Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Confessions of a GABF Virgin

Cover of 2015 GABF Program

Brew Bus Brewing and Aardwolf Brewing (Florida) Win Medals at GABF

If you saw my social media feed over this past weekend, you know that I headed west to the Great American Beer Festival ("GABF") presented by the Brewers Association ("BA") at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. In its 29th year, the festival consisted of four sessions from Thursday to Saturday, and I attended two: Thursday opening night and Saturday afternoon members session.  But, first things first.  In addition to the beer tasting, there was also a behind-the-scenes beer competition going on.  In fact, 6,647 beers from 1,552 breweries in all 50 states and D.C. were judged!  The winners were announced Saturday morning, and the event was broadcast live via internet stream. All said, the judging panel of 242 beer experts from 15 countries, including the U.S.and 155 volunteers awarded 275 medals in 92 beer categories, including 145 styles.  

Before heading to the Saturday session, I watched the live awards broadcast, and I about hit the ceiling when it was announced that Brew Bus Brewing (based in Tampa) won a Silver Medal for its "You're My Boy, Blue" blueberry wheat ale in the Fruit Wheat Beer category!  You have to understand that I work for The Brew Bus-Jacksonville, and I was overcome with excitement. I think my social media feed went just a bit ballistic. 
You're My Boy, Blue Blueberry Wheat Ale;
Made with blueberries

It's an Aardwolf...
there's even a mascot
Later, while in line to enter the Saturday session, I learned that Aardwolf Brewing (from Jacksonvillewon a Bronze Medal in the Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale Ale category for its "Belgian Style Pale Ale."  Of course, I'm quite familiar with Aardwolf and this beer, as it seems that I'm there with the Brew Bus every other weekend!  Aardwolf is a very popular stop on the tour, and the Belgian Style Pale Ale is a good, solid beer.

Congratulations to all the winners, and especially to Brew Bus Brewing and Aardwolf Brewing on these medals -- no small task!  And, I'll be happy to pour both of these beers for you on one of our Brew Bus-Jacksonville tours!

There's a First Time for Everything....

Hey, mark your calendars now: October 6-8, 2016 is next year's GABF.  

GABF is the pre-eminent beer festival in the country.  It's one of those "bucket list" or "wish list" things that you hope you get to do one day. It's a sell-out every year (couldn't get tickets last year), so, when the tickets went on sale this past July and I had a member presale code, I figured I'd give it a try.  Whaddaya know -- scored tickets to opening night Thursday session and members Saturday afternoon session. Tickets sold out in about an hour after going on sale, so I'd say there were a few beer enthusiasts looking to attend. And, then the planning started....hotel, air flight, rental car.  About a week or so before the festival, it started getting real -- yes, I was actually going to GABF for the first time!

The GABF website is full of awesome information, including the festival map and a list of breweries.  There's also a "MyGABF app." Although the breweries were identified for a while, a list of the available beers was released the day before the Festival. Twenty Florida breweries were in attendance. 

If you don't believe how massive this event is, check out these stats: 750 breweries at the festival hall; 3800 different beers served; 60,000 attendees; 3400 volunteers. 

Breweries arranged by geographic location, Brewpub Pavilion,
Homebrew Marketplace, Beer Geek Bookstore, Merchandise, Brewers Guilds

So, how do you prepare for this?  Study the map and get familiar with the festival layout and schedule of events ahead of time. Review the schedule for the book signings at the Beer Geek Bookstore. Make sure that you have something to eat ahead of time, and make sure that you drink plenty of water during the sessions. I had a list of breweries that I wanted to target, and one particular book signing (more on that below). 

