In South Florida’s Delray Beach, Saltwater is both a brewery and a theme

62670_467280403340045_1194112926_nFlorida’s newest craft brewery opens its doors Dec. 30.

The opening of Saltwater Brewery, in Delray Beach, a seaside city midway between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach on South Florida’s Atlantic Coast, culminates more than 20 months of planning, construction and, of course, some frustration.

Founded by a group of local beer aficionados with the help of a veteran brewer, Saltwater Brewery opens with seven beers flowing from its taps, ranging from an easy-drinking pale ale to a deceptively easy-to-drink Belgian strong ale that clocks in at 10 percent ABV.

Located at 1701 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach’s main thoroughfare, Saltwater Brewery is housed in a converted 1952-era barn/former antique furniture store adjacent to the CSX railroad tracks that parallel Interstate 95.

A frequent visitor to Florida, I happened to be in Delray Beach just prior to the brewery’s opening and used the opportunity to meet its founders and sample some of the brews. The beers are well crafted, clean, flavorful, well balanced, and each distinct from the other.

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Saltwater Brewery founders Chris Gove, brewmaster Bill Taylor, Dustin Jeffers, Bo Eaton and Peter Agardy.

Saltwater, I was told, had its genesis in April 2012, when a group of local beer lovers– founders Bo Eaton, Peter Agardy, Chris Gove and Dustin Jeffers – came together and decided to open a brewery.  Brewmaster Bill Taylor, a 17-year industry veteran who was making beer in Montana at Neptune’s Brewery, joined them a few months later. Despite plans to open in the summer of 2013, construction and sewer issues, regulatory hurdles and the like pushed the date into the fall and then early winter.  “We had a few hiccups,” said Agardy. Millions of dollars and months later, the brewery began producing beer shortly before Thanksgiving. Saltwater’s founders hope to produce 7,500 barrels in their first year of operating their 20-bbl system.

The brewery’s owners said they plan to hew an image for the brewery that conjures up its seaside location with its culture of surfing, fishing and diving and marine conservation. But more than that, “we emphasize quality local beer,” said Agardy, explaining that the brews’ flavors “should be more than your palate can handle.”

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Inside the brewery, Dustin Jeffers at work.

A gleaming pinewood bar, fashioned from wood salvaged from the original building, dominates Saltwater’s taproom. Behind the glassed-in bar is the brewery, a collection of stainless steel including brew kettle and mash tun, six 40-gal. fermenters, two 20-gal. fermenters and two 10-bbl tanks. The fermenters are outfitted with glycol jackets to help tame the Florida heat. Grain, too, is stored in a temperature-controlled room. And the water is carbon-filtered to rid it of its heavy mineral taste.

Saltwater Brewery is the latest arrival on expanding craft beer scene in South Florida, where eleven breweries and brewpubs have opened in recent years, from Miami to Tequesta. They include Due South Brewing, in Boynton Beach; Tequesta Brewing in Tequestra, just north of Palm Beach; Funky Buddha in Oakland; The Mack House – Holy Mackerel Nano Brewery in Davie; Wynwood Brewing Co. in Miami and such brew pubs as Titanic in Miami; Brewzzi’s in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach; Tampa Bay Brewing’s Tap House and Big Beer Brewing, both in Coral Springs; and The Funky Buddha Lounge in Boca Raton. And more are planned.

“There’s a huge South Florida beer culture,” co-founder Peter Agardy, told me during my visit.  “We saw an opportunity.” He explained that breweries, such as Saltwater are benefiting from the growing number of youthful craft drinkers in the area and a rising tide of first-generation craft beer lovers who have retired to the region.

