Sunday, September 23, 2018

GABF Awards Recap

The 2018 GABF Awards ceremony seems to have been streamlined compared to past years. Not a bad thing, as you can only say the same thing year after year. Trust me.
This year, 2,404 breweries entered beer in the competition. An insane amount, but with a total of over 6,300 breweries in the US as of 2017, there's still room for more entries. Judges only had to try 8,496 beers, so why not bring on more?

The Juicy or Hazy IPA category burst onto the scene with 391 entries. Last year's highest number of entries was the IPA category, with 408. This year, 311 entered in the regular IPA category. Nothing wrong with being old school, but time for people to recognize hazy IPA is a real thing. Should have been its own category two years ago. I think it should go further and hazy and juicy should have their own individual awards. They are distinctly different beers.

And onto the winners!

Six medals awarded in the first two categories and three went to Oregon breweries. Would the trend continue?

Not at that pace, but Oregon was well represented at the awards ceremony with 22 medals. Not quite the 72 medals collected by California breweries, but close to the 30 won by Colorado breweries. Of Texas' 18 medals, 6 were for lagers. Interesting. Having AVGB in their state doesn't hurt. Washington did well with 17 medals, while North Carolina and Ohio were well represented with 13 and 14, respectively.

We here in New Mexico? We did pretty well! We have been spoiled in the past with larger medal counts, but with the number of entries not growing so much as multiplying at an alarming rate, we should be happy with any morsel of metal we can get. 6 medals is pretty darned good, plus a bronze in the collaboration category for Palmer/Quarter Celtic's Mocha Hipster Bomb. It matches the number hit in 2017 and 2016. That's three 6's in a row, for those who keep track of that sort of thing. And it's 3 more medals than New Jersey, who has 7 million more people living there. 5 more medals than Firestone Walker, who only took 1 medal this year. That number was matched by Starr Brothers, who took a Bronze in the Other Strong Beer category for their Lampshade Porter.

Rowley Farmhouse Ales won a Silver in the Berliner-Style Weisse category for Germophile. The Rowley medal count of 1 matched Russian River's.

La Cumbre's Malpais Stout took a Silver in the Robust Porter category. Malpais also took a Silver in La Cumbre's GABF debut in 2011.

Sierra Blanca's Cherry Wheat met the guidelines for the Fruit Wheat category as it contained both fruit (cherry), and wheat (wheat). It earned them a Bronze, the second year in a row they have medaled in that category! At that rate, Rich Weber is going to have to start wearing Jeff Bagby pants.

Bosque (pronounced Bosk in tourist-speak) took Bronze for Pistol Pete's 1888 Ale in the Golden/Blonde Ale category. Their beer is made in Berna-Lill-O, in Chris Swersey-speak.

Turtle Mountain rounded out the NM winners with Gold for Wooden Teeth in the International-Style Pilsner category. That's 2 Gold medals since 2011 for NM in this category.

Other notes:

Medals were awarded in the Juicy or Hazy IPA category to three breweries I've never heard of.

For those of you who live in NM and want to try the Gold medal winner in the Hazy DIPA category, you can make the drive to AZ, where Black Market New England DIPA is available in cans.

It's 2014 all over again, as the Imperial Stout category awarded no medal to a Brewery named Iron Hill or 2SP. Iron Hill had medaled in that category from 2010-13, 2015, and then in 2016 their former Head Brewer medaled with 2SP Brewing and again in 2017 (with Iron Hill medaling in the same category).

Best beer name: how about Cannonball Creek's Netflix and Pils, which won Gold in the German-Style Pilsner category. Colorado wins Gold in this category at GABF and Gold at World Beer Cup as well (Rockyard Primadonna). Look out, Texas!

Worst beer name: Bananenhängematte, FiftyFifty Brewing. For obvious reasons.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Navigating the Thursday Session: GABF 2018

The best gets better, as long as it's just the beer we're talking about. The Great American Beer Festival is by far the largest beer festival in the world by number of breweries represented (800+) and beers served (4000+). Each year, the Brewers Association plays around with the floor plan, ensuring there is no way to find the brewery you are seeking the first time around: "Ok, you're looking for Section 7? Well, you're just outside of 21, so you're only 5 sections away!" Wait, really? Because I don't see how-"Yeah, because it goes 21, 19, 17, 15, and then 11 and 7 run perpendicular to that!" Ok, now is perpendicular the one that runs the same way as-"Got it? Simple, right?? Enjoy the fest!" This blog didn't come with a cartography degree. But, with help, I was able to find my way both in and out of the building.

