A Tale of Two Beer Festivals…

As legend has it, homebrewing advocate Charlie Papazian and beer writer Michael Jackson gazed over the bounty of excellent beers on the floor of the Great British Beer Festival in the early 1980s and an idea struck Papazian. He turned to Jackson and remarked that he wanted to hold a similar festival back in the United States. Jackson nodded in understanding, and wryly retorted, “yes, but where will you get the beer?”

The first Great American Beer Festival, held in a small Boulder hotel ballroom in 1982, saw beers from around twenty breweries, whose numbers mainly included the few regional breweries still in existence, along with upstarts such as Sierra Nevada and Boulder Brewing. In the truest sense of, “if you build it, they will come,” a fast forward nearly three decades finds the GABF to have developed into the world’s largest beer festival, boasting 3,500 beers from 500 breweries.

The grand daddy of beer fests, the GBBF too remains strong and still sets an enviable example for other events. The GBBF at Earl’s Court is a curious place where servers pour beers by the pint, in actual, proper glasses, and where many attendees stand around engaged in conversation while slowly enjoying their ales. To be sure, the GBBF suffers from some of the same issues that plague other fests, but seemingly to a lesser extent. While people still cheer when a pint shatters on the cement floor, no one tries to smack the glass from your hands as with recent GABF’s. There is also something remarkably adult about the GBBF’s format, where the larger vessels counsel visitors to slow down and really get to know their beers. And with bottles available for take away—and often at prices better than what we get in the states—GABF veterans can be forgiven their astonishment.

But there are signs of change at the traditionalist GBBF as well. While the real ale booths remain well-attended, it’s the foreign bars, filled with American, Belgian, and German treats that truly pack in the crowds. Perhaps out of sheer novelty, the often unbelievable prices, or maybe as a palate bashing break from mellower British offerings, these beers remain in constant demand and disappear quickly. Starting with close to 100 casks and hundreds of bottles on the first day of the festival, which was mainly open to brewers and other members of the trade, nearly everything was ravaged by the end of day two. Plenty of thirsty, disappointed beer enthusiasts could be expected for the final two days of the event. Beyond the foreign bars, by far the most popular British beers at the fest had some sort of American connection. I watched the Colorado American IPA from Red Squirrel enveloped in a constant stream of pours until it kicked, all while dozens of other nearby traditional beers sat untouched. Similar scenes could be experienced across the hall with BrewDog’s Punk IPA. Where the IPA moniker once suggested stodgy, old beers your dad would drink, by the end of day two, attendees had killed every IPA at the fest, an incredible change of circumstances in only a few years.

To be sure, hundreds of brilliant, traditional milds, bitters, and porters dominated the beer engines and the awards presentations. All the excitement of the fest, however, centered on the less established offerings and suggested that the future of British beer might not rest in campaigns to return to perceived glory days of old but in the splendor and whimsy of brewing innovation. As brewers at the GABF continue to experiment and push the definitions of beer and the boundaries of the drinking public, it’ll be interesting to see what results in the tug of war between the American and British brewing models in another twenty-five years.

–Article appeared in Issue 43 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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Six Beers For Autumn…

A Handful of Autumn Beers to Consider

The seasonal appeal of beer has also been one of its greatest selling points. With every change in the weather, from cool to scorching, a beer style is there to meet the occasion. In the chilly winter months, shivering beer drinkers sooth themselves with dark, hearty beers. With the brightening days of summer, a new selection of beers, including Hefeweizen, Dortmunder, and India Pale Ale, is required. For the most contemplative and mellow time of year, the fall brings a new pace of beers. Two classic but sometimes under-appreciated styles tend to bring out the harmonies that exist when the leaves change and the air turns crisp.

Weizenbock

Consider this style an amped up version of the Dunkelweizen, with a dark lager history lurking deep within its body. Weizenbocks usually pour amber ruby to dark brown in color and with a hazy appearance and impressive foamy head. While offering the usual fruit and clove dashes, a Weizenbock’s aroma possesses noticeably more alcohol and malt warmth than standard issue Hefeweizen and Dunkel beers and is more in line with the classic German bock style. Beers of the style maintain a difficult to achieve equilibrium, with matching parts dark, zesty fruit and toasted, bready malts, all resulting in a smooth, drinkable, if potent, offering. Weizenbocks offer a last fond look at the fleeting warmth of summer.