The plan is to start with familiar beer styles before brewing more unusual brews. Thus, imbibers on opening day will be able chose from a wide range of styles including:

  • South End Session Ale, a low ABV session pale ale with a honeyed nose named for the area of Delray Beach where fishing and surfing are popular.
  • Bonafide Blonde, a golden brew fermented with Belgian yeast. (Not tasted).
  • Big Treble Amber Ale, a nicely balanced red ale.
  • Screaming Reels IPA, whose name pays homage to deep-sea fishermen. It most definitely screams hops.
  • Stinger Double India Pale Ale, named for local jelly fish,
  • SeaCow Milk Stout, named after the native Florida Sea Cow, the Manatee, who reside in the murky brackish waters of Florida.  This light-bodied beer is dark, chocolately and roasty with a touch of sweetness.
  • Flying Scotsmen Scotch Ale (not tasted).
  • Don’t Get Confused Belgian Strong Ale. Golden with a foamy white head, the Belgian yeast character is evident; the high alcohol content is not. Deceptively easy to drink. (Two barrels of the brew are aging in bourbon casks.)

Saltwater’s brews initially will be available only in the brewery’s taproom for on-premise consumption or for takeaway in growlers.  The idea, said Agardy is to grow sales organically and get the community’s support. “We want to be the Delray brewery and take care of the locals.”

 

 

 

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‘Craft Beer London’ author Will Hawkes is Britain’s 2013 Beer Writer of the Year

Will Hawkes

Will Hawkes

In Britain, where beer has been taken far more seriously for far longer than it has on this side of the Atlantic, beer writing has long been an art form and Will Hawkes, a freelance journalist and author, now is considered Britain’s No. 1 practitioner of the art.

Last week, the British Guild of Beer Writers acclaimed Hawkes, author of “Craft Beer London,”  a book and iPhone app devoted to the city’s burgeoning beer scene, as Beer Writer of the Year. The book, published by Vespertine Press, celebrates London’s brewing renaissance.

The Beer Writer of the Year is chosen from one of six category winners in the annual awards, which seek to find the very best of beer writing and journalism in the UK. As well as picking up the overall title Hawkes also won the Molson Coors Award for Writing in National Media.

“I was absolutely delighted to win,” Hawkes, who also has written for various newspapers, including The Independent, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Sydney Morning Herald and a host of others, told me in an email. “When you see the name Michael Jackson emblazoned on the tankard, you feel that it really means something.”

The award is named for Michael Jackson, a writer and author of several influential books on beer, who died in 2007. The Beer Writer of the Year award is the ultimate accolade for anyone communicating about Britain’s national drink. Entries for this year’s competition included press articles, books, radio shows, blogs and apps on a wide range of topics relating to beer.

Hawkes went on to tell me, “Craft Beer London” was created because the city’s beer landscape was changing fast and [app developer] Derek [Lamberton] and I thought there was a need for it. I hope it’s a fair reflection of what’s happening with beer and brewing in London, and a useful guide for those seeking a good glass of beer.”

A companion app “Craft Beer New York” Brooklyn based beer writer Josh Bernstein.

Hawke's book

Hawke’s book

Last year’s Beer writer of the Year winner and chairman of the judges, Pete Brown said, “the judges were unanimous that Will Hawkes’ writing stood out for its breadth of subjects covered and its accessible, compulsively readable delivery. Will has made a significant contribution to spreading the word about beer to new places this year.

Brown added. “Beer writing too is in great shape, with more people communicating about more varied aspects of beer across traditional and new media. The judges were impressed by the high standards achieved by entrants and the range of beer-related topics covered.”

Other winners were:

Brewer of the Year: Derek Prentice, Fuller Smith & Turner

Greene King IPA Travel Bursary Winner: Martyn Cornell

Silver Award: Adrian Tierney-Jones

Shepherd Neame 1698 Award for Beer and Food Writing: Mark Dredge

Thwaites Award for Corporate Communications: British Beer & Pub Association

Brains SA Gold Award for Best Use of Online Media: Richard Taylor 

Silver Award: Adrian Tierney-JonesAdnams Award for Best Writing in Regional Media: Gavin Aitchison

Silver Award: Leigh Linley

Fuller’s ESB Award for Writing for the Beer and Pub Trade: Roger Protz

Silver Award: Jeff Evans

Molson Coors Award for Writing in National Media: Will Hawkes

Silver Award: Sophie Atherton

Entrees are judged for passion, originality, clarity and readability by a minimum of four judges, who change every year. Traditionally, the Beer Writer of the Year from the previous year selects and chairs the judging panel, which includes a mix of brewers, other professionals from the drinks trade, beer writers, food and drink writers, and editors from national and trade publications.

