Apr 23, 2018

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GABF brewers' diaries

Jeff Bagby

Denver - Sept. 28

Tuesday, September 23rd: I arrive at the Denver with my good friends Chris White, Tom Nickel, and Tomme Arthur. I'm already excited and can feel the GABF coming. All my knowledge about beer and all the friends I have in the industry are brought up from the archives of my mind. I can't wait for every aspect. After arriving at the hotel and meeting up with some friends we attend the judges' orientation. This was great. A lot of information and a chance to see who my fellow judges were. Relieved, happy, and proud I was amongst a room of professionals. A lot of whom I knew, had met before, or were friends of mine. I felt a lot better after the meeting about the task I would have facing me the next morning at 9 a.m.

That night we "took it easy" — for us anyway. Went to the judges' reception for my first of many complimentary meals for the trip. As a brewer, funds are tight. Any chance to be hooked up with some food and beverage is no brainer. After this we headed to the almighty Falling Rock Tap House. We knew we would probably end up here every night so why postpone things? One of the greatest beer bars I've ever set foot in and the owner Chris Black and his wife are always happy to see us. Tomme and I pulled up to a table to start a game of Dominos. I learned to play this game in college and for those who know how to play it can be a great "talk shit" game. It also accompanies any drinking session beautifully. We also were pretty sure we had friends coming to meet us to make the a full game. Sure enough ours friends arrived. Two girls from the AOB, Alyssa and Jessica. We have an amazing time hanging out with these two the whole week. Who would have thought 2 girls would want to sit and play bones (dominos) with us almost every night? We taught Alyssa how to play and Ray Daniels soon joined in the fun. It was quite a sight to see Ray slamming down points. Our night ended somewhere around 2 a.m.

Wednesday morning we woke up feeling pretty good. Went downstairs for some breakfast. Another complimentary meal. I had a judging conflict so I had to switch with Ron Ryan from Cargill. I ended up with Kristal Weiss, Berliner Weiss, Wezienbock, and Dunkel Weiss. Turned out to be a great category. Judged ESB's and strong bitters later that afternoon. After another great complimentary meal. the late afternoon session was the Old Ale/Strong Ale category. That was fun. A bunch of nice beers.

Wednesday night was the first real start to the GABF. The brewer's gathering at Wynkoop was great. A bunch of friends, great beers, and more complimentary food. A huge lot of our friends were getting into to town and meeting up with us. It was the first real night. Of course the Falling rock followed the gathering. Lot's of great beer and bones with two of the coolest girls on the planet (Alyssa & Jessica from the AOB). We also had many more friends come by to gladly buy us rounds and join in the festivities. I think the last drink was had in our room somewhere around 3 a.m.

Thursday morning came quick. That morning's complimentary breakfast was a life saver. A good bed of food right before I had to go and judge the Fruit beer category. Luckily we only had to pick 3 to move on to the next round. Passion fruit, watermelon, raspberry, all kinds of things that shouldn't really be put into beers the way the contestants had done. I'm a fan of certain styles of fruit beer. I had none of those that morning. It was a good laugh at some points though. The next round was awesome. Brown porter. Each of the 9 samples I received was great! It made it difficult to come up with 3 to send on. There were, fortunately, a few that rose above the others. Wow, what an intense round!

The afternoon session was my favorite and definitely that put all your cards on the table type of judging. Belgian style abbeys. Triples, Dubbels, and other abbey ales. This is the one I wanted to judge the most. I know these beers so well. I have had so many and believe I know what the style is, how difficult it is to brew, and what it means to have created one. The table was extremely diverse. The bad part was we only had 6 judges, i.e. nobody to break a tie. Of course in the final round we eliminate everything, the entire table agrees on the bronze. But then there were 2 and what a 2 to be left. The table was split between a beer entered as a "other abbey ale" and a Belgian dubbel. After repouring a second time I stood up and said, "I have cement feet. I'm not leaving this table until that dubbel wins the gold!" I left and went to the bathroom. I had two worthy advisories on my side and exactly 3 against me. We fought tooth and nail. We repoured until there wasn't any left to be poured. Finally after shit talking, nit picking, and down right ugly tactics our side won. The dubbel was awarded the Gold. It turned out to be New Begliums Abbey so I did not feel bad in any way. I even had one of the judges come up to me and say that he was glad I fought for the beer the way I did.

Thursday night was an absolute blast. I had to run from the judging that went so late because of all the deliberations straight to my room to pick up all the info for our booth and head to the first public session. I didn't have to judge Friday morning so I took the liberty in enjoying a few more drinks than I'd had the other nights. The session was great as always. If there was any two sessions I would recommend to people to attend it would be Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. All the brewers attend Thursday night. I walked the floor quite a bit and met my friends and tried there beers. Fun was being had by all. We then went to the Cargill, White Labs, and Hop Union Rocktoberfest party at the Rock Bottom first. That was fun. Lots of great food (if you made it in time). We then headed to the old Falling Rock. The home of the GABF brewer crowd. More Dominos, shit talkin', and beer drinkin'. God I love that place! We had several outstanding beers from all over the states and beyond. The new popular "Mangaarden" was floating around in everyone's hand. For those of you who may not know, a "Mangaarden" is a glass of Hoegaarden in a 6 sided traditional glass. Only the man comes in because it is the large version. I believe it holds over a liter of beer.

