Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What the Hell Happened at GABF?

Yeah, the title of this post is a bit misleading because it implies a singular event that might have dominated the interests of those who were in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, when, in actuality, it was a compound of mind-melting events and zany antics for sure -- a festival, in the truest interpretation of the word: a feast of celebrations honoring saints and gods in which the liturgical calendar of everyone in attendance is (mostly) based, and partook by in every angle of the city: convention halls, nationally esteemed beer bars, Beerliners, bottle shops, and extraordinarily enough, ancillary pop-up festivals within the festival.     

GABF is like Christian Mingle for fat, bearded, drunky louts, iffin you can affiliate something like Rio Carnival as something religiously-based at all, which is to say that here, in the center of this country's beer Mecca, amongst the gassy cool dads making their annual retreats and turbo-millennials with at least three others from their Facebook, stand the Monsters of Brewing; the Gods of Fermentation, if you will.

In the center of the Great Hall, amongst the constant droning of its besotted human mass and against the complexions of 3,100 individually imagined beers, resembles the circus of repentant sin before the season of Last Suppers and enlightened reformations -- at least whatever tame mess a Space Shuttle hangar worth of drunks geeking out to something called "Sparkleberry" can get themselves in to.  The enthusiasm is both sweetly infectious and slightly disturbing.  But that is GABF.  It should be their fucking motto.

One of my favorite little occurrences in life -- and I don't want to misrepresent myself here as a person who desperately achieves lumps in the throat from simple, daily routines -- but one of my favorite little occurrences in life is when a beer glass can't take the girth of my 12 fluid ounces, and so to achieve maximum value from the beer purchase, I just kinda slam the final 1oz sip right out of the bottle. Fresh. Cold. 

Its like tricking a life rule -- final sips from their respective vessels are supposed to be sickly warm, not bright and biting, indicative of the beer's pasts and present.  Its a fucking glorious phenomenon.

That too, is GABF.

One ounce samples of greatness, one after the next, as many as your skill for breathing involuntarily allows.  Brisk and tricking life.  Its a world class experience.  Try it at home, then go ahead and book your flight to Denver for 2014.

My absolute favorite thing about GABF this year was the massive and proud representation we had from The Great State.  Texas represented 37 of the festival's 624 breweries, which, according to fuzzy Google calculations, is more than half of the state's active breweries, and like, a shitload more than many other states had there in this massive chamber of dreams.

In that, nine of those Texas breweries took home a grand total of 10 medals, including favorite sons, Austin Beerworks & StepCrew (see reference above) for their Black Thunder Schwarzbier.  A fucking gold medal beer, available right in your living room.  And they're bringing it all the way back to Awstin, Texas, baybee. -- Vince Young.

Beyond that, five other Austin-area breweries took home impressive hardware for their prodigious efforts, especially amazing in the fact that five of the six medal breweries of Austin are in their infancy.

Gold to Namaste Brewing for Bitterama in the Herb & Spice Beer category
Silver to Real Ale* for Brewers Cut Altbier in the German-Style Altbier category
Bronze to Black Star Co-Op for Elba in the Herb & Spice Beer category
Bronze to Jester King for Atrial Rubicite in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category
Bronze to Pinthouse Pizza for Blind Jake in the Brown Porter category

* old ass, Texas flagship brewery

It is clear that Texas is improving their ability to compete, and above that, expecting to compete.  There was a clear and significant buzz around the Southwest Midway -- which in the past several years has expanded from a blinking stoplight town to a megalopolis of beer -- largely on the strength of Texas brewing. Texas Brewing.  I like the way that sounds.

And it was pretty awesome to witness the enthusiasm surrounding Texas' preferable positioning at this year's festival, which was probably not coincidental based on its 2013 hype.  I think everyone there probably delivered on that promise of something special.

I've mentioned it before, but Texas Row, including its satellite branch of free 12oz pours at the Beerliner -- a mobile beer bar driven from Austin, over the mountains, and planted in front of the venerable Falling Rock Taphouse -- resembles more of a Senior Trip than a Beer Fest.  We won't say we are sorry.

And with 5,000 total beer submission for judging between all the competing breweries, it appears that there is a ton -- I mean a fucking ton -- of confidence in craft brewing at the moment, not only with experimental beer, but with, as my pal Mike likes to say, "Keep the Lights On Beer", just as Black Thunder exists so that seasonals and exploratories like Sputnik and Einhorn can go all the way with me.  Oh, and along the way, why don't they  just pick up a Gold Medal while they're at it?

And while there were only a sippycup's worth of flops -- Odell Fernet Barrel Aged Porter stand out as the biggest offender -- there were gallons upon gallons of liquid salve that stopped the hemorrhaging from such a brain beating (Mikey liked it. No he did. He brought a bottle home to kill wasps with, presumably.).