In addition to Brown, judges this year were: Bill Dobson, head brewer at SA Brain; David Wilson, public affairs director at the British Beer & Pub Association; Karen Barnes, editor of Delicious magazine and Craig Woodhouse, political correspondent at The Sun and part of the team which spearheaded the newspaper’s successful campaign to abolish the beer duty escalator.

The British Guild of Beer Writers was established in 1988 to help spread the word about beer and brewing and improve standards of beer writing in general. Today the Guild has more than 150 members.

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Evil Twin beers will garner your attention for many reasons

Evil Twin logoIf the eye-catching labels of Evil Twin’s distinctive brews don’t get your attention, their names — among them Bikini Beer, Plastic Man, Femme Fatale, Justin Blåbær, Imperial Biscotti Break—will do the job. And once you’ve tasted them, they’ll have your full attention.

Recently, I tasted a selection of the beers created by Evil Twin’s Danish creative genius, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, who is the twin brother of the equally iconoclastic Mikkeller founder and brewmaster, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. The tasting, which I curated, took place at a meeting of a local beer club, Long Islanders for Fermentation Enjoyment, which meets monthly to share new beers.

Evil Twin is a gypsy or nomadic brewer (not unlike Mikkeller or Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project), producing its beers at breweries with extra capacity and a willing brewer. Evil Twin’s beers originally were produced at various breweries around Europe and were first imported to the U.S. two years ago by Brooklyn-based Twelve Percent Imports. Now, having moved from Copenhagen to Brooklyn, Jarnit-Bjergsø utilizes Westbrook Brewing in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., to produce the beers under contract.

The tasting included beers across a wide range of strengths, styles and flavors. Some were easy to drink; others made with Brettanomyces (a yeast sometimes known as Brett) had a more distinct flavor profile as did a beer made in the style of a Berliner Weise. And, the most potent beer of all proved to be, perhaps, the most interesting and most pleasurable of the bunch.

Some of my notes from the tasting:

Bikini labelBikini Beer, IPA. 2.7% abv. A bottled version (it’s also available in cans) of this lightweight IPA, brewed at Lervig Aktiebryggeri, Norway, that Jarnit-Bjergsø describes on his web site as “a sissy beer” for inexperienced craft beer drinkers. It’s a golden, extraordinarily light-bodied brew with a big hoppy nose. ★★★

Plastic Man labelPlastic Man Saison Farmhouse Ale. 5.5% abv. Brewed at Westbrook in collaboration with Chicago’s Local Option Brewing, this cloudy, gold brew offers up a spicy nose and a spice-box palate. Bitter and dry on the finish.  ★★½

Yazu labelFemme Fatale Yuzu Pale. 6% abv.  An American-style IPA flavored with Yuzu, a small, citrus fruit that tastes like a cross of a lemon and an orange, and fermented with Brettanomyces. Originally brewed in Denmark, it’s now made at Westbrook Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, It’s a pale, cloudy gold with a white head and lemony nose There’s lemon and a bitter funkiness on the palate and it’s surprisingly refreshing. ★★★★½   

Femme Fatale Noir lableFemme Fatale Noir. 6% abv. Originally brewed in Demark and now at Westbrook, this is an American-style black IPA fermented with Brettanomyces. Ebony in color with a mocha head it offers notes of chocolate, smoke and licorice notes. The funky character seems muted. ★★★★

Nomader wit labelNoMader Wit. 5% abv.  Brewed at Westbrook, this is a Brett-fermented wit beer with traditional coriander and orange peel seasonings.  It’s a cloudy gold and exudes funk and spice. Wondering if it might be more pleasurable sans Brett. ★★½

