Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Beer Travels: A recap of the 2015 Great American Beer Festival

Photo © Brewers Association.

In case you somehow missed it, the 2015 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) went down once again this past weekend in Denver, Colorado. Now in its 29th year, the event drew upwards of 60,000 attendees with 1552 breweries entering the competition. From those entries, 275 medals were awarded to 242 breweries from across the country. For those that are interested, a full rundown of statistics and links to a complete list of winners can be found at the following website:

With respect to the locals, North Texas breweries were awarded 6 medals overall. Add that to a list of past honorees, and area brewers have won a running total of 17 GABF medals since 2012 (9 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze). For 2015, the roster of winners includes (ceremony photos © Jason E. Kaplan, each may be clicked to enlarge):

Rahr & Sons Brewing Company: Gold for Oktoberfest
(German-Style Marzen) and The Regulator (Doppelbock).

903 Brewers: Silver for 2014 Sasquatch (Aged Beers).

Panther Island Brewing Company: Silver for Allergeez (Herb/Spice Beers).

Rabbit Hole Brewing Company: Silver for Rapture Fusion Brown Ale (American-Style Brown Ale).

Twin Peaks Brewing Company: Bronze for Barrel Aged Brown Ale (Wood/Barrel-Aged Beers).

Looking over the list, some may be surprised to see a certain chain restaurant make the cut, but it should probably be noted that company brewmaster Thomas Janik brewed for 17 years at Humperdinks before taking the reins at Twin Peaks. In other words, it's not the guy's first rodeo. During his time at 'Dinks, the brewpub won 10 medals at GABF for the execution of various recipes developed both in-house and at the corporate level (Humperdinks partnered with Big Horn Brewing up until 2005).

As for the other medalists, while Rahr & Sons was a repeat winner, Twin Peaks and the other three breweries listed took home hardware for the first time. While this surely won't quiet down the armchair experts who claim that only a handful of breweries make quality beer in North Texas, the fact is that 11 different local breweries have now won medals at either the GABF or the World Beer Cup over the past three years (click the GABF/WBC Honor Roll tab at the top of the page to see a complete historical list). Awards don't mean everything, of course, but to me the results indicate that more than just a few breweries are producing good beer in the region right now. Given that, I fully expect to see more first-time winners from the Metroplex in the years to come.

Additional coverage:

Craft beer is big in Colorado

While we've seen some notable new build-outs (Grapevine, Lakewood) in North Texas, as of now nothing here at home quite compares to new facilities recently opened by three well-known Colorado brewers.

Avery Brewing Company's new $30 million/67,000 square foot space opened in February and is a considerable upgrade compared to the one the company previously called home in a nearby Boulder business park. The new building has a taproom on the ground floor, while the upstairs has a full-service restaurant and a catwalk which allows visitors to peer into various aspects of the production area. It sits in the Gunbarrel section of Boulder County, literally steps away from the relatively diminutive Asher Brewing Company, which is the first all-organic brewery in Colorado.

Internal and external views of Avery's new facility in Boulder, including production
areas and the wall of the taproom (click to enlarge, © Brian Brown/Beer In Big D).

Opening in June, Breckenridge Brewery spent a total of $36 million to develop their new farmhouse brewery in Littleton, just south of Denver. In addition a production and storage space comprising 76,000 square feet, the expansive site also contains the Farm House restaurant. There, they serve a "Colorado Fresh" menu and pour beer from 24 taps. Among them are 16 house selections and another 8 from guest breweries.

Left: Breckenridge Brewery's production and storage buildings.
Right: The tapwall inside the Farm House restaurant.
(click to enlarge, © Brian Brown/Beer In Big D)

At least in terms of the initial phase, Great Divide Brewing Company's new digs in the River North section of Downtown Denver is the smallest of the three large-scale breweries I visited. Then again, the 65,000 square feet in question doesn't include brewing operations. Such things will come later as part of an overall expansion plan expected to cost a total of $38 million. Right now, the building which opened in July is a packaging/warehouse facility with an attached 40-seat taproom called Barrel Bar. It's a short walk to both Crooked Stave at The Source in one direction and a newbie by the name of Mockery Brewing in another.