Slam Dunkel from Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton, Pennsylvania.

With its deep chestnut color, hazy ruby hues, and mild-mannered boost of foam, the creatively named Weizenbock from this Pennsylvania craft brewer offers wave after gentle wave of neatly folded caramel malt alongside accompaniments of classic Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast notes, including banana and clove. Translated into the tall, slender weizen glass, the Slam Dunkel indeed shuts the door on many other versions of the style, carefully meshing the complex worlds of sweet caramel and chocolate malts and banana and spicy clove phenolics. A touch light on the palate, the beer sneaks up on you with a developing mouthfeel that ends with a velvety wash of caramel fruits.

Moonglow Weizenbock from Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania

As a master of German styles, it comes as now surprise that Victory’s Moonglow is a fantastic Weizenbock. With its mildly hazy rouge-apricot tone and pronounced and pillowy soft beige colored peak, the aroma blends restrained doses of spiced fruit, including cinnamon coated apple pie, with touches of peppery clove, all tucked into a glove of tangy and sweet bready malt. In the glass, the beer transforms into a drinking marvel, with luxuriant toasted malt swirls mixed with touches of cocoa and dry wheat, all surrounded in a cocoon of spicy clove and mild banana fruits. A mild tanginess pervades the heavenly mixture, bringing order where needed to keep this medium-bodied beer in proper order.

Hang Ten Weizen Doppelbock from Clipper City Brewing Company in Baltimore, Maryland.

A classic looking Weizenbock with a tawny copper base coat accented by a serious cocoa wheat plume of foam, the nose greets you with subtle layers of caramel malt wrapped around a partially phenolic clove and modest banana dusting. A slow starter, the Hang Ten starts to build momentum as it warms, with additional sheets of toasted malt peeling back to reveal new layers of caramelized fruit, chocolate malt, and a warming alcohol base. Silky smooth in body into the finish, Clipper City’s offering is a welcome addition to the stable of great Weizenbocks.

Marzen

One of the most popular seasonal beers, the Marzen style derives its history from the German brewing center of Munich. Developed by Gabriel Sedlmayr II, owner of the Spaten Brewery, in association with his brother Josef and adapting the Vienna style created years earlier by Anton Dreher, the amber-hued, full-bodied, toasted malt lager was served during the annual Oktoberfest celebration, from which it takes its other name. Sometimes known as “Fest” beer, the Marzen was originally brewed in spring and cellared during the warm summer months for service in the fall, a practice less followed with modern refrigeration. Versions at today’s Oktoberfest celebration are substantially lighter in color and flavor, while American versions tend towards deep gold to copper colors, with strong Vienna or Munich toasted and bready malt aromas, and a slight but present noble hop aroma and bitterness. Oktoberfests are clean lagers with dedication to classic German and European malts and around six-percent alcohol. Many American brewers produce toasty amber ales with a decided fruit aroma and flavor and call them Marzens or Oktoberfest beers.

Balto MärzHon from Clipper City Brewing Company in Baltimore, Maryland.

Playing off the local tradition of calling everyone ‘hon,’ this Marzen glows with a brilliant amber-orange body and undulating off-white head, wherein clean and nuanced rows of sweet malt pack together, with bready and toasted malts predominating over lesser notes of caramel, honey, and earthy fruit. Well-balanced from start to dry finish, the well-proportioned malt base glides with nutty and bready sweet notes, which are prodded into form by a residual but mild, earthy bitterness. The MärzhHon is a well-crafted fall seasonal.

Oktoberfest from Stoudts Brewing Company in Adamstown, Pennsylvania.

A celebration of robust Munich and Vienna malts, Oktoberfest starts with a bright copper hue and a khaki ripple of foam before unleashing a toasted malt nose, replete with bready and caramel notes, all drenched over a reserved earthy noble hop character. In the glass, the aroma transforms into a more moderate experience, with toasted notes predominating in a creamy formation while subtly spicy hops bring a bitter counterbalance to the moderate sweetness level. Clean and crisp to the taste, Oktoberfest draws to a close with a dry, nutty finish.

–Selections taken from Great American Craft Beer, the most recent book from author Andy Crouch.

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