Justin Blaber labelJustin Blåbær Blueberry Beer. 4.5% abv. Brewed at Westbrook in collaboration with the  Charleston Beer Exchange, a craft beer store, this is a blueberry flavored brew in the Berliner Weise style. Blåbær, by the way, is the Danish word for blueberry. It’s cloudy gold with a white head. The nose is tart, as is the palate and the finish, well, strongly acidic. You’ve got to be a fan of the style to appreciate this. ★★★★

Biscotti break labelImperial Biscotti Break. 11.5% abv. Another Danish original now brewed at Westbrook, this is an imperial Porter with coffee and, perhaps, vanilla and almonds (they’re not identified on the label. This is a deep-brown hued brew with a short mocha head. On the nose there are notes of coffee and vanilla nose. On the palate, layer after layer of flavors unfold with notes of raisins, nuts and chocolate. Perfect for after dinner. ★★★★★

Based on this tasting, I can’t wait to try the many other Evil Twin brews. Which have you tried? What were your impressions?

 

 

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Whisky expert Jim Murray picks Bourbon-style, single-malt Scotch as 2014 World Whisky of The Year

Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible 2014The well-respected English whiskey expert Jim Murray has picked a single-malt Scotch whiskey distilled as Scotch but matured in the style of American bourbon, as World Whiskey of the Year in the just published 2014 edition of his “Whisky Bible.”

Murray awarded 97.5 points out of 100 — his highest score this year — to the whisky, Glenmorangie Ealanta, a limited bottling.

Glenmorangie’s Ealanta, released in January as the fourth annual release in the company’s Private Edition range, is a 19-year-old expression, fully matured in virgin American white oak casks with a provenance that stretches all the way to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.

Ealanta’s innovative aroma and taste profile blew Murray away, he said. “It gave an aroma and taste profile completely new to me in over 30 years of tasting whisky.”

He described it as having “one of the longest finishes of any Scotch this year … and borderline perfection.”

Murray tasted more than 1,100 new whiskies from around the globe that reached market in the last year for the 10th anniversary edition of his popular whisky reference.Ealanta Packshot

“This is major coup for us,” said Dr. Bill Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie. “It’s no secret in our industry that it’s the wood that makes the whisky, and for many years my team and I have been carrying out detailed research in this area.”  Lumsden,  a  pioneer in researching into the effect of wood on whisky maturation, is also well known for traveling the world to search out the best oak casks in which to mature his whisky.

 

Published by Dram Good Books priced at $19.99, the “2014 Whisky Bible” is available in bookshops and liquor stores throughout the world. Signed copies by the author can be purchased at www.whiskybible.com

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1 month, 3 NYC area beer festivals

Get those pretzel necklaces ready. It’s festival time in New York.

Three beer festivals are scheduled to take place in and around New York City over the next few weeks.

Spider Bite Beer Co. pours at last year's Belmont Park beer expo

Spider Bite Beer Co. pours at last year’s Belmont Park beer expo

First up, is the International Great Beer Expo at Belmont Park in Elmont with day and evening sessions scheduled for Nov. 9.  Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, a hopped up West Coast-style brew, will make its East Coast debut at the sixth annual edition of this event, which features some 50 breweries and a hundred-plus. Tickets are $45 online and $55 at the gate, although a $23 discounted admissions can be found at Goldstar. A word of caution: the event space is partly open to the elements and unheated. Photos from last year’s expo showed many attendees attired in warm clothes and coats. Starfish Junction Productions is the event promoter.

Craft ExpOn Nov. 13, from 7-10 p.m. Great Brewers/Union Beer Distributors presents The Craft Experience, which they described as “the most exclusive event of its kind.”  The event pairs an impressive list of 125 domestic and international craft breweries and 30 little-known craft distillers under one roof. That roof is Center 548, a three-floor event space near the Chelsea Piers at 548 W. 22nd St. Manhattan. Brewery owners, brewmasters and distillers will be hand, too, to talk about their products.  Regular tickets are  $89 and a VIP admit, which offers an opportunity to start tasting an hour before the official start, sells for $125. Union Beer is a major craft beer distributor in New York City, Long island and five other downstate counties in New York as well as a distributor of Anheuser-Busch InBev products.

