GABF 2014 in Retrospect


The Great American Beer Festival may be over, but the memories are still fresh. It is time to look back and think about what was good and what could have gone better.

One thing that was good was that 234 different breweries won medals. Some won more than one. In fact, Barley Brown’s Brewing in Baker City, Oregon, took home four medals;

  • Gold       Hand Truck Pale Ale
  • Gold       Fresh Hop Pallet Jack IPA
  • Silver      Disorder
  • Bronze   Turmoil

barley brown pubWhere is Baker City, OR? Think eastern Oregon, almost Idaho, out on Hwy 84. Big beers can come from small towns. What I like about the festival is that it gives you a chance to try beers from literally every state in the country. You can discover for yourself why there is all this noise about how good Dogfish Head is, or Sam Adams, or New Glarus, or Belles. You can try out beers from smaller breweries like Devil’s Backbone, Marble, and Chuckanut and discover for yourself why they win so many awards. Five years ago Texas was not even on the craft beer map. Now they have some very formidable craft beers in several cities. There are great beers being brewed in Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Vermont. The old guard in Washington and Oregon are still growing and making better beer than ever before but now they have a lot of company at the top of the heap.

On the other hand, some of the winning brews were not poured at the festival, and their winners celebrated the victory in the cozy confines of their home brewnest. Many of the pouring stations only had volunteers who were VERY nice, but didn’t know much about the brewery or the beers. If you go to all the effort to get a booth – and you want your brewery to be more than a 10-second memory – get someone from the brewery there.

julia_colorThank God for the Beer Bloggers!!!! , the BA and the individual brewers who have a social media sense, or you would have no idea this festival was taking place or who the winners were. If we are truly going to live up to the challenge that BA media honcho Julia Herz and AHA, GABF godfather Charlie Papazian have given all of us, the brewers guilds across the nation MUST do a better job in promoting their products and being far more verbal in the media.

In fact, neither the Oregon, Central Oregon nor Washington brewers guilds have a discoverable mention of GABF or congratulations to their winning members. In fact (sic) – the “news” on the front page of the Washington Brewers Guild is about the cask festival THAT WAS HELD IN MARCH 2014.

$_35One other disappointment is that the winning beers are not announced until after the first two major sessions have concluded. A large number of winning beers were already gone. It would have been nice to try them.

One last rant – the app that the BA contracted for the festival is very cool for pre-event discovery and strategizing. How else are you going to navigate the 700 pouring stations and 3,500+ beers at the festival? However, once on the floor, marking the beer you just tasted and entering notes is way too clunky. It is possible but it reduces your potential brewery visits by 25% to 30%

money-box-beer-money-8102-pWhen considering the economics of going to the GABF, you need to be able to maximize consumption opportunities for good beers. At $80 or more for a ticket for roughly 4 hours of tasting, you really want to aim for a $5/pint average cost of a quality craft beer. So – math geeks, zoom on ahead please – you want to try for 16oz x 4 per hour. With 1 oz tastes, that is 48  breweries per hour, or 198 beers during the session. Even the most outwardly bold braggots claimed less than 70 total tastes. Still 70 tastes is 70 oz of beer or 4.4 pints of beer over four hours, or roughly $18.30 per pint. Oh, you are not from Denver? Add in your airfare, meals, hotel and other miscellaneous purchases during your visit.

Just saying.

Maybe a different approach would be to have the competition ahead of the event. The floor would be limited to the 270 medaling beers. Brewers would already know they won and could have a rep at the booth to answer questions about how the beer was made and maybe share some tasting notes from the judges. They could do a better job of estimating how much beer to bring along based on medal rank; gold, silver or bronze.

Still, the BA, AHA and public manage to find a way to get 49,000 people into a four-session event over three days and sell all the tickets in less than an hour. Why mess with success? I didn’t hear a single person on the floor, or leaving the event, saying, “This festival sucks. I’m never coming back! :-(

Washington Brewers Hit Gold


Washington brewers demonstrated that sometimes quality trumps quantity, bringing home six Gold medals, three Silver and one Bronze from the 89 beer categories at this weekend’s Great American Beer Festival.


