gabf

Three days of glorified beer drinking and before you know it the winners have been announced.
Yes, the Great American Beer Festival is a haven for beverage enthusiasts and producers alike, all clamoring to the city of Denver to not only imbibe, but to put their beers to the test under the scrutiny of some of the best beer judges in the United States. All this in the hopes of scoring a medal, or several.
This festival is the beer festival and party for American enthusiasts, and you might begin by asking, how do you navigate a festival of this magnitude?
It’s true — the ‘bros’ are out and about, folks are drinking themselves past their prime and the amount of crop dusting inflicted upon the poor patrons is staggering. However, here we are, thousands of us, gathered to this beer mecca in order to test out the rarest, strangest and the best these breweries of America have to offer.
I personally had never been to GABF before and was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the thing. As a fellow Michigander, I did keep an eye out for our fellow brewers and was pleased to see a few on the list who won medals.
Besides testing out the vast array of beers that were being poured before me, I took note of the overall demeanor of the event.
Before taking off, I had heard from countless beer geek friends and brewers that GABF is ‘a total shit show’ and that it wasn’t worth the time and the money to come out anymore. Naturally these words stuck in my head before I even took a step onto a plane, and I came into the event with the preconceived notion that I would no doubt be vomited on and wouldn’t be able to try anything worthwhile or network with prospective business contacts or intellects in the industry.
Was I wrong? Well I wouldn’t say that for sure, because yes, the Great American Beer Festival is indeed a ‘shit show’. Having hundreds of people in various costumes looking bleary eyed and stumbling in front of you every few seconds will make you think that.
However, hadn’t I indeed gained some insight? Hadn’t I had a delightful time shuffling my way through the throngs of people, on a hunt (in my particular case) for rare and delicious sour ale? Wasn’t I the lucky woman who met a couple Master Cicerones and shook hands with some of the best brewers in the country?
For someone like me, this type of event was thrilling and humbling all at the same time. I don’t regret it. I seek these experiences out. What then, is the value in a beer festival of this nature? The possibility for something grand I suppose.
If you come and seek out the pure but empty thrill of inebriation, what experience are you gaining besides putting your body through yet another drunken struggle even though you are surrounded by the greats of the industry and have the opportunity to schmooze? Are you missing the core goal of the event by using a vehicle towards inebriation or is it simply just liberating to drink great beer to excess among fellow imbibers?
Besides my sense of pride for the Michigan breweries that won awards and the feeling of numerous business cards touching my hand as I shoved them into my coat pocket, I feel honored to have attended the Great American Beer Festival. It gave me a reason to question the purpose behind an event of this calibre and to ask my fellow beer geeks, what are we doing to elevate the beer industry when we host events such as this?
Whatever it is we are doing, it seems to be working in an undetectable way because I am quite inspired after my trip to Denver. I encourage and implore you all to seek out something more during beer events, either when attending or when coordinating. The quality of your experience is, as always, up to you.
Would I attend the Great American Beer Festival again? You bet. All I encourage is that for every beer festival or craft beverage event, we find a way to strike that balance between the opportunity for learning from someone new and for the spirit of relaxing via the vehicle of inebriation. Our best path to finding this balance is to change our personal attitudes about alcohol culture as a whole.
Without both, stagnancy develops and we do not advance what it is we have worked so hard to defend and build: the expectation for quality craft beer and the kind community with which to share that passion.
This festival has been the perfect spark to an excellent conversation about the status of our beer culture. Who’s ready to sit down, have a brew, and elevate the discussion? I’d love some company. The first round’s on me.

gabf

Three days of glorified beer drinking and before you know it the winners have been announced.

Yes, the Great American Beer Festival is a haven for beverage enthusiasts and producers alike, all clamoring to the city of Denver to not only imbibe, but to put their beers to the test under the scrutiny of some of the best beer judges in the United States. All this in the hopes of scoring a medal, or several.

This festival is the beer festival and party for American enthusiasts, and you might begin by asking, how do you navigate a festival of this magnitude?

