The GABF That Was And Wasn’t…

I’ve just returned from my 15th annual trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. That number still boggles my mind and I’ve seen the fest (from its days at Currigan Hall), the City of Denver, and the attendant brewing and drinking communities change greatly in that time. Taking a cue from another beer writer, I’ve decided to avoid writing another lengthy diatribe on the GABF (like the controversial one from last year) and here’s an only slightly less diatribe-y list of my thoughts on this year’s GABF.

Let’s Start With The Positive…

1. What an electric moment it was when Jack McAuliffe walked onto the stage during the awards presentation. It was great to see him receive the praise he never did during his brief brewing days.

2. Denver is becoming one hell of a city. I’ve been attending the GABF for 15 years and the changes have come fast and furious in that time. The last year has seen a massive amount of new construction and the continued expansion and growing prominence of new neighborhoods, such as the Highlands. No longer are visitors restricted to scouring the same two or three bars in the increasingly seedy LoDo district. By avoiding the usual suspects, I also ate (and largely drank) better than I ever have in Denver during the fest. The potted salted caramel cheesecake at Colt & Gray was reason enough to leave LoDo.

3. It was fantastic to visit a bevy of new breweries of varying sizes that have opened up in Denver in the last week to year. From the unbelievably tiny Wit’s End Brewing to the fantastically communal Denver Beer Company to the excellent Renegade Brewing Company, these new entrants have brought a renewed vitality to a self-proclaimed “Napa Valley of Beer” whose scene was frankly getting a little stale. That several of the new faces also won their first GABF medals was a great celebration of their hard work.

4. The best beer I had at the festival was Remi’s Saison IPA from the Equinox Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. This was apparently (and sadly) a one-off collaboration with a local homebrewer, named Remi Bonnart, who won the National Homebrewer of the Year title in 2010. Tasty and intriguing stuff.

5. Despite some grumbles from attendees regarding floor space, I actually thought recreating the 30th anniversary floor plan with the original brewers was kind of a nice touch.

6. Thank god that Falling Rock finally reopened the lower pit area in front of the bar (if only for one night). I attended one Dogfish Head event and an Oktoberfest style event in this area a long time ago and the extra room makes the difference between being smashed together in a hot assed bar after standing in a half-block long line and having the ability to actually talk and share pints with friends. Let the nerds pack together in the basement. I’ll take the outside pit any day. We almost skipped Falling Rock this year (in part because of Point 2 above) due to the horribly packed environs this central meeting point offers experiences every year. Let’s hope this happens again next year.

The Less Positive Parts Of The Festival…

1. I have no idea what a dozen or so of the awarded beer styles mean. I’m sure you can explain to me what Field or Indigenous Beers are but the categories left folks around me at the awards presentation scratching their heads.

2. I really wasn’t blown away by many of the beers that I tried at the festival. Perhaps it is age, cynicism, or something else, but I thought the overall trend was towards pretty mainstream flavors and without many particularly noteworthy offerings. I did have some solid lager beers and saw more of them at the fest, which was a very positive trend. The IPA’s, however, tasted pretty samey across the board.

3. Considering this was the festival’s 30th anniversary, I expected the Brewers Association to celebrate with more events or to put a greater focus on it. The association really didn’t and it seemed a bit of an afterthought.

The Downright Disappointing Parts Of The Fest

There is only one point to be made here, with a few sub-points:

1. Where did all the brewers go?

1a. Putting the awards presentation aside, I saw or ran into a grand total of 5 brewers at the 2 sessions I attended. I’ve never experienced such a shortage in my years of attending.

1b. Brewers were as scarce at booths as sartorial good taste (paging Garrett) and sober restraint. I lamented this fact last year and called upon the Brewers Association to do something about it. Instead, I saw a lot of booths (even whole aisles) staffed only by volunteers (many of whom knew nothing about the beer–I heard one get both the beer’s style and brewer’s state wrong in one exchange with an inquiring consumer) or by faux-brewery staffers wearing brewery lanyards but who actually were just working as know-nothing stand-ins for their brewer buddies.

1c. A number of brewers either decided not to attend the GABF or were locked out from attending due to the awards and floor space closing up early. I heard several grumbles about some breweries being permitted to enter a large number of beers while others were then shut out entirely. I also heard from several well-known brewers that they were focusing on their local markets instead of attending the more national (or hyper-local, see below) GABF.