Winning Gold medals were:

  • Chuckanut Brewing, Bellingham, for their Dunkel Lager
  • Propolis Brewing, Port Townsend, for their Beltane (Brett)
  • Pyramid Ales, Seattle, for their Apricot Ale
  • Airways Brewing, Kent, for their Pre-Flight Pilsner
  • White Bluffs Brewing, Richland, for their Red Alt
  • Gordon Biersch, Seattle, Golden Export (Helles) brewed by Kevin Christopher Davey

Winning Silver medals were:

  • Silver City Brewery in Silverdale for their Old Scrooge
  • Fremont Brewing in Seattle for their Summer Ale, and for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star

Winning a Bronze medal was:

  • Sound Brewery from Poulsbo for their Dubbel Entendre

GABF Day 2


Well, you might think Day 2 would be just more of the same as Day 1 at the Great American Beer Festival. And at 30,000 feet, you may be right. Another day of sampling beers you never had before and likely never will again. Another day of elbowing through crowds of people who think walkways are great places to stand and yak, blocking everyone else, who they seem to not even acknowledge as existing in this world.

But you would be wrong.

JimKoch2Day 2 started out with a breakfast sponsored by the Boston Beer Company, aka Samuel Adams. Owner, founder, guru, mentor, sage, pundit Jim Koch greeted us with a brief history and status of the craft beer industry, and his company’s place in it. He noted that craft beer now makes up 8% of the total beer market and Sam Adams has finally reached 1%, “… after working my ass off for 30 years.” He then introduced us to Rebel Rouser, a new 8.4% ABV Double IPA they have added to the more than 60 different beer styles they make.

Sam Adams sponsors a Longshot program giving homebrewers a chance to have their homebrew made and distributed by the Boston Beer Company. Sam Adams also sponsors a mentoring program for breweries just getting started, now helping some 400+ breweries become more successful.


This year’s Longshot winners included Forestville, California resident Greg Rasmussen’s Robust Porter, Smithtown, New York resident Matthew Knott’s Classic Rauchbier and Samuel Adams employee John Marra’s Dunkelweiss. The three winners will now be able to share their homebrewed creations with craft beer lovers across the country when these winning brews are bottled and made available nationwide next spring as part of the 2015 Samuel Adams LongShot variety six-pack.

Then there was the media lunch with a ton of industry information that will appear in future blogs and stories in craft beer magazines in coming months. Finally we took a bus tour of three Denver breweries, Denver Beer Company, Diebolt Brewing and Jagged Mountain, guided by Denver beer writer Ed Sealover.

All this BEFORE the Friday night public session. Four more hours of scouring the craft beer landscape for brews by region or style, or pure randomness, based on the length of the line or appeal of the people pouring.

More coming soon – and more pictures. Come back. You know you want to.

GABF Day 1


The Great American Beer Festival opened its doors at 5:30 pm Mountain Time in Denver, CO on Thursday. As the traditional bagpipes played, thousands of eager craft beer enthusiasts poured into the Denver Convention Center. Awaiting them were 3,743 beers of the widest variety ever, brewed by 709 different breweries from all over the United States.

CSC_0115This scene will play itself out three more times over the weekend, with Friday and Saturday night sessions, and a Saturday afternoon session exclusively for American Homebrewers Association (AHA) members. The AHA and the Brewers Association (BA) have put on this extraordinary event for 33 years. It remains the largest beer festival in the country, and also hosts the largest beer competition.

Brewers will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in 89 beer categories. There are 5,753 beers being judged by certified beer judges from all over the world. Winners will be acknowledged at the awards ceremony on Saturday morning.

CSC_0052Revelers come in a variety of attire, from hopheads and pretzels,  to Waldos and Amish farmers. An astonishing number of people come as themselves! The people scenery is just part of the fun at this wonderful event. In all, 49,000 people will attend the four sessions.

The festival spills over into many of Denver’s great breweries and evening hot spots as the busses on the 16th Avenue Mall transport folks to extended parts of the downtown area.



Victoria Victorious – GCBF ’14 Best Ever


tastercupThere is a wonderful beer festival every year in Victoria, BC, billed as the Great Canadian Beer Festival, even though most of the craft beers there are from British Columbia. Neither of Canada’s larger cities, Toronto or Montreal, has risen to challenge this claim.

For people from the island, this is just a continuation of their immersion in the craft beer revolution. Victoria is loaded with quality craft breweries. A good many folk ferry in from Vancouver and its surrounding cities, too, where many mighty fine beers can be found.