The scene last year at the Lexington Avenue Armory

The scene last year at the Lexington Avenue Armory

Finally, there is the New York City Craft Beer Festival spread over three sessions on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24 at the Lexington Avenue Armory at E. 68th St. in Manhattan. The Hand Crafted Tasting Co. (an affiliate of concert promoter Mad Dog Presents) puts on the event, which is focused on fall and winter seasonal beers. Seventy-five breweries are expected to participate, each serving up two beers. There’s also an extra-charge Connoisseur Club, which includes harder-find beers and edibles and an extra hour of sampling. Tickets are $55 for general admission,  $75 for VIP admission (an extra hour to sample) and $25 for the Connoisseur Club. Saturday general admission tickets are sold out.

Are you planning on attending any of these?

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Ridgeview, an English bubbly, provides a sparkling surprise at book launch

At a recent reception in New York City sponsored by UK Trade & Investment USA to mark the launch of the “World Atlas of Wine,” I expected to be overwhelmed by meeting authors Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, two of the wine writing world’s heavyweights.

rv_bloomsburyI was wrong. The biggest star — at least for me — was the bubbly being poured for the guests, Ridgeview Wine Estate’s Bloomsbury 2010. (Robinson offered her hand in a friendly greeting and Johnson stared past me as he spoke to the person next to me.)

It was my first taste of British sparkling wine and I was dazzled by this bubbly, a Chardonnay-dominant blend with added Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier produced with the traditional methods used by sparking wine producers in Champagne.

A lovely wine with a pale golden hue, it has a creamy, persistent mousse. The nose is fruity and on the palate there are concentrated notes of citrus and apple, good acidity, a hint of biscuit and a dry finish.

The wine was produced using grapes grown in Sussex in Southern England, Ridgeview co-founder and winemaker Mike Roberts, MBE, a guest at the event, told me.  A large man with thinning white hair, he said consultants from across the Channel in France’s exalted bubbly producing region have provide assistance over the years.

Mike Roberts of Ridgeview

Mike Roberts of Ridgeview

Roberts, 70, an accountant by training and the former owner of a computing business, along with his wife, Chris, founded the winery in 1994, planting in Sussex.  They produced their first vintage in 1996.  Today, they have 110 acres of vines and their wines have been well reviewed and have brought home awards at international competitions.

At last year’s Decanter Wine Awards Ridgeview’s 2006 Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs took the top prize in the Champagne and Sparkling wine category.

And why shouldn’t English sparklers be as good as those made across the Channel? Kent and Sussex, where the best English sparkling wines originate, are about 88 miles north of Champagne. And the English region’s chalky are said to be very similar to the earth where famous names such as Bollinger and Dom Perignon plant their grapes. Climate change has also helped.

Ridgeview sparklers are imported to U.S. by New York City-based Grand Cru Selections.  The Bloomsbury sells for about $33.

Rigdeview’s South Ridge Cuvée Merret 2009, produced exclusively for Laithwaite’s, the British wine merchant,  is available for $32 through the Wall Street Journal Wine Club,  which is operated in partnership with Laithwaite’s, the world’s leading direct-to-home wine seller.

 

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Gov. Cuomo says MTA will expand Taste NY, offering beer, wine, and foods at Grand Central Terminal

taste-ny-logoThe Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to add a Taste NY store in Grand Central Terminal, the Midtown Manhattan transportation, tourist and shopping hub.  The store will sell food and beverages produced in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

Cuomo has being pushing the Taste NY initiative since earlier this year to boost awareness and sales of New York produced foods and beverages, particularly to consumers in New York City.

There are already some of the stores at rest stops along the Thruway and the MTA recently introduced New York-made wine, beers and distilled spirits on bar carts on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Signage on the carts promotes the products and, according to officials, the products have been selling briskly since being added last month.

“Taste NY is all about highlighting the world-class food and beverages that are produced all across New York, which supports tourism and economic activity in communities around the state,” Cuomo said in a Sept. 14 statement, noting that a store at Grand Central “is a great way to showcase the wealth of products that New York’s agricultural industry has to offer and encourage travelers to explore what they’ve been missing.”

