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gabf

DENVER — As the Michigan beer scene becomes more and more recognized for increasing quality, the nation is starting to take notice too.

Michigan breweries took home six of the 268 medals awarded during the Great American Beer Festival, held last weekend in Denver. The festival, in its 28th year, is the largest commercial beer competition in the world.

Royal Oak’s Bastone Brewery led the charge, with two beer medals and the title of Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.

Two of Bastone’s beers took a silver medal in the competition — Thor’s Hammer (Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale) and Private Stock #472 (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer).

“Thor’s Hammer is a Belgian golden strong ale,” said Rockne Van Meter, brewmaster for Bastone. “This style exhibits medium hop aroma and bitterness as well as medium malt character, and can finish slightly dry.

“Private Stock #472 is a Saison with white wine and aged on wood. The characteristics of the wood and wine go well with the complex fruit generated flavors of a Saison,” he said.

Van Meter went on to mention that Private Stock #472 was a brand new beer for him, and that it’s possible that the winning beer might make another appearance next summer. Thor’s Hammer might be released at an upcoming festival.

“It’s been a very humbling GABF,” said Rockne. “It think every brewer’s goal is to win, win anything, and to go home with the Brewery of the Year and Brewer of the Year award is something that I’ll never forget.”

“We are honored to represent Michigan and proud of Rockne’s achievement,” added David Ritchie, Operating Partner at Bastone. “Winning Best Small Brewpub during our 10th anniversary year is really exciting.”

Tapistry Brewing took home its first GABF medal, a bronze for it’s Peck’s Porter — categorized as a Robust Porter.

“At Tapistry we strive to use traditional ingredients and processes when we are brewing something like Peck’s or our German trilogy of beers,” said Nate Peck, head brewer at Tapistry. “While we embrace the traditional classic styles we also try to push our boundaries and use interesting ingredients and processes.”

Also medaling for the state was Short’s Brewing Company (Gold, Key Lime Pie), Founders Brewing Co. (Silver, Porter) and Stormcloud Brewing Co. (Bronze, Rainmaker Ale).

The six medals marked the most for Michigan since 2010, when the state’s breweries took home 10 medals.

 

Photography: Steph Harding

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.

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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