Fast Forward to Thursday night -- Yeah, there was a large crowd waiting to enter the festival hall at 5:30pm:

It moved rather smoothly, and you could hear the welcoming bagpipes playing just inside. And, the 2015 GABF was underway!  Once inside, the enormity of the festival was apparent.  I had a printed map in my pocket, and the regions were well-marked by overhead signage. I wanted to start with the Midwest (Indiana/Chicago) since that's where I'm from, but that didn't work. I got there eventually.  Usually my plan is to start with blonde ales, kolsches, helles lagers, and I pretty much stuck to that.....for a while.

So many breweries, so many beers. Overall, for as many people in attendance, the lines were generally very manageable, almost non-existent, and you were able to walk past the tables and read the beer descriptions. There were some brewers manning the tables, but it appeared that most of the servers were volunteers. Of course, there were a few breweries that always seemed to have lines that spanned across the aisle, including Allagash, Wicked Weed, and one certain South Florida brewery:

Guess they wanted to Get Funky (Last Snow and more).
You would've thought they were giving it away.....
I sampled beers from everywhere during both sessions, and I especially liked talking to the Chicago brewers. The guys from Gino's Brewing Co. (downtown Chicago) were fun (and I liked that beer!) My Untappd checkins really added up.  There was just so much beer!

These guys took home a few medals....
Awesome setup!
Big crowds here
Randy Mosher, author of "Tasting Beer"

The highlight of my Thursday night, however, was meeting Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer, at the Bookstore.  I knew ahead of time (pre-planned!) when he would be there, and I had brought my copy of the book with me.  This book was instrumental in helping me study for -- and pass -- the Certified Cicerone exam this summer, and it's been through the study-wringer:  tabs and marked up.  I showed it to Randy, and he even took a photo of me!  Very cool talking with him.  He autographed my book, and that was pretty cool!  If you're planning on studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, this one's a must-read. Thanks, Randy!

That was pretty much Day 1 at GABF!  I did some other things on Friday (more on that later), and then before you knew it, it was Saturday!  Like I said above, I watched the live stream of the GABF winners until it was time to get going.  I stayed at a hotel a little over a mile from the convention center.  Although I walked it Thursday, I opted for Uber on Saturday...and that was another first Uber!  There was a GABF code, and the ride worked out great.

Recognize them?  Florida Brewers Guild
It seemed like there were many more attendees waiting to get in for the Saturday afternoon session, but once the doors opened, it didn't take long to get in the Festival Hall.  The plan for today?  Visit state brewers guilds, and drink more beer!

The Brewers' Guilds were set up along a wall in the "Meet the Brewer Hall."  Not only could you talk to the reps, but they were pouring some beers that were not available in the Main Hall.  And, they did a really cool thing with a Brewers Guild Passport. Check-in to at least six, and you got a koozie!  I talked to a bunch of the Guild reps, and got my passport stamped by nine, including closest (Florida) and farthest (Hawaii).  It was fun talking to the rep from Indiana, and I got another Three Floyds beer there, too!


Wyoming had some interesting animal photos...and captions!

Passport stamps!

And, there probably aren't too many places where you can talk to Brewers Guilds, and then, just steps away, run into a character like the Yeti from Great Divide Brewing:

He's real...... Having a Chocolate Yeti with, well......
And, if you got a little turned around, there were signs to help you find your way. 

Hey, that's a Jax Ale Trail shirt!

Caught up with Saltwater Brewery from Delray!
Nice cans.......
And, then, seemingly "just like that," it was last call for the afternoon session. Where did the time go?

GABF is definitely something you need to least once.  Hmmmm, October 6-8, 2016, eh?

That's a wrap this time around, but I did a lot more in Denver.  Made some visits on Thursday and Friday.  And, hey, the airport was an experience on Sunday!  More on that later.

Congratulations again to Brew Bus Brewing and Aardwolf Brewing.  Hope to see you out there at an event, bar, restaurant, or wherever the beer takes us.

For now, Cheers!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Do You Know Your Boot from Your Maß ("mass")? It's Oktoberfest time!

