I recently moved to the great state of Wyoming and one of my biggest fears was missing Michigan craft beer. Not one Michigan brewery distributes in Wyoming, and my only saving grace was the state just eight miles south. When I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, though, what excited me most was being able to once again taste home.
Arriving at the festival, I headed straight to the Founders Brewing Company booth, almost exactly opposite the media entrance. To my surprise, the line was already backed up to the booth across the aisle. Although the beer festival had just started, it was clear that Founders beer was in demand. It’s a common name in the craft beer industry, but there are not many times us Westerners are able to get it.
While my husband and I were there for Rubaeus and Backwoods Bastard, many festival goers were there for the limited release Imperial Red Ale, reDANKulous, gold medal award winner of its category — it was gone before the last session was finished.
The legendary, rare Founders KBS, named RateBeer.com’s 2014 “Best Beer in America” made an appearance at the festival as well, if you knew where to go. While the Founders booth did not have it, the Michigan Brewers Guild did, along with several other Michigan favorites.
Our second stop was right around the corner, Short’s Brewing Company, with a line as wide as their booth and then back a ways. People knew them, and it wasn’t just other Michiganians such as myself.
As I perched myself on the side of the booth to grab some photos, a man beside me was mingling with the Short’s representatives and discussing how great their beer was. One of my first thoughts was that he must be from Michigan, but to my surprise, he told me that he was from Denver. He just knew what Short’s was and was there to soak up each experimental beer in their line-up.
“I love beers that stimulate my palate in a different way,” Andy Coyle said. “Short’s beers, I think, create your palate — it is evolving as you taste the different flavors.”
Experimental beers are Short’s expertise, bringing home a silver medal in the category this year for Melt My Brain, a gin and tonic inspired experimental Golden Ale. Other beers they featured in their lineup included Bloody Beer, which won a silver medal in Experimental Beer in 2009, and Key Lime Pie, which won a gold medal in Experimental Beer in 2010 and 2014.
“We kind of thrive in that area,” Founder Joe Short said in a press release. “Like many of our beers, they are developed from many different inspirations.”
Neither Short’s nor Founders are strangers to GABF, but many of the Michigan breweries made their first appearance at GABF in 2015.
“It’s the coolest thing,” Michael Biddick from Saugatuck Brewing Company said about attending the festival for the first time. “People from everywhere are here to taste your beer. We get to try everyone else’s beer, too. It’s like you’re traveling the U.S. in one big room.”
Mitten Brewing Company’s Wob Wanhatalo admitted that he was somewhat new to the brewing industry in comparison to some of his colleagues but that his experience as a first timer was enlightening.
“Bookwriters, homebrewers, legends are all here and are trying our beers and giving us feedback,” Wanhatalo said.
While it’s nice having Colorado close by with some of the best breweries in the country, GABF proved that Michigan beer, while not distributed in the area, are still very much relevant in the craft brewing industry — not that I have ever doubted that. This year, Michigan took home six medals total, but what spoke most to Michigan success in craft brewing was the popularity surrounding each booth and the longing for the beer many of these people may only get to have just once a year.
To view the complete list of 2015 GABF winners, visit https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/the-competition/winners/.