1d. It appears that the GABF is no longer vital to the industry nor a must-attend event for many brewers or beer lovers. It is at its essence grown into a company paid vacation (for admittedly hard-working) brewers and a gigantic local beer fest. Without the benefit of numbers, I would imagine that three-quarters of the attendees at minimum hail from within 30 miles of the 80202 area code. And while the hotels and car rentals are booked long in advance, beyond industry folks, the impact of the festival seems largely lost on many of the 49,000 attendees. And I understand why you would be hesitant to attend. If you run a little brewpub in Virginia or even a large craft brewery in Boston, it’s hard to say what value the GABF offers your brand or brewery. (With this said, I need to ask someone like Joe Short why he spends so much time and money on his GABF presentation. I may be missing a whole side to this or maybe he just likes to party). Perhaps the GABF medal is still a coveted commodity and it’s clear that many breweries still want to take a shot and send a few beers to compete. But the festival itself seems much an afterthought. It has simply turned into the world’s largest bar for Denver-ites. Unless you’re trying to sell beer in Colorado, it seems as if the festival has turned into the last place you’ll see a brewer during the last week in September.

Reading over my post from last year on the unfortunate aspects of the Great American Beer Festival, I think most of the criticisms remain true and that the opportunities for beer education and brand building have essentially been lost at the GABF. For next year, I hope the Brewers Association considers the simple point I made last year: breweries that choose to pour beer on the festival floor should be required to have a representative at the booth at all times.

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Discussing The Alcohol Arms Race On NPR’s ‘The Splendid Table’

A few weeks back, I taped a segment on session and high alcohol beers for American Public Media’s radio program, The Splendid Table, hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. It’s a program that I have enjoyed for many years and it was a pleasure to be invited to discuss this topic while promoting my book, Great American Craft Beer. I’ve done a fair number of radio interviews over the years and even majored in radio and television production for a while in college before moving over to the magazine world for my degree. Despite this, hearing myself talk about the topic while sitting in a car was an unusual yet fun experience. If you missed the broadcast and haven’t picked up the podcast, I’ll embed the interview here. Thanks to Alan at A Good Beer Blog, from whom I’ve essentially stolen this setup. The interview starts at about the 24th minute and goes for about six minutes. Thanks to the show’s staff and host for having me on. Hope to be back in the future.

An excerpt on session beers and picking the right glassware from Great American Craft Beer the book is available on The Splendid Table’s website.

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Upcoming Events for Great American Craft Beer…

So now that we have a few weeks of interviews behind us, now comes the fun part: celebrating Great American Craft Beer. The lovely folks at Cambridge Common will be hosting the book release party for Great American Craft Beer on Thursday September 2, 2010, from 6-8pm. There is some information on Facebook and a little more about this event on BeerAdvocate. Everyone is welcome to join us and beer will be pay as you go.

Great American Craft Beer Book Release Party.

Come join us for the release party for beer writer Andy Crouch’s new book, Great American Craft Beer. He’ll be leading one of Cambridge Common’s Beer Skools, talking about selections from his book (all available on tap at the Common), and also will be signing copies of the book. There will be snacks, great beers, a wee bit of education, and a great night celebrating American craft beer.

Gordon’s Culinary Center and Beer Education.

Starting next month, I will be hosting a series of beer related events at the Gordon’s Fine Wine and Culinary Center in Waltham. We’re calling it “The Art, Beauty and Complexity of Beer; A Series of Not-So-Serious Discussions.” I will be hosting “a revolving lineup of engaging craft beer personalities as they dish out their opinions on everything from the state of American craft beer to the preposterous amounts of facial hair in the industry. As any good beer discussion must be, these intimate conversations will take place over samples of beer from the brewers themselves.”

The first installment of the series, “Brew to the Future,” first event will be held on September 8, 2010, and will go from 7-8:30 pm. I am fortunate to be joined by two of New England’s most interesting and exciting brewers: Dann Paquette, co-owner and brewer of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project and Jon Curtis from the Haverhill Brewery. These two experienced and adventurous brewers will be discussing the impact of traditional brewing cultures on their work, from Jon’s modern take on German classics to Dann’s roots in English methods. With Jon and Dann, there will be no shortage of opinion, hilarity, and (of course) period costumes.

From the folks at Gordon’s on the venue: “Gordon’s Fine Wine and Culinary Center is the preeminent venue for beer education in the Boston area. Through trips, classes, festivals and electronic media, our knowledgeable beer staff is constantly busy championing the necessity for respect and admiration for mankind’s original beverage of choice.”

Great American Beer Festival – The Great American Craft Beer Experience.

We of course will be holding an excellent beer education and tasting event in Denver during the upcoming Great American Beer Festival. Join us for the Great American Craft Beer Experience, a tasting event featuring three of America’s most exciting and talented brewers.

Part book-release party, part celebration of American craft beer, the event will give attendees an excellent opportunity to taste beers from around the country and interact with the brewers.

Brewers will be attending from Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Paul Philippon), Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Matt Brynildson), and Odell Brewing Company (Doug Odell).

Beers: Duck-Rabbit: Milk Stout and Wee Heavy Scotch Ale; Firestone Walker: Double Barrel Ale, Union Jack, and Parabola; Odell: IPA and 90 Shilling. Other beers may be added.

