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great american beer fest

The popular refrain from the 1971 Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory seemed the most appropriate way to describe my excitement when I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. As a lover of craft beer I was vaguely aware of the festival but never thought I would have the opportunity to attend. I’ve been to several West Michigan beer festivals but I was not prepared for the wonders that awaited me in scenic golden Colorado. Oh, and Golden, Colorado is the home of Coors… right? Get it? Golden ticket? Never mind…

The Great American Beer Festival was started in 1982 and had 24 breweries, 47 beers, and roughly 800 attendees in the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, Colorado. Fast forward to 2017 where some 60,000 attendees, 3,900 beers, and 800 breweries were crammed into the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Tickets sold out in just over four hours.

In an attempt to the make the trip as affordable as possible we packed up the MittenBrew-Subaru and made our way from the Midwest to the Rockies. We agreed to make the drive casual and did so by stopping at some cool places like 3 Floyds, The World’s Largest Truck Stop, several Kum & Go gas stations as well as a Pump and Pantry (no, I am not making those last two up). Once in western Illinois, the long straight highways were lovingly hugged on both sides by vast expanses of corn, grassland, and not much else.

We intentionally arrived two days early to hit some of the amazing breweries that call Colorado home. In no particular order we hit Avery, Oskar Blues, Crooked Stave, Bull and Bush, Left Hand, Wynkoop, Great Divide, Bootstrap, Mockery, Black Shirt, and Colorado’s own—Coors. At each location we were greeted warmly, treated well, and welcomed back. It’s a town very much in love with its beer, both macro and craft.

Returning to luxurious hotel accommodations after each day of exploring might have been nice, but we chose to camp with some great friends from Railtown Brewing and City Built Brewing. Warm, clear sunny days gave way to frosty cold nights (we’re talking 3 layers to sleep cold). I dreamt of having all 4 of Charlie Bucket’s grandparents on my air mattress to keep me warm. Ok, that may have been an overshare.

Thursday, the opening day of the festival, arrived and it was lovely outside—warm, sunny and just really pleasant. We attended the Michigan Brewer’s Guild gathering at 1-UP-LODO which was a lot of fun to watch. Brewers talking beer, the local sites, and playing vintage arcade games. I used to be a decent Galaga player, I am sad to report I am not any more. I was much better at KISS pinball. After some great laughs and beers we headed to the festival.

great american beer fest

The Colorado Convention center is monstrous and appears to be guarded by a frozen two-story tall blue bear. The general admission line was wrapped around the building and I never actually saw the end of the line, and this was almost 45 minutes before the gates opened. People were enjoying the sunny weather and the glorious anticipation of tasting some of the best beers in the world. It was very much like the 5 golden ticket holders meeting Willy Wonka at the gate when we arrived at the event door to get our media credentials—except that there were 2 of us.

I have attended large techie conventions before, but to see that many brewery booths was really overwhelming. Media attendees were granted early entry so I got to walk in and see the place before the onslaught. I casually strolled in trying to maintain my composure while planning my dark beer “must haves.” While perusing the giant map and list we began to hear bagpipes which meant the festival was about to open to the attendees. Reading that 60,000 people attend over the 3 days was a neat fact but it didn’t occur to me what that would look like. There must have been 2,000 people just standing inside the main door waiting to go through the gates. It was literally a river of beer shirts, beards, cargo shorts, weird hats, costumes, and smiles. The vibe was really positive. It was also clear that many people knew exactly where they were going right away, some even running to get that first pour of their favorite libation.

From that moment on it was elbow to elbow with people laughing, smiling, and celebrating the wonderful gift of beer. I was ecstatic to get some fantastic beers that I hadn’t tried before like Double Barrel Baptist from Epic, Barrel Aged Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues, Tweak from Avery, and to close out the festival I had a pour of Utopias from Samuel Adams. What an amazing journey of beer and community.

great american beer fest

These are my tips for first time attendees:

  • Cell phones are only good for taking pictures of your drunk buddies or co-workers. Don’t plan on making calls or getting texts in the convention center during the festival.
  • Know where the bathrooms are. It’s a long walk to anywhere on the convention floor and it takes 10 times longer trying to move through the crowds.
  • Pace yourself and stay hydrated #betterdrinkingculture
  • Smile and take it all in. The sooner you settle into the scene, the sooner you’ll realize you’re with friends.
  • Try something new. I am a dark beer lover and I had a sour or two—I let my hair down.
  • If you find yourself on a brewery tour and are invited to hold a hop pellet, might I recommend that you don’t eat said hop pellet. Trust me.

