Category Archives: GABF

GABF 2016: What I Learned This Year

There is a history of writers going to other places in order to write clearly about their home.  The physical distance provided by leaving allows the writer an emotional distance to see his subject clearly and truthfully.  Leaving also allows the writer to look at his new home in comparison to his old one.  That comparison allows the writer to see his subject’s warts, dimples and all.

So, what did I learn about the Charlotte craft beer scene after spending 4 days in Denver?  The Charlotte beer scene is like a kid who just got drafted out of college to the NFL and Denver is the 10-year veteran playing the same position.  You can see all the potential in Charlotte, but it is nowhere near mature enough to think it can usurp Denver.

The Denver craft beer culture is as old as American craft beer culture.  Charlie Papazian and Charlie Matzen started the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder in 1978, two years after homebrewing was legalized, which would be the engine in the creation of craft beer.

Craft brewing didn’t come to North Carolina until “Pop The Cap” was passed and signed in 2005.  That is a 27-year head start for Denver and it shows.  Denver’s craft beer culture has a maturity and confidence that only comes with time.

The only way I can describe it is that each brewery in the Denver area has a confidence in itself.  Each one is unique.  That goes for the beer they brew and the style and ethos they project.  They each know what they like to do and they do it with little regard to what other brewers are doing across town.

I think a lot of the Charlotte breweries, particularly the newer ones don’t know who or what exactly they are yet. They are eager and they are testing boundaries every day to see what they like and what they are good at, but they are not there yet.

This isn’t meant as damning criticism.  It is meant as a reminder of how far Charlotte has to go to reach its full craft beer potential.  Just in the 2 years I’ve been around, I’ve seen a huge change and lots of growth in the number and the quality of breweries that are opening.  The future is bright because the potential is there and obvious for everyone to see.

What I don’t want to see happen is the scene in Charlotte becoming insular and closed off to the rest of the beer world.  People in Charlotte are rightfully proud of the progress made in such a short time, but that sometimes leads to an attitude of not acknowledging that there are other good breweries in North Carolina outside of Charlotte or Asheville. One only needs to look at the NC Beer Cup and the GABF results to prove that.  There are times I think some breweries coast on size and reputation and not the quality of the liquid in the glass.

GABF 2016: Notes On Day 3

4 days of drinking beer and wandering around an area seems like a great idea for a vacation (and it is a great idea for a vacation) until somewhere in the middle of day 4 you are looking at the grass under a tree on the disc golf course you are playing, and think, “I could lay there and take a nice nap.”

The last day of GABF and my last full day in Denver started like the others with a breakfast biscuit from Rise and Shine.  We watched the GABF awards ceremony as we lounged until it was time to leave for disc golf in Arvada.  It was a nice leisurely round. The group in front of us had speakers playing various EDM and the group behind us had speakers playing various 70s country songs.  That felt about right for a trip to Colorado.

There was lunch at another Snarf’s location, a final trip to Hogshead for me, and a nap for everyone.  Including Mattie, the greyhound. Then it was off to the final GABF session of 2016.

I like to think of the last session of GABF as Amateur Night.   The difference between Thursday and Saturday is stark.  Thursday you have the beer geeks all wanting to try different things and talk to brewers.  Saturday, you have all the college students from around the area and 30-40-year-old adolescents who all pregame before hitting the convention center.  Those two groups have one goal: Get as drunk as possible before 9:45.

I make my livelihood from people who like to drink.  I love those people, what I don’t like are the drunks who think getting a little inebriated gives them the right to act like the Republican nominee for president.  So, as the beer ran out and 9:00 hit, Dave, Ginny, and I decided to skedaddle and head home.  We were tired, the beer was running out, and the scene was generally degenerating into chaos.

I don’t want it to sound like the last night wasn’t fun. It was.  I got to try a lot more beers and talk to a few people I wanted to meet.  It was just the tail end of a jam packed 4 days.

Congratulations to all the brewers, particularly the ones from my beloved Tar Heel state.  North Carolina breweries picked up 17 medals at the awards ceremony.  The most the state’s brewers have won at any single competition and the 4th most by a single state at this year’s event. The surprise was the 3 medals won by Brown Truck Brewing out of High Point. Not only did win 1 gold and 2 silvers they were named Very Small Brewery of The Year.

I will actually have a more global 20000-foot overview of what I learned this week in Denver coming up either here or at Gravity Magazine. For now, I’m going to grab some breakfast and head to the airport.

