09/20/2010 05:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fragments From the Great American Beer Festival's Finale

After three days of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), which ended on Saturday, I've lost track of how many different beers I sampled (responsibly, of course). And, seemingly, I've lost my ability to provide a cohesive narrative as well. So from the shards of my memory come shards of impressions. (Which reminds me: over the course of the final night, there were so many glasses dropped at the GABF that it sounded like the conclusion of several dozen Jewish weddings. Break out the silver-medal winning He'Brew RIPA on Rye beer from the Schmaltz Brewing Company, and come celebrate along with me!)



Its name wasn't explicitly highlighted anywhere on the Winners List. But the big victor at the 2010 GABF turned out to be MillerCoors.

Blue Moon Brewing Company, which is owned by MillerCoors, won the "Large Brewing Company" award at the festival, based on its medals in the categories "Fruit Beer" and "Specialty Honey Beer." It's funny to consider how Blue Moon--once considered a "stealth" Coors product aimed at the microbrew market--has become a large brand of its own.

Also, the MillerCoors-owned brewpub at Coors Field, The Sandlot, brought home medals (home from Denver to Denver, that is) for its "American-Style or International-Style Pilsener," its "Vienna-Style Lager," and its "German-Style Marzen." (Unfortunately, none of those medal-winning beers were available to sample at the festival. That's because breweries don't always bring all of their entries to the festival for tasting. Or they're unable to, due to GABF-imposed limitations. Still, I mean, like, really... How am I supposed to reliably pass on to my readership what The Sandlot beer called "Clueless Beer Writer" tastes like, if I can't try it?)

Furthermore, AC Golden Brewing Company won in the categories "American-Style Dark Lager," "German-Style Pilsener," and "European-Style Dunkel" categories. Like The Sandlot, AC Golden is one of MillerCoors' pilot breweries, given a certain degree of autonomy by its parent company. The four brewers at AC Golden design the recipes and make the beer on their own, according to brewer Steve Fletcher. The beer gets distributed only in Colorado--on tap in restaurants and available in bottles in liquor stores.

(In the photo above, brewers from left to right: Troy Casey and Steve Fletcher of AC Golden. Beers from left right to right: their bronze-medal winning Schwarzbier, silver-medal winning German Pilsner, and gold-medal winning Dunkel. The Dunkel was chewy, malty, nutty, bready, toffee-like.)

Most professional brewers started off as homebrewers. Not Fletcher of AC Golden. He says, "I have homebrewed, but I actually started off brewing in a big brewery. I went backwards."

Miller and Coors started off as big breweries, and now their conjoined entity is enjoying critical success through its smaller-volume offerings.

Talk about working backwards, indeed.



The silver-medal winning Colorado Kölsch Ale is a refreshing, crisp and flavorful beer with a smooth, light mouthfeel, leaving a lemony note and a miniscule hint of buttered peanut. From Steamworks Brewing Company of Durango. Steamworks also won a gold medal for its super roasty oatmeal stout, proving that they know how to reliably concoct dark as well as pale-golden offerings--like its gold medal-winning "Munich-Style Helles," as well.

People with celiac disease never had it so good--at least as far as a fruit beer goes. New Planet's 3R Raspberry Ale won a bronze medal in the "Gluten Free Beer" category. It's a beer for folks who, more or less, can't drink beer, due to their adverse digestive reactions to grains like barley and wheat. Additionally, Pedro Gonzalez and Seneca Murley of the Boulder-based New Planet donate a portion of the proceeds from each bottle that's sold of their sorghum and corn beer towards recycling efforts. Save the planet--and your gut.

If you like amber ales, try a Mañana today. The gold-medal winner comes from the Del Norte Brewing Co. of Denver. A light, pale-amber beer with bready-sweet notes and a slight caramel-like flavor. Not a bad showing for a local beer seemingly trying to pass itself off as a Mexican import.

Additional worthy mentions:

Dry Dock Brewing, Co. of Aurora won the "Small Brewpub of the Year" award last year, and it continues to secure its share of medals. This year, Dry Dock picked up silvers within each of the following categories: "German-Style Altbier," "South German-Style Hefeweizen," and "Belgian-Style Witbier." For fine, continental-style beers, one need go no further than East Hampden Avenue.

