IT’S TAKEN me two full weeks to clear the cranium since the annual Great American Beer Festival, in Denver. The notes in my suds-soaked notebook attest to only one thing:
Too much beer and not enough hands.
The lasting image came during a post-festival showdown between East and West Coast brewers at a downtown beer bar. There, we were treated to the sight of Dogfish Head Brewing’s Sam Calagione frantically trying to get his newfangled Randall the Enamel Animal tapping contraption to spew suds.
Everyone got wet, and I’m not sure the beer ever made it into the cup.
The frustration lifted 12 hours later when Calagione, after years of disappointment, finally captured his first gold medal for the Delaware brewery’s Midas Touch.
“I think a lot of people were happy for Sam,” said Curt Decker, co-owner at Center City’s Nodding Head brewpub. “He brings so much to the industry. It was nice to see him go home with something. “
Nodding Head also took home a prize, for its Berliner Weisse, a tart summertime brew that won for the second year in a row.
Meanwhile, it was up-and-coming suburban brewer Scott Morrison who showed that his medal-winning performance in 2003 was no fluke. Morrison, of McKenzie Brew House, in Glen Mills, grabbed a bronze for Bavay, a spicy ale known as biere de garde.
Biere de garde – or “beer to keep” – is an old style of beer from the French/Belgium border that was traditionally made in farmhouses. It’s malty with a bit of fruitiness from the yeast. Typically, it’s sold in corked champagne bottles that can be cellared for months before consuming.
“I’ve loved biere de gardes since my first Jenlain 15 years ago,” Morrison said, referring to the classic French version of the style. “I’ve been working on the same recipe for 10 years, tweaking it here and there. “
You don’t have to travel all the way to Denver to taste this award-winner. McKenzie’s (451 Wilmington-West Chester Pike, Glen Mills) hand-bottles its biere de garde so you can take it home for keeps.
GABF judges handed out more than 200 medals. Here are a few they missed:
The Veterans Stadium Memorial Longest Beer Line: With more than 300 breweries on hand, usually you don’t have to wait long for a beer at the GABF. But the line for Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter snaked for more than a few yards. This beer is legendary, partly because you can’t find it east of California. It took home a bronze for smoke-flavored beer, finishing behind a smoked porter from Missouri and, in a huge surprise, a rauchbier from the Princetonians at Triumph Brewing.
The Stop ‘n’ Go Shortest Beer Line: Zima XXX Black Cherry slush. Let’s just say the Coors guys pouring this slurpee junk had a lot of time on their hands.
The Mercury Medal, for beer that’s worth an early frost: Peg Leg Imperial Stout. It’s the next issue in the body-warming Heavy Seas line of brews from Baltimore’s Clipper City. Hugh Sisson, the brewery’s boss, believes his best bet to break through Philadelphia’s beer market is with his over-the-top ales. (This summer’s Heavy Seas saison, Red Sky at Night, was a huge fave. )
The Honorary “They Oughta Be in Philly” Brewery: Bosco’s, the Memphis brewpub. And not just because the pub’s thirst-quenching La Biere de Tonduese was reminiscent of an old-style Philadelphia lager at its best. These guys have fun, and they make no apologies for copping Dogfish Head’s popular hop-filled Randall the Enamel Animal tapping device. Bosco’s version is Marvin the Organaleptic Hop Transfusion Module.
The Jaw-Dropper (for the festival’s biggest surprise): Bitter End Bistro & Brewery, of Austin, Texas. I’d never heard of these guys, but they blew me away with an excellent range, including Sour Prick – a tart brew made with prickly pears that won a bronze in the Belgian sour ale category. If you make your way to America’s weirdest town, get a pint of 1100, a barleywine, and Richter Scale Rye – both are a mouthful.
The Broken Record for the Festival’s Most Asked Question: What was Lagunitas Brewing Censored copper ale originally called? The answer: Kronic, a label that our square friends in the Treasury Department eventually discovered had drug connotations. Psst . . . Don’t tell the feds about Sweetwater Brewing’s 420 Pale Ale.
Most brewers I know are lovers, not fighters. But their beer names sure talk big. In Denver, they served Kick Ass Brown, Hands Off Maibock, Total Disorder Porter and Arskigger.
It wasn’t all fightin’ words, of course. There was a Big Woody, a Wee Woody, a Fat Woody and the aforementioned Sour Prick – kinda makes you wonder what’s really on these guys’ minds.
Belgian white beer is known as “wit,” so we tonsiled. Nit Wit, Wits End and Katerina Wit.
Double bock often ends with the suffix, “ator,” a nod to the original, Paulaner Salvator (the Savior). In Denver, I gave thanks to Common Denominator, Der Roggenator, Emancipator, Deviator and Intoxicator.
I wouldn’t normally pick Grand Lake Brewing’s Wooly Booger Nut Brown Ale, but it went down better than its name.
Here are my medals for the best beer names:
- Honorable Mention: Saint Arnold (Houston) Fancy Lawnmower Beer.
- Bronze: Big Rock Chophouse (Birmingham, Miss.) Norm’s Raggedy-Ass Ale.
- Silver: Flossmoor Station (Flossmoor, Il. ) Vote Early, Vote Often American ale.
- Gold: Bull & Bush (Denver) The Legend of the Liquid Brain imperial stout.
And Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, Wash., gets my vote for brewery of the year, for the best-named lineup: Walking Stick, Jaywalker, Homo Erectus, Knuckle Dragger and Old Stumblefoot.
Iron Hill’s five locations are hosting Thursday-night Oktoberfest dinners through the month. Enjoy a three-course beer dinner for $19.95 . . . It’s still almost a month away, but I’ve got a feeling tix will go fast for this one: Beer and cheese tasting with Brooklyn Brewing’s Garrett Oliver at Tria (123 S. 18th St., Center City), on Nov. 8. Oliver is an apostle for beer cuisine, and Tria’s already made a mark with its excellent fermentables. Info: 215-972-8742 . . .
New on the shelf: Rogue Yellow Snow Ale in 64-ounce bottles, Magic Hat Feast of Fools 12-packs, with two new flavors (Ravell porter and the mysterious Batch 369), Allagash Curieux (bourbon-aged tripel). Coming soon: Czechvar (aka the original Budweiser) on tap.
Tomorrow – Great Eastern Invitational Microbrewery Festival at Stoudt’s Brewing (Route 272, Adamstown, Pa.). Beer and buffet at the region’s oldest beer festival, then stick around till Sunday for the brewery’s Oktoberfest. Tix: $25. Info: 717-484-4386.
Oct. 21 – Meet the brewers at Red, White and Blue (33 High St., Mount Holly, N.J.). Beermakers from New Jersey breweries Climax, Cricket Hill, Flying Fish, River Horse and Hunterdon will be at the wine and liquor shop, from 5-7 p.m. Afterward, stop by the nearby Bridgetown Pub (up the block, at 42 High St.) for flights of beer. Info: 609-702-9949.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Avery Hog Heaven.