GABF 2016: Notes On Day 2

What did we do on Day 2 of GABF 2016 and day 3 of being in Denver?  We drank.  We drank a lot of beer.  We didn’t go to the Friday session, but we saw a bunch of people who were going or had gone.

Dave and I started the day with a bagel sandwich breakfast at Dudleroy’s Bagels followed by a great deal of lounging around and some work before we headed out to lunch and brewery visits.  After an Uber ride with a guy who literally just moved to Denver this past Saturday from Daytona Beach, we had lunch at Snarf’s a local sandwich shop chain.

We walked from Snarf’s intending to go to Epic Brewing.  On the way, we passed Stem Ciders and decided to go in and have a cider as a warm up.  I had a nice semi-dry cider made from wild fermentation.  After that quick stop, we continued our journey towards Epic.

I will say as an aside, the walk was a bit sketchy.  These breweries are all in a former warehouse and industrial district still undergoing redevelopment so sidewalks don’t always exist.

Anyway, we walked onto Epic where there was a line to just get a spot at the bar. So, we made the quick decision that there was too much beer in Denver to waste standing in a line like that no matter how much we both like Epic’s beer.  We took a short walk over to Bierstadt Lagerhaus a place that is pretty new in the Denver beer scene.  As the name implies Bierstadt is all German style beer brewed in accordance to the Reinheitsgebot.

I had the Dunkel and the Oktoberfest, both were excellent.  The best thing about the place was the atmosphere and the view.  It is in an old printing facility and uses some of the old equipment as decorations as well as kept the hard industrial feel of the metal and concrete that fills that place.  Also, it has one of the best views of Denver you can get.

From there we made another short walk to Ratio Beerworks.  The thing that I love about the Denver beer scene is how different all the breweries are from each other.  Ratio is a completely different experience then Bierstadt.  Ratio has a punk DIY aesthetic that I fell in love with immediately.  Also, as someone who has spent a month diving back into Fugazi, the first beer I got there had to be the Repeater extra pale ale followed by another great beer the French Saison, Dear You.

By then, Ginny had joined us from work and after our second round, she drove us to Hogshead where I had in order, the AK Ordinary Bitter, the Barge’s Mild, the Chin Wag ESB, and finally the 2013 Window Licker Barleywine.  All on cask.

If anything, this week has shown me what the future of beer in Charlotte could be.  Every brewery I have been to is different than the last and the next brewery.  The great thing is they were all good.  They seem to care most about the liquid in the glass (the most important part) yet come at the process in different ways.  Charlotte is just starting to develop that feel where all the breweries are great yet still differentiate themselves.  I’m sure there are mediocre breweries in Denver, but that percentage seems to be lower here because the beer culture is so mature and ingrained in Denver culture in general.

GABF 2016: Notes On Day 1

I showered this morning with soap made from Hogshead Brewery’s Wild Hog IPA.  It was soap, but it is a good way to start off the first day of GABF.

Rise and Shine sounds a lot like Sunrise doesn't it.

Rise and Shine sounds a lot like Sunrise doesn’t it?

After the shower and cup of coffee, Dave and I walked down to Rise and Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Café.  A great place started by a fellow North Carolina native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate Seth Rodin provides Denver with true Southern buttermilk biscuits.  I had egg and cheese on a chipotle biscuit.  I enjoyed every bite.

This is her house, she just lets Dave and Ginny live there because they feed her.

This is her house, she just lets Dave and Ginny live there because they feed her.

Then after walking Mattie, the greyhound, we set off towards Boulder for a walk around campus and a quick lunch before heading to Golden to try a few breweries.

Boulder was cool and as a fan of college towns, it was nice to walk around one for an hour or so.

After that brief beerless hiatus onto Golden we went.  No, we did not do the Coors tour.

This is the Cannonball Creek Rosemary Saison.  Great beer.

This is the Cannonball Creek Rosemary Saison. Great beer.

Our first stop was to Cannonball Creek Brewing.  It is one of my new favorite things, breweries in strip malls.  It is a weird and interesting thing that has started happening and I am all for the dissonance it creates when you see a brewery next to a nail salon.  Anyway, the beer was great and the staff was really cool especially considering they had been open since 9 am when the first van full of brewers arrived.  My personal favorite was the Rosemary Sourdough Saison.  The rosemary works really well with the yeast on flavor and aroma and there is a hint of tartness like that of a good sourdough bread.

After that, we ventured into Golden and stopped by Mountain Toad Brewing where I had a really nice Dunkelweizen.  One of the things I like about cities with a more mature brewing culture is that the taprooms all have their own distinct looks.  Mountain Toad looks completely different from Cannonball Creek and that is fine.  That is thing starting to happen in Charlotte as well.

