Tag Archives: great american beer festival

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.

One Article You Need To Read And Why, 10/3/16

Today begins a week when I will talk a lot about the Great American Beer Festival.  My vacation usually centers around me going to Denver and attending the GABF and this year is no different.  The 500 words will be terribly late on Wednesday because I will be on an airplane heading out for the festivities.

To start here is an article that gives a 10000-foot view of the state of the craft beer industry leading up to the festival.

First of all, who in 1981 thought the craft beer business, which it wasn’t called then, would be this big and the GABF would be this massive of an event?  There is also the fact that the industry is maturing and the older, regional breweries are starting to band together in private equity relationships that allow them to share resources without giving up their independence.

Besides all that, the article gets at two things I have been saying to people who ask for the last year.  One, the explosive growth of the industry is going to stop.  There won’t be a retreat or shrinkage in the number of breweries but it will stay relatively the same through the next couple of years.  Why, I think the growth will come to smaller towns and less populated areas while the concentration of breweries in large cities will start to decline.

Second, large breweries and really small breweries are the way to go.  As I said, I have felt for a year or two that the growth of the industry will take place at the local level with breweries that concentrate on serving their immediate area only and breweries opening up in smaller towns outside of urban or even suburban footprints.  I believe this because I saw it start to happen in North Carolina a couple of years ago.  The large breweries will also be fine because they have the size to weather most fluctuations and storms in the industry.

The breweries I see having a hard time are those in that middle tier that I have trouble defining.  Is it the brewery that only distributes in its own state or neighboring states?  Is it regional distribution?  I have been trying to figure out how to define the line between the different levels for a year now and still can’t quite figure it out fully.

I think it is that level of size of the Oskar Blues, Victory, Southern Tier, Cigar City breweries that need and want the help that a partnership with other similar sized breweries to help take care of some the overhead costs that can sap a brewer that isn’t big enough or small enough.

Anyway, besides the 500 Words articles for the rest of the week, there will be the occasional dispatch from Denver of interesting things I’ve drunk or eaten or seen.  It is the kind of vacation I like, one where I get to see good friends, eat good food, and most importantly drink good beer.

Beer Counselor, What’s Your Favorite?

During this wedding weekend, someone asked what my favorite beer is.

I can answer that question in two ways.  The first is as a critic.  When I taste a beer as a critic I am trying to see how the beer matches up with the BJCP/GABF/Cicerone guidelines.  I am tasting a beer and trying to break down its constituent parts and compare it to the style guidelines.  I’m not necessarily trying to tell you if you will like it, but if it is a well-constructed beer. People are sometimes surprised at the GABF winners list. They will see a beer local to them and wonder who did that win.  What you have to understand that a competition is trying to find beers that are perfect distillations of the style guidelines.  That is why in the last paragraph of my reviews I give my overall impression to help you know if you’ll like it or not.

My favorites list and my best lists are different.  There is overlap, but they are not the same.  Unless I’m doing a real tasting for publication or competition, I turn off my critic’s mind after the second sip.  At that point, I just want to enjoy the beer.

You need to remember the difference between favorite and best when you read a beer review.  If you are reading a review that breaks the beer down into its component parts, skip to the end to find the overall impression.  That’s where you will find out if you should drink it.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t read the rest of it, especially if you are trying to learn more about beer.  If, however, you are just trying to find something to drink at a bar you don’t need to worry about whether it has good head retention, you just need to know if someone else likes it and why.

Your favorite beer should be more that.  It should be more than how it hits certain checkboxes on a rating sheet.  It’s about where you are, who you are with, and how you feel.  Finding your favorite is about why we drink.

We drink because it makes us feel good.  We drink for social lubrication.  We drink to hang out with friends and loosen up with strangers. When you combine the best of those things you find your favorite beer.  Favorite is some kind of combination of who, what, when, and where that you can’t measure on a tasting form.