Sponsored by BeerAdvocate, the event will feature at least six beers from these breweries, selected from Great American Craft Beer, in a tutored tasting event with the brewers themselves. Andy Crouch will moderate a panel discussion and attendees will be able to ask questions of the author and the brewers.

Limited to 50 tickets, for a more intimate event, so get yours while they last.

Ticket price is $45 and includes beer tastings, a signed copy of Great American Craft Beer, light appetizers, and a 6-issue subscription (just a taste) to BeerAdvocate magazine.

Buy Tickets

Please note tickets will be “will-call” (physical tickets will not be shipped; guest list at the event). And sorry: No refunds. No door sales. No media passes.

Newly opened, Stoney’s Bar & Grill is located at 1111 Lincoln Street in downtown Denver, Colorado.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Published in August 2010 by Running Press, Andy Crouch’s Great American Craft Beer takes readers on a passionate and informative journey through the most palate-pleasing ales and lagers produced by American craft brewers today. A personal guide and companion to the exciting world of American craft beer, this unique book also touches upon several related subjects including food, travel, history, and the stories and personalities of America’s best brewers. More than 60 styles and 350 beer profiles are accompanied by full-color photographs and illustrations of the beers and beer labels. It also includes perfect pairing recipes and profiles of 25 of the best beer bars in the country.

ABOUT ANDY CROUCH
Andy Crouch, an award-winning freelance writer, has provided articles to Ale Street News, American Brewer, Celebrator Beer news, New Brewer Magazine, Yankee Food News, and through his website, BeerScribe.com. He writes columns for both Beverage Magazine and BeerAdvocate Magazine. In addition, Crouch’s first book, The Good Beer Guide to New England, was published by the University Press of New England in May 2006. He resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Join Us For The Great American Craft Beer Experience: Denver – Sept. 17 – 6pm

Join us on September 17, 2010, at 6 p.m. for the Great American Craft Beer Experience, a tasting event featuring three of America’s most exciting and talented brewers.

Part book-release party, part celebration of American craft beer, the event will give attendees an excellent opportunity to taste beers from around the country and interact with the brewers.

Brewers will be attending from Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Paul Philippon), Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Matt Brynildson), and Odell Brewing Company (Doug Odell).

Beers: Duck-Rabbit: Milk Stout and Wee Heavy Scotch Ale; Firestone Walker: Double Barrel Ale, Union Jack, and Parabola; Odell: IPA and 90 Shilling. Other beers may be added.

Co-sponsored by BeerAdvocate, the event will feature at least six beers from these breweries, selected from Great American Craft Beer, in a tutored tasting event with the brewers themselves. Andy Crouch will moderate a panel discussion and attendees will be able to ask questions of the author and the brewers.

Limited to 50 tickets, for a more intimate event, so get yours while they last.

Ticket price is $45 and includes beer tastings, a signed copy of Great American Craft Beer, light appetizers, and a 6-issue subscription (just a taste) to BeerAdvocate magazine.

Buy Tickets through the BeerAdvocate store.

Please note tickets will be “will-call” (physical tickets will not be shipped; guest list at the event). And sorry: No refunds. No door sales. No media passes.

Newly opened, Stoney’s Bar & Grill is located at 1111 Lincoln Street in downtown Denver, Colorado.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Published in August 2010 by Running Press, Andy Crouch’s Great American Craft Beer takes readers on a passionate and informative journey through the most palate-pleasing ales and lagers produced by American craft brewers today. A personal guide and companion to the exciting world of American craft beer, this unique book also touches upon several related subjects including food, travel, history, and the stories and personalities of America’s best brewers. More than 60 styles and 350 beer profiles are accompanied by full-color photographs and illustrations of the beers and beer labels. It also includes perfect pairing recipes and profiles of 25 of the best beer bars in the country.

ABOUT ANDY CROUCH
Andy Crouch, an award-winning freelance writer, has provided articles to Ale Street News, American Brewer, Celebrator Beer news, New Brewer Magazine, Yankee Food News, and through his website, BeerScribe.com. He writes columns for both Beverage Magazine and BeerAdvocate Magazine. In addition, Crouch’s first book, The Good Beer Guide to New England, was published by the University Press of New England in May 2006. He resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Reviews of Great American Craft Beer…

My second book on beer, Great American Craft Beer, is now available to the public and some press reviews and mentions have started to arrive. I’ll try to post them here as I come across them, sometimes with a little pull quote or comment as needed, but mainly for you, the reader or prospective buyer, to get a better sense of the book. A little more information about the book is available on the Running Press website and on BeerScribe.com. Cheers!

