Saturday, January 25, 2014

Great American Beer Festival

From the latest issue of BC Craft Beer News


In my last article, I tried to entice you to go to beer festivals outside of your own city and experience the joy of traveling for beer. In October, we went to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, CO and now, I’m going to make you jealous. Very, very jealous. The number of breweries in attendance reached a record high of 624 breweries serving over 3,100 different beers. You read that correctly. Thirty-one hundred beers. To sample all 3,100  beers over the three-day, 13.5 hour festival, you’d need to drink 230 one-ounce samples each hour. I like goals, but this was a wee bit unachievable. Thus, we needed a game plan.

The festival hall was laid out by region and we purposefully started in the Eastern US to sample from breweries that never make their way to the west coast. If you elected to sample by beer styles, there’s an app for that. The GABF app lists each brewery, what they’re pouring, their location in the hall and it even sorts per beer style. We had a vertical tasting from Left Hand Brewing, tasted one-off beers and delighted our palates with over 100 samples over two days. That’s only the equivalent of 2.5 imperial pints per day so perhaps I should have set my goals a bit higher.

The breweries pulled out their A-game and included some rare and aged beers. Our only regret is that we didn’t target Lost Abbey immediately upon arriving Thursday night for their Duck Duck Gooze as that gem was Duck Duck Gone within minutes.

Some myths and facts that we had heard prior to going:

Tickets are impossible to get:  Mostly true. The tickets sold out within minutes for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Although, if you’re a member of the American Homebrewers Association or Brewers Association, there is a member’s pre-sale. Even without membership, we still managed to get tickets for Thursday and Saturday night. Pro tip: If you know someone in the industry, they should have the pre-sale code – and you should start sucking up to them in July.

Arrive early: True. The line-up to get into the festival was 45 minutes long by the festival start time.

It’s so crowded, you spend your whole time in beer line-ups: Nope, false. Yes, some of the better known breweries like Russian River had line-ups 20 people deep but most of the tables had 3-4 person line-ups. Pick those breweries. We sampled many fantastic beers from breweries unknown to us.

The bars are packed by 8pm: False. We did most of our bar and brewpub perusing in the afternoons but we checked out the Falling Rock Tap House on Friday night and only waited 10 minutes to get in. Once inside, we drank amazing beers from our choice of over 90 taps, met some friendly locals and other GABF attendees and were treated to special release beers and casks.

The festival is also host to their own prestigious and sought-after awards. GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world and this year, there were 4,809 entries.  Representation came from 745 breweries encompassing 49 states and Washington, DC. Additionally, GABF has a large Pro-Am competition. In its eighth year, the Pro-Am booth hosted 100 entries from across the country. The panel of 201 judges, from 11 countries, awarded 252 medals representing 84 beer categories and 138 different beer styles. The awards ceremony draws a large crowd on Saturday morning and the winners proudly display their gold, silver and bronze medals at their booths. 

Non-GABF Events
As tickets for GABF are hard to come by, and because Denver is an awesome craft beer city, many of the local bars celebrate the entire week of GABF and host their own events. There are tap takeovers, beer dinners, all day happy hour (happy indeed!) and the coveted rare beer tasting at Rackhouse Pub. Denver starts the party on Monday and concludes the Sunday after GABF with none other than a hangover beer brunch. Seems fitting.

We spent an extra two days in Denver to visit breweries, pubs and of course, to do some beer shopping. Denver is a fantastic beer town and well worth the visit whether it’s for GABF or not. Do yourself a favour and add this to your wish list.


I'll post anther blog on what breweries and bars we hit up while in Denver. Now posted here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dead Frog Brewery - Have they been resurrected?

It’s no secret that Dead Frog Brewery in Aldergrove, BC has had its ups and downs over the years. The brewery opened in January 2006 and over the years, many a brewer has come and gone. This isn’t necessarily unique to Dead Frog but they seem to have had more than their fair share of new Brewmasters.

Dead Frog has been known for some good brewers, but it was rumoured that brewers weren’t being given much creative freedom by management. Thus, they may have been brewing beers they didn’t particularly like or support.

Beers such as Pepper Lime Lager and Mandarin Orange were produced, marketed to death and were sold in clear bottles. I says pardon? They did package their beers in closed boxes to hopefully avoid them becoming light struck, but still – why clear bottles? Unusual for a craft brewer. Sleemens Breweries even sued them in 2008 for using clear bottles with raised lettering (Dead Frog eventually won this battle), but they continued to use them.
Marketing told us to “Do It Froggy Style” and that “Nothing Goes Down Like a Cold Dead Frog”. If you’re so inclined, you can get various froggy paraphernalia to wear – including underwear. Lots of effort seemed to go into marketing for this craft brewer.

In 2012, there was the Big Decision reality show, which ultimately didn’t result in any money exchanging hands. Soon after this show, founder and president Derrick Smith bought out his partner.

And this is where the tides changed.  

Talented brewers Tony Dewald and Timmy Brown were brought on and later that year, Tony remained as the Brewmaster. The Fearless IPA was developed and it was good. Really good. Things are improving.

Gone were the clear bottles – replaced with brown. Two brownie points.

Pepper Lime, Mandarin Orange and even their Pale Ale were retired. For good. The only beer that survived the cut was their Classic Nut Brown Ale and I understand they tweaked the recipe to make it better. I think they mean business here, folks.

Things were definitely looking up.

With this, they introduced new year-round and seasonal beers:

The Session Vienna Lager 341ml
The Bold Belgian Pale Ale 341ml
The Classic Nut Brown Ale 341ml
The Fearless IPA 341ml
Commander Imperial Stout 650ml

The Festive Winter Saison 341ml (Oct – Mar)
The Seasonal Citrus Wit 341ml (Apr – Sept)
Winter Beeracle 650ml (Nov – Jan)
Super Fearless Imperial IPA 650ml (special limited edition)
Immaculate India Gold Ale 650ml (Aug – Dec)
Valiant Belgian Ale 650ml (Mar – Aug)
Citra IPA 650ml
Brazen Northwest Ale 650ml

I’ve tried most of the new line-up and I’m impressed with how they’ve changed. The previous business model was probably bringing in a fair amount of income, albeit not very interesting beers to some of the craft beer geeks. Derrick and Tony went out on a limb to change the future direction of Dead Frog. There was no guarantee that beer enthusiasts would try the new line-up but after a few good reviews, many gave them another try.

I can’t get behind the “doing it froggy style” marketing – wait, that doesn’t sound right, but you get it – as I don’t think craft beer needs gimmicky advertising, but that’s just my two cents.

I’m glad to see that Dead Frog has made a comeback and are producing interesting beers. Not every craft brewery is guaranteed to be good just because it’s craft, but one always hopes that the local ones are good. A year ago I wouldn’t have had much to say about their line up but today, there are many beers that I think are worth trying.

So if you haven’t given Dead Frog’s new beers a taste, try them. They’ve made great progress in 2013 and I suspect it will continue into 2014,

Well done, Dead Frog.