And now, thoughts on the evening as they come to me:
Some sponsor was giving away bags of potato chips, and that was really popular. As was Buffalo Wild Wings, who was apparently giving two free wings to people who came to their giant setup.
Food choices overall seemed to be above par compared to previous years. I had some pretty good red beans and rice. I'm not the type of person who goes to these things looking for a meal, but I think it is important to have food in you (as well as lots of water) and a hot dog is not food unless you are at a baseball game.
Started the night at Weldwerks before (as I predicted) the line got totally stupid. I think this: Weldwerks became known for Juicy Bits and other hazy IPAs. But their BA Imperial Stouts like Medianoche are what they are doing best right now. QDH Juicy Bits was fine, but the stout variations were outstanding.
How was there no line for Duck Duck Gooze? Has the deomgraphic changed that much in a couple of years that festgoers don't know about that beer? Russian River still had probably the longest line that I saw so I don't see how the same people aren't hip to Lost Abbey rarities.
Speaking of Russian River, Beatification was tasting great.
Good on Brew Kettle for having fact sheets in front of the beers. Bad on them for having them face the people pouring the beers. Their El Lupelo Libre is still a top DIPA.
You know what else was a top DIPA? Alpine Bad Boy! I actually said, "Whoa! This smells like an Alpine beer!" I had forgotten the distinct smell of Alpine's beers when they were "on" and not "Green Flash trash".
Great Notion, my top brewery at the fest last year, has caught on with all the fest kids. Their line was loong.
And welcome back New Glarus, who skipped last year. Welcome back outrageous line.
Avery used to have the most elaborate booth (before Melvin started bringing that actual bus and a DJ), complete with full barrels of beer that they would fill pitchers directly from. This year, they were in a plain old booth in the middle of a row with other booths. Kind of sad to see. Adam Avery was still there, faithfully pouring and talking to everyone.
The king of GABF, Sam Calagione, was also manning his booth, smiling for pictures with everyone. I'm convinced that if Sam told the crowd to go find Charlie Papazian and bring him back for hanging that there would be the biggest mad rush since people found out about the free cheese booth.
Was happy to see Firestone Walker pouring Parabanilla right at the start; no "Pouring at 7 pm!" hassle.
But what is a hassle is Bottle Logic only pouring certain beers on certain nights. Yeah, I got to try all the Lost Colony I wanted. But Fundamental Observation only being poured on Friday night? Didn't the Thursday people pay the same price for a ticket? I asked the BA's Craft Beer Director Julia Herz about this practice two years ago and she wasn't against it then, doesn't seem to be now. But I sure am. I don't care about personally not getting to try that beer; I've got all the bottles I want. But it sucks for the people who are excited to try what is a whale for many, and they see it listed on the beers Bottle Logic is bringing, and they get to the booth and FUCK YOU! NOT TONIGHT!
J Wakefield's Haterade made me realize I could like a beer that smells exactly like fruit punch.
And the "We ran out of all our beer by 7:30 so we went to the strip club" award goes to: Funky Buddha. Again.
Columbus Brewing brought Bodhi DIPA this year, always worth stopping by for, but their Pallet Island BA Imperial Stout with coconut was possibly the best beer at the fest for me.
Maybe second best of the night was the storied Wooden Hell from Floosmoor Station. Also was the only Barleywine I sampled that night.

A note to the Brewers Association: Make dump buckets and water pitchers available at EVERY single booth. Don't put us in the position of going to a booth just to rinse out our glasses and have the poor brewery rep who is just waiting to talk to you about their beer say, "Oh, you just want to use my water? Well, the deal is you have to try my beer as well!!" I dealt with this twice and heard it told to others many times. Each time, the brewery rep was very friendly about it, but just don't put us in that situation. Don't make us force a sample down and pretend to like it since we have to stand there and rinse out our cup again before getting the beer we wanted in the first place.
Another issue: volunteers. I know the people pouring (who aren't there on behalf of the brewery) are volunteering in exchange for admission to the festival, but some of these people are real dopes. I've given up on trying to get any info on beer they're pouring, because most don't care to educate themselves, but I shouldn't have to interrupt a conversation that has been going on between two volunteers for over 30 seconds so I can get a damn sample. I'm standing right in front of you, guys. You're there to do one thing. Talk to your buddy as you pour samples.