“With the explosive interest in artisanal and craft foods and beverages and New York’s long tradition of wine and beer-making, the time is right for the producers of New York’s great foods and beverages to break into and tap this great marketplace of commuters, travelers, tourists and shoppers,” said MTA chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast.

The MTA’s Metro North Railroad issued a request for proposals several weeks ago seeking operators for the store. The request for proposals targets the state’s wineries and other retailers as potential operators of this first stand-alone Taste NY shop. The MTA estimates that 750,000 people pass through the terminal daily. The terminal serves commuters  from Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, and Rockland counties and in Manhattan, the Bronx, and southwestern Connecticut.

Crain’s New York Business reported that the Papyrus stationery store on the ramp up to E. 42nd St. in Grand Central Terminal will close next year to make room for the Taste NY  store. It also reported that Taste NY stores will open in Penn Station, and at LaGuardia and JFK airports.   Taste NY stores  also are planned for Delta Air Lines’ Terminal 2 at JFK and at the US Airways terminal at LaGuardia, the publication reported.

The New Baltimore rest area in Greene County on the New York State Thruway has a dedicated Taste NY space within the Travel Mart store that began selling New York food items in August. HMS Host Corp. operates the New Baltimore Service Area. Additional locations are soon expected to open at other Thruway service areas in Western and Central New York.

Also, the state hosted a Taste NY tent at Farm Aid 2013 concert in Saratoga Springs in September offering beers and wines.

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GABF Report 3: Brewpubs of the Year include Gella’s Diner, Beachwood BBQ, Pelican Pub and Rock Bottom

gabf13_logo_insideA brewpub in central Kansas named for a local immigrant group, a Southern California brewpub that specializes in BBQ, a brewpub in a coastal Oregon resort town and a national chain with 38 brewpubs from coast to coast, share a common theme: they’re all winners of 2013 Great American Beer Festival brew pub of the year honors.

The brewpubs were recognized for their brewing achievements at the GABF awards ceremony on Oct. 12 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Gella'S Diner logoGella’s Diner and LB Brewing Co., of Hays, Kan. (population 20,510), which draws its first name from a 19th Century immigrant Volga-German term meaning “you know” or “don’t you agree,” won the Small Brewpub of the Year award. The second part of the brewpub’s name stands for liquid bread and pays homage to pioneer days where beer and bread sometimes played interchangeable roles. Established by Kansas rancher-turned-brewer, Gerald Wyman, and Chuck Comeau, a rural entrepreneur, Gella’s won its first GABF medal only months after it opened in the summer of 2005. This year, Wyman’s beers garnered the top honor after winning a gold medal for its American Hefeweizen and silver for its American Wheat beer. (Gella’s Diner and LB Brewing Co., 117 E. 11th St., Hays, Kan. (785) 621-2739.) 

Beachwood logoLong Beach, Calif.’s Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, where BBQ is slow-smoked and dry-rubbed and 24 brews are on tap on a rotating basis, nabbed the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year award with honors going to its brewers 
Julian Shrago and Ian McCall. Beachwood, founded in 2010,

snared two gold medals, one silver and two bronzes in this year’s GABF competition. Gold medals went to Beachwood’s Foam Top in the Golden Ale category and Kilgore Stout in the American Stout category. The brewpub’s Udder Love took silver in the Sweet Stout or Cream Stout category. And, it won bronze medals for its System of a Stout in the Coffee Beer category and for its Barrel-Aged Full Malted Jacket in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category. (Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, (562) 436-4020) 