Austin American-Statesman

The best book on the best American beer. Here’s your summer beach read: Andy Crouch’s “Great American Craft Beer”

My reading preference is a good book about beer, and I’ve got one for you: “Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation’s Finest Beers and Brewers” by Andy Crouch (Running Press, $22.95). Crouch is a…fine guide through the whole world of beer — its history, the brewing process, describing a proper atmosphere for tastings, style-specific glassware, the art of a proper pour and chef’s menus for beer dinners.

Crouch also aims to expand beer drinkers’ horizons while not turning them into bores, and he seeks to gently rein in the extreme beer trend…

Norman Miller, the resident Beer Nut for the Daily News Tribune and Gatehouse News Service

Crouch, who also authored one of my go-to beer travel books, “The Good Beer Guide To New England,” puts together an extremely informative book.

Josh Christie for the HopPress

On the first page of his new beer guide Great American Craft Beer, Andy Crouch writes “with the bounty of amazing beers available in every corner of America, never before has there been a better time or place to be a beer drinker.” Thus begins one of the best cases for American exceptionalism that I’ve read in years – not in the traditional political or social sense, but in the realm of brewing and beer. Great American Craft Beer isn’t just a new book to add to the increasingly crowded family of “beer guides.” The compendium is a love letter to craft beer in the US of A, and that there’s enough to fill a 300+ page book is a testament to a brewing movement that’s barely thirty years old.

If you’ve never read any of Crouch’s beer reviews, you’re in for a treat with this book. Beer reviewers are occasionally (and rightfully) accused of having a limited vocabulary when writing about beer, and the author is doing his best to expand our vernacular. Cotton candy hops, notes of graham cracker, “armpit stinky” – Crouch isn’t necessarily Gary Vaynerchuk, but he’s got the same panache for describing what he smells, sees and tastes.

Great American Craft Beer is a book that has some sex appeal for beer lovers from novices to experts. For beginners, Crouch attacks tasting technique, history and all kinds of beer minutia in a super-accessible way. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool beer geek, then yes, some bits on history and glassware are probably retreads. If you’re on a budget and own a bunch of beer guides already, you’ll want to leaf through Great American Craft Beer to make sure it has enough “new” material to excite you. Still, the wit in the writing, the wonderfully descriptive beer reviews and some of the pieces that are uniquely Andy merit a purchase in this reviewer’s opinion (and I know from beer guides).

USA Today

An interview with the Dispatches department about the book and the growing popularity of American craft beer around the world.

Library Journal

“Rather than an exhaustive treatment, this is a guide to available beer styles via a selection of choice examples of each. In an easy manner, Crouch discusses each beer, noting the flavor accents, color, aroma, and feel. He also includes a list of great beer bars and tips on beer selection. Verdict In recent years, beer in America has become more diversified as the craft beer movement has gained momentum, and Crouch gives the beer lover great suggestions to explore.”

Express – Washington Post

Author Andy Crouch treats beer like a fine wine, not something to gulp at a tailgate party. The book offers both a brief history of brewski and tips on properly enjoying a cold one, but mostly serves as a guide to hundreds of American craft beers — from the dark and roasty to the rich and fruity.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An interview about the book and the resurgence of craft beer in the South.

What’s Cooking on Wine

A recent visit to What’s Cooking on Wine, wherein I discuss why wine tourists to Sonoma and Napa should head up to Santa Rosa to enjoy the real Russian River treasures. Starts around 14:30.


SignonSanDiego.com

“Andy Crouch does an admirable job of surveying the state of our favorite industry, the U.S. microbrews. His new book (Running Press, $22.95) is crisp, clean and a lot of fun to pore over. (That’s pore, p-o-r-e, not pour, p-o-u-r!)”

But the reviewer chides me a bit for not including some of his favorite local beers. While one or two of his selections appear not to have been in business yet (or for very long) when I wrote the book, I look forward to trying them soon. In the meantime, I’ve written a short piece discussing the criteria for what beers I’ve included in the book and which of your favorites I had to pass over.

Masslive.com

In one of the more unusual non-reviews of my book, the local writer suggests you go and buy it based upon the quality of The Good Beer Guide To New England.

Everyone trying to promote craft beer deserves attention from my column. Or maybe I should say almost everyone. Some people just don’t merit any attention at all. But Andy does. If you get a chance, check his book out.

MySanAntonio.com

A number of books about craft beer have recently hit the market. Most are guidebooks or simple beer reviews that attempt to tell you the best beers in the world.

There’s a lot of shifting sand in the craft beer world today, especially in this era of expansion and changing ownership. Understanding styles and what makes one beer superior to another is more important than beer ratings.

That’s why my favorite book so far is “Great American Craft Beer” by Andy Crouch.


LAWeekly

Concludes that “As a critic, Crouch has done a thorough job.” The reviewer takes me to task for the general state of books on craft beer, some of our design and editorial choices, and for spending only two-third’s of the book on beer reviews…

Ohio.com

Cleveland.com

Tulsa World

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