Keeping it upbeat and positive, as I'm known to do: the corral system they've utilized to handle the lines coming in seems to work well for everyone. I interviewed a number of people waiting and they were all in good spirits, probably because they were about to enter a beer fest rather than an abattoir. Anything beats the 2008 "Line starts 3 blocks that way, folks!"
Meet the Brewer booths were prevalent and make up for the don't give a damn pourers. I saw a lot of brewery people taking the time to answer many a homebrewer's questions, which can take some patience.
The Heavy Medal section, featuring past medal winners, is also a great feature, especially for those of us too lazy to seek out winners during the Saturday session. We just have to wait a year to try them.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

GABF 2018-Ten Years of Covering the Best Beer Fest in the World

I thought last year would be the year of the hazy IPA, but after looking over the list of beers being poured at GABF today, I was way off. Seems like everyone has some beer with a pun playing off milkshake or hazy. And that would be just fine if I hadn't hit the yearly classic Melvin East Meets West IPA event at Falling Rock Tap House. 21 IPA/DIPAs to choose from. $40. 6 10 oz. pours. So if you break it down, that's $40 for what amounts to less than a six-pack. Of course I paid for it- what else am I gonna do with my time and money? Besides, we have it down to a science: a group of four of us had tickets and just kept going up through the very, very manageable line (sure we're talking about Falling Rock here??) until we had a table filled with 21 of the best IPAs one could ask for. Well, if you leave out #2 (Beachwood DDH Melrose, which was a malt bomb) and #11 (Melvin Bogan, a Nelson and Galaxy DIPA that sounded good but was a mess. It is a coincidence that both of these beers fall into the clear IPA category and both were singled out as subpar? Probably not. I'd have to say that two other traditional IPAs on the list, Alchemist Focal Banger and Three Floyds Lazer Snake, were among my least favorites. Crazy. There was a time when I would have felt privileged just to even try an Alchemist or Three Floyds IPA, you know? Before you call me a"Hazebro", as is the social media trend to lump in the idiots along with people who recognize a great beer, listen: another traditional West Coast style IPA, Cannonball Creek Project Alpha 25, was excellent. I kept going back to that one. Happy now?
Let's see...Kane was the one brewery who sent a Brut IPA. Not good. Funky yeast and spritzy. Finally got to try a Moonraker beer, Electric Lettuce. Great. The other top beers: Revision Reno as Fuck, Great Notion Ripe (which was my standout beer of GABF last year) Fieldwork Blur in Stereo (28 IBUs, HOW IS THIS AN IPA!! Relax, buddy), and Springdale Good and You. This Massachusetts brewery is new to me. Good stuff.

So here we are, with the Thursday session of GABF looming. And me, never wanting to touch a hazy IPA again, though hopefully that feeling is gone by 5:30. I have a lot of sampling to do in the name of journalism. A lot has changed since I first covered the fest in 2009- notably my tolerance. And the fact that there are now 800 breweries and 4,000 beers, compared to just over 200 breweries and 2,000 beers in 2009. There is also 100,000 more square feet of festival space than in 09. My job now is to figure out which brewery will have the honor of hosting my first sample of the fest. In 2009, I went with Ballast Point Dorado. Now you can buy that beer in the supermarket. The smart choice is to start with a palate-opening Pilsner, so Pfreim Pilsner, Sandlot Barman Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils, or Rockyard Primadonna (World Beer Cup gold medal winner this year) would fit the bill. But I usually end up hitting the places where the lines will be longest later in the evening, which are usually the places with the rare/barrel/aged/ high ABV beers. So that probably means something along the lines of Modern Times Devil's Teeth BA Imperial Stout with NOLA coffee. Or Kane's A Night to End All Dawns. Or Lost Abby Duck Duck Gooze. Or anything J Wakefield. But probably Weldwerks, which I predict will have the longest lines, thanks to a list including Quadruple dry-hopped Juicy Bits, Medianoche, Coconut Medianoche, Mexican yeah, that line will be out of hand. A sleeper will be Flossmoor Station, who is bringing back Wooden Hell, one of the original whale beers from 2008 that people were trading $$$$ or their children for. And there's Bottle Logic, who is pouring Fundamental Observation, Darkstar November, Number Crunch...
It's going to be a long night. To all who are going: stay hydrated. Bring snacks. Though the GABF rules state no outside food is allowed, they mean they don't want you bringing in a pizza or foot-long sandwiches. Pretzel necklaces will always be welcome.