Thursday, October 1, 2009

GABF 2009

Note: I wrote this post for my Local Homebrew Club, ASH - The Arizona Society of Homebrewers. As such I did not mention many of the twitter and by name within the article. Look to the end for that list.

This September, I travelled to Denver for my 3rd trip to the Great American Beer Fest (GABF). I had the honor of representing Papago Brewing as it's Pro-Am brewer and so I had to balance taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity and seeing some old friends as well as some new people I had met online through twitter and

Tuesday Night
As in past visits to the GABF, I arrive on evening flight to Denver. It's raining yet again this year and I'm wondering if my 19th and Blake connection will be there. Much has changed in the last year; in this country; in Denver; to clean up the streets. I am wondering if the lynch-pin to 5 days of drinking and sleeplessness will be there to provide the boost that I need. I feel a pit in my stomach and a flash of weakness.

In the wet darkness, I see a man beside a blue igloo cooler, it's going to happen! Money is exchanged and I am handed a foil wrapped packet of energy- a foil wrapped tamale. Street food is the backbone to surviving GABF. Cheap and readily available energy for the days ahead where I will be on my feet for up to 18 or 19 hours sampling beers. I wolf it down and head into Falling Rock, home of some 75 handles and surly service.
It's quiet tonight and so I am quickly handed a Russian River Publication brett farmhouse saison. This crisp, tart, fruity ale is only available at Brouwer’s Cafe, The Falling Rock, The Horse Brass, Monk’s Cafe, and the Toronado. I'm here to meet Johnathan Surratt, someone I know from
twitter, but who is also the person from and is the web director from Draft Magazine. I alternate between Publication, RR Consecration and Avery Voltron as we talk about beer and technology.

I spend a good chunk of the morning running down some of my online pals over at the Oscar Blues Pub on Main in Lyons and Left Hand. Many of the online people I met over the weekend were bloggers, home brewers and/or podcasters including Jeff Bearer from Craft Beer Radio; Tim and Amy from Here for the Beer; Chipper Dave Butler from Fermentedly Challenged; The Home Brew Chef - Sean Paxton and Peter Estaniel of the Better Beer Blog.

At OB I have the Osktoberfest and Devious Dale- a Dale's Pale with a hefty dosing of late Warrior hops. Warrior hops are also used over at Left Hand for their Warrior IPA and are all Colorado grown. Left Hand had a casked version of their Terrapin side project "Depth Charge", a Coffee Milk Stout. This is the second collaboration with Athens based Terrapin and Left Hand.

After a few AM beers it's time to go pick up my brewer's pass and meet Ron Kloth at Falling Rock. Ron and Leah Huss of Papago, and Chuck Knoll of World Class Beverages, earlier in the year, had judged my version of a wheat, pear, elderflower, grains of paradise french ale - Les Fleurs de Pearadise to be the Papago Pro-Am representative at GABF. Soon Ron and I would be heading off to Wynkoop for the Brewer's reception for exclusive beer tasting and food. This was something that I was not privy to in years past and was the first glimpse into the world of pro brewers.

Before I left I had to talk a bit with Don Younger of the world famous Horse Brass in Portland. I chatted with him briefly at the Oregon Brew Fest (OBF) in June and wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed Portland and his pub in particular.

Once inside Wynkoop we are graciously offered plate after plate of appetizers and special pourings. Of note is a young gueuze from the Bruery, Cambridge's You Enjoy My Stout and the New Belgium / Redstone collaboration- Black Folie.

The Brewer's reception at Wynkoop affords me the opportunity to talk with Lee Chase of the Blind Lady Ale House in San Diego, Carol Stoudt and Zack and Jeremy Cowan from Shmaltz.
Later I head back to Falling Rock to meet up with Don Webb of Naked City Beer in Seattle. He is with Josh Pfriem of Chuckanut (later to go on to win Small Brewery of the Year and 4 medals) and is next to Chuck and Harold Sleeman from World Class. The Brewing Network is also here and so I spend some time talking to Justin, Chad (Shat) and Charlie (Push). It's good to reconnect with them especially after speaking with Greg Koch of Stone about the, "I am a Home Brewer", video. It's a long story, you'll have to ask me about it.

It's an early morning and I meet up with the Papago/World Class crew and Beth Johnson from ASH. It's 8AM and we're off to Left Hand (LH) to get a tour and pouring from Brendan Guernsey and Head Brewer, Ro Guenzel. I start the day with a hefty poring of their oaked imperial stout. Ro gives us an inside tour of LH and I ask him questions about his malt smoker. It's particularly prescient since LH will later go on to medal in the Smoked Beer Category besting perennial medalist Alaskan.
Our next destination is Oscar Blues (OB) production facility. Here they are featuring all of their canned beers, but the twist is they are oaked in Stranahan's Whiskey barrels. OB has a batting cage and a basketball hoop in the brewery. As the tour winds down, Zach from Papago lingers behind to attempt a dunk and brings the hoop down to what Beth and I feel will be a crashing heap. Somehow Zach recovers and manages to catch the entire hoop and stanchion and right it before it hits the ground and anyone with the brewery notices. I see Leah wince. Good times.