There's probably no more festive time of year in the beer world than OKTOBERFEST! The original German Oktoberfest happens each year in Munich during the last two weeks of September through the first weekend of October, and is host to approximately 6 million fest-goers each year.  If you aren't one of those attending the "Wiesn" (German for "meadow") this year, don't get your shorts all in a bunch.  We also celebrate it here in the U.S. So, grab your lederhosen and dirndls because everyone's German during Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest 2014 at
Engine 15 Brewing in Jax Beach
The Oktoberfest celebration isn't just about the beer (well, maybe it is).  It's an integral part of German history, and we have Bavaria's King Maximilian Joseph to thank for it. Back in 1810, the King threw a two-day festival in celebration of the wedding of his son, Crown Prince Ludwig, to Princess Therese. The event offered free beer and free food at several Munich locations, along with a horse race at a racing ground which later became known as Theresienwiese. And, behold, a tradition was born!  To this day, the mayor of Munich taps the first keg at noon on the first day of Oktoberfest along with the proclamation "O'zapft is!" ("it is tapped"), and the revelry begins. 

Now, what about that beer?  Alongside all of that pumpkin beer that started invading the shelves seemingly on the last boom of the 4th of July fireworks finale, you're sure to see the "Oktoberfest" or "Octoberfest" beers, also generally described as "Märzen" or "Festbier."   The name "Oktoberfest" is an appellation in Germany, and under the applicable laws of Germany and the EU, only those beers brewed by the large breweries within the Munich city limits can be served at the Oktoberfest and are allowed to use the name "Oktoberfest" for the beer (Augustinerbräu München, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu).  

Prost!  Traditional lager in a Maß.
Yeah, that's a lot of beer.
While the styles of Märzen and Oktoberfest (lagers) have, in the past, largely been deemed the same under the style guidelines, the new BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Guidelines of 2015 (released earlier this year) distinguish the two.  Typically, an Oktoberfest/Märzen is considered malty, sweet and amber-to light brown in color. Over the years, however, the German Oktoberfest renditions have taken on a lighter, more golden color, mostly in response to consumer sentiment and the movement toward a "lighter, more drinkable" version (or, more "poundable," according to the comments by the Paulaner brewer in the BJCP guidelines).  So, now, as far as official BJCP "styles" go, and in recognition of the protected Oktoberfest name in Germany, the "Festbier" is the golden version with a strong malty flavor alongside a lightly toasty and softly sweet character. The "Märzen" is the amber-to-light brown type, also with a malty sweetness and rich, toasty, bready flavor. The ABV and IBUs are roughly the same (5.8-6.3% and 18-24/25, respectively). The US-brewed "Oktoberfest" types are generally in the Märzen style.

Strictly for purposes of education and demonstration, for visual effect, and to uphold the integrity of this blog, I present the following:  No matter which version of the seasonal beer you enjoy, drink it in the traditional Maß ("mass"), or mug, typically a one-liter vessel with a handle (as shown above).  Or, get your Boot:

One-liter Beer Boot.
Beware of that toe, though!
And, in case you were wondering about the English-Metric conversions, one liter is just a bit over a quart (which is 32 oz., or 2- 16 oz. pints).  These are some of my favorite styles of beer, and I am definitely looking forward to attending some Oktoberfest celebrations. I don't know about you, but I've already had a few of the Oktoberfest/Festbier/Marzen beers from both German and American brewers (wait too long, or they'll be gone). 

Which brings me to Oktoberfest in Florida!  Like I said, to do this right, you need to get in the spirit of things, so make sure your wardrobe includes some lederhosen, a dirndl, some golden braided hair, or at least an Oktoberfest Bavarian Alpine hat!  

