Westword Beer Calendar

Saturday, January 13
Lowdown Brewery + Kitchen hosts its fourth annual Barrel Aged Beer Festival today and tomorrow, with eight different barrel-aged beers from Lowdown plus some rare or barrel-aged stuff from Little Machine, Black Project, River North Brewery, Declaration, Spangalang, Banded Oak, Funkwerks, Platt Park, Station 26, Left Hand, Lagunitas, Elevation, Dry Dock, Odell and Ratio Beerworks. The party runs from 2 to 5 p.m.; see the Lowdown website for more details.

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Colorado's Best Beer Festival is One You're Probably Missing 

While Great American Beer Festival may be the crown jewel of the brewing world, if we had to choose only one beer festival to attend in Colorado — Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines in Breckenridge would most likely be our choice. Why? Well, Big Beers is sort of like if GABF was shrunk down into a super potent collection of the top brewers in the US and put in a much more scenic (and education driven) atmosphere. Brewers at Big Beers agree.

“The collection of brewers [at Big Beers] is one of the best in the world,” said Jeffrey Stuffings, founder of Jester King Brewery. His Austin brewery, which forewent GABF this year, would normally have a line 50 people deep. But, at Big Beers, Stuffings was pouring (like most brewers and owners) and readily available to chat. He admitted the location is one reason why so many big names attend.

“Perhaps the uniqueness of the location tends to bring out the owners and head brewers. It almost becomes a bit of a family reunion ski trip party,” said Stuffings.

However, that doesn’t mean the brewers are just here to vacation. They bring their A-game. Which means it’s not a mad dash to get your hands on some of the rare stuff since it’s nearly at every turn. Fremont Brewing’s Tyler Busey agreed that Big Beers motivates brewers to bring their best.

“[The] focus on the deeper side of the craft is incredible. At breweries, we are running a business and so we need to support our core beers IPAs and pales and etc. [At Big Beers], this is all pure art. Brewing splits and art science but most of this is pure art,” said Busey.

At this year’s festival — which returned to Breckenridge once again after many previous years at Vail Resort — the turn out was even more exciting than usual. Denver’s Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales was a prime example, which resurrected one of its more legendary beers just for the festival. Cat Sabbath is a 23 percent “super stout” which is slowly fermented in a bourbon barrel and has to be continuously fed malt in order to keep the yeast alive.

“The idea was to make port-like stout to do an imperial style stout but take it all the way to the extreme,” said owner and head brewer James Howat. “It’s purposely flat and purposely extra sweet to cover up the alcohol.”

Black Project even brought a vanilla redefinition of Cat Sabbath for a super smooth and sweet sip that nails the similarities to a port.

Amalgam Brewing, another Colorado brewery, also brought some rare goodies for the festival. The offshoot of Niwot’s Powder Keg is quickly gaining recognition for their superior sours. Without a tap room, Amalgam’s stuff can be really tricky to track down, making its showing at Big Beers especially exciting. This year, the team brought their hand-picked series, which is a beer that very few people have tried. This included their Handpicked: Danube Cherry and the Freeform solera golden sour with muscat grapes. For the cherry beer, brewer Philip hand-picked the cherries from the western slope whereas for the freeform, the grapes were pulled from the backyard of Small Batch Liquors off Tennyson.

“We only have 60 bottles of that beer,” said co-owner Eric Schmidt of Freeform.

The list of big beers (both in ABV and status) goes on. Among the top was Jester King’s three-year blend of SPON which combined a blend of “three different vintages  —2014, 2015, and 2016 — for a 100 percent spontaneously fermented beer inspired by authentic Belgian Lambic.” Fremont lived up to its claim that breweries bring the best to Big Beers. Among the list was a huge showing of Bourbon barrel-aged beers including Coffee Cinnamon B-Bomb (and a regular B-Bomb), Brew 2000 Barleywine, Barrel-Aged Unicorn Tears, and its iconic The Rusty Nail. From the west coast, Modern Times impressed with its solid line up of barrel aged sours like the Batch 1500 with black currants which still has a great funk although it is delicately curbed by a hint of caramel from the barrel.

Candy-themed beers or “pastry stouts” continues to be a big trend with many brewers. Fortunately, at Big Beers, most of them pulled it off. No one had the buzz around sweet-tooth beers quiet like Weldwerks Brewing which showed up with three renditions of its cult-favorite Medianoche including single barrel s’mores, cherry truffle and rum double barrel. Overall, the Greely brewery brought 11 different beers for a really enthusiastic pouring. However, when it came to candy-themed beers, Perrin may have brought the best with its malted milk ball imperial porter. Instead of dumping a ton of Whoppers in the beer, the Minnesota brewery deconstructed the candy by brewing with lactose, vanilla and cocoa nibs which is then aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrel for nine months. The result was distinctly nostalgic but lacked any hints of artificial sweetness the actual candy may have produced.

This year’s festival, now in its 18th year, proved it’s only getting better with age too. The pour list grew by over 100 beers this year ( it was 540 beers) and nearly every addition was something worth trying. However, if you really want to know why Big Beers is special, you don’t have to look much further than its founder, Laura Lodge. Lodge along with her brother Bill, first started the festival as a way to educate.

“The festival was created in response to the consumer education void about specialty beers in 2000,” she said. But over the years, the passion and dedication Lodge has given to the festival is felt in every inch of it.

“I think the celebrational-feel of the event by everyone involved makes it special,” she said. “There are a few select events around the country that have this energy going with all of the attendees and the brewers, and I think that makes them really stand out as an exceptional experience.”

And while the festival is clearly gaining popularity (it was packed wall-to-wall on two floors), it still feels as special as ever. Next year, if you’re only planning on attending one beer festival, Big Beers should be on top of your list.

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Outside Events Guide to 2018 Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines

6pm – The Get Down Fandango – @ Kenosha Steakhouse – 301 South Main Street (Breckenridge)

Amalgam Brewing has teamed up with Black Project Spontaneous & Wild AlesCerebral Brewing and WeldWerks Brewing Company to tap some special kegs on Friday night! Come on by the Kenosha Steakhouse and get down with all four.

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Black Project Releases Stargate: Peach-Nectarine Spontaneous Sour

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales will release “STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon” on January 12, 2018 to a select group of lottery winners that will be picked randomly from entries submitted online.

STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon is the latest release from the brewery’s “PROJECT: STARGATE”, which highlights different flavors and aromas of whole fruit fermented and aged in spirit barrels, which are filled with the brewery’s spontaneous solera sour golden “DREAMLAND”. Each year the brewery picks different fruits and spirit barrels, depending on the season, to age their sour golden for several months, imparting unique flavors and aromas into the base beer.

In 2016, STARGATE debuted as “DREAMLAND: Peach Rye”, a spontaneous sour golden aged in Law’s Whiskey House Rye Whiskey barrels and refermented with whole peaches from Palisade, Colorado. That same year, DRAFT Magazine named the beer among the “Top 25 beers of 2016” and PorchDrinking.com which declared STARGATE as one of the “Best Beers of 2016”. The beer was later renamed to avoid confusion.

One year later, STARGATE was re-released to a long line of customers that extended down the street. Unfortunately, several cases were over-carbonated, which lead to canceling the release and recalling all bottles. After a few weeks of testing, Black Project discovered that the issue related to residual complex sugars in the bottles. The brewery decided to fix the problem by opening all overcarbed bottles and refermented the beer on more peaches, repackaged it, and re-release it at no additional cost to everyone that waited in line, creating the now legendary: STARGATE².

That is why this year, Black Project wanted to do something special by releasing the first double barrel blend of STARGATE. This beer combines Laws Whiskey House Rye barrel aged STARGATE with Peaches and Laws Whiskey House Bourbon barrel aged STARGATE with Nectarines together, to produce “the most complex, most fruit forward, and most nuanced sour beer we have ever made.” After tasting the barrels apart and blended, James Howat (founder, brewer, and blender) found that the fruit-forward rye whiskey and bourbon whisky complemented and showcased each fruit with more depth and complexity than the individual barrels alone, combining juicy peaches with tart nectarines, which adds an incredible complexity of spice from the rye with the rich vanilla oak from the bourbon finish.

Customers that are interesting in buying a bottle, must register in advance for the online lottery by visiting the brewery’s website: blackprojectbeer.com/lotterystargate before Thursday, January 4, 2018. Customers that win the online lottery will have a week to pre-purchase bottles for $22/bottle – 500mL bottle, cork and cap.

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales Releases Peach-Nectarine Sour

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales will release “STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon” on January 12, 2018 to a select group of lottery winners that will be picked randomly from entries submitted online.

STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon is the latest release from the brewery’s “PROJECT: STARGATE”, which highlights different flavors and aromas of whole fruit fermented and aged in spirit barrels, which are filled with the brewery’s spontaneous solera sour golden “DREAMLAND”. Each year the brewery picks different fruits and spirit barrels, depending on the season, to age their sour golden for several months, imparting unique flavors and aromas into the base beer.

In 2016, STARGATE debuted as “DREAMLAND: Peach Rye”, a spontaneous sour golden aged in Laws Whiskey House Rye Whiskey barrels and refermented with whole peaches from Palisade, Colorado. The beer was later renamed to avoid confusion. That same year, DRAFT Magazine named the beer among the “Top 25 beers of 2016” and PorchDrinking.com which declared STARGATE as one of the “Best Beers of 2016”.

One year later, STARGATE was re-released to a long line of customers that extended down the street. Unfortunately, several cases were over-carbonated, which lead to canceling the release and recalling all bottles. After a few weeks of testing, Black Project discovered that the issue related to residual complex sugars in the bottles. The brewery decided to fix the problem by opening all overcarbed bottles and refermented the beer on more peaches, repackaged it, and re-release it at no additional cost to everyone that waited in line, creating the now legendary: STARGATE². 

That is why this year, Black Project wanted to do something special by releasing the first double barrel blend of STARGATE. This beer combines Laws Whiskey House Rye barrel aged STARGATE with Peaches and Laws Whiskey House Bourbon barrel aged STARGATE with Nectarines together, to produce “the most complex, most fruit forward, and most nuanced sour beer we have ever made.” After tasting the barrels apart and blended, James Howat (founder, brewer, and blender) found that the fruit-forward rye whiskey and bourbon whisky complemented and showcased each fruit with more depth and complexity than the individual barrels alone, combining juicy peaches with tart nectarines, which adds an incredible complexity of spice from the rye with the rich vanilla oak from the bourbon finish.

Customers that are interesting in buying a bottle, must register in advance for the online lottery by visiting the brewery’s website: blackprojectbeer.com/lotterystargate before Thursday, January 4, 2018. Customers that win the online lottery will have a week to pre-purchase bottles for $22/bottle – 500mL bottle, cork and cap.

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Westword Beer Calendar

Wednesday, January 3
In an effort to do away with the long lines and other issues surrounding bottle releases, Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales is experimenting with a new online lottery for its new bottled beers. For its latest beer, Stargate: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon, interested beer buyers must enter the lottery on the brewery's website today. The brewery's Project Stargate highlights "different flavors and aromas of whole fruit fermented and aged in spirits barrels, which are filled with the brewery’s spontaneous solera sour golden Dreamland. Each year the brewery picks different fruits and spirits barrels, depending on the season, to age its sour golden for several months, imparting unique flavors and aromas into the base beer," Black Project says. The latest one "combines Laws Whiskey House Rye barrel-aged Stargate with peaches and Laws Whiskey House Bourbon barrel-aged Stargate with nectarines together, to produce the most complex, most fruit-forward, and most nuanced sour beer we have ever made.” Winners of the lottery can buy the beer for $22 per bottle and pick it up on January 12.

Saturday, January 13
Lowdown Brewery + Kitchen hosts its fourth annual Barrel Aged Beer Festival today and tomorrow, with eight different barrel-aged beers from Lowdown plus some rare or barrel-aged stuff from Little Machine, Black Project, River North Brewery, Declaration, Spangalang, Banded Oak, Funkwerks, Platt Park, Station 26, Left Hand, Lagunitas, Elevation, Dry Dock, Odell and Ratio Beerworks. The party runs from 2 to 5 p.m.; see the Lowdown website for more details.

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2018 Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines Pour List

Cat Sabbath - Double Barrel Fermented and Aged Imperial Stout (Maker’s Mark Barrel)

CYGNUS: Cherry - Three year blended spontaneous sour ale aged on Balaton and Montmorency cherries for 6 months.

STARGATE: Peach Rye & Nectarine Bourbon - Golden Sour Ale aged in Law’s Bourbon and Law’s Rye barrels with nectarines and peaches from Palisade, Colorado

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How Breweries Are Handling Hype

Getting noticed nationally as a brewery can be great. Except when it’s not.

For a brewery that may be have hype behind it after being a darling in its region, like Great Notion in Portland or Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales in Denver, getting that boost of popularity may be honoring, but it also means an increase in demand. That demand may go well past the availability. Managing those expectations becomes a new factor to work through.

“We are honored and humbled by all the love we’ve been seeing,” said Paul Reiter, a co-founder of Great Notion. His brewery has seen more social media follows and comments, spikes in brewpub traffic from tourists visiting a ‘beercation’ spot like Portland, increases in sales of online merchandise, and big lines at festivals for people to try their product.

Black Project has won GABF medals for their Wild Ale in 2014, 2015, and this year, as well as been included with other breweries for “Best Of” lists in multiple publications.

“We almost always see an increase in followers on social media and I definitely start seeing emails regarding distribution,” noted co-owner Sarah Howat.

For Great Notion, some negatives from getting too popular too quick is that their local consumers will sometimes have to wait longer for a table or not be able to get Crowlers unless they get to the brewery super early on days when they offer them.

“This will change once we open our new 30-barrel brewhouse facility,” Reiter said.

Howat noted that all press is good press and taking the potential negatives can also be a positive.

“I think we always try to emphasize [to consumers] that time is of equal value and importance when it comes to producing the beer that we do,” Howat added. “It can’t be rushed and we refuse to compromise on that. I think when we are honest with people about our process and the time it takes.

“[Consumers] are more understanding that our distribution is not yet where we’d like it to be.”

Reiter said that Great Notion is shying away from traditional distribution and trying their best to sell most of their beer direct at its brewpubs.

“We love being able to meet the customers ourselves and maintain the quality and relationship,” he said.

Brewery Preview | Denver’s Alternation Brewing

Like many beer fans, when husband and wife duo Brendan Pleskow and Jenn Sickels moved to Denver, they came in search of a great neighborhood brewery that consistently served up new and exciting beers to explore. However despite the fact that Denver now boasts over 70 breweries in the city, most do prescribe to the model of a set core lineup, that’s occasionally bolstered by rotating seasonal and specialty offerings.

For Pleskow and Sickels, they needed a bit more variety. “I hated going into the same brewery and having the same set taps,” said Pleskow. “Why not just do all specialty beers?”

So the long time homebrewer and full-time CPA, and his wife, an occupational therapist, decided to open their own brewery revolving around that very concept. Tomorrow’s opening of Alternation Brewing at 1539 South Broadway, will feature an ever rotating tap lineup that’ll range across all styles. With 10 draft lines dedicated to beer and another two providing non-alcoholic options, Pleskow and Sickels hope to bring great depth of variety to their name-sake alternating lineup.

“I’ll get bored if I brew the same thing over and over,” laughed Pleskow.

The two New York natives who met in college, had considered opening in their hometown of Buffalo, but decided that the market out east wasn’t conducive for the type of brewery they had dreamed of opening.

“I don’t think Buffalo is ready for the nano-scale brewery,” said Pleskow. “Most breweries out east open and immediately seek out distribution channels. I’ve never wanted to become a distribution brewery. We’ve always wanted to stay small, so we could have a very good handle on the quality of the beer and so that we could constantly change things up.”

Intently focused on keeping Alternation a small neighborhood operation with a focus first on beer quality, Pleskow noted that they drew inspiration from another fellow husband and wife team down the street in Sarah & James Howat at Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales.

Opening up any new brewery, let alone a family run brewery can be difficult. Pleskow and Sickels have already dealt with a number of setbacks and frustrations from contractors, as they’ve worked to renovate 75% of the building, that formerly housed a hair salon in the front and a Tai Chi studio in the back. But the two also welcomed their first baby back in July added another happy element to juggle during the processes.

“I think if we could do it when we didn’t work full time jobs and didn’t already have a kid, that’d be the best thing in the world, but that’s not life,” joked Pleskow.

Over the past six years, Pleskow has accumulated between 75-100 recipes and is excited to introduce the South Broadway neighborhood to a wide variety of styles ranging from an easy-drinking farmhouse saison, all the way to wild Brett’ed beers. When Alternation opens on Saturday they’ll debut with a New England-style IPA, an Imperial Red, a Barrel-Aged Mocha Porter, a Belgian Dark, a slightly tart Farmhouse Ale, a Salted Rye Porter, and a Chai Tea Saison. Alternation will also be donating a portion of beer sales to local charities from the moment they open this weekend.

