The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Media Luncheon was held once again this year at the Pinnacle Club by Grand Hyatt Denver, which truly lives up to its name. Situated on the 38th floor, the room’s big windows present a gorgeous view of the front ranges of the Rockies. On that Friday a few weeks ago, distant storm clouds just kept rolling by; it was a sight to move even a jaded old fart like me! Thankfully, the beer and food were just as good as the view.
The GABF media folk are pretty savvy. They know that if they were to invite a bunch of beverage and food writers to a basic press briefing, the room would be mostly empty. So, every year they lure us with great food and a bunch of award-winning beers from the prior GABF competition.
The only downside was a seating change from previous years. We were lined up at long tables, boarding-school style but with no one opposite us. I can only guess that this was done to help stem the conversations that usually go on at the round, banquet-style tables. Also, the fact that there were 460 registered media members for this year’s GABF, up from 368 in 2012, may have created a need for more strategic use of the space. Still, whatever the reasons, it wasn’t the most convivial setting for a “beer luncheon” with your peers. One of our ilk who shall go unnamed spent the majority of the luncheon taking “selfies” and tweeting them to all and sundry. Slow down sister, time to stop and smell the hops!
At this luncheon, beers were paired with each course while the brewer of said beer, or a brewery rep, talked about the company and its products.
Our “welcome beer” was a Goosebury Gose from Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, MN. As a traditional Leipzig style gose, it contains no fruit; the name is derived from the Goosebury Falls near Duluth. It was a nice palate cleanser for what was to follow.
The first course was a butternut squash and poblano chili bisque alongside a cocoa cardona cheese bit on ciabatta bread that was as delicious as the description is long. The bisque, both slightly sweet and with a hint of spice was well paired with Lumberyard Brewing Company’s Flagstaff IPA, winner of silver medals in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category in both 2011 and 2012. Flagstaff IPA is 6.1% ABV with 90 IBUs and is bittered — and dry hopped — with Centennial, Cascade and Simcoe hops.
The cheesy, cocoa ciabatta was paired with Beachwood BBQ Brewing’s Udder Love, a milk stout. The beer somehow cut through the good “greasiness” of the cheese, which was interesting to me as the beer has a naturally silky mouthfeel from the milk sugar. The cocoa flavor in the ciabatta was in sync with some of the bittersweet chocolate flavors provided by the beer’s malt profile. Udder Love is made with all British ingredients and it won the gold medal in 2012 in the Sweet Stout or Cream Stout category. The 2013 incarnation received a silver medal the next day at the GABF awards ceremony. In addition, the brewing company won the 2013 Mid-Size Brewpub award and their brewers, Julian Shrago & Ian McCall, Mid-Size Brewpub Brewer(s) of the Year. I mention this because many of you reading are in SoCal, and if you were unaware, Beachwood is located in Long Beach.
The luncheon’s intermezzo, a pickled pear granita push pop palate cleanser was certainly needed after the aforementioned courses and it did the trick.
It was followed by the main course, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter-braised boneless short ribs served with rosemary olive oil mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, Applewood-smoked bacon and brussels sprouts hash. For the non-carnivores, an oat-battered cauliflower “steak,” toasted quinoa pilaf, and broccolini with a Breckenridge Brewery Oatmeal Stout coconut-curry cream sauce. These were paired with Local Species, a wood and barrel aged beer that took bronze in the category of the same name in 2012. It is brewed by Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, VA. Matt Nucci, one of the brewery’s founders, explained that the beer has two row and honey malt, plus both European and American hops including Amarillo and Centennial. It was aged in bourbon barrels and has an ABV of 6.6% with 24 IBUs.
The other entree pairing was Telluride Brewing Company’s Face Down Brown, 5.7% ABV, winner of the 2012 gold medal in the American Style Brown category. The toffee, chocolate and nutty notes of the beer paired really well with the mildly porter-flavored short ribs.
A much needed digestive break was filled with a report from living legend, Charlie Papazian, founder of the GABF and Brewers Association (BA) who reminded us that when they started the GABF in 1982, at a hotel ballroom in Boulder, there were only 42 breweries in the U.S. Contrast that with today’s beer climate; the BA estimates there were 2,403 breweries in operation at some point during 2012.
The only thing sweeter than all the good continuing craft beer growth news was a milk chocolate pumpkin mousse cake with cider apples, paired with The Great Pumpkin, an imperial pumpkin ale clocking in at 8.1% ABV and IBUs from Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, WA. And while I generally prefer my pumpkin delivered via pie, not beer, this was an excellent exception. Elysian’s founder, president and most importantly, its head brewer Dick Cantwell shared with us that this beer even had roasted pumpkin seeds in the mash! And just for good measure they added extra pumpkin in the mash, kettle and fermentor, plus cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. The result was a smooth and surprisingly well-balanced beer that beautifully accompanied the dessert.
But wait, there’s more… the other beer served with the dessert was Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ Seizoen Bretta, winner of the 2012 gold medal in the American Style Brett Ale category. This was my favorite beer of the lunch, a sentiment echoed by a few neighbors. As excellent as the other beers were, this one took it to a whole new level.
Logsdon takes its name from Dave Logsdon, another legend in the craft brewing industry. Logsdon, originally a home brewer, went on to be a co- founder and the first brewer at Full Sail Brewing Co in Hood River, OR before founding Wyeast. He now runs the eponymous Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, a small, craft in the truest sense of the word, brewery located on a farm in Hood River County, OR.
The certified organic, 8% ABV Seizoen Bretta is unfiltered and made with one of Logsdon’s own strains of yeast, and, as the name suggests, Brettanomyces. The brewery only uses organic whole-cone hops, some of which are grown on the farm. The beer is then bottle-conditioned with organic pear juice to create natural carbonation. The result is a truly well-balanced and drinkable small-batch beer that, fortunately, has some limited distribution in our neck of the woods.
Just in case we weren’t all completely stuffed, on the way out of the room there was a post-luncheon dessert; I kid you not! A small bag of gianduja-filled brioche donuts was paired with Big Wood Brewery’s (White Bear Lake, MN) Morning Wood, a coffee stout which brewery rep and co-owner Jason Medvec described as a “malt beverage with coffee added.” This was a decent enough coffee-flavored dry stout, but maybe better with the donuts for breakfast rather than after a very big lunch! That said, I’m already counting down to next year…