Craft beer is getting bigger and better. That was the overarching message of the three-day 30th anniversary Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
One of the main messengers was no less than Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who welcomed journalists to the city at a four-course beer luncheon that focused on the culinary creativity and small-business power of brewpubs.
Hickenlooper, a brewer and co-founder of Wynkoop Brewing, as well as the former mayor of Denver, echoed that refrain when he stood at the podium to accept a pair of bronze medals during the 2011 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony — the culmination of an annual beer competition that’s been called both the Academy Awards and Super Bowl of craft brewing.
Two Atlanta brewers also made it up to the podium. Sweetwater “Big Kahuna” Freddy Bensch accepted a gold medal for Sch’Wheat American-style wheat and a bronze for Crank Tank rye ale. Max Lager’s brewer John Roberts grabbed a bronze medal for his IMOS imperial stout.
Roberts joked that he would be wearing his medal to bed. “I haven’t literally been wearing it to bed,” Roberts said later, “but I will admit that I’ve been showing it off to any person who was willing to look at it, including a guy in the security line at the Denver airport.”
This year, 248 medals were awarded in 83 categories from a total of 3,930 beers submitted by 526 breweries. In addition to those record tallies, the festival, which was held Sept. 29-Oct.1, drew 49,000-plus attendees.
But besides celebrating the steadily growing numbers of craft breweries and craft beer aficionados, the 30th Great American Beer Festival marked the milestone with an impressive assortment of seminars and events, including several focused on the connection between craft beer and food.
The media luncheon included 2010 medal-winning beers from 10 different brewpubs paired with the likes of roasted carpaccio beet salad, seared lamb loin, and pumpkin bread pudding, plus an artisan cheese plate presented by the American Cheese Society.
Throughout the festival, a farm-to-table pavilion highlighted pairings from chefs and brewers with a variety of small plates and beer samples. Outside, a row of food trucks stretched in front of the Colorado Convention Center, offering everything from sausage to soup.
A private reception and three-course beer dinner honoring the founders and breweries of the first festival featured beer from Anchor Brewing, F.X. Matt and Sierra Nevada. Craft beer luminaries such as Anchor’s Mark Carpenter, Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman, New Belgium’s Kim Jordan and Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione told stories from 30 years of the Great American Beer Festival, capping the final evening with a look back and promise for much more to come.
Beer pick: Anchor Brekle’s Brown
Anchor Brewing Co., San Francisco
$3.99/ 22-ounce bottle; also available on draft at select beer bars
Profile: The new Brekle’s Brown ale honors Gottlieb Brekle, who in 1871 founded the little brewery that would become Anchor. Created by brewmaster Mark Carpenter, it combines a blend of roasted malts with a single hybrid American hop variety called Citra. The result is a copper-colored beer with a rich, earthy essence and touches of citrus and tropical fruit.
Pair with: The Great American Beer Festival 30th Anniversary dinner matched Brekle’s with a poached meringue topped with a caramel, vanilla, malted marcona almond praline made with the brown ale. But try it with burritos, barbecue or burgers.
— Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog
Bob Townsend is editor of Southern Brew News, a bimonthly beer publication distributed throughout the Southeast: brewingnews.com/southernbrew