Craft Beer Is Dead — Your Favorite Delicious Style Killed It

In the past two weeks, two well-respected national beer writers have penned articles foretelling the demise of craft brewing. Neither predicted its death based on competition with big beer or on ingredient shortages or other economic factors, though. Rather, they bemoaned the surging popularity of two different styles, sounding the alarms bells and wringing their hands over the future of beer in America.

The first article, “Boom in Sugary Pastry Stouts Shows Craft Industry Forgetting What Beer Tastes Like,” by Chicago Tribune reporter and author Josh Noel (who is writing a book about Goose Island Beer Company selling out to AB InBev) called out so-called pastry stouts based on the prevalence of these sweet, often barrel-aged beers at a recent festival. “After six hours wandering the aisles of the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer last weekend, I have concluded that craft beer is betraying itself,” Noel wrote. “It is forgetting what beer should taste like.”

The second piece, “Hazy Days and Brighter Futures: Are New England IPAs More Than a Passing Fad?” written for Beer Advocate by longtime beer journalist Andy Crouch, was even more gloomy as it took hazy, New England-style IPAs to task. “Craft brewing once defined itself by wide-ranging innovation. Brewers pushed past previously defined boundaries to explore the outer edges of what constituted beer,” he wrote. “Today’s focus on IPA, and hazy, juicy New England IPAs specifically, is the opposite of that age of wonder. Our hyper focus on this new style has rendered beer homogenous and even boring.

“This is the death of creativity, the stifling of craft brewing’s spirit,” he added.

Seriously? Give me a break, fellas.

These articles are just the latest obituaries written by people who don’t like, or are sick of, a particular style, and frankly, this kind of writing is getting old. I imagine that executives at the big beer companies (like Miller, Coors and Bud) were probably harrumphing the same words about craft beer in the early ’90s (and that the big-box stores were saying similar things about online shopping ten years later).

Pastry stouts — which are typically high-alcohol “imperial stouts” that have been brewed with sweet additions like vanilla beans or coconut or even cake or cookies — and New England-style IPAs, which have mild, tropical hop flavors and aromas and a cloudy appearance, are indeed popular, so much so that almost every brewery, good and bad, has now attempted some version of one or the other, or both.

Yes, they are trendy. No, they aren’t killing craft beer. They are invigorating it.

In Colorado, several breweries have made their names in the past few years based on these styles; they include Weldwerks BrewingCerebral BrewingOdd13 BrewingUrsula Brewery and Liquid Mechanics. Others are choosing to focus more and more on them; these include River North BreweryStation 26 BrewingNew Image BrewingFiction Beer Companyand Epic Brewing.

The reasons? For starters, because both styles are fantastic and delicious (in the right hands) and popular among brewers and drinkers. And second, because of that very desire to create and explore what Crouch thinks is gone.

I began drinking craft beer because I was tired of beer-flavored beer — the stuff that smells like a fraternity-house floor on a Sunday morning. The last thing I want is a return to that. To me, this is just the opposite. What these two styles really represent isn’t the death of craft beer, but the continued effort of brewers and breweries to play with flavors and textures and styles and boundaries — and to attract new customers who might like these flavors more than some others. I think it’s marvelous.

But the notion that they are overtaking craft brewing is simply ridiculous. Never before have so many different kinds of beer been available in taprooms and on liquor-store shelves. There's so much choice that even I, a guy who gets paid to study and write about beer, has trouble keeping up sometimes.

Take a look at Seedstock, Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Call to Arms, Wibby Brewing, Hogshead, Grimm Brothers, Black Project, Funkwerks, Prost Brewing, Halfpenny, TRVE, Ratio Beerworks, Beryl’s Beer Company and and many more. I challenge you to walk into these Colorado breweries and to try to find more than a half-dozen IPAs among all of them, let alone a single New England-style IPA.

Even in liquor stores, these two styles make up only a small percentage of what is available. Pastry stouts are expensive to produce, high in alcohol and often hard to find. They make up a niche part of the market for people willing to pay more money for them. Hazy IPAs, meanwhile, can be unstable in packaged form, which is why very few breweries have tried to package them. Relative to other styles — like regular IPAs, blondes, pilsners, wits — they are uncommon.

Both styles are popular right now — and people are lining up for them — but both will eventually settle into their spots alongside the dozens and dozens and dozens of other beer styles out there. Breweries that are good at making them will continue to do so, while those that weren’t as successful will stop. Remember Belgian stouts and Black IPAs? How about Session IPA and Imperial pilsners? And Brett IPAs and fruited IPAs and salty, salty goses? They have all briefly surged in popularity before becoming part of the rainbow.

Some breweries may be following trends. Others may be unsure what they are doing, but for the most part, the brewers and breweries working with these styles have the same mentality as the ones who were feeling their way through the '80s and the '90s, and I'd argue that you could describe them with the same words that Crouch uses to describe their predecessors:

"Craft brewing once defined itself by wide-ranging innovation," he wrote. "Brewers pushed past previously defined boundaries to explore the outer edges of what constituted beer. They based some ideas on long abandoned brewing traditions, conceiving others out of sheer boredom or pure devilish curiosity. The age of extreme was a wild one, where anything could (and did) happen. It was fun, brutish, and, thankfully, a stepping stone on the path to greater beer knowledge."

I hope that age never goes away.

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Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales DREAMLAND Bottles Now Available

(Denver, CO) – Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales is excited to announce that bottles of DREAMLAND, our spontaneous solera golden sour, will be available for purchase from the taproom every weekend to-go (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). There is a limited allotment of cases for each day and a limit of 2 bottles per person.

DREAMLAND was born from the coolship into two wine barrels. After 6+ months of development, we added both barrels to our first solera vessel and slowly filled it with wort as fermentation hit key stages of progression. An additional 4-5 months later and we finally release each batch from this solera. This progression started in 2015, that means that every batch that we keg or bottle, is a collection of over two years of blended beer, including the original batch. We now have five stainless steel soleras that are dedicated to the production of DREAMLAND. This allows us to keep this beer on tap consistently and create other beers from the base beer.

While we enjoy the fun of having folks come out for a one-day release, our releases have been getting steadily larger and the line longer. This strains our relationship with our neighbors, and even more critically, it impedes our ability to move everyone through checkout in a timely fashion. So, going forward, we will have two formats for bottle releases:

-Bottles allocated for sale out of the taproom weekly, with a set daily allotment and per person limits

Beer Styles-Lottery and online sales out of the taproom with set per person limits and designated pickup windows

*NOTE* -These two new systems may be combined for special releases, where bottles are available for to-go with limited daily allocations as well as online through a lottery system. Our hope is that locals that are unable to wait in line on Saturday’s, can get bottles to-go, as well as customers that are traveling to Denver.

Beer Baron: Finally, sours for the people from Funk Factory

Three years into Levi Funk’s sour beer experiment, the beer world knows about his Funk Factory Geuzeria, and Madison is just starting to figure it out.

For a short spell early this month, nearly six months after the Funk Factory taproom opened on June 23, all eight of the draft lines were pouring Funk’s beers.

This is a far cry from a brewpub filling eight taps with, say, a brown ale, a blonde ale, an amber, a stout and four IPAs. Those beers take perhaps two weeks to make, from grain through stainless steel to glass.

But inside Funk Factory’s home on Madison’s South Side, Funk uses traditional methods that require at least three months to produce each batch of beer. So having eight of those in line is both an achievement — his goal was four Funk Factory beers at a time — and an opportunity.

While Funk Factory is well known by intense devotees of sour beer — Good Beer Hunting recently called it “one of the most-watched breweries in the States” — Funk is looking to spread the sour gospel to more locals.

“I think we’re still trying to let Madison know that we exist, but I think the experiment of, ‘Can a sour taproom work in Madison?’ is going well,” Funk said.

When Funk began aging beer in his own place in early 2015, buzz about Funk Factory was already building based on the Geuzeria’s first releases, made in partnership with O’so Brewing. These beers were true lambic-style beers, spontaneously fermented and aged for 18-24 months in used wine barrels, then aged again with fruit. Bottles of beers such as Bosbes (blueberries), Framrood (raspberries) or Door Kriek (cherries), were sold online and picked up during events at O’so or, more recently at Funk Factory.

Some newer iterations of Funk Factory’s lambics — or, as American producers have begun calling them, Methode Traditionnelle beers — are available at the taproom, in 375-milliliter bottles that must be drunk on site at a cost of $18-$30 a pop. In this case, time certainly is money.