Those of us in the lower 48, in particular, Seattle, take the two-hour, forty-five minute ride up on the Victoria Clipper, with hopes of seeing the occasional pod of orcas en route. If you have never been to Victoria – good – stay away – this is my own personal slice of Heaven and the fewer people who know about it the better. Just kidding. NOT!

Every year on the first weekend in September, for the past 23 years John Rowling and his dedicated crew put on this beer lovers extravaganza. There were 82 breweries pouring a record number 253 beers for the 8,000 people who attended the two-day festival.

There were no “dumpers” this year (beers that were maybe a little too creative for their own good) as Canadian brewers are getting the hang of both what their fans like and what keeps interest in the craft growing. Brewers from the USA did not have booths this year. Instead, the Brewers Association sponsored a tent with 27 beers., including beers from Michigan, and Virginia.

The Brewers

In addition to the great beers is the wonderful scenery. Creative costumes and just plain nice people make going to this festival a highlight for any dedicated Beercationer.

Creative Costumes

Beer lovers of all ages

The beers at the festival were deee-licious. Some of the more awesome ones were:

- 33 Acres of Sunshine – French style wheat ale. Lightly hopped with Styrian Golding and flavoured with orange peel, coriander seed and anise seed, brings out a fruity, spicy character.

- Hound of Barkerville – Rich and smooth, with European malts lending a sweetness and aroma reminiscent of wildflower honey.

- Rhine Stone Cowboy – Delicate, well matured Kölsch style ale.

- Bomber ESB – Light molasses and grain on the nose with a pinch of dry hopping. Hints of dried fruit with toffee & wafer on the finish.

- Glutenberg Red –The use of roasted chestnuts endows this beer with toasted nuts and caramel hints, and gives it a unique aromatic personality.

beerstyle2- Back Hand of God Stout (Organic) - This award-winning dry stout is extraordinarily smooth and mildly hopped with a distinct coffee/chocolate presence.

- Insurrection Pale Ale (Organic) - Dry hopped with plenty of farm-grown Cascade hops.

- Gael’s Blood Organic Potato Ale - This Irish “immigrant” ale is exceptionally smooth with an earthy malt flavour and body. Plenty of malt, mouthfeel and hoppy bitterness

- White Bark Witbier – Brewed with the addition of freshly ground coriander, curacao and orange peel. Hops are outshone by the wonderful floral aromas.

beerstyles- Sap Sucker Maple Porter – Made with seven malts including chocolate, black, caramel and crystal. Maple syrup is added post fermentation adding a slight maple smoothness to the finish.

- Brett IPA – At the heart of this distinctive West Coast IPA stands juxtaposition of ripe tropical fruit esters and mild Brett funk. Moderately bitter and gracefully balanced.

- Bean Me Up Espresso Milk Stout – The perfect marriage of espresso coffee and a delicate stout featuring a smooth creamy sweetness from lactose.

- Strawberry Wit – Fresh strawberries are puréed with honey and blended into a Belgian style wheat beer for a refreshing experience.

- Weathervane Vanilla Stout – Real vanilla extract from the highest quality Madagascar vanilla pods, blended seamlessly with the roast and chocolate flavours of the legendary Keeper’s stout.

There were dozens more good brews to try – beers you will only find in Canada – some only at the beer festival (and ciders from Cider Riot). Be sure to watch for this next year in mid-July when tickets go on sale. It sells out within the first couple days.

Pike Brewing Celebrates 25 Years


25-silver-starIt is hard to believe that Pike Brewing started making quality ales 25 years ago. They are still leading edge and continue to win medals at festivals and competitions, and garner accolades from the national press.

It is hard for me, personally to think about this because I bought my homebrewing setup from Liberty Malt (which they owned in the early 90’s) that I still use today – well later today – after I write this blog entry.

Charles and Ruth Finkle started this wonderful enterprise (see the very interesting timeline on their web page) in 1989, but they have not owned it the whole time, which may be a surprise to some of you.

They have several events around the area that you can attend to help them celebrate, culminating with a parade and festival on October the brewery.

Tickets available online at Brown Paper Tickets .

