October 5, 2011

The Pour Curator's 2011 GABF Rundown

As you know, I went to Great American Beer Festival in Denver last week.

Before I give my notes, I want to draw your attention to some of the comments by notable beer writers:

Jeff Alworth saw it as a "force of nature" and "a bit challenging," but noted some trends in beer with particular upsurges in wits and sours. I saw more sours two years ago than this year, but he's right in that everyone makes a wit (and most are unremarkable). He's also right in that the Brews Association needs some new signage.

Andy Crouch notes some good things, including that "Denver is becoming a hell of a city" (it really is), and one major disappointment: "Where did all the brewers go?" There is no question that brewers are less present, certainly among the booths and hoi-polloi of the fest. Some of it is that GABF was apparently unwilling to guarantee floor space to everyone, and some of it is clearly, as Andy suggests, that it's just not a must-attend event for brewers anymore.

Kurt Vonnegut signed a poster at Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Pete Brown saw a mix of good and bad, including too much rowdiness. His amusing comment:
    This event is louder, more raucous, more masculine than it was five years ago, last time I was here. There are fewer women here than there used to be. The vast hall is a constant roar. I think there might be a link between extreme hops and elevated testosterone.
I actually think there were many more women than there were two years ago, but I can't comment on the changes in five years.

As far as beer, here were some notable ones. As always, I'm not a reviewer, so I just make a few quick notes in case you're in a position to try any of these:

  • Minneapolis Town Hall
    • The Mango Mama IPA was a beer of intense mango, and the Thunderstorm had a very dry finish for a beer loaded with honey and lemongrass
  • Darkside Fermentation
    • Winning my award for the best names, with beers like The Golden Mean and Mark of the Yeast, the Austin brewery put up intriguing flavors to match their creativity in nomenclature.
  • Steamworks
    • Sadly, the Durango, CO brewery just pulled out of PA. We spoke with the brewer, who spoke highly of the Kolsch and Helles. That was deserved, but the Ned's Red and the Diablo blew us away. Ned was a blend of three malts aged in Chardonnay barrels with cherries, and the Diablo used Gewurztraminer in the mash, but managed to avoid any sweetness.
  • Brugge Brasserie
    • Indiana as a state cleaned up at GABF, and this was probably my favorite of the ones I got to try. Also with great names, beers that were great included sours like the Diamond Kings of Heaven (aged in Cabernet barrels), Super Kitty Fantastico, Tripel de Ripple, and The Spider.
  • Short's
    • QR codes are definitely
      becoming more widely used
    • The meteoric rise of Short's continued with an endcap booth and 20 beers, including the craziest and most experimental stuff you can imagine. I got to try the Whiskey Sour (loaded with lime) and the tomato-and-dill-infused Bloody Beer, both of which I loved.
  • Snake River Brewing Co.
    • The Jackson Hole, WY brewery produces a light and awesome International Beer of Mystery, which at 4.9% is the most heavily hopped (per pound) beer they make.
  • Thirsty Bear 
    • The San Francisco Brewery's Ryeison combined two of my favorite beer things - rye and saison - in a delicious way.
And it wouldn't be a writeup from me without a focus on Session Beer
  • Freetail
    • One could not walk around GABF without hearing of the San Antonio Brewery's Chile Fumando, a smoked chili beer that was a rare excellent and interesting chili beer, which changed on the tongue long after the sip. But they also have a very strange 3.9% health beer called the Spirulina, named for the blue-green algae which gives it its teal color.
  • Magnolia
    • One of these days, I'm going to write up the crazy art on their coasters. For now, though, their session beers deserve a shout-out. Sara's Ruby Mild  is a nice 3.5%, the Branthill ESB clocks in at 4.3%, and the Kalifornia Kolsch, at 4.7% is close enough for me, if not for everyone.
  • Elysian
    • Two great names for two great session beers from this Seattle brewery. The Slight Return (3.6%) was a session IPA, and Yuzu's Belgian-Style Golden was a very citrusy 4.5%. 
  • Mad Fox
    • I love me some kolsch (see below), and the Virginia brewery produced one of the best ones I found, at a delightful 4.4%.
  • Cambridge Brewing Company
    • My favorite place from two years ago is just as good, reprising their crazy awesome beers like Heather and Arquebus and the very un-sessionable sake-infused Banryu Ichi, but they've added to those massive brews a Sessionable IPA, which was loaded with hops and clocked in at 4.0%
  • McCoy's Public House
    • The Kansas City brewpub had some tasty lighter offerings, including a lovely sessionable Ginger Shandy and a Blackberry Tart, a 5.2% sour brown ale that's one of the very few blackberry beers I've ever liked.

One thing I did see a lot of was Kolsch. For those of you who are unaware, the traditional German style is one of my favorites, and is a strange hybrid, being warm fermented (like an ale) and then cold-conditioned (lagered), which gives it a delightful round bitterness and a light hoppiness. It used to be a fairly rare beer around the US, but now appears to be a common brew. Beeronomics links a great story on the spread of this beer, which of course we're now supposed to call something else thanks to EU and traditional safeguards (neat idea, Cologne, but not gonna happen).

I did get to talk to a number of cool brewers and industry people, so I'll have a bit more on such things in the coming days and weeks. Too much to write about, too few hours in the day.

1 comment:

  1. Never been to Denver, but would love to go. Glad this thing was cool for you, man.