Obviously it doesn’t work for Funk Factory to have a taproom moving significant amounts of that kind of beer, so the new flagship is a beer called Meerts, which rhymes with “hurts.” Funk describes Meerts a “baby brother” to the lambics, also with fruited variants.

“It’s not going to be as intense flavor, and you’re not going to have a crazy complex beer that you have to sit and dissect,” he said. “It’s more a casual drinker. Someone who’s never had a sour beer and comes down (to the taproom) and has a Cherry Meerts and they’ll hopefully enjoy it.”

Meerts is born as a wort — that’s unfermented beer — in another brewery, most recently primarily Octopi Brewing in Waunakee, because Funk Factory does not have brewing equipment and no plans to add any. Back at the barrel warehouse, the wort is put in one of three 1,000-gallon wooden vessels known as foeders.

The wood is key, because it’s where the microorganisms — primarily yeast and bacteria — that ferment the beer live between batches. When the wort hits the wood, the bugs come out and begin eating its sugars, imparting alcohol, carbonation and Meerts’ host of sour, funky and fruity flavors.

These bugs are not as efficient at fermentation as lab-cultured yeast, so the tradeoff with all those delightful flavors is a lot of waiting — three months for a typical batch of Meerts.

For the fruit variants, the beer is moved from the foeders to separate tanks to mingle with their chosen fruits for three to six weeks, fermenting some of those fresh sugars along the way. Funk so far has made big batches of cherry, cranberry, peach-pluot, blackberry and mango-passionfruit and a couple of smaller, more experimental batches. He says a Kiwi Meerts is in the works.

Making more beer that still represents what Funk Factory is about is more than just good business for Funk, who’s an economist by day. He sees it as outreach to his neighbors who may have heard about Funk Factory but not been able to taste any of its beer.

“You need to have a connection with your local community, and to my fault I’ve never had product up until now that I’ve been able to even connect to Madison,” Funk said.

Now the Meerts is flowing. Here’s a closer look at my — and Funk’s — favorite version.

Cherry Meerts

Style: Though Funk lists it on Untappd as a fruited lambic, he says Meerts is a revival of an archaic variant of lambic made in Belgium many years ago.

Brewed by: Funk Factory Geuzeria, 1602 Gilson St., Madison.

What it’s like: The closest analogue to Cherry Meerts I can come up with is a fruited Berliner weisse, but that sells this beer way short. It really does have hints of actual lambic’s flavors and complexity, with the volume turned down. “It’s meant to be an entry point into sour beer and mixed fermentation,” Funk said.

Where, how much: You may see a bottle here or there at a local shop, but for the most part you’ll need to go to the source. At Funk Factory, pints of Meerts are a reasonable $5 ($6 for fruited variants), with 6-ounce pours available for $3 for wider sampling. Take-home 750-milliliter bottles are $10-$12.

The beer: The lightly effervescent Cherry Meerts pours a brilliant, clear rose hue with an acidic-sweet aroma of tart cherries and a little woodiness reminiscent of a cherry pit. A sip reveals that assertive acid from the aroma to be deceptive, as this Meerts is pleasantly and only moderately tart. The mixed fermentation and fruit provide nearly all the flavor here; if you can pick up traditional malt and hop character, your palate is sharper than mine. Instead, there’s an almond-like woodiness and just a touch of funk. Overall it’s not particularly sweet, but a tart, sugary note lingers well into the dry, refreshing finish. While it’s nowhere near as complex as its lambic big brothers, Cherry Meerts is remarkable in its own right.

Booze factor: An early batch of Cherry Meerts, including the bottle I reviewed here, was 6 percent ABV, but subsequent batches have been dialed in closer to regular Meerts’ 4 percent.

The buzz: The nomenclature around American wild or sour ales made in the Belgian lambic tradition has been the source of consternation in the brewing world lately, and Levi Funk is at the center of what’s emerging as the way forward.

“Lambic” is a term treasured and guarded by the traditional Belgian producers and their trade group, seeking similar status for it as French wineries have won with “Champagne.” In response, a group of American brewers this fall rolled out a program with the goal of replacing “lambic” with “Methode Traditionnelle” as the style description for such beers made in America but under the Belgian tradition.

Funk Factory is one of three breweries on the steering committee that developed the designation, along with two giants in the sour beer world: Jester King of Texas and Black Project of Colorado. About six weeks after the rollout, Funk said, about 40 breweries have expressed interest in using Methode Traditionnelle.

Funk said he hopes the designation — future lambic releases from Funk Factory will bear the logo on the label — will proliferate and help consumers differentiate between something that’s on par with the original Belgian lambics and something that’s … well, not, and not made the same way.

“There’s a big disconnect in what’s happening and how things are being labeled, and we’re trying to clean that up as best as we can,” Funk said. “I’m interested in 10, 20, 50 years from now, the word ‘lambic’ still means something.”

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Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales Now Sells Bottles To-Go

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales is excited to announce that bottles of DREAMLAND, our spontaneous solera golden sour, will be available for purchase from the taproom every weekend to-go (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). There is a limited allotment of cases for each day and a limit of 2 bottles per person. 

DREAMLAND was born from the coolship into two wine barrels. After 6+ months of development, we added both barrels to our first solera vessel and slowly filled it with wort as fermentation hit key stages of progression. An additional 4-5 months later and we finally release each batch from this solera. This progression started in 2015, that means that every batch that we keg or bottle, is a collection of over two years of blended beer, including the original batch. We now have five stainless steel soleras that are dedicated to the production of DREAMLAND. This allows us to keep this beer on tap consistently and create other beers from the base beer.

While we enjoy the fun of having folks come out for a one-day release, our releases have been getting steadily larger and the line longer. This strains our relationship with our neighbors, and even more critically, it impedes our ability to move everyone through checkout in a timely fashion. So, going forward, we will have two formats for bottle releases:

-Bottles allocated for sale out of the taproom weekly, with a set daily allotment and per person limits

-Lottery and online sales out of the taproom with set per person limits and designated pickup windows

*NOTE* -These two new systems may be combined for special releases, where bottles are available for to-go with limited daily allocations as well as online through a lottery system. Our hope is that locals that are unable to wait in line on Saturday’s, can get bottles to-go, as well as customers that are traveling to Denver.

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5 Biggest Trends of the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), aka Denver’s sudsiest weekend, has come and gone, leaving attendees with multi-day hangovers and (hopefully) plenty of great memories. Now in its 36th year, the festival displayed a different look, focusing on a more efficient layout designed to create more elbow room in the Colorado Convention Center for the thousands of festival-goers. But looks aside, this year’s GABF had an altogether different vibe, with less shenanigans, plenty of emerging stars, and new beer styles to fawn over. Here are the top five trends we noticed at 2017’s fest.

Less Drama: In place of breweries pushing the boundaries of the festival’s restrictions on booth height and incorporating over-the-top design elements, this year’s GABF had a scaled-back look that seemed to mimic an overall trend taking place in the industry as whole. Breweries eschewed the extravagant antics and distracting decorations in favor of emphasizing their beer offerings.

Earthy Flavors: The craft beer industry has seen a lot of trends come and go in the past decade. The super hopped-up IPA phase transitioned into a sour beer movement, which then evolved into a session IPA fixation that saw breweries trying to outdo each other’s full-flavored, low ABV beers. At this year’s fest, it was clear that a new trend is on its way in: earthy beers. These brews are often created through spontaneous fermentation and adjuncts (i.e. wild yeast, fruit, and herbs like lavender, rose hips, and juniper berries), and it seemed like almost every booth this year had one. Denver’s own Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales beer was highly sought after, and the brewery ran out of beer early on in each session. Black Project’s Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired brew with fresh raspberries, took home the silver medal in the Experimental Beer category.

Beercations: This year’s fest had a brand-new section, and it was a popular one. The beer travel area was made up of several conventions and visitors’ bureaus in beer-loving cities across the country, and they were working hard to showcase their areas’ unique craft beer scenes. Festival-goers were loving it, gobbling up pamphlets and kitschy souvenirs from each destination, including Denver; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Santa Rosa, California; and Memphis, Tennessee.