Throughout America’s Craft Beer renaissance, Pike and its sister company, Liberty Malt Supply, has been home to some of the nation’s top craft brewers. Pike Head Brewer, Dean Mochizuki, has invited Pike alumni brewers to collaborate on a special reunion beer for the party. Participating brewers include:
  • Jason Parker, Copperworks Distillery
  • Dick Cantwell, Elysian Brewing
  • Kevin Forhan, RAM; Bill Jenkins, RAM
  • Kim Brusco, Pyramid
  • Janelle Pritchard, Spinnaker Bay
  • Manny Chao, Georgetown
  • Larry Rock, Click Distributing
  • Drew Cluley, Beardslee Alehouse, Bothell, WA
  • Skip Madsen, American Brewing, Edmonds, WA
  • Shawn Loring, Lazy Boy, Everett, WA
  • Frank Helderman, Terminal Gravity, Enterprise, OR
  • Geoff Deman, Free State, Lawrence, KS
  • Dean Priebe, Icicle Brewing, Leavenworth, WA
  • Fal Allen, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, CA

White Bluffs Brewing Prepares for GABF


2850eaa7e90a8682311caa6c2a475f9f_400x400When David takes on Goliath, we learn from an early age to root for David. Such is the case at the Great American Beer Festival each year as small brewers head to Denver in hopes of bringing home Gold, or at least getting some experience and name recognition on a larger stage.

Such is the case with White Bluffs Brewery in Richland, WA, winners of several Washington Beer Awards for their Red Alt. Brewer/owner Mike Sutherland is taking his craft beers where you can drink ales from all 50 states all in one spot.

—– UPDATE!!! – White Bluffs Brewing Wins Gold at GABF! —–

There are a surprising number of good breweries in the Tri-cities area; White Bluffs Brewing, Atomic Ales Brewpub & Eatery, Rattlesnake Mountain Brewery, Ice Harbor Brewing in the Richland/Kennewick area, and Whitstran Brewing and Horse Heaven Hills Brewery in Prosser.

White Bluffs Brewing, however is the only one headed to GABF.

sBcBA.AuSt.13“This will be our first trip to GABF and our first exposure outside of Washington.  We have had beer in the Seattle market at the Stumbling Monk and it was well received.  We also usually participate in Seattle Beer Week at Beveridge Place and Naked City.  We have ambitious goals so this is an opportunity to engage with other brewers and craft beer lovers to get better connected and hopefully pick up on anything that might be emerging within the industry either particular beer styles or operationally,” said Mike Sutherland in a recent conversation.


They will be pouring the Red Alt, Biere de Garde, Bluffdiver IPA and either Biere de Mars or Rocktoberfest at the festival itself. White Bluffs Brewing brews on a 7 bbl system. Last year they produced a total of 237 bbl.  On their horizon is the purchase a 15 bbl system which should enable them to distribute to most of Washington state.

So for now, you can enjoy their beer at the Richland taphouse (road trip), wait for the occasional appearance on tap at other locations, or go to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this October. Hopefully Mike will be able to show off a medal or two when all is said and done.

Click here to see what other Washington breweries will be attending the GABF this year.

Artesians Invade Tumwater


eab99620b30857088230812c4cce5846This little festival kind of snuck up on me but I am pretty glad it did. I missed the Olympia Brewfest and the Everett Brewfest after I dropped a massive headboard on my toes, so catching sight of the Tumwater Artesian Brewfest was quite a nice surprise.

Twenty-four breweries brought approximately 80 beers to the festival. Several wineries, cider makers and a soon to be opened distillery also had booths.This is the second year for this festival, put on as a fundraiser by the Tumwater Visitors & Convention Bureau . Last year it was an Oktoberfest celebration, but organizers decided to rebrand it and offer it as a late summer venue, held at the driving range of the Tumwater Golf & Country Club.

It gives new life to the concept in the brewing world of a three-tiered system, but with brewers, volunteers/organizers, and craft beer lovers as the pillars of strength here.

tumolycan“It’s the Water” was the familiar reprise as Oly made its way back to the taps, along with many new breweries springing up in the South Sound. Olympia Beer was famed for its purported use of artesian drinking water. A new brewery, Three Magnets Brewing is selling beer in kegs around Thurston County and will open a tasting room/pub in a few weeks in Lacey. Also, Top Rung, another new brewery in Lacey was on hand to showcase their fine beers – really like that Raspberry Wheat Ale.