 

It was an amazing adventure and while I didn’t win control of the chocolate factory I did get to meet some great people. Dates for the 2018 Great American Beer Festival are September 20th – 22nd in 2018. I’ll be seeing you then Denver, and not as a green newbie this time!

Cheerz!

 

Photography: Steph Harding & Ray Ashley

Rockford, Mich.—Rockford Brewing Company returns to Michigan from this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, with national recognition.

The brewery won multiple awards including Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year, a silver medal in the Irish-Style Dry Stout category for their Sheehan’s Stout and a bronze medal in the English-Style Brown category for Rogue River Brown.

“My head is still spinning. I’m very proud of the talent that we have at Rockford Brewing Company,” said Seth Rivard, co-owner of Rockford Brewing Company. “We have a passionate staff who never cease to amaze me.”

GABF Rockford Brewing

Seth Rivard & Jeff Sheehan

Rockford Brewing Company competed at the festival with 2,217 United States breweries. Their winning brews were selected by an international panel of 276 judges who blind tasted 7,923 entries.

“Each year the Great American Beer Festival showcases the best that American brewers have to offer,” said Chris Swersey, competition manager, Great American Beer Festival. “With a record 8,000+ entries, this year’s competition was the most competitive to date. Congratulations to all the winners who truly demonstrated why the U.S. is the world’s best and most diverse brewing nation.”

This year’s wins have energized Rivard and Rockford Brewing Company co-owner Jeff Sheehan to continue striving for excellence.

“I am extremely motivated for us to step up our game,” Sheehan said. “We want to stick to our values but continuously improve. We owe this success to everyone who has supported us—the West Michigan community and beyond.”

The brewery has been acknowledged by the Great American Beer Festival once before in 2015, when Rogue River Brown won its first bronze in the English-Style Brown category.

The owners hope the national recognition will encourage beer tourists inclined to visit West Michigan’s larger breweries to check out the greatness in the smaller ones, too.

“Grand Rapids is a country-wide destination for craft beer,” Sheehan said. “People come to the city and want to stop at the bigger breweries but these awards will hopefully prove that though we are a small brewery, we belong on that ‘must visit’ list.”

Rockford Brewing Company plans to celebrate their achievements with an event celebrating the fans and staff of Rockford. More information is to come.

 

Boulder, CO — The 2017 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition awarded 293 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States, plus three GABF Pro-Am medals to teams of homebrewers paired with professionals. Presented by the Brewers Association (BA), GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world and the premier symbol of brewing excellence.

gabf medals

View the 2017 winners

In a ceremony at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, award-winning breweries received prestigious gold, silver and bronze medals in 98 beer categories covering 161 different beer styles (including all subcategories), establishing the best examples of each style in the country.

Winners were chosen out of 7,923 competition entries from 2,217 breweries in 50 states plus Washington, D.C. (a 15 percent and 24 percent increase respectively from the 7,301 entries and 1,783 breweries in 2016).

The competition took place in six sessions over a period of three days and was judged by 276 beer experts from 13 countries, including the U.S. In addition to commercial brewery entries, the judging panel also evaluated 118 Pro-Am entries. The competition was made possible with the help of 365 volunteers.

 

2017 BREWERY AND BREWER OF THE YEAR AWARDS

PACKAGING BREWERIES

Very Small Brewing Company and Brewmaster of the Year | < 1,000 BBLS

Sponsored by Brewers Supply Group

On Tour Brewing Co., Chicago, IL and Mark Poffenberger & Mark Legenza

 

Small Brewing Company and Brewmaster of the Year | 1,000 – 14,999 BBLS

Sponsored by O-I

Sunriver Brewing, Sunriver, OR and Sunriver Brewing Team

 

Mid-Size Brewing Company and Brewmaster of the Year | 15,000 – 6,000,000 BBLS

Sponsored by MicroStar Logistics

Saint Arnold Brewing Co., Houston, TX and Saint Arnold Brew Crew

 

BREWPUBS

Small Brewpub and Brewmaster of the Year | < 750 BBLS

Sponsored by Briess Malt & Ingredients

Rockford Brewing Co., Rockford, MI and Rockford Brewing Company

 