Big, Bold and Barrel-Aged: Attendees searching for big flavors were in luck at this year’s GABF. Brews such as Tampa-based Cigar City Brewing Company’s Marshal Zhukov’s Penultimate Push—an 11.5 percent ABV whooper of an imperial stout brewed with coffee beans and vanilla—were everywhere. (Bonus: The brewery recently launched distribution in Colorado, which means this robust beer is likely available at a liquor store near you.)
Another winner in this category included Loveland Aleworks’ bold-but-balanced Fifth Anniversary Tequila Sour, which earned a bronze medal in the Wood-and-Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. Costume-clad attendees also waited in long lines to snag tastes of Oskar Blues Brewery’s iconic and oh-so-boozy barrel-aged Death by Coconut porter and City Star Brewing’s Scoundrel, a deliciously sour brown ale aged in oak Cabernet barrels.

Colorado Winners: With roughly 334 breweries operating in Colorado (ranked second in number only to the much-larger state of California) Colorado breweries typically have a good showing at the annual GABF awards ceremony. But this year, breweries in the Centennial State cleaned up. Thirty-eight medals were handed out to Colorado breweries, including a silver medal in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category to first-time winner, Wibby Brewing. Co-founder Ryan Wibby stole the show when he dropped to one knee to propose to his longtime girlfriend while accepting his medal for the Moondoor Dunkel. (She said yes!) Other local winners include Denver Beer CompanyDry Dock BrewingCellar West Artisan AlesWiley Roots, and Launch Pad Brewery.

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Here's What You Need to Know About Colorado's 38 GABF Medal Winners

Colorado held steady at the Great American Beer Festival this year, winning a total of 38 medals on Saturday, the same number it won in both 2015 and 2016. And while that doesn't seem like a lot of bling for a state with more than 320 breweries, it's notable because the number didn't decline as it has in previous years (Colorado won 40 medals in 2014 and 46 in 2013) as the competition has increased dramatically.

Also notable: Of those 38 medals, a whopping thirteen were gold, and they represented a very wide range of styles — variety being one of Colorado's strong suits.

A few things stood out. The first is that it is really, really hard to win a medal at GABF in this day and age. The increased number of breweries has meant more competition and fewes chances for breweries since they are only allowed to enter five beers, as opposed to ten in the old days. So the breweries that are winning consistently are not only making great beers, but they're picking their categories correctly and benefiting from a little luck.

Also, aside from Odell's Pro-Am win (see below), none of Colorado's biggest breweries won anything. New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Avery, Great Divide, Boulder Beer and Ska were collectively shut out. Instead, some of the smallest breweries in the state were knocking back gold, silver and bronze.

Here are some wins of note, followed by the entire list:

It's hard not to start with Longmont's Wibby Brewing, which won a silver medal for Moondoor Dunkel in the Munich-Style Dunkel category, because the brewery's Ryan Wibby got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Robin, as they took the stage to receive their medal from the BA's Charlie Papazian. It makes you wonder, as the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover wondered aloud on Twitter, what his backup plan was if they hadn't won.

Colorado home brewers swept the Pro-Am category, which is set aside for breweries that want to team up on a recipe with award-winning members of the American Homebrewers Association. Denver Beer Co. and Doug Thiel took gold; Daniel Tomkins and Black Bottle Brewery in Fort Collins won silver; and Mark Boelman and Odell Brewing won bronze. It was a nice nod to home brewing in the state that made it a thing.

Weldwerks Brewing in Greeley won gold for its Medianoche in the carefully watched Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout category. The beer, which was already extremely rare and hard to find, has made a name for itself over the past two years as one of the best barrel-aged imperial stouts in the state. Now it can rank alongside the best in the country. It's a huge win for this very young, very small brewery — one that is primarily known for its New England-style IPAs. But anyone who has tried Medianoche is aware that it shines when compared to similar beers from Avery, Fremont Brewing, Modern Times, Perennial and more.

Funkwerks, which had struggled at the medal table since winning GABF's Small Brewery of the Year in 2012, took home a gold for its saison in the competitive Classic Saison category. The award comes at a great time for Funkwerks, which has just entered into a financial arrangement with Brooklyn Brewery and 21st Amendment.

Brett beers remained a Colorado specialty, as Jessup Farm Barrel House, a tiny niche brewery in Fort Collins, took gold in the Brett Beer category for Fancy Pants, followed by Our Mutual Friend, which won silver for Saison Trystero; OMF had been a collaborator in 2016 on Dreamy Thing, which won silver in the Brett Beer group for Cerebral Brewing. Greeley's Wiley Roots, meanwhile, a frequent collaborator with OMF, won gold in the Mixed-Culture Brett Beer category for Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch.

Greeley represent! In addition to the medals named above (from Weldwerks and Wiley Roots), Broken Plow Brewing, also in Greeley, won bronze for India Spring Honey Cream Ale.

Lone Tree Brewing was the only multiple-medal winner from Colorado, scoring gold for its Mexican Lager (a beer that won a medal two years ago as well) and a silver for Hop Zombie.

A few breweries won medals in their first year of existence, including Cellar West Artisan Ales in Boulder, New Terrain Brewing in Golden and Square Peg Brewerks in Alamosa.

Others that have been in business a little longer won medals for the first time, including Little Machine Beer in Denver, Co-Brew in Denver, Copper Club Brewing in Fruita, Jessup Farm Barrel House in Fort Collins, 105 West Brewing in Castle Rock, and Launch Pad Brewing in Aurora.

The Sandlot returned to form by winning its first medal in two years. Prior to that, the brewery owned the record for the most ever at GABF with 44 medals. It also returned to its silly names. So Long and Thanks for All the Smoked Fish took gold in the Smoke Beer category.

Scroll down to see all the winners.

Finkel & Garf

Gold Medals
F-Town Amber
Copper Club Brewing, Fruita
American-Style Amber/Red Ale

Fancy Pants
Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins
Brett Beer

Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch
Wiley Roots Brewing, Greeley
Mixed-Culture Brett Beer

Just Another Pretty Face
Doug Thiel and Denver Beer Co
Pro-Am

Medianoche
WeldWerks Brewing, Greeley
Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout

Mexican Lager
Lone Tree Brewing
American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor

Oatmeal Milk Stout
Finkel & Garf Brewing
Sweet Stout or Cream Stout

Punjabi
CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing, Fort Collins
English-Style India Pale Ale

Plum Creek Sour
Rockyard American Grill & Brewing, Castle Rock
Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer

Razz Against the Machine
Little Machine Beer, Denver
American-Style Fruit Beer

Saison
Funkwerks, Fort Collins
Classic Saison

So Long and Thanks for All the Smoked Fish
Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver
Smoke Beer

Waverly Tulip
Square Peg Brewerks, Alamosa
Historical Beer

Silver Medals
Black 28
Cannonball Creek, Golden
American-Style Black Ale

Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale
Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Lakewood
Historical Beer

Hop Zombie
Lone Tree Brewing
Imperial Red Ale

Lemon Rye,
105 West Brewing, Castle Rock
American-Style Wheat Beer

Lichtenhainer
Daniel Tomkins and Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins
Pro-Am

Make Hay
Cellar West Artisan Ales, Boulder
Specialty Saison

Moondoor Dunkel
Wibby Brewing, Longmont
Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager

Patio Pounder
Twisted Pine Brewing, Boulder
Session India Pale Ale

Peacekeeper
Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora
Session Beer

Pilsner
Dry Dock Brewing, Aurora
German-Style Pilsener

Roswell: Grudge
Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver
Experimental Beer

Saison Trystero
Our Mutual Friend, Denver
Brett Beer

Suntrip
New Terrain Brewing,
Golden, Belgian-Style Witbier

Woods Monk
Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada
Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

Bronze Medals
Fifth Anniversary Tequila Sour
Loveland Aleworks
Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer

Blackberry Table Sour
Baere Brewing, Denver
Berliner-Style Weisse

Downhill Kolsch
Elk Mountain Brewing, Parker
German-Style Koelsch

Dunkel
Pug Ryan’s, Dillon
Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager

Eluxansis
Mark Boelman and Odell Brew Team, Fort Collins
Pro-Am

Farmhouse Saison
Co-Brew, Denver
Specialty Saison

Hefeweizen
Gordon Biersch Brewery, Broomfield
South German-Style Hefeweizen

India Spring Honey Cream Ale
Broken Plow Brewery, Greeley
Herb and Spice Beer

Little Red Cap
Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland
German-Style Altbier

Mountain Series: Maibock
Breckenridge Brewery
Bock

Woody Pils
Bull & Bush Brewery, Glendale
Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

Anderson's own Carolina Bauernhaus Ales Wins Gold Medal at Great American Beer Festival

One of the biggest events in craft beer, the Great American Craft Beer Festival in Denver, got a taste of South Carolina over the weekend. 

And it liked it. 

Several Upstate breweries participated in the GABF (as it's called) by pouring, competing and attending, but it was Anderson's own Carolina Bauernhaus Ales that made the biggest splash by winning a coveted gold medal in the competition. 