Checking out a new 'spot'

Among the smaller, lesser-known breweries I visited on this trip was Goldspot Brewing Company. Located to the west of Downtown Denver, the brewery opened earlier this year after being founded by Matt Hughes and brother-in-law Alex Sward. Hughes hails from Lancaster, Texas, where he still has family, and I actually came to know him through social media where he keeps up with the North Texas beer scene. He left the Lone Star State in 2005, eventually going on to work for Wynkoop in Denver before taking on his current project.

Goldspot's taproom is near Regis University in the Berkeley/Regis neighborhood of Denver
(click to enlarge, © Brian Brown/Beer In Big D).

Goldspot's portfolio consists of a mix of styles, including beers of American, German and Belgian influence. Among the highlights are Gus' Breakfast Porter, brewed with cold-pressed coffee and dry-hopped with cocoa nibs, Wolfpack, a fresh hop Belgian pale ale, and La Cienega Grisette, an imperial farmhouse ale. Really, though, there wasn't a bad beer among the nine that were on tap the day I stopped by, with each being an embodiment of the brewery's goal to produce "properly made beer."

Sights and samples: A short sketch of my GABF tasting card

Cleverly named beers found on the festival floor:

  • Cherry Busey, a Flanders oud bruin from Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • Cone Flakes, an imperial IPA from Firefly Hollow Brewing Company in Bristol, Connecticut.
  • Farm to Face, an American wild ale from Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine.
  • Quad Damn It!, a Belgian quad from Chicago Brewing Company in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Recalcitrant Dockhand, a robust porter (get it?) from Black Star Co-Op in Austin, Texas.

Out-of-state favorites (i.e. beers not distributed to Texas):

  • Bacon Bomb, a rauchbier brewed with beechwood and cherrywood smoked malts, chocolate wheat and black pepper from Brenner Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Bourbon Barrel Aged Palo Santo Marron, a barrel-aged imperial brown ale from Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware.
  • Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel, a spontaneously fermented wild brown ale from New Glarus in New Glarus, Wisconsin.
  • Morning Wood, an imperial maple bacon coffee porter aged in bourbon barrels from Funky Buddha in Oakland Park, Florida.
  • Oatmeal Raisin Cookie, a beer that tastes just like it sounds from Aftershock Brewing Company in Temecula, California.

A North Texas favorite:
  • Lakewood Brabo's Reserve - this version of the brewery's 2013 entry in their popular Legendary Series was aged in a Lost Oak Winery Petit Verdot barrel. Simply put, this beer has never tasted better.

Most curiously-concocted beers: Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Illinois.

This farmhouse brewery produces the Single Tree series, which consists of beers made with various parts of, you guessed it, trees. Ingredients include acorns, bark, branches, leaves and more. One beer, Single Tree: Maple, forgoes water entirely in favor of tree sap.

Most curiously-named brewery (and location) on the festival floor: Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery in Goochland, Virginia.

It sounds made up, but this farm brewery lies alongside Little Lickinghole Creek, a waterway where wildlife have stopped to drink since pre-colonial times. As for where it's located, former Virginia governor Sir William Gooch named Goochland County after himself in 1727. The City of Goochland is the county seat.

And, finally....

Favorite brewery from outside Texas: Fremont Brewing of Seattle, Washington.

Makers of The Lamb (Brett saison aged in Chardonnay barrels), Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star (oatmeal stout), Bourbon Barrel Abominable (winter ale) and Cinnamon Bourbon Barrel Abominable. This family-owned brewery has been around since 2009, but according to my notes I had never sampled Fremont's products previously. Based on the above four beers, though, it's a safe bet the brewery will be a must stop on into the future.


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