An thus, the collaborate effort of mining GABF's best beers between two dudes on a 9am flight back to Texas with every other brewer and enthusiast and blogger hiding behind their Audio-Technica headphones ignoring hangovers.  Happily feeling shitty.  Knowing that we'd do it all over again.

10.  Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale | Cigar City Brewing | Tampa, FL
09.  White Chocolate Wheatwine | The Bruery | Orange County, CA
08.  Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout | Mother's Brewing | Springfield, MO
07.  Gone Commando Vienna Lager with Currants | Short's Brewing | Bellaire, MI
06.  Lobster Stout | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, DE
05.  Empire Spear Beer Asparagus Ale | Right Brain Brewing | Traverse City, MI
04.  Black Note Imperial Stout | Bell's Brewing | Kalamazoo, MI
03.  Duck Duck Goze | The Lost Abbey | San Marcos, CA
02.  Mosaic IPA | Community Beer Company | Dallas, TX
01.  Mexican Chocolate Siberius Maximus Russian Imperial Stout* | Wrecking Bar Brewpub | Atlanta, GA 
(*Major HT to @carlosarellano for pointing us into the brewpub pavilion)

(follow [AA] on twitter @anavenueblog, and @draught_punk for best in life podcast)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Symphony of Craft Beer and Football

This country yearns for the razzle-dazzle of sports entertainment, feasting on spectacular step overs and end zone tumbles with recreational hunger, chomping on the hot guts of point aggregation and victory with the unbridled emotion of unburied zombies buffeting at a senior living center.

We feast our faces on the spoils of breads and grilled meats, natural bedfellows to this nation's primary pastime potable: BEER -- and unless you are reading this article from Kiev or Krakow -- we, as Americans rely mainly on beer to take us from compliant office drone on Friday to defiant middle finger wagger by Saturday.  Its science.

And yet, the single-most confounding abnormality about sports culture in the United States is the propensity to demonstrate all of this courageous backbone and undeniable intensity -- pounding fists to stone in hopeless despair, barking with spirituous celebration in glory, and enduring subzero climates in shirtless solidarity -- but then choose to drink a light beer with absolutely no fucking balls at all.

It just makes no sense.  Its like ordering a double bacon burger with a couple of veggie patties.

The collective sports enthusiast -- most notably 'football fan' -- appears to willfully endorse a spectacularly bland version of boiled lettuce as a means to invoke home team mania, and, of course helping along any social barriers one might experience with opposing fans in the parking lot of some shitty, back-road wilderness like Manhattan, Kansas or Ames, Iowa.  The protocol for survival is typically a 24-count case of American corn lager, a Styrofoam cooler from the party store, and $1.49 bag of ice.  Now just what in the ....

[Oh, hey!  Did you like that so far?  Do yer wanna read more about how perfectly craft beer pairs with football season?  Be sure to pick up an Austin Beer Guide during its release party tomorrow, October 3rd, at Craft Pride on Rainey Street and read the rest of this insightful shit.  Beyond that, you're on your own to scavenge the Fall 2013 issue from the Draught House crapper.]  ... or just keep reading below if yr not in Austin ...

... fuck?

By all means, if tradition is your flavor, far be it from me as a horribly superstitious sports fan to alter your team's good fortune with the suggestion of alternative beer brands.  

But if economics is your barrier, or quality your question, or laziness your impedance, or even intimidation your fear, allow us at the Austin Beer Guide to try to take your pre-game to the next level.  After all, this is Autumn; the season of receiving sweets and giving thanks, cooling off despite the sun shining brightly through depleted branches, raging benders on the patio.  And football.  Some might even call it "The Best Season".

Fortunately for many, living in Austin entitles its townspeople to good football and great beer.  And while the city's brewing tradition isn't as legendary as its gridiron past, it is made up for with the talent and speed of a youthful upstart turning heads across the land.

One way for Austin to immediately impart its brewing cachet on locals, was to create historically relevant and regionally appropriate beer.  This is where many feel the local brew scene excels, and they are probably right in this sense; sessionable, yet flavorful beers that pair suitably with our unmerciful subjective temperatures -- the summer-into-fall weather that appears to be every Austinite's pet-hate. 

Here are a few of our recommendations to get you through the residual hot months before transitioning into the briskness of late Fall and early Winter.  Most of these beers are easy on the alcohol percentage for sustainability, but remain bold on the palate for quality.  But sometimes -- just sometimes -- you have to break out the big guns to get you through the tenuous moments.  We included those too, because in incidents of high emotion, craft beer is almost as serious as football.


Kickoff (August - September)
Austin is quickly becoming a city that is easily out-drinking its provisions in beer, and this is because local brewers are absolutely nailing it with mild-bodied American style ales and lagers.  What is abandoning shelves city-wide are spruced-up version of classic American styles that once defined the country's beer culture -- sessionable swills like PBR and Bud Light, for example -- and empowering them with quality ingredients like hops and all-malt profiles.  This leads to approachable, palatable, and flavorful beers that allow for daylong imbibing without too much concern for falling out of your chair by game time.