Like I was saying, I didn't have to judge Friday by some stroke of luck so I took advantage. We headed to our room for a post party that went until about 4:30. I think I finally hit the bed at about 5:30. That was the first night that started to make my GABF the best I've ever had.

Friday came early. As a brewer and a busy person, I don't sleep a whole lot. I rolled over at about 8 a.m. and decided that because I didn't have to judge that another few hours of sleep would be great. The situation I had come into also made that decision very easy.

I finally made it back to my room about noon. Returned messages and cleaned up for what would turn out to be another amazing night. Our friend Stan from drove Tomme and I up to New Belgium for an amazing night of beer, conversation, and company. I will never forget this night and I hope that I'm invited to go again next year and all the years after that. New Belgium, while not only being the an amazing force for craft brewing, the environment, modern business, and employee recognition they know how to throw a great party. I had a smile on my face the entire time. I tasted some of their unblended La Follie straight for barrels and foeders. We were also allowed to taste the kriek that came over from Frank Boon. This beer was blended with a beer that New Belgium produced to result in their new Transatlantique Kriek. An amazing kriek it is. The beer that Frank Boon provided them with was one of the best Krieks I have ever tasted. I think I had an entire pitcher myself. I also loaded my self up on the current version of "The Love," as well as draft Transatlantique, Abbey dubbel, and one of the best pilsners in the states - the Blue Paddle. I was enjoying myself so much I hadn't realized we needed to get back to Denver to enjoy the rest of the night with our friends (two in particular).

On the way back from New Belgium in Stan's van leaned over to Tomme in the back seat and said, "This has been the best GABF I have ever attended. Hands down after 7 years I cannot stop grinning and thinking about everything that has happened." He agreed. I then went on to say that tomorrow (meaning Saturday the 27th) all I wanted to do was walk across that stage one time. I didn't care for what or what color medal. Just once. We then went on to guess about which beers of ours we thought had done well. I had no idea what I would come into Saturday afternoon.

We arrived back in Denver to make the last of the PPBT bottle tasting at the hotel. Not much to choose from but it was still fun. I was basically waiting to meet up with our most excellent bones playing buddies. After some time they showed up and were ready to go once again. We headed to the judges' hospitality to see who was around. We ended up in our room. This was a great little party we ended up having. We pulled a couch over from Eric Rose of Santa Barbara Brewing Co's room from across the hall. Along with two chairs from his room we were able to entertain quite a few people. Some of the boys from Four Peaks came by along with Arnie from Marin, Ray Daniels, Vinnie C, and Arlan from LaConner. We had several beers and laughed for hours. None of us having to get up too early, but realizing that tomorrow was another big day we ended the night around 3:30 a.m.

Saturday. Turned out to be the best day I can ever remember having in my entire life. Just when I thought that this was the best GABF ever, when I was already walking around with a huge smile on my face. It all got insanely better. Being a part of all the Pizza Port beers that were sent as well as my new brewery (Oggi's) I knew I stood the best chance ever of getting what I wanted. One trip across the stage. Well, the chance hit. A beer that I dreamt up and finished with Tomme, The Hop 15 hit a silver for Double IPA. I was as happy as I could have ever been. A beer I had a hugmongus part of won a medal! This was the beer I wanted to win the most too. I could have walked out of the building beaming with join for the rest of the year. The fun did not end there. We made it back to where we were standing with our friends and German style Hefeweizen came up. I said out loud, "Oh, I have a beer entered in here." Next thing you know Chris Swersey is announcing my beer as a bronze medal winner. I could not believe it. I thought it was good, but I thought some of the other beer I sent was better. I went up to collect my medal and never left the stage area. The next medal was a silver for our dry stout in Solana. While were about done with getting our pictures done for that we hit another stout. Our Cowabunga Cream. We did a lap and picked up a bronze medal. We also hit a gold Belgian Strong Specialty as the Cuvee De Tomme was announced. We had a feeling about that one but it was just so nice to hear it. We were told not to leave the staging area because we weren't done.

We soon figured out that were getting the award for the Small Brewpub of the Year. A terrific fantasy and dream all came together. I told Tomme I remember looking in the mirror when I got out of the shower and looking into my own eyes and thinking we have a chance of becoming the Small Brewpub of the Year. I quickly parked that thought and said to myself, "No way! We could never pull that off." Holy mother of god it hits, and neither of us knew what the hell to do. Pictures and handshakes came from every direction. Our booth was mobbed and we were interviewed by some TV crew. We were both on our phones non-stop. A feeling just overwhelmed us. We just kept looking at each other like. "We did it!" No words will ever describe what we went through that day. All I know is that we were ready to Part-Tay that night.

We summoned a bunch of our good friends for an awesome dinner at the Chop House. We then cruised by the Cruise Room for several cocktails. We tried to move our Sunday morning flights to a later time but the $cost$ was too outrageous. We strolled into the Falling Rock for a few more rounds before the last call. Then it was back to the Hospitality and our room for bourbon, beer, and laughter. That was the latest night at 5:30 a.m., and I finally found an extremely comfortable horizontal position.

Unfortunately that ended fast, as we had to catch out airport shuttle at 9 Sunday morning. Thank god I packed my bags the night before. The trip was one of the highlights of my life. I will never forget a single second of it. Next year will be great too. We could get completely blanked in competition and I wouldn't care at all. That weekend has had enough power and good times to last a decade.

Thanks AOB, Denver, all our great friends, and the luck we had. I can't wait until next year!

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