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GABF recap: Three days of beer, beer and more beer in Denver

November 07, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Events, Travelin'

GABF - sign

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival drew 49,000 attendees to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on Oct. 10-12.

The festival is the largest commercial beer competition in the world, and for craft beer enthusiasts, it’s heaven.

I was able to go as an entrant in the 2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition, thanks to Ghost River Brewing and the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs homebrew club. I had a brewer’s pass and was able to go all three days.

At the festival, I tried as many beers as possible, but ultimately one can only sample of fraction of what’s on tap. More than 2,700 beers were served by 578 breweries in the festival hall.

Among my new favorites: Alpine Beer Co.’s Duet, a West Coast IPA; Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Wookey Jack, an American-Style Black Ale; Redrock Brewing Co.’s Redrock Organic Zwickel Bier; and Laurelwood Brewing Co.’s Organic Deranger Imperial Red Ale.

GABF - sample glassThe sample glasses at GABF have a line showing the 1-ounce mark. The festival is fairly strict about pouring just an ounce, but the pours did get more liberal as the festival went on.

GABF - PBR outfitsAt GABF, you can’t bring in food unless you are wearing it, so you see a lot of people with homemade pretzel necklaces. There were also people wearing bagels, Funyuns and even bags of beef jerky!

GABF - Triple RockThe layout in the festival hall is divided up by region. I spent a lot of time hitting up the California breweries, including one of my favorites, Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse.

GABF - Charlie PapazianOne of the highlights for me? Getting to meet Charlie Papazian, who founded the Association of Brewers and the Great American Beer Festival and wrote The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.

GABF - 21st AmendmentBeers from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery, which is known for its cans and sweet designs, were pretty popular at GABF.

GABF - Silent DiscoI’ve spent some time in the Silent Disco at Bonnaroo, so I skipped it at GABF. But there was always a long line to get in. The concept is this: it’s a disco where people dance to music via wireless headphones. Fun to watch from the outside.

GABF - IdiotsHe’s with the idiot.

GABF - massageThe Designated Driver Lounge offered DDs free chair massages and the opportunity to taste craft-brewed sodas and root beers.

GABF - StoneSan Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. didn’t win any medals for its beers. But the brewery’s booth,  a popular destination at the festival, won the GABF Festival Flair Award for its awesome design.

GABF - Wall of T-shirtsOne of the cooler sites at GABF — the 30-foot wall of T-shirts for sale. I picked up shirts from New Belgium Brewing and Boulder Beer.

GABF - booksThe Beer Enthusiast Bookstore had a nice selection of homebrewing books and featured a full slate of book signings all three days, including authors Charlie Papazian, Garrett Oliver, John Palmer, Ray Daniels and Greg Koch.

GABF - Porter's PridePorter’s Pride, an imperial porter with chocolate, was brewed as part of a collaboration of Colorado breweries exclusively for the GABF awards ceremony.

GABF - governorColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, one of the founders of the original Wynkoop Brewing Company brewpub, spoke at the awards ceremony.

GABF-First AmendmentI met up with a monkey in a spacesuit and Abraham Lincoln, who were representing 21st Amendment.

GABF - Woo Hoo!Woo hoo! Hope to make it back to GABF soon!

2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition winners (and a gripe)

October 26, 2012 By: mike Category: Competition, Events, Homebrew, Memphis, Travelin'

Mike at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am

For homebrewers, one of the highlights of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver is the Pro-Am Competition.

Homebrewers from across the U.S. who are members of the American Homebrewers Association team up with professional brewers and scale up homebrew recipes on professional brewing systems. In its seventh year, the 2012 competition earlier this month saw a record number of entries, with 94 different beers. All the beers were served over the three days at GABF, and many of the homebrews were really fantastic.

I was lucky enough to enter this year’s competition with Memphis’ Ghost River Brewing, and my Red Hop Ale was served on the first night of the festival. (Click here to read all about my awesome brew day at Ghost River’s sister brewery, Boscos Squared.)