It’s true — the ‘bros’ are out and about, folks are drinking themselves past their prime and the amount of crop dusting inflicted upon the poor patrons is staggering. However, here we are, thousands of us, gathered to this beer mecca in order to test out the rarest, strangest and the best these breweries of America have to offer.

I personally had never been to GABF before and was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the thing. As a fellow Michigander, I did keep an eye out for our fellow brewers and was pleased to see a few on the list who won medals.

Besides testing out the vast array of beers that were being poured before me, I took note of the overall demeanor of the event.

Before taking off, I had heard from countless beer geek friends and brewers that GABF is ‘a total shit show’ and that it wasn’t worth the time and the money to come out anymore. Naturally these words stuck in my head before I even took a step onto a plane, and I came into the event with the preconceived notion that I would no doubt be vomited on and wouldn’t be able to try anything worthwhile or network with prospective business contacts or intellects in the industry.

Was I wrong? Well I wouldn’t say that for sure, because yes, the Great American Beer Festival is indeed a ‘shit show’. Having hundreds of people in various costumes looking bleary eyed and stumbling in front of you every few seconds will make you think that.

However, hadn’t I indeed gained some insight? Hadn’t I had a delightful time shuffling my way through the throngs of people, on a hunt (in my particular case) for rare and delicious sour ale? Wasn’t I the lucky woman who met a couple Master Cicerones and shook hands with some of the best brewers in the country?

For someone like me, this type of event was thrilling and humbling all at the same time. I don’t regret it. I seek these experiences out. What then, is the value in a beer festival of this nature? The possibility for something grand I suppose.

If you come and seek out the pure but empty thrill of inebriation, what experience are you gaining besides putting your body through yet another drunken struggle even though you are surrounded by the greats of the industry and have the opportunity to schmooze? Are you missing the core goal of the event by using a vehicle towards inebriation or is it simply just liberating to drink great beer to excess among fellow imbibers?

Besides my sense of pride for the Michigan breweries that won awards and the feeling of numerous business cards touching my hand as I shoved them into my coat pocket, I feel honored to have attended the Great American Beer Festival. It gave me a reason to question the purpose behind an event of this calibre and to ask my fellow beer geeks, what are we doing to elevate the beer industry when we host events such as this?

Whatever it is we are doing, it seems to be working in an undetectable way because I am quite inspired after my trip to Denver. I encourage and implore you all to seek out something more during beer events, either when attending or when coordinating. The quality of your experience is, as always, up to you.

Would I attend the Great American Beer Festival again? You bet. All I encourage is that for every beer festival or craft beverage event, we find a way to strike that balance between the opportunity for learning from someone new and for the spirit of relaxing via the vehicle of inebriation. Our best path to finding this balance is to change our personal attitudes about alcohol culture as a whole.

Without both, stagnancy develops and we do not advance what it is we have worked so hard to defend and build: the expectation for quality craft beer and the kind community with which to share that passion.

This festival has been the perfect spark to an excellent conversation about the status of our beer culture. Who’s ready to sit down, have a brew, and elevate the discussion? I’d love some company. The first round’s on me.

SEATTLE — Some time ago, Michigan and Washington were playing against each other in some sports contest or another. Our local paper put out a list pitting Ann Arbor against Seattle to see which was cooler. I love Ann Arbor — I would take a bullet in the face to defend it, and I think it is the greatest city in Michigan — but it’s really no contest: Seattle is bigger, it has a huge technology core, it’s on the Pacific Ocean and it has mountains.

It also has a thriving craft beer scene.

As far as I know, the two cities have never gone head-to-head in beer but as luck would have it, I was out in Seattle last week and decided to do a little brewpub tour to see what the Emerald City had to offer.

Pike Brewing Company

This was the brewpub that many people recommended to us. It reminded me of a bigger, more crowded Grizzly Peak or Arbor Brewing Company in that it was set up like a restaurant and focused on good food.

There were two samplers available: the “standard” beers and a special one made up almost exclusively of IPAs. Since neither Ken or I are huge hop heads, we opted for the standard sampler.

