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Every year the Association of Brewers has their annual beer festival in Denver, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Thanks to the recession, this year’s event had the biggest attendance in its 28-year history (in America alcohol is the only legal part of the triple threat = sex, drugs and alcohol.) Over 500 breweries were in the Denver Convention Center serving up a total of 2,200 beers in 1oz pours. This event gives brewers a chance to show off their latest and greatest creations. Breweries can submit their favorite beers in one of a couple dozen categories, depending on the style they are brewing. Certified judges then evaluate these beers in a blind taste test. Judges include people in the brewing industry, from packaging to chemicals to brewers; Snake River’s director of brewery operations Chris Erikson is one of these judges. Beers are then awarded points and when the votes are tallied – medals are handed out to the top three. Some categories get only 14 entries while others get almost 200.
What were some of the highlights of this year’s event?
Brewers are going big! No beer is out of reach by today’s talented and innovative brewers. Lots of Rye beers, Imperial Stouts and Imperial Porters – really lots of Imperial anything’s – Bourbon Barrel aged beers, Double IPA’s, big Belgian beers and spiced beers were the norm this year – the trend continues.
At this year’s festival, The German Reinheitsgebot purity law from 1516 was out the window. Except for “new” kid on the block, Will Kemper. He started Thomas Kemper Brewery, a brewery that pioneered Northwest microbeer. After a decade behind the scenes in Japan and the least coast, he is back with Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, WA (represent). He cleaned up the German Ale and Lager categories with a total of 4 medals and Small Brewpub of the Year. www.chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com
For the 5th year in a row the most entered category was the IPA, it was obvious that this was the most sought after style by the crowd. Bear with me a minute for the modern evolution of this style. A few years back a man in Delaware started a small brewery that brewed one keg at a time. Talking to former brewer Adrian Knapp about this brewery tells it best “we would have 10 different recipes being made in the same style at the same time, the burner would never turn off. We would just keep trying new things with each batch using any ingredients we had available to us”. This brewery is called Dogfish Head. Without a doubt they had the longest line at the festival from the minute the doors opened until they closed. Now with a state of the art brewing facility they still invent old school ways to add more hops. Like the Sir-Hops-a-Lot machine, an old electronic football table that shakes the hops into the kettle. DFH is turning hop heads with beers like the 120 Minute Imperial IPA and the 90 minute IPA. Thousands of people were waiting in line 20+ minutes for a one-ounce taste. They could just as easily tried a sample from all 20 Rock Bottom beers in the same amount of time since the Rock Bottom lines were empty (whats new?). The Jupiter like amount of hops being used by this company is baffling – but with 28 separate packaged beers, they do have a wide variety to choose fom. Listening to the owner talk at a speaking panel, he boiled it all down to passion – if you brew with passion the people will feel that when they drink it. Rumor has it there are four kegs of Dogfish Head making it into Wyoming on December 26th. Go to www.dogfish.com to find out more.
The real success story of the event in my mind was the acknowledgement of Pizza Port in Carlsbad as the Large Brewpub of the Year. Having lived 2 blocks away from this joint for a winter I have to agree. This is a brewery that is not happy brewing just one pale ale. You can go in there after surfing and select from several pale ales at time – some brewed by them, some brewed by other great breweries. www.portbrewing.com
Is there a repeat in store for Pizza Port Carlsbad? My guess is yes. Why? Head brewer Tommy Arthur is pushing the limits of beer year after year. Adding ingredients not usually associated with beer – raisins, dates, and multiple yeast strains – he must be a minister because he is a master at marrying flavors in beer. You can also see this in his new project, The Lost Abbey Brewery. When Stone Brewery decided it was time to expand and move from San Marcos to a new facility in Escondido, Tommy jumped at the chance to take over the old space. He now has 22oz bombers selling for over $50 in the beer stores around San Diego. If someone bucks up the money for that one let me know how it is.
Even one of his old brewing partners, Kirk McHale, won a gold in his first ever entry at the GABF. Through the years he has won numerous awards with Pizza Port, this time he won with his new Breakwater Brewing Co in O-side California. And this time all the genius points directly to him! He will be visiting Jackson soon – look for a Thai Me Up/Breakwater Brewery collaboration beer this winter.
After visiting this year’s GABF I have to ask myself: What is going to become of centuries old European beer styles? Will they still be around in 20 years in the same capacity? Is the Americanization of beer a fad or is it the future?