Monday, October 7, 2019

Beer's big day: Recapping the 2019 Great American Beer Festival

(Photo: © Brewers Association).

If there's one thing to be said with certainty regarding the 2019 Great American Beer Festival (GABF), it's that the Denver, Colorado-based event just keeps getting bigger. That applies not only to the competition, but also to the amount of area attendees must traverse in order to seek out the most highly sought-after samples on the festival floor.

On the latter point, the festival has grown to encompass nearly 600,000 square feet of convention center space. That's roughly equivalent to 10 football fields, which is great if you're looking to up your step count while imbibing on beers from around the country.

At the same time, I imagine it could be a little overwhelming to someone embarking on GABF for the first time. Luckily, there were plenty of things to see and do if you needed to take a break from your tasting trek. Among them, the History of Craft Beer Exhibit was new for 2019, while the Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden was a holdover from last year. In addition, Sierra Nevada trucked in its original brewhouse, with the equipment proving to be a popular display among patrons.

Sierra Nevada's original brewhouse was a 10-barrel system (Photo: © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Shifting the focus to the competition, the 2019 edition was the largest to date, with 9,497 beers from 2,295 breweries evaluated across 107 categories. From within those entries, two North Texas breweries were awarded medals.
  • Community Beer Co., Dallas: Gold for Texas Lager in the Session Beer category.
  • Bitter Sisters Brewery, Addison: Bronze for Sisters Quad in the Belgian-style Dark Strong or Belgian-Style Quadrupel category.
For Community, the company earned its fifth overall GABF medal this year, while it was the first for Bitter Sisters. It's perhaps notable that both have also been recognized previously at the World Beer Cup.

Now, some will point out that this is the lowest award total for our region since 2013. Yet, while that might present itself as an unexpected (and/or concerning) drop-off compared to recent times, it's probably just a result of increased competition from an ever-growing field of competing breweries.

Representatives from Community Beer Co. of Dallas celebrate their gold medal with
Charlie Papazian, founder of the Great American Beer Festival (Photo: © Brewers Association).

As for more news and notes from the festival and beyond, coverage on further items of interest is provided below.

Cheers!

Community shines as my first, best 'mate'

Speaking of Community, one of the more popular local releases of late has been the company's Irish Coffee Legion. The result of a partnership with Jameson Distillery, the beer was poured at GABF inside the aforementioned Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden. Being a fan of Irish Coffee Legion (having purchased multiple four-packs here at home), I thought it would be interesting to compare/contrast with some of the other collaborations. The result? After trying over a half-dozen others, I walked out of the beer garden thinking Community's was the best one.

Altstadt garners two golds ahead of North Texas distro

Altstadt Brewery of Fredericksburg arrived at its first GABF in 2019 and promptly won two gold medals - one for Altstadt Lager and another for Altstadt Kölsch. How does this apply to North Texas? Well, the company has signed on with Andrews Distributing for the delivery of its products to the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Kegs are said to be rolling out first, with packaged products to follow later.

S'mores to come from Great Divide's Yeti clan

New release announcements ahead of GABF seem to be few and far between these days, but one I got a heads up on was S'mores Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Co. of Denver. Brewed with chocolate, marshmallow and spices, the beer is reminiscent of Birthday Sasquatch (10.3% ABV) from 903 Brewers in Sherman, though S'mores Yeti (9.5% ABV) is a bit lighter in strength and less intense. Set to be available from now until December, look for S'mores Yeti to be sold in 19.2-ounce cans.

Taproom trips

By now, it's become tradition for me to end my GABF recap with a rundown of taproom visits outside the festival. This time around, I managed to visit a dozen breweries in and around Denver, including a few down around Colorado Springs. I won't try to cover them all, but here are some thoughts on a few favorites.

Left-to-right: Renegade Brewing, Spangalang Brewery, Black Project Spontaneous
& Wild Ales, Manitou Brewing Co. (Photos: © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).
  • Renegade Brewing, Denver: I kicked-off my GABF journey this year at this spot in Denver's Santa Fe Arts District. Appropriately enough, my first beer at a brewery that bills its products as "Offensively Delicious" was a barleywine called Barrel-Aged Bedwetter.
  • Spangalang Brewery, Denver: A bit off the beaten path in Denver's Historic Five Points neighborhood, Spangalang had the best vibe among those I visited. Of course, that may be because of a soundtrack filled with the sounds of jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and more. Though, that should have been expected given Spangalang refers to a jazz cymbal rhythm created by drummer Kenny Clarke in the 1940s.
  • Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver: Although set up in a revamped building downtown, the brewery's dark rooms housing a multitude of barrels make it seem like you're drinking beer in a cave-aging environment. Interesting and unusual offerings abound, with my choice being one called Experimental #1, a spontaneously fermented gose with hickory-smoked salt, rosemary and coriander.
  • Manitou Brewing Co., Manitou Springs: Should you find yourself south of Denver, you'd do well to end up at Manitou Brewing Co. in Historic Manitou Springs. It's a small place nestled into downtown, but the brewpub is churning out great food to go along with a variety of full-flavored beer styles.



For more on the 2019 GABF and the historical performance of breweries from North Texas, click the links below:

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