And, get ready for pretzels, bratwursts, sauerkraut, and German potatoes. How about some beer games? Stein-holding competitions, roll the barrel, carry the wench?  Yep, they're gonna happen. So, drink your lager, get oompah'd, and check out some of these happenings around North Florida.  I asked a number of breweries from Jax to south of Daytona about their Oktoberfest celebrations.  There's sure to be a Fest happening near you (or, if not, take a short drive to one):

TOMOKAFEST, Tomoka Brewing Co., 9/19, Port Orange, 12pm-12am. Tapping of the Traditional Tomoka Oktoberfest Lager: the Tomokafest! It's a malty, sweet, crisp lager, 5.8% ABV, 20 IBU. Along with German food, music and festivities. If you haven't been here yet, this sounds like a good time to do it!  (See my blog post, too, from February 20)

Chris (on right) is the man
behind the brew!
Photo: New Smyrna Beach Brewing

OKTOBERFEST at New Smyrna Beach Brewing Company, 9/19, New Smyrna Beach,starting at 1pm. It's gonna be a big ol' party!  New Oktoberfest lager, the Beachtoberfest, 5.5 ABV, 26 IBU. Half-liter Oktoberfest mugs with special pricing on beer!  Check out this brewery if you haven't been there yet, you'll be glad you did -- see my blog post here. I always love visiting here!  And, psst -- they're fun, and they make some really good beer!

OKTOBERFEST at Ormond Brewing, 9/25, Ormond Beach. Releasing the Oktoberfest beer, 5.5 ABV, 25 IBU, with party and food.  More info on the way!  Plus, you'll love the friendly environment here, including an inside bar and outside deck/patio!

Oktoberfest at Intuition Ale Works10/3, 1-9pm, Jacksonville. Tapping of Oktoberfest and Kolsch beers.  Oompah music by the Swinging Bavarians.  All-you-can-eat German food, Cinotti's pretzels, beer games. Souvenir stein. Dress in Oktoberfest attire for a free beer! Naming of King and Queen of Oktoberfest.  Stein-holding competition. Got lederhosen and dirndls?  Get tickets here.  

OKTOBERFEST at Engine 15 Brewing Company, 10/3, all day, Jacksonville Beach. Well, I went to this one last year (see photo above), and I expect more of the same craziness and Gemütlichkeit this time around. Oompah band 2-4:30pm, Mark O'Quinn 5-7pm, feats of strength, chicken sh*t bingo, King & Queen, ginormous pretzels.  New this year: limited edition one-liter ceramic beer mugs. And, a new Oktoberfest beer to (das) boot -- tapped at party. Jawohl, Damen und Herren!

OKTOBERFEST at Green Room Brewing10/3, Jacksonville Beach. New Oktoberfest beer! Special bottle release.  More info on the way!

OKTOBERFEST at Playalinda Brewing Company, 10/10, Titusville.  Tapping the Oktoberfest beer at noon: coming in at 6 ABV. Oktoberfest party with traditional German food. You need to check this place out!  In fact, you can read about my visit shortly after they opened late last fall here

BUT, WAIT, there's MORE OKTOBERFEST!  If you're in the Jacksonville area, there are various Oktoberfest beerfest events on the calendar in September and October.  Check out my BeerSphere page for more on those!  I also included OKTOBERFEST TAMPA, because I know that there will be quite a few JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS® fans (ahem, Bold City Brigade) in Tampa during the weekend of October 9-11 for the Jags-Bucs game (including me!). 



Beer Judge Certification Program 2015 Style Guidelines; 
Cicerone Certification Program German Beer Styles Course (2014);
Garrett Oliver, The Oxford Companion to Beer (2012);
Wikipedia: Maß

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS is a trademark of Jacksonville Jaguars, LLC

Thursday, September 3, 2015

St. Augustine Distillery Releases Rum Discovery Series Sept. 3

It's St. Augustine's 450th Birthday, and celebrations abound in the city from Sept. 4-8.  As I walked around the downtown yesterday, stages were being prepped, yellow-and-red buntings were draped on buildings, and the tour trolleys were humming along.  What better time to visit the St. Augustine Distillery Co.  It appears that quite a few others had the same thought, as the distillery hosted a steady stream of visitors. 

