Host Carri Wilbanks asks beer lovers and brewers what’s trending in the national brewing scene at the annual Great American Beer Festival. Jason Bunch
Carri Wilbanks, Special for USA TODAY
2:46 p.m. EDT October 15, 2013
More than 3,000 beers, 600 breweries and tens of thousands of pretzels took downtown Denver by storm Oct. 10-12 for the Great American Beer Festival. About 49,000 beer lovers descended on the Colorado Convention Center for the frothy fest, which sold out in a half hour. Those attending the 32nd annual event had the chance to meet some of the top brewers in the nation and, of course, taste their handiwork, including untraditional flavors such as Maple Bacon Coffee Porter from Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery and the Citra Lemon Saison from Washington’s Three Stars Brewing Co. Here’s a taste for those who didn’t grab those tickets fast enough.
Many brewers agree the craft beer scene in America is incredibly unique because there is plenty of room for experimenting with styles, flavors and ingredients. “We are not bound by 100-year-old traditions, so we can borrow from Belgian-style brewing, German-style brewing and meld them together to experiment,” said Jon Howland, founder of 12 Degree Brewing in Louisville, Colo., who had a booth at the festival. “In a lot of cases, we come up with new styles and new types of beer.”
Howland’s brewery makes several styles of beers, including the Soleil Saison, a Belgian farmhouse ale that finishes with a tart and crisp taste on the palate. These styles focus on individuality over uniformity.
WHERE TO TASTE: Colorado’s beer trail
Other brewers in attendance brought out session beers, which have a lower alcohol by volume so the beer can be consumed in a higher quantity. Greg Schirf, founder of Wasatch Brewing Co. in Park City, Utah, rose to the challenge of making this type of beer to get around strict liquor laws in his state.
“We have gotten really good at them in Utah because we have some quirky laws,” said Schirf. “You can drink a session beer all night long without having to get a ride home.” One of Wasatch Brewing’s offerings is the Polygamy Porter, which is four-percent alcohol by volume.
WHERE TO TASTE: Beervana in Bend, OR
For attendees who wanted to do more than sample beer, a “Farm to Table Pavilion” was filled with beer-and-food pairings from chefs and breweries across the country. Fred Thibodeaux, founder of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Fla., teamed up with Alex Seidel, chef-owner of Denver’s acclaimed Fruition Restaurant as well as Fruition Farms. They served up such pairings as Guava Grove farmhouse ale with grilled Monterey Bay squid and Rocky Ford cantaloupe. For dessert, the creativity continued with a Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale paired with Fruition Farms’ Olathe Sweet Corn Ice Cream, which was topped with pork skin and bacon brittle.
“There are a lot of interesting flavors in beers, and the aromas and complexity that have to do with beer pair really well with food,” said Thibodeaux. Added Seidel: “In the past, I think people have looked at food and wine as pairings, and I think beer offers so many more characteristics to complement.”
WHERE TO TASTE: Beer and world cuisine in San Diego County
Fest organizers announced they will have 30 percent more space available at the Colorado Convention Center starting in 2015, allowing them to sell more tickets and squeeze in more breweries for the nation’s premier beer festival and competition.