If you’re reading this blog, it’s a fair bet that you’re familiar with craft beer’s burgeoning popularity. You know that, unlike in the late 1990s, the majority of new breweries, brewpubs and bars that are opening are doing so for the right reasons. Rather than trying to ride the hype train to the fast money station, they are truly passionate about their product.
Such passion means that while the quantity of craft beer has exploded in recent years, the quality has gone up as well. There is so much well made beer available to most consumers that it boggles the mind. I can go to my local Whole Foods and find any number of world-class beers. However, as great as craft beer is and continues to become, the people around craft beer are even better. They are what truly moves the needle for me.
First, I must give a huge thank you to my hosts in Denver: PJ (HERE and HERE) and Kell (HERE and HERE). I had the good fortune of visiting Denver and staying with these fine gentlemen once before GABF and their hospitality never ceases to amaze me. The best part is, they accept payment for lodging in epic beer. To all those planning a trip for the festival, I highly recommend visiting the city on an “off” week first. I also highly recommend finding a local who knows where to go.
Without my hosts I would likely have gone without visiting such local treasures as Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dog Stand (the reindeer was outstanding), Rackhouse Pub (get some Stranahan’s and an order of mac ‘n’ cheese and you’ll be a happy camper) and the dangerously awesome Whiskey Bar ($9 for a healthy pour of 15-year Pappy, are you kidding me!?). In other words, if you happen to visit Denver outside of GABF, find my friends on twitter and let them enlighten you.
I’ll spare you any details about the festival itself as those have been covered (read: beaten to death) everywhere else on the web. I will however, point to you to PJ’s article about Thursday at GABF since our days were remarkably similar. I will also concur with PJ on the excellence that was the Farm to Table Pavilion. I was lucky enough to find a ticket to the pavilion on Friday night and it was easily the highlight of the festival for me. Combine the lack of drunk of people with beer illuminati and smoked mashed potatoes and I’ll leave the math to you.
Rather, my weekend really ramped up when I went to visit New Belgium on Friday morning with the folks from Harbor Distributing and several other members of the Los Angeles beer industry.
Upon arrival at New Belgium, we were led inside the brewery and given “Beer Geek” buttons, which we were told would be our tour passes. You can see the sweet button on the strap of my messenger bag below.
It is this type of touch that typifies craft beer people. We recognize in each other a childlike enthusiasm for the product. We aim to enjoy ourselves and encourage those around us to do the same. We are cheeky, fun-loving, and wonderfully geeky folk. I still have the button on my bag and I sincerely hope that people continue to ask me about it.
We were then led into the taproom, where we were invited to a full glass of the beer of our choice. Those who know me know that I get excited about sour beers. Sour beers that can’t be found in a bottle are all the more exciting. It was thus a natural that I have a glass (or three) of Tart Lychee. It’s basically New Belgium’s blonde sour beer, Felix (the dark sour is called Oscar, gotta love an “Odd Couple” reference) blended with lychee.
It was then that I received the most awesome safety glasses ever (picture below). Not only do they make you look like a different person, but sometimes that person is Harry Caray (ask Kell about that one, as his impression was a source of great mirth).
Then Eric Salazar came out to give us a tour of the place. You know, the same Eric whose name is on Eric’s Ale. We were enlightened about how ridiculously efficient and environmentally friendly the brewery is (read more here).
After we left the brewhouse, we got to the true geekery, the foeders. If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘foeder’, it’s basically a gigantic oaken vat in which one ages beer. In New Belgium’s case, the beers in the foeders are Oscar and Felix at various ages and flavor profiles. Of course, I (and several other members of my party) took the obligatory “I’m leaning on the foeder” photo:
We then received a tour of the bottling facility, which is very loud and just plain neat (see video below).
Then we were treated to more free beer (read: more Tart Lychee) and free gourmet snacks from the restaurant-quality kitchen at New Belgium. I’m talking fine cheeses, exotic desserts, charcuterie, etc. The whole place was basically beer geek Disneyland. If you’re every anywhere near Fort Collins, try to arrange a visit. It may not be as in-depth as the one I was fortunate enough to make, but I’m positive it will knock your socks off nonetheless.
Such places are, in my mind, truly indicative of the collective attitude of the craft beer community. It is just that, a community. There are no “employees” at New Belgium. Everybody who works there owns stock, so they are referred to as “Coworkers.” Every part of the brewery seems to have been infected with the collective enthusiasm of the staff and the beer geeks who visit the place. New Belgium clearly wants everyone to enjoy themselves and they want to share their joy (and beer) with everyone else because it brings happiness to those who experience it. Damn, I’ve gone and gotten sappy. So it goes. I’m talking about beer people, the most awesomest people in the world.