Redstone Meadery further up the road seems to go a little more smoothly but is not without laughs. I have a blackberry mead mimosa in an attempt to fool my body into thinking that this is morning and everything that I have had to drink to this point, occurred last night. It seems to work as I am able to greedily drink, Veritas- a Lost Abbey collaboration with blended sour old viscosity and blackberry mead. As for the laughs, you'll have to ask Beth or Ron as to who has the photos of Harold and Leah.
At Avery, we are treated to some amazing pours and hors d'oeuvres put out by the brewery for the distributor only party in the barrel room. I wander the brewery and talk to the marketing people at Avery and Rick from World Class. I put in the good word for Moto, a local sushi place. I explain that Moto always has an Avery handle on and quite frequently 2. Pete Slosberg of Pete's Wicked Ale asks me about my homebrew logo and Pro Am beer. We talked for about 10 minutes and I never feel that I have to even acknowledge that I have had his beer or that I know who he was. Most of the people I meet were open and warm folks.
In the barrel room, I stand behind Adam Avery in the buffet line. Pours of brewery only beers are flowing and Coconut Shrimp Satay are being served with Ellie's Brown Soy Sauce. Leah raves about the Macaroni and Cheese mini souffle topped with BBQ chicken and Zach can't get enough of the Avery beer marinated Carne Asada taquitos. Clearly Adam was pulling all the stops for this generous offering. I watch as Adam struggles to separate 2 paper plates and he is holding up the line to this sumptuous banquet. "Adam", I offer, "You are already spending thousands of dollars on us. Don't sweat the paper plates." He glares at me, but I am later told by a marketing person that he thought it was funny. To underscore Adam's regular guy personae, later in the weekend, I watch as he waited in the same line as we did for 20 minutes to get into Falling Rock.

We head back into Denver as it was time to go to the first session of GABF. I won't go into all of the specifics, but I will tell you that having a brewer's pass gets you into the convention center before anyone else and there is a VIP area put on by Draft.

After the session, I meet up with my wife, Brenda, who had just flown in from Phoenix. We head to Falling Rock and I talk and drink with Keith, Fletcher and Josh from ASH as well as some friends of mine from We finish the evening by scarfing down some slices at Two-Fisted Mario's.
Just as soon as Brenda gets to Denver, I have to send her off with my friends from Naked City Beer, she will be going to New Belgium, Odells and Avery. Since I have toured those breweries, I'm off on my own adventure. I later find out that she got a personal tour with Peter Bouckaert.

I try and meet up with the Craft Beer Radio guys at Snooze for breakfast, but arrive too late. I'm right around the corner from Great Divide, so I stop in for a beer. One of the beer highlights of my trip is having the Les Claymore- a Scotch Ale that was unintentionally soured. It's Scotch notes are still evident despite the powerful sour punch. It's a perfect morning eye-opener.

Since Great Divide is having an open brewery it's probably no surprise that I run into Leah and Rick. We split a cab to Breckenridge for a tour and the brewery's mouth watering BBQ. QC brewer John Jordan leads the World Class and Papago team on a tour of the brewery and gives us a look at the new Lucky U packaging.

There is nothing like drinking from a conical in a brewery and John offers up some of their winter seasonal. John noticed that I am wearing a Cerveceros shirt, which is the Hispanic Day MLB tribute to the Milwaukee Brewers. He tells me that he follows the Brewers because, well, he is a brewer. I was glad I got to talk to him because he told me that he is going to Milwaukee for a ball game and always liked the Bernie Brewer character sliding down from the beer chalet int the beer mug. John didn't know that Lakefront Brewing bought the Chalet several years ago and so I encouraged him to make sure he takes that brewery tour. It was nice to help out a professional brewer!

There's only a little bit of time before the evening session, so I part ways with Ron and the World Class guys and head to FBAG while they head to a Redstone Meadery event. FBAG stands for Free Brats and Gonzo and is put on by Flying Dog in their distribution center. I meet some other brewers that I know from twitter and chat briefly with Neal Stewart, the former Marketing Director of Flying Dog and of Pabst fame. Neal is as much a beer geek as he is a marketing geek and I was glad to have met him. I also met Josh Mishell who designs the Flying Dog labels.

The Friday session is when my Pro-Am beer is pouring and I run into Fred Kraus and Jim Strelau of Oak Creek Brewing at the GABF bookstore. It's a fortunate circumstance since Stan Hieronymus, author of Brew Like a Monk, is doing a book signing and Stan is the only writer that I know that has had the Michelob pilot batch of pear beer. Les Fleurs de Pearadise was loosely based on the sketchy notes provided by the Michelob brewers at the Craft brewing Conference last April. Stan is on record as saying that he enjoyed the Michelob beer and I am anxious hear his thoughts on our version.

Stan agrees to critique and so I am racing across the GABF floor to provide him with a sample. It was a highlight of my trip for Stan to tell me that he enjoyed my beer more than the original and that he felt I had captured the sensation of biting into a pear.

Another person I was happy to run into several times during the week was Rick Sellers of Pacific Brewing News and formerly the Beer Director of Draft Magazine. He took this candid shot of me while I watched the cooking demonstration by Sean Paxton. I didn't get a chance to chat with Rick as long as i would have liked especially given his new venture, Odonata Beer Co. that he is partnering with Sacramento Brewing guru, Peter Hoey. I guess that will have to wait for another time.

I finish up the evening meeting up with my wife, Brenda, and the Naked City Beer gang at the Bull and Bush.

I decide to skip the Breckenridge Brewer's breakfast so that I can spend some times with friends and that ends up being the theme for the day. At the AHA members only session we find out that the Pro-Am beer doesn't win and it's at that point I begin to reflect upon the wonderful experience that Pro-Am program has been. From the brew day of my test batches, to the brew day at Oak Creek brewing in Sedona and these amazing days at the GABF.

Without a doubt, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Papago Brewing, Oak Creek Brewing, and World Class Beverages. After the Session, my friends and I share a quiet dinner at the Cheeky Monk and later some beers at Pints. These are friends and family that got me started in brewing and supported me in my hobby throughout the year.

Twitter/ people I met.



Anonymous said...

Cheeky Monk RAWKED.

Great post, although I think you could have mentioned me a lot more.



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