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GABF brewers' diaries

Tomme Arthur

Denver - Sept. 27

This proved to be a great day. I got to sleep in for the first time all week. Didn't drag my sleepy butt out of bed until almost 11 o'clock. Went to Chipotle for a big fat burrito. Didn't know I wouldn't get a chance to eat again until almost 9 o'clock that night but the burrito was a big hit.

The Saturday session started slowly with everyone a little foggy from the night before and slowly working to get their taste buds back up to speed. I know that the morning of the awards is always a little unsettling for me. This year I was much more at peace as I knew that we had done the best job ever with our bottles and we would hopefully reap the rewards.

The awards ceremony took some time to get rolling as the mayor of Denver addressed the crowd. It sure is great to see John Hickenlooper in that capacity. I have always respected John and his vision. We entered 8 beers this year and they were mostly in the higher numbered categories. We didn't really expect that our SPF 8 and SPF 45 would be served well in their categories.

My friend Pat from Alpine Brewing and Todd Ashman of Flossmoor Station won the bronze and gold medals in the Specialty Honey Beer category and the city of San Diego had won its first medal (we would finish with 10).

The middle of the awards ceremony is filled with categories we never enter, from lagers to bocks and Oktoberfest. The first category that had any relevance for us was Dopplebock, where our Carlsbad Pizza Port brewer Kirk McHale scored his second bronze medal in a row for Broken Keg Dopplebock. That also signaled a shift towards the ale categories.

We entered the Hop 15 in category 40, which was a new category started this year for Imperial or Double Pale Ales. This was the category that Jeff and I really wanted to be a part of. It's not often you get to set the standard for beers in a category at a large competition and simply put, this is a style of beer that is being brewed everywhere around San Diego. These beers are now the norm in San Diego and many great ones are available here. The bronze medal went to BJ's Brewery in Chandler, Ariz. Congrats to Derek Osborne for that. The silver medal went to Hop 15 (we finally had our 1st medal). The gold medal went to Frank from Pizza Port in Carlsbad (our sister store), and that meant Pizza Port captured the top two medals ever in this category.

It's so great, because while we were getting ready that morning my roomate Jeff Bagby — who works at Oggis Pizza in Vista after spending the last two years at Pizza Port with me — and I were discussing the beers we sent and which ones stood out as possible medal winning beers. We both concluded Hop 15 was the beer we would like to go accross the stage for.

It was shortly after this that we made it back to our pack of friends who were waiting for us. The next category that popped up was 49, German style Hefeweizen. Jeff sent some beers from Oggis and this category contained one the entries. The bronze medal went to Sweet Spot Hefe from Oggis in Vista, and Jeff had won his very own GABF medal. It's one thing to be a part of a brewery but it is something completly different to be the man in charge. I took pictures of Jeff with his medal and we returned to our waiting area as the Belgian beer styles were coming up and we had a few entries we were hoping to cash in on.

The SPF 15 entered in the Saison category, as well as the Mother Pucker Kriek, came up short. Our thoughts turned to the Belgian Style Specialty Category, where the Cuvee de Tomme was entered. We were standing with Vinnie and Natalie from Russian River Brewing Co. when it was announced that his beer Temptation was the silver medal winner, leaving the Cuvee de Tomme as the 2003 Gold medal winning beer. We all stormed the stage and a party broke out after we all got our medals.

The staging area off to the far right of the stage is a collection area for photo opps and many of our friends who brew Belgian Style beers were there having collected many of their own medals. We were hanging out with the New Belgium guys (Peter and Jeff) Vinnie, Dave and Dick from Elysian, while friends and media were taking pictures. The camaraderie felt amazing as many of us who produce unique and distintive Belgian style beers were all enjoying the same feeling.

For me, we had finally reached the pinnacle once again. Brewers all feel great about winning, but most of us would tell you that we all aspire to be the "best" and for that shinning moment the best was our beer. We were reveling in the Cuvee victory when the awards for Dry Irish Stout started. I had a great feeling about this beer and we weren't all that suprised when they called our name for the Silver medal for our Seaside Stout. This beer tasted so good when we opened a bottle two weeks ago, I just thought it would be there.

We now had two silver medals and a gold one for good measure. We had barely cleared the stage after receiving our last medal when the awards for British style stouts were announced... "and the Bronzed Medal goes to" Cowabunga Cream Sout. We had done it. We had won our fourth medal at the 2003 GABF. Jeff and I were stunned with this one. We knew it was a good beer but we thought perhaps it was a bit thin and lacking in a true sweet lactose flavor. With almost 60 beers in the category we were up against a wall.

After coming off the stage, I felt that we had an amazing day. I knew that the Brewery of the Year awards were still to be awarded. The funny thing is that we had no idea where we stood. We had been walking in circles to accept the stout medals and in doing so, we lost track of how well other breweries were doing. It was finally determined that Pizza Port Solana Beach was the 2003 GABF Small Brewpub of the year winner. It was also announced that I was the winner of the 2003 Small Brewpub Brewer of the year award.

I was a little bummed to see only my name on the screen. So much of what we were able to accomplish was because of Jeff Bagby and myself working as a team this past two years. I cannot emphasize this enough. When I registered for the GABF I specifically listed both of us on line for this award. While it says the "one person responsible," I felt that our acheivement would be derived from all of our efforts. We will be getting Jeff his own medals and plaque with his name on it for sure, and no one deserves it more.

After the awards were over, the papparazzi took over and we grinned and photo opped for the world. I have some great photos with all my friends that will last forever. A return to our booth found my crazy volunteer Don overwhelmed by our win and struggling to keep up. A media crew from Denver came by interviewed us for something (never was sure what).

I tried calling my wife, who didn't answer. Put in a phone call to my mom, which made us both cry, and lastly a call to my brew family, who got me started on this road back in 1995 as a homebrewer. This tradition of calling their home dates back a to the year we won our first medal. This year was much more emotional, as Mike Gardner my mentor and Brewfather passed away in June after battling cancer. We knew there was someone looking out for us this year, and by Saturday afternoon I knew who that was.

All my friends came by to congratulate us and a big hugging party broke out. I have never hugged so many adult men in all my life. Everyone who makes beer for a living understands the madness that is brewing and the passion that pours from the glass in each pull of the tap. Our friends and their passion for making better beers is what makes this a great industry.

Dinner followed that night at the Chophouse with Vinnie and Natalie, Dave and Jennifer of the Toronado, Mark Dorber of the Whitehorse, Garrett Oliver, Jeff, Ray Daniels and Eric Rose of Santa Barbara Brewing Co. The party was amazing and breaking bread and passing wine (along with some cask strength bourbon) was a great way to celebrate our day. A few martinis at the Cruise Room followed by a final beer at Falling Rock was all we could take. Back in our room, we opened a La Folie, finished some more bourbon and talked about San Diego in April of 2004 for the Craft Brewers Conference. A bed never felt so good at 4:30 a.m.