Nearly 100 categories of beer were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals as the best of 2017 including Carolina Bauernhaus Ales' Optunia in the "experimental beer" category. 

"It was a huge honor to win a gold," said Keston Helfrich, head brewer and co-owner of Carolina Bauernhaus Ales. "With over 8,000 beer judged in 98 categories and 300 medals handed out, it's great to be among them."

Optunia is part of Carolina Bauernhaus' "Source Series" of beers. Just about everything about the beer is local from the prickly pear used to flavor to the lactobacilus that gave it the distinctive sourness. 

In the "experimental beer" category itself, Bauernhaus went up again 93 other entries including bronze winner Four Day Ray Brewing out of Indiana and silver winner and Denver's own Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. 

"When I heard second place, I said 'We're done,'" Helfrich said. "It's definitely a rush to hear your brewery called."

Carolina Bauernhaus was represented by the co-owners of the brewery, Helfrich, David Thornton and Brad Thomas. They attended the festival from Thursday through Saturday and returned from Denver with hardware in hand on Sunday. 

Carolina Bauernhaus was also the only South Carolina brewery to bring home a medal for 2017. 

As for the beer, the 2017 batch of Optunia is barreled now, but a release date won't be known until "the beer tells us its ready," Helfrich said. Until then, it might make a surprise appearance from time to time at the taproom located at 115 W. Federal St. in downtown Anderson. 

Colorado Breweries Win 38 Medals at the Great American Beer Festival

Another Great American Beer Festival has come and gone, and with it our beloved state of Colorado has taken 38 medals including 13 gold medals from 37 breweries total — Lone Tree Brewing based out of Lone Tree, Colorado took home both a gold and silver medal. There were 296 medals awarded at this years event.

Below, find a comprehensive list in alphabetical order of all 38 winners and their winning brews:

  • 105 West Brewing Co. — Castlerock brewery took home silver in the American Wheat-style category for its Lemon Rye.
  • Baere Brewing Co. — Denver-based brewery took home bronze in the Berliner-style Weisse category for its Blackberry Table Sour.
  • Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales — Denver-based brewery took home silver in the Experimental Beer category for its Rosewell: Grudge brew.
  • Breckinridge Brewing Co. (Littleton) — This Littleton brewery took home bronze in the Bock category for its Mountain Series: Maibock.
  • Broken Plough Brewery — Greeley brewery placed bronze in the Herb and Spiced Beer category for its Ale.
  • Bull and Bush Brewery — Denver-based brewery took home a bronze medal in the Wood and Barrel-aged category for its Woody Pils.
  • Cannonball Creek Brewing Co. — This Golden brewery took silver for its Black 28 in the American-style Black Ale category.
  • Cellar West Artisan Ales — This Boulder brewery took silver for its Make Hay in the Specialty Saison category.
  • Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing — The Fort Collins brewery took home gold for its English-style IPA, Punjabi.
  • CO-Brew — Denver brewery placed bronze in the Specialty Saison category for its Farmhouse Saison.
  • Copper Club Brewing — This Fruita brewery placed gold in the American-style Amber/Red category with the F-Town Amber.
  • Dry Dock Brewing Co. (South Dock) — Aurora-based brewery took home silver in the German-style Pilsner category for its Pilsner brew.
  • Elk Mountain Brewing Co. — This Parker based brewery took home bronze in the German-style Koelsch for its Downhill Kolsch.
  • Finkel & Garf Brewing Co. — The Boulder brewery took home gold for its Sweet Stoudt/Cream Stoudt, Oatmeal Milk Stoudt.
  • Funkwerks Inc. — This Fort Collins-based brewery took home gold for its Classic Saison, Saison.
  • Grimm Brothers Brewhouse — Loveland brewery took home bronze in the German-style Altbier for its Little Red Cap brew.
  • Gordon Biersch Brewing — The Broomfield-based brewery took home bronze for its Hefeweizen in the South German Hefeweizen category.
  • Ironworks Brewery & Pub — Lakewood brewery took home silver in the Historical Beer category for its Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale.
  • Jessup Farm Barrel House — Based out of Fort Collins, this brewery took home gold in the Brett Beer category for its Fancy Pants brew.
  • Launch Pad Brewery — This Aurora-based brewery took home silver for its Peacekeeper beer in the Session Beer category.
  • Loveland Aleworks — based out of Loveland, this brewery took home bronze for its 5th Anniversary Tequila Sour in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category.
  • Little Machine Beer — Denver brewery took home gold in the American-style fruit beer category for its Razz Against the Machine.
  • Lone Tree Brewing — Lone Tree-based brewery took home both gold in the American style Lager/Malt Liquor category for its Mexican Lager and silver in the Imperial Red category for its Hop Zombie brew.
  • New Terrain Brewing — Golden based brewery took home silver in the Belgium-style Witbier category for its Suntrip brew.
  • Odyssey Beerwerks — This Arvada brewery took home silver in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stoudt category for its Woods Monk beer.
  • Our Mutual Friend Brewing — Denver brewery took home silver in the Brett Beer category for its Trystero.
  • Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co. — Dillon-based brewery took home bronze for its Dunkel beer in the Munich-style Dunkel/European-style Dark Lager category.
  • Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co. — This Castlerock brewery took home gold for Wood and Barrel Aged Sour, Plum Creek Sour.
  • SquarePeg Brewerks — Alamosa-based brewery took home gold for the Historical Beer category for its Waverly Tulip brew.
  • The Sandlot Brewery — Denver-based brewery took home gold for the Smoke Beer category for its So Long and thanks for all the (smoked) fish.
  • Twisted Pine Brewing Co. — This Boulder brewery took home silver for its Patio Pounder in the Session India Pale Ale category.
  • WeldWerks Brewing Co. — This Greeley brewery took home gold for the Wood and Barrel-aged Strong Stoudt for its Medianoche beer.
  • Wiley Roots Brewing Co. — Another Greeley-based brewery that took home gold for the Mixed Culture Brett Beer category for its Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch beer.
  • Wibby Brewing — Longmont-based brewery took home silver in the Munich-style Dunkel/European-style Dark Lager category for its Moondoor Dunkel.

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What You'll Be Drinking in 2018 According to GABF Trends

The final beers have been poured, the last pretzels have been consumed and most importantly all of the hardware for the 2017 Great American Beer Festival has been handed out. Colorado took home 37 medals including 13 Gold, 13 Silver and 9 Bronze – the state also swept the Pro-Am Competition.

Now it’s time to look forward – GABF is the indicator of what to expect in the upcoming year for beer when it comes to style trends, ABVs and or even ingredient sourcing. This year’s festival had no shortage of unique beers and noticeable trends— but while some were expected others were definitely not. After visiting as many booths as possible, we have broken down what we believe you can expect in beer over this next year.

Sour and Barrel Aged Beers Will Continue to Dominate

This year there were two distinct styles. And while they aren’t new, they showed the growth they are experiencing within the beer world. Not so long ago wild and sour beers were few and far between at GABF – just a few select breweries showcasing their ability to manipulate the style. Breweries such as New Belgium, The Rare Barrel and Russian River had long dabbled in this style.

In the beginning, to the average beer drinker nationwide, this particular style could be intimidating but that is no longer the case. The sour movement has grown – other breweries such as Black Project Wild and Spontaneous Ales, Crooked Stave, Odd Side Ales and Forager Brewing Company to just to name a few have made the prevalent in every aisle of GABF. The beer is not just more approachable because of its newfound mass availability but because the beers themselves have become more approachable. Balanced by fruit and experience some of the sours have become more less pucker-worthy, inviting in new people to the style. For example, the Rhubarb Vanilla Incipient from Speciation Artisan Ales was sour in how it played off the rhubarb flavor but light with the vanilla backend making it downright sessionable.  Avance from Allagash Brewing Company started out with a medium strawberry bite but as it moved across your tongue the hints of the oak it was aged in became more pronounced.  Instead of finishing with a sour bite, it finished dry and easy. Avery Brewing Company’s Apricot and Ginger Sours were also poured in mass next to its beloved stouts such as Tweak – further illustrating how these fruited sour beers are going from niche to mainstream.