The standout for me was the Pike XXXXX Extra Stout. The beer was a lovely dark brown with a creamy head. It balanced notes of chocolate and espresso, with roasty malted goodness. I didn’t get any hop profile but Ken said it was too hoppy for him; it had an IBU of 65 and it was brewed with three kinds of hops, but perhaps I picked out the chocolate and coffee flavors enough that I didn’t mind the hoppiness. Either way, it was a nice and toasty 7% ABV stout that went well with the burger that I got. The stout reminded me of Arbor Brewing’s Espresso Love, but with a bit less coffee flavor.

Outlander Brewery & Pub

This was the real “find” of our journey. We had just taken a magnificent tour of the Theo Chocolate Factory and decided to take a walk, because surely a 15 minute walk at two miles per hour would burn off those 2,000 calories we just inhaled.

On our trek, Ken spotted the pub, which is located in an old house. This setting made it extremely comfortable to walk into; the older, mismatched furniture added to the charm, reminding me of the furniture at the Arbor Brewing Microbrewery (previously known as Corner Brewery) that they had in the lounge, back in the day.

The only bad news was that Outlander was in the midst of brewing new beer and thus the selection was limited. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our sampler and I especially liked the Hefeweizen.

The brew had a crisp taste, a hint of bananas and cloves with a nice, spicy finish. The best thing about the beer was how well balanced it was — I often eschew hefeweizens because they are too wheaty, but this one had a nice, clean taste.

Looking at their website, it appears that Outlander has brewed a number of very interesting beers and I can only hope to get back there one day to try some. Until then, I would compare the Hefeweizen to Arbor Brewing’s Bavarian Bliss.

Elysian Brewing

I don’t feel that I can adequately rate the bar itself because we went into the wrong one. That is, there are several branches of the brewpub, and we picked the one that is more cocktail bar and less brewpub. In fact, it was no brewpub at all except that it offered Elysian beers on tap.

The atmosphere was definitely upscale (think: Vellum or the Raven’s Club). This is not meant as an insult, but just to say that it wasn’t a brewpub. In fact, when I asked the bartender what hops my beer was made with, he replied that he hadn’t memorized his hop list for the day.

Nevertheless the beer was excellent, specifically the Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout. While I do love stouts, I usually don’t like milk stouts. Part of it is the thought of lactose in my beer…it just isn’t my thing. And part of it is that I can usually just taste the lactose sweetness to the expense of all else. Luckily, the espresso cut into the milky taste and left a beer that was creamy and dark, with a lovely coffee aroma and smooth finish. It was like the perfect cup of coffee, but with a 5.6% ABV. This beer was definitely on par with my favorite Michigan sweet stout, Saugatuck’s Neapolitan Milk Stout.

Naked City Brewery

The Naked City Brewery has one of the best themes I’ve come across: old, noir movies. The names of the beers reflect this theme and the televisions were showing the Turner Classic Movie station! Again, we enjoyed our sampler and my standout surprised even me: the Brute Force IPA. Didn’t I just say that I’m not a huge hophead? This beer was just that good!

The brewery used Cascade and Simcoe hops to hop and dryhop the beer, but neither overpowered the biscuity, malty flavor. The citrus flavor from the hops was present up front, but it finished off to a nice, warm biscuit of 6% ABV goodness. I don’t drink a lot of IPAs so it was hard to think of one to compare it to, but I read some of my old blog entries and I would pair it with Griffin Claw’s Grind Line Pale Ale for a head-to-head comparison.

Fremont Brewery

Our last visit was a quick stop to the Fremont Brewery. Apparently, tens of thousands of people go to the Fremont neighborhood to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July — who knew? Many of them were at this brewpub, so it was hard to get a feel of the place and we definitely could not talk to the very overworked bartenders.

We still managed to snag a sampler though, and my standout beer was Fremont Summer Ale. It was described as citrus in a glass and it was — light, crisp and at 5% ABV would be very easy to drink while doing yard work. It was the perfect ending to a nice week away. For its citrus notes, I would compare it to Atwater’s Summertime Ale — although Atwater’s is more lemony while Fremont’s had more of a tangerine taste to it.

Because our stay was short, we couldn’t make it to dozens and dozens of breweries but the ones we went to were definitely brewing some good stuff! For our next trek out west, we have Hale’s Ales, Hilliard’s, Elliott Bay and the Peddler on our list.