The festival was fantastic. Lots of great beer and great fun, with giant Jenga blocks, giant beer pong, mug holding competitions, hole-in-one competitions. The volunteers were enthusiastic and very helpful. And live music.

Some brewers made the trip and talked up their creations to the appreciative crowd. Others – who are not to be named – sent a couple kegs and relied on volunteers to pour it for them. That was a bit disappointing, since Washington beer festivals are among the best because of the interaction you can have with the brewer/brewery staff.

The Brewers and Volunteers

The Craft Beer Lovers

tumfan11The Beer Stein Holding Competition was very entertaining as contestants strained against gravity to hold a full stein parallel to the ground.

Oh, and I must do a shout out to the food vendors. Yay! Excellent food to help absorb the liquid refreshments.

I’ll mark this one down for a must-see event in 2015. Great job.

Hit Rock Bottom in Bellevue


Rock Bottom BellevueBiting at the lure of winning $5, $15 or $300 in Rock Bottom rewards, I ventured out to the busy metropolis of Bellevue, WA to see what I’d won. To  my delight, they are brewing at full production and offered up a sampler of six exceptional brews made on-site by Brewmaster Sara Luchi.

When I worked in Bellevue, I was a regular at the then, exciting, new Rock Bottom Brewery near Bellevue Square. But that was a few years back, now, and other than the occasional release party, my beer travels have taken me to many other places instead. I enjoyed many of the beers created by former brewmaster Brian Young.

RBB beers

Sara took the reins nearly two years ago. I am pleased to report that she is making some equally delightful brews, which this day included a Kölsch, a Wit, an IPA, a summer honey, a red and the current dark beer, a CDA. All were good, and spot on for style. The IPA was on the moderately hopped edge but still with that Northwest bite.

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Capture4Once again the Great American Beer Festival sold all 70,000 tickets to the three-day event in a matter of minutes during yesterday’s Members Only sales and today’s General Public sale. Many of the tickets were snatched up by opportunists who are now trying to resell the tickets at 45-110% more than the original price. Once again, many hard-working, craft beer loving people who wanted to go to the festival will not be going because of this.

There are some solutions to this situation. First and foremost is becoming an American Homebrewers Association member and buying the tickets during the Members Only sale.

However the culpability in the quest for fair play now falls to the consumer. Do not be intimidated by the ticket sharks. Do not pay more than face value. This is called aiding and abetting the bad guys. Wait them out. You do not need the ticket until the day of the event anyway. The scalpers can’t sit on thousands of unsold tickets. At some point they will drop the prices. If you don’t score the tickets, there are more than a gillion beer-related things to do in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins during that week.

Hoppy Trails Beer News will be there, reporting live and direct from the convention center floor. Come back and visit here often for stories about local brewers as they prepare for this prestigious event.

Upcoming “Don’t Miss” Beer Festivals


September 2014

October 2014

Bremerton Summer Brewfest 2014


Q.  What do you get when you gather up 30 breweries, more than 100 very different beers and put them in the downtown area of the home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 100 degree heat? Besides cooked festival goers.

The Bremerton Summer Brewfest

To say the West Sound brewers are creative would rank as one of the world’s greatest understatements. It should be no surprise, since they are the ones largely responsible for the success of the Strange Brewfest in January each year.

It’s an easy 60 minute ferry ride from Seattle to Bremerton, made especially enjoyable by the great weather all day long. The festival was just a few blocks from the ferry terminal, the beautiful harbor and nearby shipyards.

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GABF – Here We Come!!!

HTBN logoHoppy Trails Beer News is getting packed and ready to bring you the latest news and sights from the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO. We will be on the ground about 2:00 pm Denver time tomorrow heading to some of the best breweries in the nation, and the best festival of the year.

There will be more than 3,000 beers available to sample from 700+ breweries (at least one from all 50 states) over a three-day period. More than 49,000 people will attend the event over the four sessions. There is a special session on Saturday afternoon for AHA members only (American Homebrewers Association) – and we will be representing the Renton Area Homebrewers (RAH), bringing you updates from the festival floor and the awards ceremony that precedes it on Saturday morning.

Come back here often for updates or on Twitter @Bob_at_HTBN .