Monday, October 13, 2008

Great American Beer Festival

Late last week - October 9-11, 2008, to be exact - Denver hosted its annual Great American Beer Festival. It's a truly mammoth event that holds the world record for the most number of beers on tap under one roof. Last year, I attended the GABF on assignment for 5280: Denver's Mile-High Magazine. That assignment resulted in my article, "The Happiest Hour: A beer lover discovers a new favorite in gluten-free," which appeared in the March 2008 issue.

It was a fun assignment - my goal was to find the needle in the haystack, to find the literal handful of GF beers from among the thousands of beers on tap. There were the predictable beers - RedBridge, New Grist - and also others, like Bard's Tale and Shakparo. And in the middle of the convention center, they had the Beer and Food Pavilion, where throughout the festival they held different cooking seminars, including one co-hosted by Elise Wiggins, executive chef of Panzanno in downtown Denver, about cooking gluten-free. Last year's GABF was notable because, for the first time, GF beers competed in their own category. Previously, GF beers were entered in the experimental beer category, where anything goes and they were up against an incredibly wide variety of entrants and styles.

This year's 2008 GABF proved equally mammoth in its proportions - 46,000 attendees, 472 breweries in the competition, 432 breweries on the tasting floor, 2,902 beers in the competition, and 2,052 beers to taste. Of course, very few of those beers are gluten-free. In fact, this year's gluten-free beer category had 10 entrants (up from 8 last year). Anheuser-Busch's RedBridge took the gold, while LakeFront's New Grist took the silver (thus repeating their one-two finish from 2007). Deschutes Brewery's Chinquapin Butte Golden Ale took bronze.

To be completely honest, I'm disappointed by this year's result. RedBridge is once again on top, and while Anheuser-Busch makes a great GF beer, which is distributed nationally, and which I've drank...a lot, I'm tired of seeing it at Number One. There are other great GF beers out there, and I'd like to see them earn some accolades so that people can find out about them, people can drink them, and they can grow in popularity, hopefully increasing demand and availability. I'm especially disappointed with New Grist making it onto the medal podium...again. They've been there since GF beers were in the experimental category, and I still can't figure out what judges like so much about New Grist. For me, it's always had a funny aftertaste. I've never tasted Deschutes' Chinquapin, but in my pre-GF days, I loved many of their beers, and I'm happy to see them win the bronze.

But there are two other beers I'd like to see get a mention: Bard's Tale Dragon's Gold, and CB Potts Don't Be A Gluten. I wrote about Bard's in the current October 2008 issue of Missouri Life magazine. And you can read about CB Potts here on our blog.

Do you have a favorite GF beer? Know of a local GF brew you think others should know about? Leave a comment or let us know!

- Pete


Lauren Denneson said...

I can't say enough how cool it is that companies are starting to make GF beer and it is available at festivals such as this one. I haven't gotten a chance to try the Deschutes ale yet, though I live within walking distance of one of their pubs! So far, my favorite is New Grist, though Redbridge is a close second. Bard's tale seemed too bitter to me.
However, I was always a dark beer lover and none of them come close to a good stout. What I am hoping is that we will have a good GF stout or porter available to us soon!

peterbronski said...

Good points, Lauren! I love Bard's because it's a darker lager. But you're right - no one has made a truly dark porter or stout...yet. At least not that I'm aware. But I share your hope for one soon - that would be spectacular.

Cheers, Pete