Friday, October 25, 2013

10 Bruers, 5 Days, 642 Breweries -- How we Handled Ourselves at The Great American Beer Festival

With a very full schedule and crew of 10 in tow, we had quite the trip to Colorado this year for the Great American Beer Festival!

We kicked off Day 1 without with Mr. Patrick Rue, as he had already made his trek to CO so he could judge beers. Without his majestic presence, we tearfully loaded into a limobus to visit our friends at New Belgium and Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins.
It's incredible how hospitable CO breweries are while GABF is in town. We can't imagine having such a huge convention come to our city -- we'd have so many friends we would want to catch up with a show around. It must be a lot of fun, but exhausting!

Eric Salazar was more than generous showing us around New Belgium, and we sank into some Odell beers before we even reached their brewing floor - Choice City introduced us to their delicious and unusual Fernet Aged Porter, a real treat (as was the Sausage Weizen. It does exist.) We definitely left CO with a couple bottles in tow.

From there we headed to events galore, including beer dinners, Farm to Table sessions with Boulder's Pizzeria Basta, our own clown-tastic booth inside the festival, and a number of Denver bars and events in between.

Our girls Jamie, Jenn, and Cambria dropped by the Pink Boots Society meeting to share some bottles and catch Kim Jordan speak on running New Belgium, while the gentlemen of our crew split up to present beer at Crooked Stave's What the Funk Fest!? and the Denver Rare Beer Tasting. On Saturday, as we do every year, our whole crew enjoyed another annual GABF breakfast and Bruery bottle share at The Cheeky Monk before heading off to the awards.

Though our biggest win was our lovely "wrestling" trophy from the Brewers Feud against our friends at Oskar Blues, we were very happy to cheer on our friends from near and far who won some awesome metal thingies to dangle from their necks. If you missed the live feud, here's the live feed!

But enough of the recapping, that's what our Facebook photo album is for. Our team had a chance to hang out away from the offices and brewery, providing a once in a lifetime chance to get to know each other better while learning about beer culture at one of craft beers biggest events (in a city that happens to be overflowing with amazing beer). We asked our GABF crew four questions about their trip. Here's who's answering:

Tyler King, Sr. Director of Brewing Operations
Jennifer Anderson, Accountant
Cambria Griffith, Social Media & Marketing Manager
James Cramer, Warehouse/Inventory Manager
Kyle Giannuzzi, Sr. Cellarman
Jamie Burns, Reserve Society Coordinator
Jeff Monnig, Tasting Room Beertender

What did you learn on the brewery tours of New Belgium and Odell Brewing Company?

Tyler: That brewers are awesome!

Jenn: New Belgium is super cool. Even though it's huge, the peeps that work there make it feel like a small company. Having different bars and drinking stations on a tour is awesome! Having a slide from the accounting department down to the bar is a must. The rock ground out front is sketchy.

Cambria: The popularity of wood aging is growing quickly -- whether it's giant foeders or fernet barrel aged beers, both New Belgium and Odell's had impressive completed projects (as well as those in the works) involving wood aging. Focusing on that kind of program is no doubt a full time job -- in fact, New Belgium literally has people assigned to work exclusively on their wood program!

James: I learned that I have been spelling foeders incorrectly this entire time. Also, although it wasn't a new lesson, my feelings that we work in the best industry around were reaffirmed when meeting people at both Odell and New Belgium. The employees at both breweries were so in love with their product and the industry as a whole that it reminded me how much I enjoy it as well.

Kyle: I spent most of the brewery tour day completely sober so I was actually able to learn a lot. I learned that we are on the cutting edge in beer innovation. We are pushing the limits in the U.S. as far as quality, and completely random & different beers. As far as brewhouse equipment goes, we have a lot of growth potential: wet mills, calandrias, and more brewhouse vessels ... many things that with the right amount of space could boost our efficiency.

Jamie: It was interesting to see what goes into making a large scale brewery successful. Just walking into New Belgium's control room was like nothing I have ever seen before. The were able to transfer the beer into different tanks with the push of a button!

Jeff: The tours of the different breweries that we went on showed me that we at The Bruery are not alone in thinking that we have the coolest jobs in the world. Everyone seemed to genuinely love their jobs and the roles that they played in the production and distribution of their product. The craft beer industry is amazing and we are all very fortunate to be a part of it. I also learned from a co-worker that when leaving New Belgium, it is best to walk at a regular pace while keeping to the designated walkways, so as not to trip and biff it in front of everyone.

What did you learn about beer culture from this trip?

Tyler: Everyone is super friendly!

Jenn: Lots to learn about beer culture! Blown away by the fan following we have. Seriously blown away! The "geekyness" of the attendees ... tasting notebooks ... collecting buttons, etc. The girls bathroom line is always a quarter of the size of the mens. The amount of farting that goes on is incredible. The booing when someone drops their glass.

Cambria: The growth rate of craft beer popularity has sped up so much!! This was the first year where I felt like I was seeing a higher number of new faces than familiar ones, which is great, but surprising! I also learned that you can't be everywhere at the same time :)

James: There are more sincere beer lovers than pretentious-geeky-snobs. I met so many enthusiastic people that were so stoked to be at GABF and drinking some of our rare beer. Some incredibly well-informed and others with little knowledge, but all equally enthusiastic.

