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GABF brewers' diaries

Tomme Arthur

Pizza Port Solana Beach - Sept. 7

It's that time of year again when the tourists have gone home, school is back in session, my wife becomes that angry teacher to 35 of the "best" students who test her sorts but most importantly, the time of year when brewers everywhere get a chance to showcase their wares in Denver at the GABF. I think that for those brewers who choose to participate in the experience that is the Great American Beer Festival, the fall season holds the promise of so many dreams. Like the Fall Classic that is the World Series, the GABF is the culmination of a year long journey into the brewing process to seek and find the very best beers brewed in this country.

I know that for me personally and the guys who work with me in the brewery, the GABF represents so many opportunities for us to show and tell. We are not a packaging brewery and as such, we aren't sending our beers out into the community. When people want to taste our beers, they have to come to the source. Except, a few times each year, we hit the road and take our beer to the people. Denver is certainly one of these times.

At Pizza Port in Solana Beach, we brew on a seven barrel system and make anywhere from 20-30 different beers each year. This means that we never have a set lineup of beers that we send to Denver and as such, we are always tasting kegs we have stashed away to decide if those are beers that we might be interested in sending. If after tasting the beer we don't like the way it is aging or we feel that it is lacking the qualities of a world class beer, we tap the keg at the bar and move on to the next beer. We don't cry over these beers and we always know when can do better.

Like most brewpubs, we make our money selling traditional style ales over the bar. Our best selling beers are our California Honey Ale, our Swamis IPA and the Flagship Sharkbite Red Ale. Even though we the majority of the beer we make falls into this category of traditional ales, we are well known in the brewing community for our non-traditional and experimental ales as well. In fact, we have made it a point the last few years to send these types of beers to the Great American Beer Festival to show and tell. We want to show consumers that beer can be so much more and we want to tell them what makes us different than other breweries. This is not as easy as it sounds when you consider that the hall in Denver showcases some 330-plus breweries. Clearly, something special is needed to stand out and we think we have the beers to do this.

Every year, the good folks at the AOB (Association of Brewers) work on refining the GABF and part of this refinement includes the altering of categories through addition, subtraction and even division. This year they have added more Belgian categories (including for the firstt time a dedictated Saison category). They have also tweaked other categories to include an American Strong Ale Category and a Double IPA category. This bodes well for all of us West Coasters who use copious amounts of hops in some of our beers.

We were excited by all this news because last year we sent a batch of our Double IPA beer called HOP 15 and there was no category for the beer so we entered it as a barleywine. This year we will again be sending the HOP 15 and it will be entered in the Imperial or Double IPA category. We also bottled this beer earlier in the year for sale in our pub and as such, the beer is eligible and will be entered in the Alpha King Challenge sponsored by Hop Union.

They also changed a rule this year that previously limited the number of beers a brewery could send. In the past, we could only send five brands to be judged and poured on the festival floor. This year, they have waived the limit and brewers are free to send as many beers as they wish for judging; however, only five beers can be poured on the festival floor.

So, this year we at Pizza Port in Solana Beach have decided to enter 8 beers into the GABF. The five beers we will be pouring on the floor include our Cuvee de Tomme, our HOP 15 and all three SPF beers from our Farmhouse series — SPF 8, SPF 15 and SPF 45.

We will also be sending bottles to be judged of Cowabunga Cream Stout, Seaside Stout (Dry Irish stout) and Mother Pucker Kriek a Cherry Lambic style beer. My company is generous enough to support me by allowing me to enter five beers at the GABF. Each beer costs $175 to enter and their support is tremendous. This year, the guys in the brewery decided that we wanted to enter three extra beers so we have been bartending on the side this past summer to raise the $525 it costs to send the remaining three beers. We are clearly not alone as I know plenty of brewers who pay for the entry fees with their own money. This is part of the passion that drives our industry.

Next, choosing what to enter.