2016 Great American Beer Festival: A Homebrewers’ Recap

Another amazing year has concluded from The Great American Beer Festival! If you were following on Twitter or Facebook, you probably saw at least one of your friends attending.. As one of the largest beer festivals in the United States, it never ceases to amaze me of the enthusiasm from beer nerds from all over. In fact, this year was extremely important to me as a homebrewer, I entered my first Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition.

This year’s Pro-Am Competition was completely new to me, so everything from the process to how the competition worked was very obscure. My original entry, Marlene, a Hill Farmstead inspired IPA, was a medium-full bodied IPA pushing taste and aroma of passion fruit, pine, berry and earthy characteristics calculating at 8.2% (which you can find the recipe: Homebrewing Recipe: Chasing Hill Farmstead, A Double IPA). The goal of these beer was to develop a softly bittered double IPA that was pulling more of an east-coast inspired fuller bodied beer. When I first won this AHA/BJCP Sanctioned Competition with my homebrew club, OC Mashups, I was definitely excited and honored to represent Barley Forge, as well as the club.

As brewday quickly came 3-days after the announcement of the award, me and our club president, Sean, began brewing. With only a few 12 days to the deadline, we had an extremely small time window to have this beer tapped and served to the public. Although the public tapping date was far before the actual competition, I was definitely a little concerned that the shelf life of this beer. Since the beer was originally brewed on August 3rd, it seems strange to have it have it rushed to tap (i.e. “Beers entered in the GABF Pro-Am competition must be commercially available. Commercially available means the entered brand has been available for sale at retail by August, 15, 2016”). What’s more, to have this beer judged a month past that point (sometime in September), it became clear that this wonderful beer might not be consumed at an ideal state. Finally, having served this beer almost two months past it’s initial tapping date was tough to endure since I knew how amazing this fresh homebrewed batch was initially.

Of course, my first stop at the Great American Beer Festival was the eager anticipation of tasting my homebrewed creation, I found my way to the Pro-Am Booth. As my wife and I split up to cover our bases, we noticed a list of homebewers by tap number. As the number #3 came up on the list, it became a moment of shock to me knowing that my own homebrewed recipe was on tap and my name is on an official piece of GABF history. After tasting my first sip I had mixed feeling regarding the beers current state. At first, the hop aroma did greatly fall off, which I was expecting at this point, but considering the 1.6oz/gal dry hop, I was still a bit sad that it didn’t stick around longer. Overall, the beer did hold up to the elements and the flavor was still infused with the beer and I greatly enjoyed having my beer on tap. In the end, my east-coast IPA ended up tasting a little more similar to something in the mid-west with a stronger malt presence.

As my wife encouraged me to take some pictures with my beer, I was greeted by a few GABF attendees who were ecstatic about my beer and only had the best things to say about it. Since I am definitely my own harshest critic, this definitely put me more at ease since it was still being served to beer nerds. Within a minute, I was waved down by John Moorhead, AHA Project Coordinator/NHC Director and I was able to present to him my feedback and thank him for everything that he has done for the AHA & NHC. (He was nice enough to even send me my name tag tied to Marlene)

Starting off Saturday with the epic awards ceremony, the nervousness begun to set in. Luckily, they pulled the Pro-Am competition award-winners first.

Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition – 88 Entries Sponsored by Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., The Country Malt Group, Yakima Chief-Hopunion and White Labs

Gold: Just Rye’te, Panther Island Brewing Co., Fort Worth, TX Brewmaster Panther Island Brewing, AHA Member Clifton Ellis

Silver: Vernal Equinox, Starr Hill Brewery, Crozet, VA Brewmaster Starr Hill Brewing Team, AHA Member Gary Layton

Bronze: The Kolsch Experiment, Altitude Chophouse and Brewery, Laramie, WY Brewmaster Jesse Brown, AHA Member Shawn Miller

Although I didn’t win, I am extremely humbled by the response that I’ve gotten from Marlene. I cannot thank my club, Barley Forge, and the AHA for putting on this event and allowing homebrewers to showcase their own recipes along side some of the most sought out breweries.

Pushing forward, we ended up meeting up with my homebrew club during the Saturday AHA session to continue the shenanigans.

Once the mandatory OC Mashups GABF photo was taken, we stopped by one of the favorite breweries of this GABF, Black Project. As a huge supporter of the Milk The Funk group on Facebook, it’s borderline amazing to see our homebrewing roots come up to a profession. This is exactly what James Howat has done. From hosting an apparently epic MTF bottle share + tacos (which I sadly missed out on) to tasting his spontaneous fermented beers made for an amazing stop (even though I made like 6 stops behind his booth).

Once we grabbed some beers, we ended up heading over to the Brewer’s Studio, presented by the always amazing Brewing Network, which was hosting “Spontaneous Fermentation Tasting” with Jeffery Stuffing of Jester King & Chase Healey of American Solera. Overall, a wonderful insight to how users could push an alternative fermentation on a homebrewed scale. Be sure to check up with the Brewing Networks to see if this session will be archived.

To end the ideal weekend of another amazing year at the Great American Beer Festival, I decided to stop by and thank my homebrewing idols for sharing their knowledge with the world. I ended on such a high note meeting Jamil Zainasheff, Gordon Strong & Randy Mosher, (as well as Gary Glass at the GABF Media Conference). Each person has had an extreme impact to the quality of my homebrewing, which is giving me the confidence to share my experience, recipes and more on this blog, so I cannot thank them enough.

For those already looking forward to next year (like myself), the tentative dates for the 2017 Great American Beer Festival is October 5-7, 2017!