Thoughts From The 2016 Great American Beer Festival

This past week I was honored and proud to represent a South Florida brewing stalwart, a place that I’ve recently begun to call home as my full time job: Due South Brewing Company. The Boynton Beach brewery brought myself and our sales director Brian out to Denver, Colorado for the three day event. We were able to pour our brewery’s beers at the festival; something that many brewers across the country strive to do. We were able to stand next to other breweries doing the same thing, each of them from their own large and small towns across the United States.

It was the first of many humbling experiences.

When we arrived in Denver, we made the trek out to the Convention Center, checked in, and wandered the nearly empty halls of what would be filled with thousands of beer drinkers hours later. During the beginning calmness, with forklifts full of ice criss-crossing the center floor and brewery representatives drilling and hammering away at elaborate booth setups that would rival even the most prestigious college theater production, there was an electric sense of anticipation about what would unfold over the next few days.

The sessions themselves were involved, but more typical to your average beer fest. There was the usual talking up of the beers and explaining what was on offer, but there was also the here-and-there conversation from local reporters, people who had no idea who we were, and other brewers canvassing the floor in search of the next inspiration.

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We might not have been once of the ‘hype’ breweries in our vicinity (that would most likely go to J Wakefield, who were set up a row down from us), but people were very much enthused about what we had to offer. Our Category 5 imperial IPA was surprisingly favored, as well as our coffee-forward Java Mariana Trench imperial stout.

Saturday morning was the most humbling of all, waiting with thousands of other brewery reps, brewers, owners, and sales teams all waiting to hear if the beers they submitted to any number of over 90 different categories would be judged to be the best in the country. Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company were sitting literally right in front of us during the ceremony, and seeing their seemingly nervous anticipation during the calling of specific categories made me realize how much of a similar baseline we were all sharing: whether you were big or small, everyone was seeking out the same thing here.

It was another extremely humbling moment.

Before and after sessions, we treked around Denver to find some useful information from the local breweries. This involved a bit of travelling to their taprooms to see how they managed their operations. It’s one of the best ways to see what the brewing culture of an area is like. Observing how taprooms are laid out, what amenities they have, what the prices are, what to-go packages are available, and who makes up the customer-base are all important aspects to soak in during any research trip. Sampling the beer is all well and good, but for a front of house oriented crew, it’s imperative to get some in-the-flesh exposure to these varied beer markets.

During our stay, we were able to check out a few places. Here is most of them:

Great Divide Brewing Company

imag1082imag1078Beers: Titan IPA, Hercules DIPA, Claymore Scotch Ale, Barrel Aged Old Ruffian

The taproom is relatively small, though the location we went to was considered the barrel bar. The walls are decked out in old barrel staves, and it gives the place a fantastic ambiance. There was, as it seems is popular in Denver (as I previously noticed in Portland), a self-serve water dispenser. These things are invaluable.

The beers themselves were clean without being over-the-top. Even the barrel aged Old Ruffian, their barleywine, was well-rounded and enjoyable.

 

Crooked Stave

imag1071imag1074Beers: Petite Sour Raspberry, Ampersand Chap. 3 Vol. 1

So the brewery taproom is inside a sort of industrial mall, featuring overpriced tacos, a butcher, a baker, and a t-shirt maker. It’s tucked out into a corner, and feels very unremarkable from the outside, considering the excitement its beers usually bring.

The bar was crowded and for whatever reason the ‘Order Here’ area was the furthest spot into the bar, meaning one had to wade through a sea of people in line once you got your beers. Very odd.

In any case, the highlight here for me was the Ampersand Chap. 3 Vol. 1, a golden botanical sour aged in Old Tom Gin barrels. It was basically a beer gimlet, and I wish it were available everywhere.

 

Mockery Brewing 

imag1084 imag1086Beers: Fresh Hop Brown IPA, The Ultimate Session Beer, Turn That Brown Upside Down, Party At The Moon Tower

This was one of the most impressive breweries that we went to in terms of quality beers and quality of hang-out space. With an array of interesting beers and a steampunk-esque theme, the brewery upped the ante by providing a separate room with a couple of old school arcade machines, notably NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, all set to free play. What’s not to love about that?

The Ultimate Session Beer was touted as an English style old ale, though coming in at 4.9% ABV. It was very enjoyable if not confusing. Fresh Hop Brown IPA was a killer change on the style, brewed with 100% Simcoe and rocking out with specialty malts. We could have stayed here for days, and made us long for a true outdoor space at our own brewery, though the Florida weather would make it inhospitable for much of the year.