Mid-Size Brewpub and Brewmaster of the Year | 750 – 1,500 BBLS

Sponsored by Brewers Supply Group

Moon River Brewing Co., Savannah, GA and Moon River Brewing Company

 

Large Brewpub and Brewmaster of the Year | 1,500+ BBLS

Sponsored by The Country Malt Group

The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., Austin, TX and Amos Swifty Kim

 

LARGE BREWERIES OR MULTIPLE LOCATION BREWERIES

Brewery Group and Brewmaster of the Year

Sponsored by Beer Institute

Melvin Brewing, Alpine, WY and Melvin Brewing

 

gabf medals 

 

OVERALL COMPETITION HIGHLIGHTS

  • Most medals won by a single brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. (3)
  • Top three states by ratio of medals to entries by state:

o   West Virginia – 12 entries, 2 medals

o   Wyoming – 46 entries, 5 medals

o   Connecticut – 39 entries, 4 medals

  • First-time GABF competition entrants (self-identified during the registration process) numbered 584. Of those first-time entering breweries, 36 won medals.

 

STYLE CATEGORIES 

Since 2002, the most-entered category has been American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA), which saw 408 entries in 2017 compared to 312 entries in 2016. The top five entered categories and number of entries per category were:

  • Category 60 American-Style India Pale Ale (408 entries)
  • Category 61 Imperial India Pale Ale (221 entries)
  • Category 58 American-Style Pale Ale (199 entries)
  • Category 59 American-Style Strong Pale Ale (182 entries)
  • Category 29 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer (175 entries)

 

The winners in the most-entered (that is, the most competitive) categories were:

 Category 60 American-Style India Pale Ale (408 entries)

Gold: Prairie Madness, Hailstorm Brewing Co., Tinley Park, IL

Silver: Gold Digger IPA, Auburn Alehouse, Auburn, CA

Bronze: Breakside IPA, Breakside Brewery & Taproom, Milwaukie, OR

 

Category 61 Imperial India Pale Ale (221 entries)

Gold: Manta Ray, Ballast Point Brewing Co., San Diego, CA

Silver: Lupulin River, Knee Deep Brewing Co., Auburn, CA

Bronze: Chux, Danville Brewing Co., Danville, CA

 

Category 58 American-Style Pale Ale (199 entries)

Gold: Monterey Street, Central Coast Brewing Co., San Luis Obispo, CA

Silver: Mosaic Pale Ale, Lynnwood Brewing Concern – Production Facility; Raleigh, NC

Bronze: Triple Tail, SweetWater Brewing Co., Atlanta, GA

 

Category 59 American-Style Strong Pale Ale (182 entries)

Gold: Hubert MPA, Melvin Brewing, Alpine, WY

Silver: Wolfback Ridge, Headlands Brewing Co., Mill Valley, CA

Bronze: Breakside Stay West, Breakside Brewery + Beer Hall, Portland, OR

 

Category 29 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer (175 entries)

Gold: Hurly Burly Port Barrel Aged Barleywine, Out of Bounds Brewing Co., Rocklin, CA

Silver: Woods Monk, Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada, CO

Bronze: Barrel Aged Barleywine, Charleville Vineyard & Microbrewery, Sainte Genevieve, MO

 

2017 GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL PRO-AM COMPETITION

Sponsored by Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., The Country Malt Group, Yakima Chief-Hopunion and White Labs

Gold, silver and bronze medals were also awarded in the GABF Pro-Am competition, which pairs homebrewers with professional brewers, who scale up the award-winning homebrew recipes. The medal winners, including the winning professional brewers and American Homebrewers Association (AHA) member homebrewers are:

  • Gold: Just Another Pretty Face, Denver Beer Co., Denver, CO; Brewmaster: Jason Buehler and Denver Beer Company Brewing Team; Homebrewer: Doug Thiel
  • Silver: Lichtenhainer, Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins, CO; Brewmaster: Black Bottle Scuba Squad;  Homebrewer: Daniel Tomkins
  • Bronze: Eluxansis, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO; Brewmaster:  Odell Brew Team; Homebrewer: Mark Boelman

 