Kyle: I've always enjoyed the brewing communities. While the rivalry is there, at the end of the day everyone is happy if you have anything other than a glass of piss-water in your hand no matter who made it.

Jamie: The beer culture is alive and in full force in Denver. Just walking to GABF with my Bruery pass around my neck made flocks of beer connoisseurs want to get the in on The Bruery scoop. It was awesome to see the camaraderie between the brewers at the festival.

Jeff: Beer culture is a pretty amazing thing in that the people that take part in it are young and old and from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds. Beer is something that pretty much everyone can enjoy. The mutual admiration and respect that was shown between breweries was a great thing to witness as well. The culture within the industry is one of friendly competition which encourages everyone to really step up their game and put out the best product that they can, as well as push boundaries. Also, the Farm to Table event was an awesome way to see how great beer paired with great food is ... well, the greatest.

What was the most memorable part of the trip?

Tyler: Kyle dancing without his shirt in the limo bus.

Jenn: So many memorable parts of the trip...but for me, the bonding with co-workers was the best part!!! Lots of laughing :) Working Farm to Table was also super cool. The Brewers Fued was really fun too!

Cambria: Besides Kyle's silky red chili pepper boxers "accidentally" making an appearance, and getting to see The White Buffalo play after one of the sessions thanks to Oskar Blues, it would have to be seeing my neighbors and dear friends Beachwood Brewing & BBQ sweep the medals just a day or two after Julian tied the knot with his lovely lady Fauna. I did enjoy beating OB at Brewers Feud and winning that sweet, weird, trophy with Mike Rue.

James: I'd say it would be a tie between the first and last day. They were equally incredible. Getting to spend time with everyone outside of work and just enjoying the company of all of you wonderful folk was a lot of fun. Oh yeah, and Cambria's graceful balance was a huge highlight.

Kyle:  I He-Man'd a f**king elevator door open. Because.

Jamie: My Favorite part was definitely the festival. I was able to try more beer that I can honestly even remember. I tried my best to go for beers that I have not tried before, but I couldn't help getting in line for New Glarus Brewing and Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze.

Jeff: My favorite part of the trip was being able to hang out with my co-workers outside of work and get to know them better while experiencing the madness of GABF together. My most memorable experiences would include the New Belgium tour which included taking a slide from the offices to the main floor, drinking sour beer fresh from the foeders, and drinking a bottle of Ranger fresh off the bottling line. Also, seeing the massive line at The Bruery's booth for Chocolate Rain at every session of the festival was pretty nice.

Do you have any plans to go visit breweries you discovered during the festival, or return to GABF in the future?

Jenn: I would go back to GABF in a heartbeat! Truly one of the coolest things I've ever been a part of . I really want to visit Oskar Blues sometime. Those guys seem like a lot of fun and their beer was yummy!

Cambria: As far as CO-based places, I still haven't managed to make it to Oskar Blues or Crooked Stave, so I really want to make it to at least one of those spots next time I am there. I couldn't attend the WTF!? Fest this year, so I hope to make it in the future. Outside of CO, I will definitely be making a point to visit Funky Buddha from Boca Raton, FL. I've been following their social media ever since a trip I took to Miami a couple years ago, so I was stoked to see they were at GABF. Their beers were unreal and incredibly aromatic!  I followed Patrick on over to their booth once, but the beer had kicked, so luckily on Saturday when we went back over there I had a chance to try them out including Last Snow, Mocha Porter, and No Crusts. I was very impressed by the intensity and balance of their beer. I only wish I could get some of that sauce here in CA!

James: I would personally like to visit Denver and surrounding cities (not during GABF) in the very near future. I feel like there were a lot of really cool bars and breweries that I was unable to visit because of the mass of GABF attendees.

Kyle: Most definitely will return. I mean, my favorite person to see at GABF is me ...

Jamie: I would love to return to GABF, but probably not for a couple years. I would really love to go back and visit Odell Brewing Company and New Belgium, they are already so advanced I can only imagine what is in store for them in the future.

Jeff: I would love to go back and visit more breweries in the surrounding Denver area. Crooked Stave, Osker Blues, and Avery Brewing Company would be at the top of my list. If I could take a trip to one brewery that I discovered at the festival, it would be Funky Buddah Brewery from Florida. Their No Crusts (PB&J sandwich beer) and Last Snow (a porter with flavors of coffee, coconut, and white chocolate) were some of the best beers I tasted over the course of the week. As for returning to GABF, I would absolutely go back! There was so much to see and taste, I didn't get around to all of it. So I'll need to have another go at it, you know?

And speaking of so much to see, we see one Jeff Monnig in this clip from Conan!! Keep an eye out for the man in yellow plaid around 4:15.

Thank you everyone for coming to say, "Hello!" to us at our booth! GABF is an overwhelming/amazing/humbling/exciting/exhausting experience every year, and it's a treat to get to share all the crazyness with our fans. We don't know how the BA does it every year, but we thank you too for the incredible support of craft beer!

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