Great American Bucket List Upgrade
October 26, 2011
I had been looking forward to going to Denver in late September since January. I, like many beer enthusiasts, have a box on my bucket list next to “The Great American Beer Festival.” Here I was, not only an attendee of the event, but a contributor: the beer that I helped to make was entered for the competition! That is bucket list upgrading for sure.
I got up early to catch the 6:55am flight out of our little airport in Charlottesville. I was really excited to get my adventure started. I had a layover in Charlotte, so I decided to get a cup of coffee; it was only 8am after all. While waiting in line to get a regular cup of coffee (rather hoping the fancy coffee place in the airport actually served coffee), I heard a man ask, “Do you think we will get through this line in the next 15 minutes?” I answered, “I think we are safe,” though I was thinking that the more drinks that ended with “latte” or “mocha,” the less likely this was going to be true. As I turned to face the man and begin to commiserate about modern travel delays, I realized I was face to face with Spike Lee. He was nice, heading to New York from Atlanta, and the coffee on the airplane wasn’t to his liking. Really cool to meet him and find out that even Spike Lee has to put up with the frustrations of modern travel. Quite a beginning to my adventure indeed!
I touched down in Denver and headed to my hotel, hoping that a cheese burger and a good craft beer were in my near future. I checked in and headed to the hotel bar—what a joint this was! About 60 craft beers on tap and packed full of fellow brewers. I ate lunch in a room with Don Barkley (who I later got to spend a considerable amount of time talking with) and Sam Calagione—too cool for words! Then I met two Starr Hill fans from Georgia and brewers from all over; the festival didn’t start for over 24 hours and already I could have gone home happy.
The festival’s second session brought a massive line at our booth for Boxcar Pumpkin Porter and an unexpected treat while I was meeting folks and talking Starr Hill: a man in a blue shirt was walking around trying beers and talking to people—a lot of people. I kept looking to see what was going on, and I recognized the man as Jim Koch, the founder of Boston Beer Company. He made his way to our booth, and we talked for 5 to 10 minutes about Boxcar and Monticello Reserve Ale, which he enjoyed very much. We discussed the use of actual pumpkin in both of our pumpkin ales, as well as the story behind Monticello Reserve Ale. How much cooler could this adventure be?!!
This festival and the local breweries provide numerous opportunities for brewers to meet, catch up, and just talk with people who understand what it is like to do this for a living. I honestly could write a mini-novel about just this part of the experience. I really had a blast meeting the brewers from The Sand Lot, Kona, and Napa Smith.
With Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident
As expected, we brewers from our area spent time together just having a beer and talking about our families, the future, and old times. I really enjoyed watching Mark reconnect with folks he has known for years. In particular, there was an old friend that brought him a bottle of 15-year-old Tripel that Mark brewed in his days working in Denver. It was really good after all that time, and many people enjoyed a sample at the bar right before the awards ceremony.
Needless to say, the awards session is a memory I will hold in high regard for the rest of my life. Mark and I were understandably nervous as it began. We, like everyone else, wanted to have a good showing in front of our peers. As the ceremony unfolded, we had the best year that Starr Hill has ever had at the GABF. Talk about checking off a box on my bucket list! We won three medals: Silver for Monticello Reserve Ale, Silver for Smoke Out, and a Gold Medal for Jomo Lager!!!! Having Charlie Papazian put the medal for Monticello around my neck is something I will never forget. Virginia beers did extremely well overall, and all three of our local breweries that entered brought home hardware; that says something about the quality of beer being made in central Virginia for sure!
I can honestly say that I couldn’t wait to get home and share our success with our team at the brewery. Our hard work paid off and no one individual can deliver the gift of great beer alone! ONE TEAM!!! BOOYAH!!!
A bucket list upgrade indeed.