A Brewer Dreams of Green & Gold

A Brewer Dreams of Green & Gold: A 2015 GABF Recap


‘Twas the night before GABF, when all through the night
Not a beer bottle was rattling, not even a can;
The beards were all waxed in front of the mirror with care, 
In hopes that the Godfather of Homebrewing soon would be there;…

With the 2015 Great American Beer Festival now in the books, it’s time to reflect on an interesting, successful, yet tumultuous year in beer. As we reported in our Oregon award winner coverage, this is the world’s largest beer competition and it just gets larger every year, with 6,647 entries in 2015 and 275 awards handed out in 92 categories. Festival organizers also greatly expanded the footprint of the actual festival space in the Denver Convention Center, and it worked to an extent; the expanded Farm to Table Pavilion was refreshed as ‘Paired,’ and new areas like a “Meet the Brewer” pavilion were added. The awards themselves were a mixed bag and highlighted the industries strengths and weaknesses.


First of all I would like to congratulate the Brewers Association and new Executive Chef Adam Dulye on a terrific year promoting beer and food and a tremendous showing at “Paired.” The event featured an expanded private hall space of breweries paired with both local and national restaurants and chefs, each offering two different small plates each served with a different beer. The expanded space, more tables, and just a fantastic lineup of pairings made for a highly enjoyable event where I wish I could have spent more time.

Check out the gallery above of some of the amazing food pairings that were happening in ‘Paired’ this year.

Christian de Benedetti with his new book 'Beer Bites'

Christian de Benedetti with his new book ‘Beer Bites’

Speaking of beer and small plates, local Portland author Christian de Benedetti (and founder of the upcoming Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery) was offering a little sneak peak of his new book Beer Bites: Tasty Recipes and Perfect Pairings for Brew Lovers, co-authored with Andrea Slonecker. This thick tome is full of pictures and recipes that he and Andrea came up with, made, and sampled through trial and error. Full of pics and bright descriptions, Beer Bites will be a big release this fall with a huge release party in New York and upcoming readings at Powell’s Books in Portland.

Almanac Beer Co. owner Jesse Friedman

Almanac Beer Co. owner Jesse Friedman

It’s always great running into friends and colleagues at the Great American Beer Festival–I might even argue that it is the best part. It seems everyone is just so happy to be at the festival and the awards and sharing beer with fellow brewers, idols, and legends. Yes, it’s true that everyone is just happy to be ‘nominated,’ as an actor might say at the Academy Awards after accepting a statuette.

Burnside Brewing's Natalie Rose Baldwin

Burnside Brewing’s Natalie Rose Baldwin

The GABF festival floor has over 3,500 beers pouring from 750 breweries, and it’s almost as easy to get overwhelmed as it is to discover some great beers and breweries. The GABF app for your smartphone goes a long way in finding breweries you love or have always wanted to try. I love getting to visit with brewers I have met but rarely get to see, like Jessee from San Francisco’s Almanac Beer, or Jeff Bagby, who now has his own Bagby Beer Co.


Melvin Brewing team celebrates after winning Small Brewer of the Year

Speaking of great out of state brewers, my friends from Jackson Hole, Wyoming at Melvin Brewing really had a great year. You may have heard of Melvin under its former name, Thai Me Up Brewing, and for its multiple Alpha King wins for beers like 2 X 4 Double IPA. Founder Jeremy Tofte was pouring beers at his booth and was in high spirits even before he claimed a gold medal for the Ch-Ch-Che-Cherry Bomb, a bronze for the Fresh Hop IPA, and the Small Brewpub and Brewer of the Year Award. Perhaps this was because the brewery is moments away from opening a new 30bbl production facility that will help to see its beer in full distribution to Washington state and likely Oregon sometime soon. All this from a 3bbl nano brewery that started off in the back of a Thai restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

If that upside is not enough, the fact that more breweries won medals and fewer were for the usual suspects (unless your name is Firestone Walker) suggests an uptick in the overall quality of craft beer. That makes some sense, since there are more and more breweries each year and a lot more and better resources on how to successfully brew and grow as a brewer and as a business. The awards themselves keep adding categories; 93 of them seems like way too many, and this year the actual announcements and ceremony went way overtime, even though the orgainzers did their best to streamline them. One would imagine at some point they are going to have to start cutting them back, or like the Academy Awards, hold a private technical awards announcement outside of the main show. As predicted, the future may lie in the neighborhood brewpub or taphouse; with less shelf space becoming available and more competitors for grocery store bottle shelf space, bars are having a better time keeping up with more rotating handles and local followings.

A survey of 19 breweries I personally visited in Denver city limits showed off both a diversity of quality as well as an astounding variety of styles and cultures. Instead of sticking to the tried and true American pub style, there are places cropping up like Ratio Brewing. which looks like a modern pop-art installation, and Grandma’s House, a place so full of so many eccentric nooks and figurines you might think they robbed an antique store. It’s all more evidence that despite the struggles the craft beer world in America continues to grow and diversify with an infinite amount of edges.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com