Medals were also awarded to (great name, great logo) Yak and Yeti Brewpub (Arvada), Equinox Brewing Co. (Fort Collins), Boulder Beer Company, Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery (Boulder), Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver), the New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins), and Bristol Brewing Company (Colorado Springs).

Colorado breweries didn't win as many medals this year as they did last year, but don't worry: we'll give 'em helles again, in 2011.



The highlight of my Friday night at the GABF was visiting the Farm to Table Pavilion. Beers from a host of different breweries were paired alongside a variety of foods, mostly prepared by the Culinary School of the Rockies, and mostly prepared with local ingredients. In fact, it was so good in there, I didn't want to leave and go back into the main hall.

My favorite selection of the night proved to be a mini-BLT made with bacon that had been cured for a couple of weeks in the the beer it was paired with. The rich, dark, sweetly-complex and strong Ten Fidy, an imperial stout from Oksar Blues Brewery, proved a fitting match-up for the salty and fatty flavors of the pork belly and the acidity of the heirloom tomatoes. I also enjoyed the "Colorado Tongue of Fire Stew" (made with braised duck, rabbit sausage, winter squash, and tongue of fire beans) matched with Odell Cuththroat Porter; the roastiness of the beer providing a smoky counterpoint to the meal's starch and game flavors.

Beer with food, given food for thought.



Jules Winnfield American Stout is named after actor Samuel L. Jackson's character in the film Pulp Fiction. A solidly rich brew, Jackson's character needn't utter after drinking it, "This is some f***ed-up repugnant s**t." (To grab a quote of his from the film.) Made by the Pizza Port brewpub in Solana Beach, California.

I felt practically like occultist Aleister "The Great Beast" Crowley while imbibing the richly potent barleywine called Bourbon Wizard. After all, it claimed to be: "Batch 666, Brewed on Devil's Night for 6 hours & 66 minutes." It put a spell on me, that's for sure, proving to be one of my favorite beers of the festival. And, these days, I usually shy away from barleywines. Short's Brewing Company of Bellaire, Michigan makes other intriguing beers, as well. The brewery won a gold medal in the "Experimental Beer" category for its Key Lime Pie, made with key limes, milk sugar, and graham crackers. There were candy notes in Bourbon Wizard, perhaps from the raisins it's brewed with, in addition to bourbon flavors from the barrels that it's aged in for ten months. But what else did I detect? Could it have been... blood?!

The urinal mat above, as seen in the men's restrooms, says, "Burning sensation? Next time make it a Cascade Lakes Brew."



Brad and Christy Ruppert of Huntington Beach, California, livening up the proceedings (in the photo above).

A "tip of the neck to you" from Troy Vigil, a beer fan born and bred in Denver, Colorado.



Pick up a cluster of flowers in your hand. Break it open and smell the dank aroma. Look at the resin coating it. Uh...just in case you were wondering, these are specialty hops waiting to provide beer with its aromatics and the bitter component of its flavor. Not medical marijuana.

Several varieties of hops were provided by Hopunion of Yakima, Washington for festival-goers to inspect. Specialty malts and grains, as well, so beer brewing novices could learn how beer gets its color and the sweet aspect of its flavor.

The GABF: providing education, as well as one-ounce pours of beer, to the public.



The first GABF was organized 28 years ago by a group of homebrewers and beer enthusiasts in Boulder, led by festival founder Charlie Papazian. Papazian had been educating the public about beer and teaching homebrewing classes for several years, at that point. "Wayward Bill" Chengelis (pictured above, acting as a safety director at this year's festival) was present during those fertile days, and he remembers that very first GABF. "Look what's happened!" he said, nodding towards the festival floor. Here's what Chengelis means: at 1982's GABF, there were just 22 breweries present and 800 attendees; this year, there were 462 breweries and around 49,000 patrons.

For thousands and thousands of people over the years, there have been lots of good -- if, at times, spotty -- memories associated with the event.

Until the next round of the GABF, remember to keep drinking better beer.

(All photos by Gregory Daurer)