DOUGLAS — It was a gorgeous spring Sunday. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, no snow. You know, the basic requirements for a pleasant day in Michigan. So Annette May, (a.k.a. the first female Ciccerone in the U.S. a.a.k.a. the coolest lady I know) and I took a little jaunt to the west, to Saugatuck Brewing Company to be exact, to join some of our fellow beer ladies in a celebration.
Let me begin by saying that The Singapore Room, the rental hall behind the Saugatuck Brewing Company’s pub is one of the most beautiful venues of its size I have seen. I’m totally jealous of it, to be frank. If you are seeking a space that serves great craft beer and can host pretty much anything for you and 199 of your (seated) friends or 299 of your standing around ones over that neck of the Michigan woods, the Singapore Room is where you need to be.
The day began with a brewing demonstration on Saugatuck’s unique and very cool “Brew Your Own” system that is set up in their pub. Laura Houser, brewer at Founders Brewing and Jenny Vonins from Saugatuck crafted a commemorative “Iris Ale,” specifically for the event.
Proceeds from the sale of this hoppy and flavorful IPA will go to Sylvia’s Place, an agency that provides safe housing for domestic abuse victims, based in Allegan.
Participants were treated to home brewing instruction from Kati Spayde, Ciccerone and award winner, who can be found hanging out at Siciliano’s Market, a well known craft-beer mecca just west of Grand Rapids. One of my personal heroes, Dianna Stampfler, the dynamo lady who founded Promote Michigan and is one of the staunchest supporters of the Michigan craft beer movement around brought us up to date on the state of the union with regard to our industry, including some fun news about a craft beer centric Pure Michigan campaign that will include a Pure Michigan beer and some radio spots featuring our business this summer.
And truly, can you EVER go wrong with beer and cheese? Not if you add in the fabulous and scarily energetic Amy Sherman, host of the TV series The Great American Brew Trail, which has featured my very own Wolverine State Brewing Company, along with many other breweries in the state. Amy is also a chef (which impresses me every time, being the “cook only under duress” type that I am) and imparted her beer and cheese pairing wisdom to the group.
And then Annette took over and gave the crowd her take on what it means to be a part of the “craft beer movement” that continues to gain momentum all over the country. After giving advice about how to get more involved, and learn all you can to be an educated consumer of beer with flavor, we tasted some of the tasty examples of Saugatuck Brewing’s brews, including a scotch ale, Michigan wheat beer, IPA and a doppelbock.
All in all an amazing day full of fun chat about beer (and my bestselling novel, Paradise Hops — yes I write books under the name Liz Crowe). I love meeting and talking with women who are passionate about the beer they consume and want to know more. There is even talk of taking the Celebration of Women in Craft Beer on the road later this year, hitting the four corners of the state, as it were, starting at my own Wolverine Tap Room. But more on that a little later.
I’ve thrown a fair few parties and events myself and fully realize what goes into making sure an event of this size goes off without a hitch. Kudos to Megan Pruim and Kerry O’Donohue for their work.
And seriously, if you need an event venue in West Michigan, look no further than that Singapore Room at the brewery — it is amazing.

DOUGLAS — It was a gorgeous spring Sunday. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, no snow. You know, the basic requirements for a pleasant day in Michigan. So Annette May, (a.k.a. the first female Ciccerone in the U.S. a.a.k.a. the coolest lady I know) and I took a little jaunt to the west, to Saugatuck Brewing Company to be exact, to join some of our fellow beer ladies in a celebration.

Let me begin by saying that The Singapore Room, the rental hall behind the Saugatuck Brewing Company’s pub is one of the most beautiful venues of its size I have seen. I’m totally jealous of it, to be frank. If you are seeking a space that serves great craft beer and can host pretty much anything for you and 199 of your (seated) friends or 299 of your standing around ones over that neck of the Michigan woods, the Singapore Room is where you need to be.

The day began with a brewing demonstration on Saugatuck’s unique and very cool “Brew Your Own” system that is set up in their pub. Laura Houser, brewer at Founders Brewing and Jenny Vonins from Saugatuck crafted a commemorative “Iris Ale,” specifically for the event.