The other style that continues to build momentum and in turn foster expansion is barrel-aged beers. While its existence and dominance on the beer scene isn’t anything new – it’s the focus on adjunct flavors at this year’s GABF that deserves our attention. It’s no longer about being the best imperial stout in a Bourbon barrel for today’s craft beer drinker – they want to know, what are you adding to that barrel? The longest lines at GABF were for the beer special adjunct flavors – Toppling Goliath with Morning Delight added espresso, vanilla and maple to its beer. And then, if you were lucky enough (it wasn’t listed) a few people at GABF did get to try the elusive Medianoche Reserve from WeldWerks Brewing Company – an imperial stout with cacao nibs, vanilla beans and toasted coconut. While these sort of adjunct flavors were expected, other breweries have added even more to those barrels. Fremont’s Rusty Nail features licorice and cinnamon — giving the beer a slightly spicy complex. And while it wasn’t a stout – Short’s Brewing Company’s barrel-aged Bourbon Black Cherry Porter was fermented with sweet black cherries to enhance the complexity of the Bourbon flavor. These beers are showing it’s more than just coffee, vanilla and cacao nibs coming in big beers.

New England IPAs Aren’t Going Anywhere

The search for the haziest New England style IPA continues – or it might be fair to say the haze craze has officially enveloped the entire country. But still, there is no official category for the beer style at GABF. It is hard to make sense of it all — how can a beer be so popular and have so many breweries dedicated to mastering it and still not get the chance for recognition? There are many theories on why — Westword‘s Jonathan Shikes offers his opinion here — but in the end, the lines were long and those breweries are prospering.

Some of the haziest beers this year didn’t even come out of the East Coast. Great Notion Brewing pushed the limits with its Juice Box – it legitimately looked like juice but burst with citrusy hoppy goodness. Tucked away at the Michigan Brewers Guild table was M-43 from Old Nation Brewing (who didn’t have a table at GABF) – letting everyone know that Michigan can produce dank, hazy IPAs juice bombs as well. The East Coast did have representation in first-time attendee Lord Hobo with its Boomsauce – a beer molded in the tradition of what you can expect from those New England Style IPAs.

Noticeably absent from GABF were some of the biggest hitters in this style of IPA — would a new category change that? If the category arrived in 2018 surely breweries suchs as Monkish, Tree House, Trillium and Other Half would have to contemplate making the trip to Denver. 

Botanical Beers are What’s Next

While it was clearly a year of perfecting at GABF, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people pushing the boundaries of beer. This particular distinction goes to botanical beers and breweries that are using a wide variety of plants beyond hops. In particular, Scratch Brewing from Illinois has been at the forefront of this movement for several years and is undoubtedly a leader of this pack when it came to the 2017 GABF participants. The brewery, located in the Shawnee National Forest, is known for its foraged brews that are made using a wide variety of plants. A couple years ago they made a splash with the single tree series when they brewed a beer using tree sap instead of water. This year, they returned to the tree concept by making beers from different elements of the tree including seeds, bark, roots, flowers and leaves. But the brewery was not alone with its botanical driven beers.

Forbidden Root, also from Illinois (but this time Chicago) brought the botanical beers from the forest to the city with an entire line of botanical beers. This included the Fernetic, a beer made with ingredients pulled from the secret recipe of Fernet — the most famous botanic drink of them all. According to Randy Mosher, senior alchemist at Forbidden Root, the beer came about after the grandson of the owner of Fernet enjoyed their amaro beer in the taproom and was intrigued. Mosher expressed great excitement for Fernetic and botanic beers – which is a big indicator for the trend since Mosher literally wrote the book on tasting beer.

There were more roots that tied botanical beers to established entities during GABF week including Beers Made By Walking, an entire festival dedicated to the idea of brewing beers using ingredients found in your natural surroundings. We found Eric Steen, founder of Beers Made By Walking, pouring one of his own at Hopworks Urban Brewery. The brewery, in partnership with retailer Patagonia, created a Long Root Ale that used Kernza, a perennial grain, as its main ingredient. Steen has long been an advocate for botanical beers, not just for their delicious, boundary-breaking qualities, but their environmental benefits. The Long Root Ale, which is made with a plant with a really long root, helps restores soil biodiversity, soak up carbon and grows crops without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In many cases, the breweries utilize these methods for ethical sourcing purposes and are akin to the farm-to-table movement in the culinary world. Some have dubbed it the farm-to-glass movement, which in itself is a growing trend in the beer industry and took many shapes and forms in a lot of other beers poured at GABF. But nowhere is it as clear and focused as it can be found in the botanic beer movement. Noticeably, two big breweries that also do botanic beers, Jester King and Fonta Flora, were absent at this year’s GABF. If they return for 2018, expect even more from this growing trend.

With over 3,000 beers poured at this year’s GABF, there were of brews plenty that went un-tasted. But for now, it’s undeniable that sours, barrel aged beers and hazy IPAs continue to infatuate drinkers and brewers alike. Looking ahead, botanic beers are going to push your boundaries and the industry as a whole in the next great adventure in beer-dom. Now get to drinking.

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Here’s how Colorado breweries fared at the 2017 GABF competition

Colorado’s craft brewing industry left the 2017 Great American Beer Festival well-decorated, flexing its muscles across an assortment of beer-style categories.

The state’s breweries won 38 medals — including 14 golds and three medals in the Pro-Am competition — at this year’s GABF. The largest commercial beer competition in the world drew 8,100 entries from 2,290 breweries and doled out awards in 98 categories representing 160 different beer styles.

Colorado swept the separate Pro-Am competition, in which professional and amateur brewers are paired. Homebrewer Doug Thiel and Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler won gold, with the pro-am pairings involving Fort Collins breweries Black Bottle Brewery and Odell Brewing Co. winning silver and bronze, respectively.

Colorado’s 38 medals, which tied the state’s total from last year, showcased the versatility of local beer makers. The Centennial State’s hardware spanned categories such as American-Style Black Ale; Brett Beer; English-Style India Pale Ale; German-Style Altbier, Koelsch and Pilsener; Herb and Spice Beer, Session IPA, Smoke Beer, South German-Style Hefeweizen, a collection of Wood- and Barrel-Aged offerings, and, fittingly, Experimental Beer.

“We have a great, passionate group of people that know how to make all kinds of beers,” said James Howat, brewer and owner of Black Project Spontaneous Ales in Denver. “We are spoiled here.”

Black Project won its third medal in four years in the Experimental Beer category. This year, the brewery snagged a silver for its Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired beer made with six pounds of raspberries in each gallon.

“It’s definitely a beer that … is strongly flavored,” Howat said.

The GABF stage featured several first-time winners among Colorado’s brewing industry, including Arvada-based Odyssey Beerwerks; Denver-based CO-Brew; and Boulder-based Cellar West Artisan Ales.

Boulder’s Finkel & Garf Brewing Co.’s brought home a gold for its first GABF medal.

The brewery, which opened in the summer of 2014 touting the motto of “play often,” features collection of games, toys and beer flights paired with treats.

The GABF-winning Oatmeal Milk Stout is traditionally paired with a Twinkie, said Mychal Johnson, Finkel & Garf’s head brewer.

Longmont-based Wibby Brewing Co.’s first GABF win — the Moondoor Dunkel took the silver in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category — was uniquely memorable:

While he and the Wibby Brewing crew stood on stage to receive the medals, Ryan Wibby asked his girlfriend, Robin, for her hand in marriage. She gleefully and tearfully accepted.

In Colorado’s sundry showing at GABF, the state also showed off its chops in the traditional.

The American-Style Lager category has long been dominated by brewery industry stalwarts — Pabst Brewing, the hometown Coors Brewing, Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch.

Not this year.

Lone Tree Brewing’s Mexican Lager toppled the giants, landing a gold. Bookending Pabst Blue Ribbon was another craft creation: Sun Grown Fresh Craft Lager, a creation of the Sycamore Brewing Cannery in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m out of this world,” said Josh West, Lone Tree’s head brewer. The brewery also won silver in the Imperial Red Ale category with its Hop Zombie.

Two years ago, Lone Tree’s Summer Siesta Mexican Lager finished second in the category, behind the venerable Coors Banquet.

“It’s really great to be the best American lager in the country,” West said. “It proves us little craft guys can hang with the guys doing it forever.”

