Dec 23 2010

GABF Pro-Am Brew Day and Competition with Starr Hill (with video!)

This could be a very, very long blog post, but I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet.

In August of this year, I was asked by Brewmaster Mark Thompson of Starr Hill Brewing Company to do the Pro-Am entry with them for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). The Pro-Am is where a brewery partners up with a homebrewer and makes a batch of the homebrewer’s award winning beer in their brewery. The homebrew recipe is scaled up and put into the competition during the GABF in Denver.

Of course, I jumped at the chance.

Starr Hill has done this for more than few years and they even won a Pro-Am silver medal at the GABF in 2008.

The beer that Mark was most interested in was my California Common, or “Steam” beer. I jokingly called it “McSteamy” not long after it had been brewed and the name, making fun of the steam name and Grey’s Anatomy, simply stuck.

Every homebrewer, at some point, dreams of brewing with professional equipment and making a huge batch of their beer. In this case, instead of making my normal 5 gallon batch, I worked with Starr Hill to make 360 gallons of beer.  This means that instead of using 14 pounds of grain, we used 875 pounds. Instead of 5 ounces of hops, we used 10 pounds of hops. Upconverting that recipe was stressful for me, but it all worked out in the end.

On the brew day in August, I showed up at the brewery with my friends Will and Jon. Will has there to help out and enjoy the brew day, and Jon was there to do the same, AND he brought along his video camera to record the brew day.  More on that later.

Walk into any big, craft brewery (a bit of an oxymoron, but bear with me), and you will be overwhelmed with the scale and the amount of steel that surrounds you. It is complicated, but glorious, steampunk dream.

On the brew deck I met Levi, who was my Starr Hill brew partner for the day. Levi was amazing, and he truly made the brew day collaborative.  His constant narration of the process of brewing beer on their system was as educational as it was reassuring. I wasn’t a by-stander to my own beer. I was actively working with him on the control panel and transferring the beer from here to there.

Then it was brewing as usual. Well, except for the giant equipment with scientific accuracy.

Just like my equipment at home. Or not.

Once it was all over, McSteamy was transferred to its fermenter, dropped down to 60 degrees F° and it was ready to go.

This is me trying to act cool and pretending that I did it alone (I’m not and I didn’t):

A dry-hopping and a month later, McSteamy was kegged up for the Starr Hill tasting room, the GABF and a few watering holes around Virginia. There were a few bomber bottles, too, that were for the actual GABF competition, and I got a few of those to share with friends and the homebrew club.

The Charlottesville unveiling of McSteamy happened at Beer Run, and that was an amazing evening. It was truly humbling to see so many friends and extended family show up to the event. I’m still stunned that so many support my hobby/addiction. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such good people.

In September, I flew out to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. If you ever get the opportunity to go to the GABF, do it. It is awe-inspiring festival of excess, but worth every moment. And a few of the days it, later, takes to recover from it.

McSteamy did not when a medal, but it turned out great and very drinkable. The whole experience was remarkable.

If reading this wasn’t enough, please click on the video below and check out the amazing job Jon did in capturing the experience. It eloquently captures the brew day more than my mere words do.

Thanks, again, Jon.

Check out McSteamy:


Sep 22 2010

Quick Thoughts About the 2010 GABF and Ideas for Next Time

Beer People are Amazing – It has been said before, but it bears repeating. Beer lovers are just good people. They have a zest for life and they want to experience everything that can with the limited time we have on the planet.

Next time: Do more crowd-sourcing – Talk to the people in the beer line with you. What beers have they enjoyed? Use the friendliness and expertise around you to your advantage.

Me and (In All Likelihood Harassing) Ron Jeffries From Jolly Pumpkin

The GABF does not favor modest, well-crafted beers – Like in a big family, the loudest voice is the one that gets heard at the dinner table. The GABF is no different. The convention center is filled with dozens and dozens of well-crafted pale ales and German lagers, but they get overshadowed by double IPAs, Russian imperial stouts and sour ales.

Next time: Consciously seek out these less extreme beers – They take just as much artistry to make, they are a great way to reset your palate, and they are lower in alcohol, which will extend your tasting day.

You’ll Want to Make Every Beer Like Saboteur

Food and Water is a chore at GABF – Keeping hydrated is a common and smart tip. I didn’t have a problem with this one in that I’ve done some judging and I realize the importance of water and crackers between beers to get you ready for the next. Water was easy. Food was my big problem. I guess I was in a permanent state of fullness with the absurd amounts of water and beer I was drinking.  It was hard work eating bready meals, but if I hadn’t I would have been in serious trouble.

Next time: Plan out your meals as well as you did your bars – Palate fatigue can hit you in a variety of ways.  Falling Rock, Cheeky Monk, etc. are mandatory beer stops, but make sure you know which restaurants you want to hit, as well.  Make your meals worth looking for to.

Break up the monotony – Wandering around the hall and getting samples of beers you can’t get at home from breweries you haven’t heard of is amazing, but you can only do that for so many hours. Running into amazing people at the bars around town, too, is great, but it is good to mix some quality in with the quantity.

Next time: Try to find key events to attend inside and outside of the convention hall – Seek out a food demonstration from Sean Paxton, or sit down for a minute and listen to some of the speakers. My favorite event during the GABF was the Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting (followed closely by the Ladies of Craft Beer Beer4Boobs charity event). This was quality time, with the actual brewers (!?!) and access to some extraordinary and experimental beer.

Falling Rock – Busy Day and Night

There are (almost) too many breweries at GABF– The number of breweries that attend the GABF is over whelming. There are too many to see and try even if you attended all 4 sessions.

Next time: Have a game plan of which breweries to visit – Obviously you should avoid any beers that you can get at home.  And you should plan to stand in line for a few minutes for the rockstar breweries like Dogfish Head, Russian River, Lost Abbey, etc. But watch out for smaller breweries that might run out of their beers quickly (New Glarus, Shorts, etc.)

The New Glarus Line BEFORE the Session Began

Extra Credit:

Memorable (New to Me) Breweries – Shorts, Cascade, New Glarus, Cigar City, Copper Canyon, Odell, Boulevard and Alaskan.

Memorable (New to Me) Beers – Many of my memorable beers were from the Pints for Prostates tasting. Brooklyn’s Reinschweinsgebot, Avery Quinquepartie, Sam Adam’s Kosmic Mother Funk, Upstream’s Farmhouse Surprise, Cascade Noyeaux Sour Ale, Cigar City White Oak-Aged Jai Alai IPA, Jolly Pumpkin Biere de Goord, and many others. In the Convention Center, New Belgium’s Eric’s Ale and Imperial Berliner Weisse, New Glarus’ Raspberry Tart and Moon Man, Odell’s Saboteur and DeConstruction, Boulevard’s Two Jokers Double-Wit, Flossmoor’s Pullman Brown, Shorts’ Key Lime Pie and Anniversary Ale, and a bunch of other beers I’m embarrassed to be forgetting right now.

Proud to be an “Amercian”