Proceeds from the sale of this hoppy and flavorful IPA will go to Sylvia’s Place, an agency that provides safe housing for domestic abuse victims, based in Allegan.

Participants were treated to home brewing instruction from Kati Spayde, Ciccerone and award winner, who can be found hanging out at Siciliano’s Market, a well known craft-beer mecca just west of Grand Rapids. One of my personal heroes, Dianna Stampfler, the dynamo lady who founded Promote Michigan and is one of the staunchest supporters of the Michigan craft beer movement around brought us up to date on the state of the union with regard to our industry, including some fun news about a craft beer centric Pure Michigan campaign that will include a Pure Michigan beer and some radio spots featuring our business this summer.

And truly, can you EVER go wrong with beer and cheese? Not if you add in the fabulous and scarily energetic Amy Sherman, host of the TV series The Great American Brew Trail, which has featured my very own Wolverine State Brewing Company, along with many other breweries in the state. Amy is also a chef (which impresses me every time, being the “cook only under duress” type that I am) and imparted her beer and cheese pairing wisdom to the group.

And then Annette took over and gave the crowd her take on what it means to be a part of the “craft beer movement” that continues to gain momentum all over the country. After giving advice about how to get more involved, and learn all you can to be an educated consumer of beer with flavor, we tasted some of the tasty examples of Saugatuck Brewing’s brews, including a scotch ale, Michigan wheat beer, IPA and a doppelbock.

All in all an amazing day full of fun chat about beer (and my bestselling novel, Paradise Hops — yes I write books under the name Liz Crowe). I love meeting and talking with women who are passionate about the beer they consume and want to know more. There is even talk of taking the Celebration of Women in Craft Beer on the road later this year, hitting the four corners of the state, as it were, starting at my own Wolverine Tap Room. But more on that a little later.

I’ve thrown a fair few parties and events myself and fully realize what goes into making sure an event of this size goes off without a hitch. Kudos to Megan Pruim and Kerry O’Donohue for their work.

And seriously, if you need an event venue in West Michigan, look no further than that Singapore Room at the brewery — it is amazing.

Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek came out with an article on The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer.

I quickly took the magazine from the pile and began to read, intrigued as it detailed the AB InBev takeover and destruction of many of the world’s historic beer companies.  I took special interest on the cost cutting that CEO Carlos Brito did.

A few things came to mind almost immediately during and after the read.

The first was the declaration of Budweiser as America’s beer.  Although that might have been true for the entire 20th century, that title was lost as soon as it was purchased by InBev. The article details why Americans don’t like a foreign-owned Anheuser-Busch. That alone should be enough to say, it no longer is America’s beer.

The second was the relative failure to mention craft beer in the article. In the six or so pages, the only mentions were a paragraph on AB InBev’s purchase of Goose Island and tiny graph showing the number of breweries in the United States in the past two centuries.

And I just shook my head at the article. As many of the European brands known to Americans were ruined in the past decade by InBev, so too is Budweiser. But that tiny graph shows what truly should be considered American beer.

The graph showed the decrease from more than 2,000 pre-Prohibition breweries to fewer than 80 in 1980 to now more than there were pre-Prohibition. That shows where American beer-drinking loyalties lie.

The article failed to mention that although Budweiser and overall beer sales were dropping since the merger, craft beer sales were on the way up.

The shift back to the neighborhood breweries and flavorful beers is happening, and although it was helped by the foreign purchase of Budweiser, it’s not the only factor.

Just like the foreign purchase of Budweiser isn’t the only reason its sales have shrunk.

Craft beer is gaining incredible traction throughout the country — and world — and to say America’s beer is dying is a travesty. In realty, it’s maturing.

Everyday, American’s are wising up, and taking many tastes of craft beer to heart and finding out there’s more to beer than just a light brown colored liquid.

They’re shifting what should be seen as America’s beer back to its rightful spot. The beer brewed by thousands of American’s daily.

Craft beer is America’s beer now, and it’s sad Bloomberg couldn’t catch on.

Editor’s Note: Interestingly enough, AB InBev has caught on, with the purchase of Goose Island, and this neat little experiment by Budweiser, Project 12.

