Micro Goes Big
At Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, craft beer flies mile-high.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
In describing what happens when 666 breweries pour 2,700 beers over the Denver Convention Center’s 1 million square feet for three nights – breweries with names like Surf and Swamp Head, and creations like Glutinous Maximus, Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter and Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster beer – it can be hard to know where to start.
Maybe it would be with the enthusiasm that carried last weekend’s 41st annual Great American Beer Festival, demonstrated by exuberant gear ranging from keg suits and beer helmets to alligator-skin beer-holding belt buckles and pretzel necklaces. Or the depth and range of standout suds: double blacks, nut browns and imperial reds, smoke beers and saisons, Mad Cow Milk Stouts, Raccoon Revivals and Naked Pig Pales – and enough IPAs to drown Denver. (San Luis Obispo’s Tap It Brewing won the most competitive American-style IPA category, beating 202 other entries with its Westin Joy.)
Descriptions could key in on the statistical volume – of judged categories (84) and judges themselves (nearly 200), of gallons drunk in tiny 1-ounce tastes (36,000) and the number of bigger beer festivals in the world (0) – or the noise volume, which rose from a constant racket to a roar every time someone dropped her thick plastic tasting glass.
Or you could start with the definition of craft brewers: They’re small, independent and traditional, though that’s increasingly elastic as more craft houses like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium go national. Or with how sophisticated things like food pairings are getting – note the charred tomato shrimp cocktail with Monterey Fish Company (775-0522) shrimp paired with Alaskan White Ale in the Farm-to-Table tent.
Maybe the best place to start would be the beginning.
Jack McAuliffe is credited with creating the first microbrew decades ago with his New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma. He participated in a panel with fellow beer titan Jim Koch of Samuel Adams. I asked if they ever anticipated small-batch beer going this big.
“Never could’ve imagined this,” McAuliffe said, shaking his head and smiling. Added Koch: “I remember when no one gave a damn. Now we need a bigger hall.”
In the heart of beer-nerd central, brewers from beloved 21st Amendment and Sand Lot sat on a panel about baseball and beer (21st brews its goods a couple of blocks from the Giants’ home park, and Sand Lot actually brews inside the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field). Not one person in the standing-room crowd has a question for either. Their questions were exclusively for Frank Thomas, the baseball superstar who appeared on the cover of the Weekly when he debuted Big Hurt Beer with Sand City brewer Jeff Moses of Post No Bills (324-4667).
To the joy of those assembled, Thomas admitted beer helped him keep a level head over 162-game seasons, but still shouldn’t be considered a performance-enhancing drug.
“It’s a game of failure,” he said. “If you go 0-4 with two strikeouts, beer helps you get over the hill.”
A new Big Hurt MVP, a 5-percent answer to the muscular 7-percent Big Hurt Beer original, is on the way in a few weeks, and there are other things to eagerly anticipate; most promising are more sophisticated Belgian-style sours and beers aged in wine, whiskey and tequila barrels. Oh – and more craft love than ever. This year’s GABF brought in a record 49,000 people after tickets sold out in just 45 minutes. The Brewers Association counts a record 1,940 total craft breweries in the country right now, and another 915 on the way.
As Koch said, “The passion and commitment – and soul – of craft beer is deepening.”
• One of the most popular salad bars in the business is going bye bye as Crazy Horse Restaurant (649-4771) closes this month.
• Pigs and Pinot. Gateway to Big Sur. Magic Mystery Tour of the North. Hikes with Stemware. The grand tasting at Sierra Mar. When five of the most fun foodie events are but the beginning of the festival, you know you have something special – and better understand why people travel from across the country for Big Sur Food & Wine (667-0800). Hit www.bigsurfoodandwine.org immediately, as showtime arrives Nov. 1-4.
• We live in a glorious world where bacon-maple beer and bacon-wrapped bacon are real things. Monterey Bay Bacon, Blues and Brews (383-3837) aims to harness divine porcine Saturday, Oct. 27 at the fairgrounds, when a wave of blues artists provide backdrop to local chefs like Mark Ayers and Brian Christensen inventing insanity with Tony Baker’s dry-cured, applewood-smoked back bacon. Tickets are $50, or you can win two with the best bacon haiku on the Weekly’s Facebook page.
• Tonight (Thursday, Oct. 18), a cool $165 gives wine lovers entree into the 10th edition of the storied Bernardus Wine Dinner (658-3550), which gives Dean DeKorth a chance to marry his favorite Bordeaux with Cal Stamenov’s sweet shrimp, braised pork cheek and heirloom fruit. The following Saturday 1-3pm there’s another doozy with an unprecedented grape crush-oyster shuck. Think of your $95 as an educational investment, as guests dive into a shucking class with Morro Bay Oyster Company and squooshy grape stomping, barrel wine tasting and a vineyard lunch.
• Saturday, Oct. 20, the tastiest town in the southwest is Carmel, as Chef Cy Yontz demos empanadas and duck tamales, and leads a party ($95) packed with blood-orange magaritas, local wines, prizes, cooking stations and flamenco guitar that transforms Rio Grill (625-5436).
• “A woman drove me to drink,” W.C. Fields said, “and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.”