks like something else. 

I can't be the only one whose mind went to the gutter, can I?
·         Most people pay the brewers guild booths little mind but that’s a mistake; the booths are staffed by passionate beer geeks with tons of information on their state’s brewing scene and, sometimes, there are fun little activities like the Colorado Brewers Guild’s head-to-head competition between Colorado’s Senate and House of Representatives.  Both governmental entities brewed with local companies—the former with Dry Dock Brewing Co., the latter with Denver Beer Co.—and, when Nicole and I visited, the votes were in a near-tie with the Senate’s Upper Chamber Fresh Hop (originally titled “Burning Down the House” before being deemed a touch too violent) raking in 51% of the constituency and the House’s Representative Saison with 49%.  A family divided, I voted for one and Nicole the other.  UPDATE: the final count had the House winning with 51.9%

The House ended up winning
·         The award for best-dressed brewery reps goes to Short’s Brewing Company.  Donned in snappy, vintage garb, the green-vested, corsage’d pourers matched the brewery’s extravagantly old-fashioned end-cap skinned in distressed wood and worn tin tiles.  With such an eccentric booth, the beer needs to be similarly snazzy and Short’s delivered earning a gold medal for their experimental beer, Key Lime Pie.  That certainly wasn’t their only off-kilter brew.  See also: Bourbon Carrot Cake, Strawberry Short’s Cake, and Schnozzleberry Griffin.

Lookin' sharp, Short's.
·         The one brewery I made absolutely sure to visit was Scratch Brewing Co., the Illinois brewery known for their foraged beers made with items picked from the surrounding woodlands.  This year, Scratch featured an all-gruitlineup—all five of their beers were without hops and instead bittered with the natural flora of the Midwest.  I was not disappointed when I tasted Scratch’s beers.  Craft beer runs a gamut of flavors—bitter, sweet, sour, salty, roasted, toasted, fruity, spicy,…etc.—but I was nonetheless surprised as I quaffed Scratch’s wares—I’ve literally never tasted another beer anything like the ones at Scratch.  Each beer was a whirlwind of flavors but, at times, I noticed essences of tea, mint, and general woodsy qualities.  They tasted like the forest floor and I mean that as a high compliment.

Yes, there's such a thing as too many pretzels
·         Beer geeks are generally a likeable bunch.  However, not everybody at GABF is a beer geek.  Some attendees are plain, old jackasses merely looking to get blotto.  This is especially true of the Saturday night session.  On the night in question, Nicole and I, along with usual cohorts Robin and Justin, were weaving through the throngs of revelers, looking for a space to recollect and plan our next move.  To give my diminutive wife a beacon as we navigated the crowd (and because I was feeling silly from the beer), I pressed through with an empty tasting glass held firmly to the crown of my head.  Unbeknownst to me, an over-served young lady made several attempts to dislodge said tasting glass from my noggin.  Mind you, this person was a perfect stranger, not a rambunctious friend of mine.  I’m glad her nefarious plan went unnoticed by me for there might have been an exchange of unkind words.  Robin did notice, though, and uttered a few words of admonishment as she passed the ne’er-do-well.  Friends got to stick up for each other.

Your friendly neighborhood Beer Geek
·         Speaking of Robin, she and Nicole reached milestone Untappd check-ins at GABF; Robin got her 500th beer, Nicole her 1,000thWicked Weed Brewing had the honor of lifting Robin to “Legendary” status but the brewery that gave Nicole her millennial brew shall remain nameless because, to commemorate the occasion, they did something nice but also something against festival rules—they filled Nicole’s taster cup all the way to the top.  Cheers to you, John Doe Brewing!

·         In 2014, GABF fully implemented the Beer Geek squad: roaming craft enthusiasts educating volunteers and assisting attendees in finding beers to match their tastes.  It’s a fantastic program, I think.  Granted, I’m in my element at GABF, I don’t need any assistance, but, just for fun, I’d chat up a Beer Geek and ask him or her for a recommendation or, to give them a challenge, ask for the weirdest beer they’ve had all night.  They certainly delivered on that last question; Brunch Money from Armadillo Ale Works—tasting like liquefied pancakes and syrup—was definitely weird.

·         I saw Charlie Papazian hanging out by the guilds and bothered him for a picture.  That was pretty cool.

Robin, Papazian, and I
·         Memorable beers I haven’t already mentioned: TheHook Up from Tow Yard Brewing Co., a radler/shandy hybrid blended with locally-made (Indianapolis-area) citrus soda.   WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GOSE from Strangeways BrewingSmoked Austoner Weisse from Namaste Brewing, a rauchbier-like Berliner weisse.  Rhubarb Lahey from Deep River Brewing Co., a refreshingly tart and fruity sour beer.  Rosa Gose from Wrecking Bar BrewpubNightbeer Before Christmas from Alameda Brewing Co., a strong, spiced brown ale which, according to the pourer, nobody could properly pronounce (I suppose everybody wanted to call it by the famous movie title from which the beer’s name is inspired; people saw the beer’s name on the sign but they didn’t read it).  Forbidden Root from the brewery of the same name, a root beer flavored beer.  Here Gose Nothin from DESTIHL  Anything and everything at The Rare BarrelThe Earl from CAUTION: Brewing Co., an English mild ale infused with Earl Grey tea. 

Stay tuned for the next GABF 2014 post: The Media Luncheon



Nicole likes this beer name because it reminds her of the TV series Weeds