This year had 14 percent more breweries participating over last year, resulting in more than 3,500 offerings and almost 50,000 festival attendees. This year, 1,309 breweries and 5,507 beers entered the Great American Beer Festival competition. The competition awarded 268 medals to some of the best breweries in the United States.
Despite the lengths I had to go to, in arriving in the mile high city after my flight was diverted and grounded in Austin, it was by far the most enlightening craft beer festival I’ve had the honor to attend. And it’s just a really good time.
Whether the festival-goer is a beginner beer drinker, or a season craft beer geek, the increased number of educated volunteers made the festival even better. (Above: Randy Mosher (Radical Brewing) of 5 Rabbit Cerveceria)
The new “Beer Geek Program” is composed of 110 committed beer lovers who support and mentor GABF volunteer servers and ultimately give the 49,000 festival participants a better understanding of what they’re pouring.
The convergence of the slow food movement and craft beer revolution has led to fantastic events and exhibits like GABF’s Farm to Table Pavilion. The Pavilion provided 28 pairings designed and prepared by 14 small and independent breweries and chefs from around the country. Each pairing station was accompanied by at least one chef and one brewer.
Terrapin Beer Company paired their beers with chef Tom Worthington’s creations from Monterey Fish Market. Showcasing the delicious relationship between food and beer, Funkwerks, Nebraska Brewing and Odell Brewing also took part in the delectable pairings.
Funkwerks’ Oud Bruin paired with pan-roasted duck breast, Belgian waffle & maple puree, mission fig verjus with smoked duck prosciutto by chef Alex Seidel of Fruition & Mercantile Dining and Provisions. (Funkwerks pic by Odell Brewing)
Oud Bruin is a blend of one and two year old beers from a variety of oak barrels. This sweet and sour 7.5% ABV beer pours a deep auburn and exhibits aromas of aged red wine, whiskey, dark fruit and dark chocolate. The earthy and woody notes balance beautifully with the sour flavors making it a lovely and robust barrel-aged sour.
While Colorado took home a whopping 38 medals in the competition, Southern California also represented extremely well.
Our very own Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse took home a silver medal in the Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale Ale category for their Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale. This is their first GABF win. While Babe’s was not physically there at GABF to collect their award in person, they were notified almost immediately through social media and expressed their thanks.
"We are very proud and humbled to have won the desert's first Great American Beer Festival medal. It is not only a win for Babe's Brewhouse, but a win for Riverside County and the Coachella Valley. We brewed the first batch of our Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale exactly two years ago, and pleased to see it win a bronze and a silver medal in 2014."
And Babe’s wasn’t the only brewpub to celebrate festival medals. The continuous growth of U.S. brewpubs has helped solidify the concept of local and craft. More than 40 percent of the more than 3,000 U.S. breweries are considered brewpubs!
And to get a taste of these local watering holes at the festival, GABF featured a ‘Brewpub Pavilion’, featuring 36 breweries from around the country.
Locally, here in Southern California, San Diego County grabbed 12 medals, Los Angeles & Orange County accounted for eight GABF medals and Riverside County proudly took home two medals (one in the Coachella Valley and one in Temecula).
Coachella Valley Brewing’s team was at the festival in Denver.
EP: As a brewer and chef and relatively new brewery, what were your thoughts about GABF? Any interesting or new trends we should watch for in 2015?
"I thought we made a good showing getting our beers in front of a new audience. I would have liked to have brought home a medal of course but I was proud that we made a great showing at the Alpha King Challenge making into the final round out of 188 brewers making the best hoppy beers in North America. We were also glad to see Babe’s bring home a medal. It’s good for the valley beer scene which is growing.
I found that our beers were very unique and innovative as compared to other breweries and it inspired me to see more breweries jumping into the concept of farm to glass. I think in 2015 you will see more and more of beer style Fusion, think along the lines of a Belgian IPA. I think farmhouse ales, wild ales and Brett beers will all continue to be hot.
Also, I think that boutique hop growers and maltsters will become more prevalent and accepted with growing shortages expected in both areas. At CVB we try to be trend setters and not trend followers. Staying in front of that is key. Passion driven by innovation and seasonality drives me to create. The Brewhouse is my canvas and it allows me to showcase my artistic ability in the form if a glass of beer."
EP: Anything you learned or saw that you'll be incorporating into the beers or brewery?
"I learned a lot about marketing and methods for force feeding our brand. There are a ton of new hops I want to play with after tasting beers that showcased them."
Anderson led a session at the festival about ‘Farm to Glass’ and sourcing local ingredients.
EP: How about your Farm to Table interview? What was some of the reactions from the audience about our area?
"It was great to be part of a side event at such a high profile beer festival. I think people were excited about the unique and flavorful beers that we served and they were quite surprised to find out that the area and name so synonymous with "Coachellafest" was also a massive agricultural Mecca. Many people came up and thanked me for the uniquely desert offerings they tried. Monument on Fire was a hit."
It's easy to get a bit overwhelmed with the quantity of beers available, but I managed to find some standouts:
1. Reclamation IPA, Ore Dock Brewing Co.: This beer has a slew of Pacific Northwest hops flavored with Munich and caramel malts. For a girl used to West Coast IPAs, this "mid coast IPA" was a refreshing and flavorful change. It has a fantastic hop/floral bouquet on the front end.
2. Abolition, Four Fathers Brewing: This is another brewery contributing to the rapid brewery growth in the U.S.. This is robust, roasty porter that is warming and delicious.
3. Soul Crusher, Dust Bowl Brewing Co.: This 13.7% ABV beer is not just complex and assertive, but dangerously drinkable. With a double mash and a brown sugar addition, warming flavors of rum, brown sugar and licorice and shine through - making it a decodent barley wine.
4. Saison Chateau, Iron Hill Brewery: With a classic Franco-Belgian profile: citrus, spice, some funk, crisp and drinkable, this rustic Belgian farmhouse ale is brewed with Chateau Pilsner malt and whole leaf Hershbrucker hops.
5. Coffee and Cigarettes, Cellarmaker Brewing Co.: The smoke, coffee and chocolate flavors are wonderfully balanced. The smoked malt compliments the roast and complexity of the coffee flavors beautifully. This was just a ridiculously delicious beer.
6. Serenity, Wicked Weed Brewing: Serenity has a lovely and refreshing flavor profile, with brett funk, lemon, green apple, orange, vanilla, oak and a faint tropical coconut finish.
7. Assassin, Topping Goliath Brewing: This 12% ABV imperial stout beer is aged in Pappy barrels, providing vivid flavors of coffee, vanilla, chocolate, Bourbon and raisons. It’s decadent, boozy goodness in a bottle.
To see the remaining GABF images, click here.