Colorado breweries that won medals at the 2017 GABF

The following are the medal winners from Colorado, including the name of the beer, the brewery, city and style:

GOLD
F-Town Amber — Copper Club Brewing Co., Fruita, American-Style Amber/Red Ale
Fancy Pants — Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins, Brett Beer
Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch — Wiley Roots Brewing Co., Greeley, Mixed-Culture Brett Beer
(Pro-Am)Just Another Pretty Face — Doug Thiel, Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler, Denver Beer Co., Denver
Medianoche — WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Mexican Lager — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor
Oatmeal Milk Stout — Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., Boulder, Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Punjabi — CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing, Fort Collins, English-Style India Pale Ale
Plum Creek Sour — Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co., Castle Rock, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Razz Against the Machine — Little Machine, Denver, American-Style Fruit Beer
Saison — Funkwerks, Fort Collins, Classic Saison
So long and thank’s for all the (smoked) fish! — The Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver, Smoke Beer
Waverly Tulip — Square Peg Brewerks, Alamosa, Historical Beer

SILVER
Black 28 — Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Golden, American-Style Black Ale
Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale; Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Lakewood, Historical Beer
Hop Zombie — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, Imperial Red Ale
Lemon Rye — 105 West Brewing Co., Castle Rock, American-Style Wheat Beer
(Pro-Am) Lichtenhainer — Daniel Tomkins, Black Bottle Scuba Squad, Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins,
Make Hay — Cellar West Artisan Ales, Boulder, Specialty Saison
Moondoor Dunkel — Wibby Brewing, Longmont, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
Patio Pounder — Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Boulder, Session India Pale Ale
Peacekeeper — Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora, Session Beer
Pilsner — Dry Dock Brewing Co. South Dock, Arvada, German-Style Pilsener
Roswell: Grudge — Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, Experimental Beer
Saison Trystero — Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver, Brett Beer
Suntrip — New Terrain Brewing Co., Golden, Belgian-Style Witbier
Woods Monk — Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

BRONZE
5th Anniversary Tequila Sour — Loveland Aleworks, Loveland, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Blackberry Table Sour — Baere Brewing Co., Denver, Berliner-Style Weisse
Downhill Kolsch — Elk Mountain Brewing Co., Parker, German-Style Koelsch
Dunkel — Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co., Dillon, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
(Pro-Am) Eluxansis — Mark Boelman, Odell Brew Team, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins
Farmhouse Saison — Co-Brew, Denver, Specialty Saison
Hefeweizen — Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Broomfield, South German-Style Hefeweizen
India Spring Honey Cream Ale — Broken Plow Brewery, Greeley, Herb and Spice Beer
Little Red Cap — Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland, German-Style Altbier
Mountain Series: Maibock — Breckenridge Brewery, Littleton, Bock
Woody Pils — Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

Here’s how Colorado breweries fared at the 2017 GABF competition

Colorado’s craft brewing industry left the 2017 Great American Beer Festival well-decorated, flexing its muscles across an assortment of beer-style categories.

The state’s breweries won 38 medals — including 14 golds and three medals in the Pro-Am competition — at this year’s GABF. The largest commercial beer competition in the world drew 8,100 entries from 2,290 breweries and doled out awards in 98 categories representing 160 different beer styles.

Colorado swept the separate Pro-Am competition, in which professional and amateur brewers are paired. Homebrewer Doug Thiel and Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler won gold, with the pro-am pairings involving Fort Collins breweries Black Bottle Brewery and Odell Brewing Co. winning silver and bronze, respectively.

Colorado’s 38 medals, which tied the state’s total from last year, showcased the versatility of local beer makers. The Centennial State’s hardware spanned categories such as American-Style Black Ale; Brett Beer; English-Style India Pale Ale; German-Style Altbier, Koelsch and Pilsener; Herb and Spice Beer, Session IPA, Smoke Beer, South German-Style Hefeweizen, a collection of Wood- and Barrel-Aged offerings, and, fittingly, Experimental Beer.

“We have a great, passionate group of people that know how to make all kinds of beers,” said James Howat, brewer and owner of Black Project Spontaneous Ales in Denver. “We are spoiled here.”

Black Project won its third medal in four years in the Experimental Beer category. This year, the brewery snagged a silver for its Roswell: Grudge, a Lambic-inspired beer made with six pounds of raspberries in each gallon.

“It’s definitely a beer that … is strongly flavored,” Howat said.

The GABF stage featured several first-time winners among Colorado’s brewing industry, including Arvada-based Odyssey Beerwerks; Denver-based CO-Brew; and Boulder-based Cellar West Artisan Ales.

Boulder’s Finkel & Garf Brewing Co.’s brought home a gold for its first GABF medal.

The brewery, which opened in the summer of 2014 touting the motto of “play often,” features collection of games, toys and beer flights paired with treats.

The GABF-winning Oatmeal Milk Stout is traditionally paired with a Twinkie, said Mychal Johnson, Finkel & Garf’s head brewer.

Longmont-based Wibby Brewing Co.’s first GABF win — the Moondoor Dunkel took the silver in the Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager category — was uniquely memorable:

While he and the Wibby Brewing crew stood on stage to receive the medals, Ryan Wibby asked his girlfriend, Robin, for her hand in marriage. She gleefully and tearfully accepted.

In Colorado’s sundry showing at GABF, the state also showed off its chops in the traditional.

The American-Style Lager category has long been dominated by brewery industry stalwarts — Pabst Brewing, the hometown Coors Brewing, Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch.

Not this year.

Lone Tree Brewing’s Mexican Lager toppled the giants, landing a gold. Bookending Pabst Blue Ribbon was another craft creation: Sun Grown Fresh Craft Lager, a creation of the Sycamore Brewing Cannery in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m out of this world,” said Josh West, Lone Tree’s head brewer. The brewery also won silver in the Imperial Red Ale category with its Hop Zombie.

Two years ago, Lone Tree’s Summer Siesta Mexican Lager finished second in the category, behind the venerable Coors Banquet.

“It’s really great to be the best American lager in the country,” West said. “It proves us little craft guys can hang with the guys doing it forever.”

Colorado breweries that won medals at the 2017 GABF

The following are the medal winners from Colorado, including the name of the beer, the brewery, city and style:

GOLD
F-Town Amber — Copper Club Brewing Co., Fruita, American-Style Amber/Red Ale
Fancy Pants — Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins, Brett Beer
Galaxy Dry Hopped Funk Yo Couch — Wiley Roots Brewing Co., Greeley, Mixed-Culture Brett Beer
(Pro-Am)Just Another Pretty Face — Doug Thiel, Denver Beer Co. brewmaster Jason Buehler, Denver Beer Co., Denver
Medianoche — WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Mexican Lager — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, American-Style Lager or Malt Liquor
Oatmeal Milk Stout — Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., Boulder, Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Punjabi — CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing, Fort Collins, English-Style India Pale Ale
Plum Creek Sour — Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co., Castle Rock, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Razz Against the Machine — Little Machine, Denver, American-Style Fruit Beer
Saison — Funkwerks, Fort Collins, Classic Saison
So long and thank’s for all the (smoked) fish! — The Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver, Smoke Beer
Waverly Tulip — Square Peg Brewerks, Alamosa, Historical Beer

SILVER
Black 28 — Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Golden, American-Style Black Ale
Hilltopper’s Pride Kentucky Common Ale; Ironworks Brewery & Pub, Lakewood, Historical Beer
Hop Zombie — Lone Tree Brewing Co., Lone Tree, Imperial Red Ale
Lemon Rye — 105 West Brewing Co., Castle Rock, American-Style Wheat Beer
(Pro-Am) Lichtenhainer — Daniel Tomkins, Black Bottle Scuba Squad, Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins,
Make Hay — Cellar West Artisan Ales, Boulder, Specialty Saison
Moondoor Dunkel — Wibby Brewing, Longmont, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
Patio Pounder — Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Boulder, Session India Pale Ale
Peacekeeper — Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora, Session Beer
Pilsner — Dry Dock Brewing Co. South Dock, Arvada, German-Style Pilsener
Roswell: Grudge — Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, Experimental Beer
Saison Trystero — Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver, Brett Beer
Suntrip — New Terrain Brewing Co., Golden, Belgian-Style Witbier
Woods Monk — Odyssey Beerwerks, Arvada, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

BRONZE
5th Anniversary Tequila Sour — Loveland Aleworks, Loveland, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Blackberry Table Sour — Baere Brewing Co., Denver, Berliner-Style Weisse
Downhill Kolsch — Elk Mountain Brewing Co., Parker, German-Style Koelsch
Dunkel — Pug Ryan’s Brewing Co., Dillon, Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
(Pro-Am) Eluxansis — Mark Boelman, Odell Brew Team, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins
Farmhouse Saison — Co-Brew, Denver, Specialty Saison
Hefeweizen — Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Broomfield, South German-Style Hefeweizen
India Spring Honey Cream Ale — Broken Plow Brewery, Greeley, Herb and Spice Beer
Little Red Cap — Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland, German-Style Altbier
Mountain Series: Maibock — Breckenridge Brewery, Littleton, Bock
Woody Pils — Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

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