The first batch of beer I brewed was a Weizenbock back in January 2011.

That was 10 batches ago.

As a Christmas gift from my wife the month prior, I received a home brewing kit. And I’m not talking about some Mr. Beer Kit (no offense to those who use one). What I received was more than I expected. And that’s when it all started.

It was a “basic” brew kit that included food-grade fermenting and bottling buckets, airlock, bottle filler, hydrometer, thermometer, auto-siphon, bottle capper and all kinds of stuff that I had no idea about at the time.

I’m pretty sure she’s been regretting her decision ever since.

From the time of my first batch to now, I’ve acquired countless additional items for home brewing including wort chillers, glass carboys and more fermenting buckets, just to name a few things. Not to mention the purchase of countless extract kits.

Oh, I also forgot to mention the part where I bought a kegerator and started kegging my homebrew. And because one is not enough, I recently upgraded and went with the double faucet tap and another keg.

Sure, it’s been a slight point of contention between my wife and I. But, I always win because I can simply say, “you started it!” She made that argument way too easy for me.

But aside from whole spending money thing, there are so many great things about home brewing.

First off, it’s fun! To me, the whole idea of creating your very own batch of beer is a very, very cool thing.

For a craft beer enthusiast like myself, to partake in something you enjoy and are passionate about, there’s nothing better. And for some, the dream of creating their own beer may not always come to fruition.

People don’t realize that home brewing isn’t just the actual act of brewing. There’s much more to it than that.

My favorite part of brewing my own beer is sharing it with others. To pour a pint, hand it to someone and see their reaction is an amazing feeling. And to say, “I made that” is an even better feeling.

Some people do it for hobby. For others, it’s a lifestyle.

For me, I think it falls somewhere in between. It’s a great hobby that I love and maybe one day if I’m lucky enough, that hobby could become a lifestyle…just like a simple Christmas gift became a hobby.

I got a bit of news today. More like a news update really because I already knew it was coming.

New Belgium Brewing, of the Fat Tire and the uber Green production facility in Colorado has chosen its Michigan distribution network (it’s a huge one, and full of AB houses, just ‘cause they’re “green” doesn’t mean they’re stupid). We can expect our first cans, bottles and draft handles in August.

I congratulate the marketing folks there. Michigan is a state already well-known as a craft beer mecca. Why not invade — or, uh, make — your offerings available to the masses who’ve already been educated about what is good beer and what is not. Well done. Really.

Now on with the real subject of my musings this day: Lent. Raise your hand if you really believe that giving up a vice is a way to enter into Lent. Come on. Get ‘em up there. Or is it actually a sort of “second chance resolution moment” for those of you who can’t manage to exercise longer than three weeks in a row or stop smoking or whatever you vowed to do while drunk off your butt on December 31, 2011?

Do not get me wrong and spare me the righteous indignation. I can hear you huffing and puffing from Ann Arbor. I’m a preacher’s kid. I know all about the reasoning behind it — at least from a purely Protestant standpoint. And in theory, giving up a “vice” is usually well-advised for most adult humans.

But the difference between how I was taught to approach “Lent” was less about me, and more about focus on the somber nature of that moment on the liturgical calendar. In other words, it wasn’t about me and what I could sacrifice, but about Christ, and how He became one. (Not preaching just telling you how this gal was raised — i.e. in the church and I will spare you some of the stuff I got up to in the building itself).

Any small gesture we might make in terms of “giving up a vice” had very little to do with how The Big Guy would feel about us in the long term. That is sort of my lapsed PK shorthand but you get me.

That said, I have heard tell of some folks giving up beer for Lent. Let me just remind you that beer is good for you. That is to say, in moderation — like everything else including the good-for-you-stuff like water and apples. (Have you ever eaten too many apples? Urgh, not a good feeling).

So my offer is this: All of you fine, well-meaning but deluded individuals who think giving up beer, wine, chocolate, potato chips or sex for Lent gets you closer to heaven can simply pass your vices over to me. I’ll take ‘em all. Well, except chocolate. Wouldn’t want to go up a jeans size during Lent.


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