Pelican logoEstablished by Jeff Schons and Mary Jones in 1995 in Pacific City, Ore. (population 1,027), on the central Oregon Coast, the oceanfront Pelican Pub and Brewery is a repeat winner for Brewery of the Year honors, having won three previous times.  This year, the brewpub, a repeat Brewpub of the Year winner, took honors as Large Brewpub of the Year with honors also going to brewers Darron Welch and Steve Panos. The brewpub snared a silver medal and three bronze medals. The silver went to the brewpub’s Silverspot IPA in the English-style India Pale Ale category. Bronze medals went to the brewpub’s Kiwanda Cream Ale in the Golden or Blonde Ale category, its Doryman Dark Ale in the American-style Brown Ale category and its Tsunami Stout in the Foreign-Style Stout category. (Pelican Pub & Brewery, 33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr.,  Pacific City, Ore. (503) 965-7007)

rock_bottomMeanwhile, the Brewpub Group of the Year award went to the Rock Bottom group, a unit of CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries Inc. based in Broomfield, Colo. The first Rock Bottom opened in Denver in 1991. Today, there are 38 locations across the United States. In 2010, Rock Bottom Restaurants and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group were acquired by Centerbridge Capital Partners to form CraftWorks. Rock Bottom brewpubs snared a gold, silver and two bronze medals. Moonlight Porter took a gold medal in the Robust Porter category; The Hammer nabbed silver in Baltic-style Porter category and bronzes went to Rag Top Red in the Irish-style Red Ale category and Longboard Brown in the English-style Brown Ale category.

The winning beers emerged from a record field of 4,809 beers entered in the competition. Go here for a list of all GABF winners,

The GABF, which claims to be the largest commercial beer competition in the world, awarded 252 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States. This year, 24 first-time entrants won awards from among 230 first-time entrants.

A pdf list of the winners is available at the GABF website.  

The awards, among the most coveted in the brewing industry, have been compared to winning the Super Bowl or the Olympics and winning a medal often translates into higher sales for the winners.

The GABF awards are judged by industry professionals from around the world ho work together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category.

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GABF Report 2: Top brewery honors for Baker City, Devils Backbone, Firestone Walker and Sandlot

gabf_medalsTop honors at this year’s Great American Beer Festival went to a tiny Oregon brewer, Baker City Brewing Co., Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing Co., California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Denver’s Sandlot Brewing, each of which medaled in multiple categories.

The winners emerged from a record field of 745 breweries and brewpubs, which together submitted 4,809 beers to the competition.

Baker City logoThis year for the first time, the Brewers Association, which sponsors the competition, added a new award: Very Small Brewery, which went to Baker City and its brewers 
Marks Lanham and Eli Dickison. Baker City, in Baker City, Ore. (population 9,828 and close to Hell’s Canyon), is the production brewery for Barley Brown’s Beer, a nearby restaurant. Baker City won two gold medals for its American-style wheat beer, Shredder’s Wheat; its international style pale ale, Hand Truck. It also won silver for its foreign-style stout, Don Vanuchi “The Killer.”

devils-backbone-brewing-logoThe Small Brewing Company award went to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. Basecamp
, of Roseland, Va., along with head brewer Jason Oliver. The brewery, established in 2008, won two gold medals for its American-style dark lager, Old Virginia Dark and Azeal, it’s Belgian- and French style ale. It also took silver its American-style pilsner, Gold Leaf Lager and its German-style sour, Berliner Metro Weiss. A bronze medal went to its Baltic-style porter, Danzig.

firestone-walker-brewing-logoFirestone Walker Brewing Co., of Paso Robles, Calif., on California’s Central Coast, and its brewer, Matt Brynildson, won Mid-Size Brewing Company top honors. Firestone Walker Brewing is a pioneering regional craft brewery founded in 1996 and specializes in iconic pale ales and vintage barrel-aged beers. This year, the brewery took three gold medals, for its German-style pilsner, Pivo; English-style IPA, Taproom IPA, and its American-style black ale, Wookey Jack. It also won silver in the American-style IPA category with its Union Jack.

KegLabel_2013_EditableSandlot Brewing, the brewery at Denver’s Coors Field and the producer of Blue Moon beers and a host of others and is a unit of brewing giant MillerCoors won the Large Brewery of the Year award along with its brewers, Tom Hail, Bill Hasse and Addison Horine. This year’s medal haul included gold for Second Hand Smoke in the smoke beer category, bronze for Goat Rancher in the bock category and gold for Move Back in the Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest category. Move Back has medaled four times over the years.

