by Dave Hoops, Master Brewer at Fitger’s BrewhouseThe Growler is pleased to introduce a new column by Dave Hoops, Master Brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse. Each issue, Dave will share his thoughts of a brewer. This edition includes Dave’s highlights from his trip to the Great American Beer Festival.
For those of you unaware of the GABF (as all beer lovers affectionately call it) this is the granddaddy of all U.S. beer festivals–the largest collection of U.S. beer anywhere on earth and the most prestigious beer competition in the world. Each October, 50,000-plus rabid beer drinkers flood Denver for four days of all things beer. Denver is home of the world’s biggest brewpub, Wyncoop, nearby Golden is home of Coors, the world’s biggest single brewery and Denver has the highest number of homebrewers in America. It’s easy to see how the GABF ended up here. As a brewer, I am very fortunate to be an insider during this amazing festival. Here’s a run-down of my favorite moments from the week.
This was my 18th trip to the GABF. My lasting impression is: the American brewers are hands down making the best beer in the world right now. The quality and variety of beers being produced by established and new brewers alike is mind-blowing.
For a brewer, the GABF experience starts a full year before the festival. At Fitger’s Brewhouse, the brewers meet after the fest and talk about ideas for next year. We then brew as usual until 2 months before the festival when kegs arrive at the brewery to be filled with beer to be poured on the festival floor. After the kegs are filled and shipped we have a “big bottling day.” This yearly event involves filling 40-50 bottles of beer for judging. As we try to fill each bottle perfectly we’re aware that with 4,338 beers judged and only 254 medals awarded, less than 5% of all beers entered will win. When we are all done, a toast is necessary, of course: “To skill, to passion, TO LUCK.” The bottles are then off to Denver, and judging takes place five weeks later.
This year a total of 185 judges from 11 countries judged 4,338 beers in 84 categories this year. I had the great honor of being one of these judges. In order to be chosen as a judge, there is a process: 3 current judges must write letters of recommendation, and the candidate must write an essay highlighting his or her experience and technical skill. Once approved, there is a wait-list–currently over two years long, and all judges are subject to the oversight and assessment of judging skills from the competition director. All beers are judged blind and judges cannot judge categories for which they have entered beers into the GABF competition. So for eight hours a day, I sat with my peers critically judging each beer on the official criteria and offering critical comments for each beer. It might sound like an awesome job, but I must tell you it’s serious work. I was able to judge ten different categories of beer this year with some of the best brewers ever born. It was the highlight of my week.
After the day’s work we enjoy beer. My favorite places to drink in Denver are, in no particular order, El Chapultepec, Star Bar, Falling Rock, Sandlot Brewery, and Denver Beer Company. If you find yourself in Denver you cannot go wrong with these.
On Thursday the GABF officially opens its doors. There were 50,000 tickets sold this year and they sold out in 44 minutes. So here is the lesson for those of you wanting to attend: Follow GABF on Facebook and Twitter. Once they announce ticket info, be online the second sales start.
There are four sessions each year, and the two best are the first night Thursday session and the Saturday VIP session after the awards ceremony. These are less crowded and give a much better opportunity to chat with the brewers at their booths.
This year 666 breweries poured 2,700 beers at the fest. It is impossible to try all these beers (I know from experience)— so make a plan: Favorite breweries, styles, regions, whatever. This will help to maximize the tasting experience. Make sure to chat with the brewers at the booths, and, just a thought—thank them!—they are spending five hours a day serving hundreds of beers. Let them know how you feel.
GABF by the Numbers
5 Favorite Minnesota Beers
As a Minnesota brewer I have great pride in the growth of craft beer in our state. Four breweries from Minnesota always attend the GABF: Summit Brewery (the godfather), Surly Brewing, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, (run by the younger, smarter, better looking Hoops), and Fitger’s Brewhouse. This year Lucid Brewery also attended. I visited each brewery and picked my favorites.
• From Lucid… Surfside IPA. A hop forward clean drinking hop bomb.
• From Summit… Saga IPA, the newest Summit beer. This floral hop elixir was soooo good. I also have to mention Pils, which I personally love.
• From Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery… Hopfen Ublich, a German style double pils that Mike describes as a unique German style lager translated as “Hops Traditional”. Brewed solely with the finest traditional Bohemian Floor Malted barley and loads of German Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, 8 lbs Leaf hops per barrel in “Hopback”. Very simple, traditional, and special………and hopped the Town Hall way.
• Surly… Pentagram. Todd describes this beer as brewed with Dark Munich and Special “B” malts, minimal bittering hops, and fermented in stainless with 2 Brettanomyces strains. Aging in a variety of used red wine barrels for 1-3 years and blended to have a flavor profile which is tart yet sweet. Bottles and kegs produced once a year, release dates Jan-Feb. This beer was my personal favorite as sour beers are a passion of mine and Todd has great finesse with these beers.
• Fitger’s Brewhouse… Cherry Batch 2012. Our 17th anniversary beer. We used 1,000 lbs of Montmoracy cherries in a malty base beer for a cherry explosion. This beer was very popular on the floor.
5 other Highlights from this year
• Farm to Table. An area featuring local chefs pairing small plates with beer.
• Brewpub pavilion. Brewpubs only, in a pub type atmosphere.
• Our Volunteers. Pam, Pam and Leith worked 4 solid days with us pouring beer, smiling, making our jobs easier. They totally ruled.
• All the folks from Minnesota that stopped by our booth to say hi and give love.
• Seeing all my friends from my years brewing in the San Francisco Bay area at their brewery booths.
5 of my Favorite non-Minnesota Beers
• Cambridge Brewery, Cambridge MA… sour beers
• Distihl, Normal, IL… sour beers
• Founders, Grand Rapids, MI… Kentucky Breakfast Stout.
• Odell, Fort Collins, CO… Meddler Brown.
• Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada for stellar hoppy beers.
3 of my Favorite Names for Beers on the Floor this Year
• ChChChCh- Cherry Bomb… Thai Me Up Brewery, Jackson, WY
• Your Favorite Foreign Movie… DC Brau Brewing Co, Washington, DC
• German Sparkle Party…10 Barrel Brewing Co..Bend, OR.
Fun, Fun stuff
This fun trip came to a close on Saturday. Each year the awards ceremony for the GABF is eagerly and nervously awaited by thousands of brewers hoping to be recognized by their peers. This year the ceremony took place in a 5,000 seat auditorium that was at least 75% full. The podium was on stage, the red carpet was out. This is the Oscar’s of the beer world. As I mentioned 4,338 beers were judged and 254 medals were awarded. Minnesota breweries took home 3 medals this year.
• Summit Brewery… Silver… Bohemian Style Pilsener.
• Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery… Bronze… Pro-Am Competition. This pairs an award winning homebrewer with a pro brewer. They build on a recipe from the homebrewer and professionally brew it up. Mike Hoops and Home Brewer Kyle Sisco brewed a Classic American Pilsner
• Fitger’s Brewhouse… Bronze… American Style Sour for Fitger’s Framboise.
Congrats to our friends that medaled. On a quick homer note, this was the second time in history that brothers from competing breweries have ever won medals…the first time, in 2004, was also Dave and Mike Hoops. Way to go Bro.
It’s been a pleasure writing this for you all. Thanks for supporting craft beer in Minnesota. I look forward to sharing a pint.