My two favorite beers involve sitting with good friends and drinking good beer.  First up, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti.  It was with my best friend since high school in the old Great Divide tasting room in Denver.  It was my second time in town and my first trip to the GABF.  One of my favorite people, in one of my favorite cities, during my favorite time of year.

Number two on the list is, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy.  Again, I was with best friends in a cool spot, Oskar Blues in Brevard. I was drinking great beer in a great place with great friends.  Honestly, that is pretty much all I want out of my life.

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 9/28/15

Good morning.  You remember me?  I have a beer blog.  It has been a minute, but I’m back.  I don’t plan on taking another extended break like that again.  What are the Five Articles about today?  What do you think?  The Great American Beer Festival.  I missed this year’s event, but I will be in Denver next year.  Here are a few different perspectives on the event and what it means coming at you.

Growler Taste Test: Blowing Rock Schwarz Bier

I had a customer from Philadelphia say the other day, in Philly she would go to a bar and ask for a lager.  They would hand her a Yuengling.  When she does that in Charlotte, they ask which one.

If you ever have the chance, you should go to the medal winners’ page on the Great American Beer Festival website. First, there is the sheer number of beers you’ve never heard of much less drank.  For our purposes today, there is also the mind boggling number of categories.

The Beer Judge Certification Program style guide is even more complicated with categories and subcategories and then different styles underneath. To make it even better, there are still styles of beer that aren’t categorized because they have been lost to history.

All of that is a preface to talk about schwarzbier.  This isn’t a style recently resurrected from history, but it is a style not too familiar to the general public. The name is German for “black beer” and it is best described as a dark brown lager.

20150713_170235The Blowing Rock Schwarz Bier has a pleasant dark brown look with a thick long lasting off-white head.  It has a good lager like aroma with hints of roasted chocolate and coffee. The hop aroma is very low with just a touch of herbal and floral hops.

For a dark beer, it has a light medium mouthfeel.  There isn’t a lot of alcohol feel and taste to it.  There is a heavy chocolate and roasted coffee taste with a hint of hops underneath.  It has a low carbonation that along with its chocolate taste makes this definition of a smooth beer.

Blowing Rock has created another well-constructed beer that isn’t trying to be anything other than a good drinkable beer experience.

When in doubt about what to listen to with beer, I usually go with The National.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 7/15/15

There is a lot of Denver and a lot of food in this version of the Five Articles.  Also, some of me being annoyed that my fall plans were disrupted this year, by my friend’s falling in love and deciding to get married.

  • The Great American Beer Festival is expanding. This is great news for those who will be attending this year.  Unfortunately, I won’t be one of those people.  I have two friends who have selfishly decided to get married in October.  So, I have two weddings to go to this year instead of a week in Denver (one of my favorite places) drinking beer (my favorite past time).
  • Speaking of Denver. There is now a beer kiosk in the Denver International Airport.  Have I mentioned how much I love Denver?
  • This is why people love Louisiana. Everything comes down to food and having a good time.  Thinking of beer as part of food and as part of your meal is something more people should do.  Beer and food pairings are fun to do.  The primary way to do it is to find complimentary flavors. In this case the Maillard reaction is the basis of pairing.  The Maillard reaction is what makes food brown when it is cooked.  Darker beers usually work well with seared and pan fried meat.
  • Greensboro is going to be home to the National Folk Festival for the next 3 years and Natty Greene’s and Foothills Brewing will be the beer sponsors. Since, I won’t be going to the GABF this year (as we have already discussed) this might be a good alternative.
  • Beer brunches are a growing thing. I love beer as much as the next guy, but drinking at 9 am even if it is a breakfast beer cocktail is a bit much for me.  I drink enough from noon until I go to sleep that it never occurs to me to have a beer in the morning.  I have enough trouble waking up that I don’t need alcohol to make it any harder. However, people love to drink during Saturday and Sunday brunch and drinking something like a breakfast stout makes as much sense as anything.