And while that’s me in the photo above with the pitcher, I didn’t actually get to serve my beer at GABF. The photo, sadly, was staged before the doors opened. Only volunteers were allowed to serve beers at the homebrew booth, a policy I really don’t understand. I was told by the Pro-Am organizer that the presence of homebrewers serving their beers somehow overshadowed the other beers at the booth whose brewer could not make it to Denver — a  really lame excuse. I was told I could stand in front of the booth, if I really wanted to.

One of the main reasons I like brewing for festivals is the opportunity to get immediate feedback — good and bad — from folks who try my beer. And what better setting to get feedback from beer lovers than the Great American Beer Festival? Making it all the way to Denver and being told I couldn’t serve my beer was a real disappointment. Brewers from professional breweries are encouraged to staff their booths and pour beer at the festival, and I hope the Pro-Am organizers re-think this policy for the Pro-Am booth. Homebrewers stand to learn a lot from those brief interactions with beer drinkers.

Anyway, I was thrilled to be at the festival. And to the winners below, cheers!

Gold: More Fun Blonde, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colo.

Brewmaster: New Belgium Brewing Co., AHA Member: Jay Shambo

Silver: Pointon’s Proper – An English Mild, RAM Restaurant and Brewery – Wheeling, Ill.
Brewmaster: Lanny Fetzer, AHA Member: Scott Pointon

Bronze: Classic American Pilsner, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, Minn.
Brewmaster: Mike Hoops, AHA Member: Kyle Sisco

There’s always a line for Russian River beer at GABF, even before the doors open

October 15, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Events

Great American Beer Festival logoLines are a common sight at the Great American Beer Festival.

Just to get in you have to wait in a line that can snake for a mile around the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Once inside, there are popular breweries that always have a line of thirsty attendees, from The Lost Abbey to Cigar City Brewing to Dogfish Head.

But nothing compared to the Russian River Brewing Co. booth. Before the session opened on Friday, before the public was even allowed in, there was a nice, long line of beer industry folks waiting for their 1-ounce pour of Russian River beer.

People just had to have their Pliny!

What’s your favorite beer from Russian River?

Memphis’ Ghost River, Boscos to have bigger presence at Great American Beer Festival

October 10, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Events, Homebrew, Memphis, Travelin'

Ghost River BrewingYou’ll be able to find Memphis beer in a lot more places at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, taking place this week in Denver.

Memphis’ Ghost River Brewing, which is entering four beers in this year’s competition, will have a booth on the festival floor. (Find it in the Southeast section, booth F12.)

In addition to its regular booth, Ghost River is participating in the Farm to Table Pavilion, a special area off the main hall where attendees can taste how well craft beer pairs with food. Ghost River’s beers will be featured with food from Vin48, a restaurant in Avon, Col.

There’s a new Brewpub Pavilion at this year’s festival, and Boscos Brewing Company will have a booth in the special area. The pavilion will feature 24 breweries representing all regions of the country, and it will be set up to recreate the brewpub atmosphere that craft beer enthusiasts enjoy. Boscos, with brewpubs in Memphis, Little Rock, Nashville and Franklin, has entered 10 beers into the competition.

Boscos logoFinally, both Boscos and Ghost River have entries in the Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am competition.

Ghost River’s entry with Memphis homebrewer Mike Erskine (yep, that’s me!), the “Red Hop Ale,” will be poured during the Thursday evening session in the Pro-Am competition booth.

Boscos’ entry with Nashville homebrewer John Malone, the “McFearless,” will be poured Friday evening. Malone is president of the Music City Brewers.

On another note, Chuck Skypeck of Boscos and Ghost River will be serving as a judge at the festival for a 15th straight year, and he’ll also be participating in the You Be The Judge promotion on Saturday at 1 p.m. The event allows attendees to judge a beer along with GABF judges in a directed tasting.

In 2011, Boscos Hefeweizen took gold in the category of German-style Wheat Ale. It was the fourth win for the Hefeweizen at GABF. Ghost River took the silver medal in the Irish-style Red Ale category for the Ghost River Copperhead Red.