These are the Arial fonts of beer: simple layout, nice packaging, not too fussy, but imparting plenty of impact on your social game. These are best enjoyed during the hot-Fall, which, in geographic anomalies like Austin, extends well into the football season's first rivalry week.

Austin Beerworks Peacemaker
Style: Extra Pale Ale
ABV:  5.0%
Available: In cans, on draught.

Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale is as bright and merciful as an Adele/Taylor Swift duet.  It has long washes of citrus and crystal clear notes of flavoring hops.

Hops & Grain The One They Call Zoe
Style: Pale American Lager
ABV: 5.2%
Available: In cans, infrequently on draught.

Austin's defacto gateway beer, Zoe is considered a pale lager -- the same style as a Bud or a Coors -- but as similar technically as Toby Keith is to Keith Jackson.  Try this robust homage to badassery.

Real Ale Hans Pils
Style: Pilsner
ABV: 5.3%
Available: In cans, on draught.

Hans Pils is the 2012 Great American Beer Festival Silver Medalist in a very difficult category.  If Texas is to become as synonymous with Czech and German Pilsners as fried chicken is to Kentucky, then Hans Pils is the hearth that bears that flame.

Live Oak HefeWeizen
Style: Wheat beer
ABV: 5.2%
Available: Draught only.

Considered Austin's first (and as of yet, only) "World Class" beer, Live Oak HefeWeizen is the cornerstone of north campus pre-gaming at places like Crown & Anchor and Posse East.

The Second Half (October - November)
Late Autumn in Austin is not the unremitting gray drizzle of football hotbeds like the Northwest or the blustery mix of the Midwest, however, this time of year delivers to our city the sweet relief of cooler temperatures. 

We can feel thankful that our mild Falls allow for us to be outside much more than our northern counterparts because of the lack of moisture, however, we still need to find something weighty to dig our heels into as the subjective temperature dips all the way into the frosty 70s.  Beer selection at this juncture is typically less bittered and more malt-driven with a slightly higher ABV to cushion against local hypothermia.
Independence Oklahoma Suks
Style: Amber
ABV: 4.8%
Available: Very limited in bottles seasonally. (Austin Amber available year-round in bottles, draught)

Oklahoma Suks is just Independence's Austin Amber dressed in Texas gear ahead of the Red River Rivalry in early October, but with a mild, roasted finish and low ABV, its a beer that will pal around with you through the emotional ebb-and-flow of a typical Texas-ou match up like a familiar friend.

Hops & Grain Alt-eration
Style: Altbier
ABV:  5.1%
Available: In Cans, draught

Alt-eration was the 2012 World Beer Cup gold medalist for its category, which at that time, made it the best Altbier one could buy, anywhere, after only a few months in production.  With that kind of hardware and credibility, its an safe bet to draft this one for your weekend plans.

Austin Beerworks Black Thunder
Style: German Schwarzbier
ABV: 5.3%
Available: In Cans, draught

Grainy and malty, chocolatey and nutty -- none of that matters because Black Thunder sound football-y as fuck.  Just buy it.  Its a perfect fall beer.  Actually, its perfect any time.

Overtime (December - January)
Ah, yes, finally you have to wear a hoodie to get your mail, and you begin driving to work while its still dark outside.  Your team has either struggled mightily and its time to cash-in on caring -- OR -- you're team is thriving and its whats keeping your pumping heart from rude health, despite overindulgence on holiday office party lamb and the trendy macarons your kid left for Santa in hopes of a Robo Fish.  All this while your size 34 belt mimicks a tourniquet to your lower extremities.  All of them.
These are demonstrative times, and demonstrative times call for bolder beers.  Its time to go big.

(512) Pecan Porter
Style: Porter
ABV:  6.5%
Available: Draught only.

Besides Live Oak HefeWeizen, (512)'s Pecan Porter might be Austin's most iconic beer.  If you got on your knees and licked Zilker Park's earth, I don't know if you could get a better sense of how Austin might literally taste.  This should be it.

Independence Convict Hill
Style: Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 8.0%
Available: In bottles, on draught.

Lovely, and chocolatey and smooth and boozy before swirling back to lovely. The kind of beer that makes it nearly impossible for your bottom-dweller team to harsh the mellow.

Jester King Black Metal
Style: English Imperial Stout
ABV:  9.3%
Available: In bottles, draught rarely.

Well, now we're talking about a ball-bustin' beer beast.  Drinking a Black Metal during the BCS Championship or Super Bowl would be like driving a Testarossa to Senior Prom.  If you want to be a badass, you've gotta drink the badass.