From there we went back to the house and ate and hydrated before the opening night of GABF.

We took an Uber to the convention center and things were a little different since my last visit in 2014.  The line to get into the actual festival was moved inside.  So instead of inching forward like in some cattle drive we were all herded into holding pens to wait.

After about a half hour the bagpipes started and we descended upon the booths like locusts.  I went in and tried a few things and waited for Dave and Ginny to meet me at the NC Brewers Guild booth.  I ran into the guys from New Sarum Brewing while I waited and talked to them for a few minutes.  Then, Dave and Ginny arrived and we were off to drink beer.

My favorite of the night came down to two beers the Off Colour Willet Rye Barrel Aged Dinos’mores and the Almanac Farmer’s Reserve Blackberry Sour Blonde.  I did have beers I didn’t like, but those will remain anonymous to protect the innocent.

It was a fun first night, but the size of it gets your legs eventually.  We ended the night with our now traditional visit to Sam’s No. 3 for some late night food before we Ubered back to all collapse into a night of sleep.

Friday is a free day for us and we will take advantage by hitting a bunch of breweries.

GABF 2016: Notes On Arrrival

10/5/16, 6:20 am

Airports always seem like they are full of refugees fleeing a war zone. Especially at 6 in the morning. Everyone has the stunned punchy look of just waking up and moves at 3/4 speed at best. The ones just off an airplane appear lost and disoriented because they are.  Hopefully, I’ll get some sleep on the plane. I didn’t get much last night. Anticipatory insomnia sucks. Just checked the weather. Is a nice and balmy 37 degrees in Denver.


7:05 am

The cattle call of status. “Those of you willing to overpay for the comfort of sitting in a seat with adequate padding come first.  The rest of you unwashed, try to find somewhere to sit.”  That is followed by the annoyed feeling of walking down the aisle stopping and starting again worried you won’t find any room in the overheads for your carry-on. I did meet a guy who will be pouring for Winchester Brew Works out of Winchester, VA.  I will check them out tomorrow.


8:23 am

We just landed.   In Charlotte. One of the flight crew figured out that smoke in the cabin isn’t a good thing, so we turned back. They are currently looking for a new plane for us.  That stunned punchy look has been replaced by the annoyed as hell look on the face of most of the passengers.  Luckily, I don’t have to be in Denver for anything in particular like some of the brewery people.  They have to check in at 10 am Denver time to get their credentials.  I don’t think some of them are going to make it.  Of course, I was just starting to go to sleep when we made our u-turn.


12:09 MT

Once we got a plane that didn’t have the smell of burning hydraulic fluid leaking into the cabin, the flight went as expected. Now I have gone from a metal transportation tube in the sky to one on and underground. I’m taking the RTD light rail from the airport to Union Station in downtown Denver. This is awesome and convenient.  Union Station is right next to Coors Field.  What a wonderful concept to be able to take a cheap light rail ride right into the heart of your city. Paying attention Charlotte?

I always forget how bright it is here being closers to the sun.


3:00 pm

Three of the cask ale beer engines at Hogshead Brewery.

Three of the cask ale beer engines at Hogshead Brewery.

After a nice brunch at Snooze in Union Station and a drive through Denver to pick up deodorant, a toothbrush, and toothpaste, Dave and I have arrived at Hogshead Brewery.  It is a small brewery making British style beers on cask that is a two block walk from Dave and Ginny’s house.  The staff is cool and so is the atmosphere.  It is the exact kind of place we try to make Craft.  Oh yeah, Dave is my best friend from high school who lives in Denver is always kind enough to put me up during GABF and Ginny is his lovely fiancé.  My favorite of the Hogshead beers is either the Downtown Julie Brown or the Extra Stout.  I’m going to have to do some more research and get back to you on that one.


8:00 pm

After a couple of appetizers and drinks at Vital Roots, a slow food restaurant with awesome food, we head across the street to Hops & Pie for pizza and $2 craft beer can night.  Us and a

The crowd on the Wednesday before GABF at Hops & Pie

The crowd on the Wednesday before GABF at Hops & Pie

ton of brewers and others in for GABF.  The place has a great can and draft selection.  As well as great pizza.  After a couple of great beers (Uplsope Brown Ale and Creature Comforts Athena) and a good pizza, my body has decided it needs sleep.  I have feeling tomorrow will include another visit to Hogshead among others and Day 1 of GABF.