The winners were announced in a packed ballroom in the festival’s home, the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, on Oct. 12. A  PDF list of the winners is available at the GABF web site.

The GABF, which claims to be the largest commercial beer competition in the world, awarded 252 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States. This year, 24 first-time entrants won awards from among 230 first-time entrants.

This year’s competition saw its biggest-ever panel of judges Two hundred and one beer experts from 11 countries evaluated 4,809 entries. Awards were presented in 84 beer categories covering 138 different beer styles (encompassing subcategories).

“GABF is easily the most rigorous commercial competition I have judged in to date,” English beer writer Des de Moor tweeted. “Those beers worked for their medals.”

The awards, among the most coveted in the brewing industry, have been compared to winning the Super Bowl or the Olympics and winning a medal often translates into higher sales for the winners.

The GABF awards are judged by industry professionals from around the world ho work together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category.

Since 2001, the most-entered GABF category has been American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA), which saw 252 entries in 2013. It was followed by Imperial India Pale Ale (149 entries); Herb and Spice Beer (134 entries); American-Style Pale Ale (124 entries) and American-Style Strong Pale Ale (120 entries).

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GABF Report 1: Long lines form to taste specialities at a few top brewers

Panoramic view of the GABF floor. (Photo courtesy Brewers Association)

Panoramic view of the GABF floor. (Photo courtesy Brewers Association)

More than an hour before the first pour, the thirsty were lined up  almost the full length of the Colorado Convention Center along Stout Street in downtown Denver. A light rain had begun to fall, but it did not seem to dampen any of the enthusiasm if those anxious to get into the sold-out  first session of the Great American Beer Festival on Oct. 10.

gabf13_logo_insideOnce the doors opened at 5 p.m. and after ID and ticket checks, the convention center’s main exhibit hall, a space the size of more than five football fields, was soon flooded with brewers, volunteers, media and thousands of imbibers. The Brewers Association, organizer of the event, expects 50,000 people to attend over four sessions that end Saturday evening.

More than a few attendees dressed for the occasion in kilts and monk’s robes added to the festive tone of America’s premier beer festival, now in its 41st year.

The queue to sample Russian River Brewing at GABF

The queue to sample Russian River Brewing at GABF

Queues quickly formed at a handful of top breweries, Avery, Lost Abbey, Russian River, Odell’s and Crooked Stave, to name a few. By the time the announcement to let the taps flow was made, some of these lines were 30 deep times two. And they would last that way for the entire evening.

I found myself queued up at Russian River, anxious for my first sample of the much-hyped Pliny the Elder. With a just a one-ounce pour—the fest’s standard—I was convinced the hype was justified, even though it was not among my preferred style of beers.  A golden-hued double India Pale Ale, its sniffing it was like sticking your nose into a bag of hops. The Intense hop flavor continued on the palate, but melded quite nicely with the malt. It was almost winey and the finish dry. Yes, it is a winner.

Other notable beers of the evening included a dunkel called dark Cloud from Mother Earth Brewery in Kingston, NC; the amazing tart, refreshing lemonade-like Ching Ching American Sour from Bend Brewing in Oregon.

Fal Allen, brewer at Anderson Valley and the author of the book, “Barley Wine” urged me to try his sour Burbon barrel barley wine. Aged for a year in the burbon-soaked out, it was port-wine like and quite nicely done.

Twisted Pine Brewery in Boulder, CO., which I knew for its Ghost Killer chili pepper beer, presented. two unusual brews, a Cucumber Cream ale and its Roots Revival carrot IPA. The cucumber was evident in the light, refreshing hybrid-style beer, but the carrot could not be detected in the IPA.

The were many others, but as some point, weariness prevents me from taking notes. More in future reports.

On a personal note, it was a pleasuring running into Pete Slossberg, founder of Pete’s Wicked Ale, a pioneering craft brewer in the 1990s.  Slossberg sold the brewery and went into the chocolate business.  Now, he’s consulting with Half Moon Bay Brewery near San Francisco and brewers in South America.

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