There's a high level of excitement around the distillery, as it releases its first rum, the Discovery Series No. 1, on Sept. 3.  That's a cause for celebration, too! The Discovery Series consists of four different recipe limited-release rums, with Nos. 2 through 4 being released each month for the remainder of 2015. And, hey, hey, I was able to obtain a bottle yesterday during a two-day pre-sale!

The Distillery opened in early 2014. Yesterday was my first visit here, and I enjoyed the tour...and the samples!  The Distillery took its home in the former Ice Plant operated by Florida Power and Light, and it dates back over 100 years.  

The Distillery is open  7 days, and it runs free tours every half hour until 5pm. They say that about 1000 people per week come through for tours!  A separate gift shop is adjacent to the distillery museum.  Before you leave for the tour, take some time to look at the items in the museum.  It's a large one-room exhibit, and you can learn about the distilling process, see a few artifacts, and enjoy some old-time photos.  The tour starts off with a short video featuring Brendan Wheatley, the head distiller, and interviews with local farming partners. The Distillery is very "local-focused," and I particularly liked the emphasis on those local partnerships. 

Following the video, the tour takes you inside the distillery plant -- where all the action happens.  The first thing I noticed upon entering the warehouse was the sweet aroma of sugar!  If you've ever been inside a brewhouse, you'll note some general similarities in the equipment.

What's different, though, are the barrels! Breweries generally have some barrels that are used for storing or aging "barrel-aged" beers, but take a look at these:

The Distillery produces four different products: gin, vodka, rum, and bourbon.  The gin and vodka have been available in the gift shop as well as at retail. The Distillery's vodka is made with sugar cane and molasses; and the gin consists of juniper berries, with citrus and other botanicals.  What's new is the RUM! Yes, that's made with sugar cane. And, the bourbon?  It'll be Florida's first bourbon! But, you'll have to wait til next fall (2016) for that -- it takes four years to age. 

Bourbon....coming in 2016
53 gallons in each large barrel.
Once the product is bottled, the Distillery re-uses the barrels for other products and other recipes.  And, the Distillery is growing so quickly, it already has obtained an additional warehouse!

And, how about some samples?  The tour ends in the tasting room, where your tour guide will mix up a couple of fine cocktails for you.  Their version of the Moscow Mule -- the Florida Mule -- was made with vodka, "mule mix," and bit of mint -- quite refreshing over the crushed ice.  By the way, the demonstration of the ice crushing was entertaining in itself. Got a wooden hammer?  Don't try that on your granite countertop, though. 

Empty boxes waiting to be
filled with bottles of gin, vodka
and RUM!
The tasting caps off an informative and fun tour.  Interested in purchasing products?  The adjacent gift shop has a large assortment of not only the spirits, but recipe books, clothing, glassware and various souvenirs. And, treat yourself to another sample -- of the new RUM!  Either straight or in a mixed lime daiquiri. Did I say RUM?  Because, you know, sometimes you just need to go for a little rum! (I think that's because I really like island vacations, and, well, there's rum there!)

Under the new law that went into effect in July, patrons can purchase two bottles of each brand per year in the gift shop. 

If you haven't been to the St. Augustine Distillery, you should go!  It's located at 112 Riberia St., just off the main downtown area, and is open 7 days (Mon-Sat, 10-6; Sun 11-6). Free parking is on the premises, or you can take the Red Train Trolley, which has a stop there. 

The Distillery is a sponsor of the St. Augustine 450 Celebration. 

ENJOY THE 450th!  If you see me wandering around, stop and say Hi!  Who knows, I might even buy you a beverage, if you're the first person to tell me you read my blog or follow me on social media!

So, this was a little different for me, as I usually write about beer, breweries, and beer events.  But, hey, I like to get in the spirit of things! Did I say rum?

Til next time!