2017 GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL & COMPETITION STATISTICS

  • 36th anniversary of the festival; 31st edition of the GABF competition
  • Over 800 breweries in the festival hall
  • 3,900+ beers served at the festival
  • 60,000 attendees
  • 4,308 volunteers (festival and competition combined)
  • 2,217 breweries in the competition from 50 states plus Washington, D.C.
  • 266 medal-winning breweries
  • 293 total medals awarded
  • 7,923 beers judged (not including 118 Pro-Am competition entries)
  • 98 beer categories covering 161 different beer styles judged, plus the Pro-Am competition
  • 276 judges from 13 different countries
  • Average number of competition beers entered in each category: 81
  • Category with the highest number of entries: American-Style India Pale Ale
  • A gold medal was not awarded in the Fruited American-Style Sour Ale category

 

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. Its 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.coms 2014 Best Beer in Americamade 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, Shorts Brewing Company, with a line as wide as their booth and then back a ways. People knew them, and it wasnt 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 Shorts 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 Shorts 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. Shorts beers, I think, create your palate it is evolving as you taste the different flavors.

 Experimental beers are Shorts 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 Shorts nor Founders are strangers to GABF, but many of the Michigan breweries made their first appearance at GABF in 2015.

 Its 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 elses beer, too. Its like youre traveling the U.S. in one big room.

 Mitten Brewing Companys 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 its 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/.

As with many things, the second time around isn’t always as magical.

It’s amazing how jaded one gets in the course of a year. Last year, I was a wide-eyed Great American Beer Festival Virgin. I was still a couple of months away from opening the doors of my own brewery so I was also a Small Business Virgin. The whole project so far had been a morass of contractors, inspections, delays, cost overruns and a lot of “maybes.”

I entered the vast arena filled with rock stars, media, people who Really Loved Beer and those who served them and was gobsmacked by the whole thing.

I played Serious Fan Grrrl, annoying the likes of Sam, Bill, Garret and others with my refrain of: “Omg can I please please get my picture with you?”

It was fun.

This year was different. For one thing, I was exhausted before I got there. I’m not complaining mind you. This year has been an amazing and fantastic run of fun. But the hard core reality of owning a small business — even one that deals in alcoholic beverages — is that each day is a challenge to stay afloat, stay relevant, stay solvent, stay calm and stay sane.

And fall is our busiest season. But we had beers in the contest and I had people to catch up with, so I hopped on that plane on Friday (instead of Thursday) and emerged into the really beautiful Denver International Airport ready for a party.

I found one.

After a quick lunch at Wahoos (you must go there and eat the fish tacos), I practically fell right into Sam’s lap as I got to the top of the long escalator from the brewer’s entrance. My lunch date, Fred Bueltmann, marketing owner of New Holland and my personal beer guru, neglected to mention that the little “committee meeting” he was attending included the likes of all my beer crushes. Thanks Fred.

Over the course of the next two days I met a PhD in Brewing (a lovely, very tall and blond German guy), ate bone marrow at Euclid Avenue (you must go there — avoid the marrow), jammed to a great country band at the Star Bar (note to self: when it’s 2 a.m. Denver time, do not switch from beer to bourbon) and sat through three hours of awards with a wicked bad hangover. I did not get to go up and thank the Academy but that’s OK. There’s always next year.

Indiana as a state was the Big Winner this year, mainly thanks to Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis who swept a ton of awards. Michigan received four awards: Bells, Right Brain, New Holland and Bastone.

I wore my Block M hat on Saturday, because I must, otherwise Michigan won’t win (I have that sort of power). Got plenty of “go Blues” a few “go Greens” and a smattering of “Michigan sucks” from Ohio types.

While pouring Wolverine Premium Lager at the Michigan Brewer’s Guild table on Friday (after a couple of hours of drinking at Rock Bottom) I even got to try out my “attitude” with a few of the similarly inebriated folks who’d wander up and be all: “Hey I can’t drink that s***, I’m a Spartan.”

To which I replied, smiling: “You’re right. You can’t handle it. Move along.”

I left resolved to ramp it up next year with a booth, a contingent (dare I say “entourage?”), a sponsored off-site party (no marrow) and an award. So while Year Two didn’t have the shiny, glittery appeal as Year One, it will only lead to Year Three: Wherein Wench and the Wolverine take Denver by storm.

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival will be held October 11-13. Maybe it will snow. The past two years it’s been 85 or more degrees. For more info on winners and how to get tickets for next year go to www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com. For the top 10 things “not to do” at the festival, hit www.a2beerwench.com.


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