This week, the whole Breakside crew heads off to Denver to participate in the Great American Beer Festival. With 580 breweries and 2700 beers, it is one of the biggest and best beer festivals in the world. It will be a good time, to say the least…
I can remember the excitement of my first GABF. I had been a brewer for only 4 months when I found myself wandering the aisles of the largest beer festival in the country. To be honest, I hadn’t really known what to expect. Other than a trip to Oktoberfest while studying abroad in Germany, I had not attended many beer festivals of such scale or magnitude and was ill prepared for the palate shock that ensued.
First there were the California IPAs. Sticky-sweet and unctuous in a way you don’t often see in the Pacific NW. Then I had Goose Island’s truffle beer. Talk about overwhelming. There were the 6 different lagers from August Schell, each unique and refreshing in its own way. Not to mention the most amazing American gueuze from Allagash. Made in the traditional style it was funky, complex and delicious. I could go on, but the most amazing part about the whole festival was the education I got. There is no equivalent to trying seven hundred different beers over the course of a couple of days. GABF is the largest horizontal tasting in the world. Nowhere else can you try so many versions of so many styles of beer.
So as this year’s GABF grows closer and closer, my excitement has naturally been building. In addition to all the amazing beers we’ll get to drink, it is an amazing opportunity to show the brewing community what we can do. To win an award at GABF is a validation of the highest kind; it lets you know that people who have dedicated their lives to this amazing beverage value what you do on a daily basis.
Last year, we weren’t sure how to be strategic when entering the competition. We chose 5 beers that were idiosyncratic and on the fringe of the style guidelines, hoping that we could impress the judges by being different. Unfortunately, this was not a winning strategy. We walked away with a silver medal for our Dry Stout, but when it came time to start thinking about our entries this year, we decided to revise our strategy.
We ultimately decided on beers that we love and we thought would do well. In my opinion, these beers represent just what Breakside is all about: tradition as well as experimentation. We tried to be strategic in how we entered our beers. Is Bourbon Barrel Aztec more suitable for the barrel-aged beers category or the experimental beer category? Will our IPA stand up against some of the bigger sweeter IPAs in the IPA category? These are the kind of questions we took into consideration. Then we went back and refined our recipes. Even the Dry Stout recipe got revised. We want a gold medal! We also sought to package the beers in a way that would allow them to be as fresh for the judges in Colorado as they are here on tap at the pub. We wanted each beer’s aroma to stand out in a flight of eight or nine beers. Ranging from some truly classic styles to beers we think are pushing the envelope, we entered eight beers into this year’s competition: Dry Stout, Session Brown, Smoked Porter, IPA, Passionfruit Berlinerweisse, Aztec, Bourbon Barrel Aztec and Cedarbaumbier. Five of those beers will also be available for tasting on the festival floor!
Though it’s impossible to predict how we’ll do, we are confident that we sent solid representations of some amazing beers. We can only hope the judges agree! Keep your fingers crossed for us; hopefully, we’ll see some of you in Denver!