Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I need a vacation from my vacation: Reflections on GABF 2007

Wow! What a long, rewarding, educational, exciting, exhausting, and action packed week. As I sit and reflect on my journey to Denver(expect to see a little wrap up with pictures from Andrew later in the week) I can't help but be amazed at the wide range of emotions we went through this week.

First, relief that we had meticulously brewed AND bottled 8 of our beers as best we could, hoping that they would arrive in Denver safely. To say it is a large task for a small brewpub with no bottling system to successfully enter this competition is an understatement. It's a lot of work and effort.
Secondly, I was judging for the first time. I didn't tell anyone, but I was a little nervous. This was a big task and responsibility. What if I messed it up? Well, I knew at the very least it was going to be a great networking opportunity, and it was. I met a lot of great craft beer industry folk. I'm also happy to say that I did not mess it up. Every winner I helped choose was very deserving! I know-it sounds a little cocky, but it was fun to see myself picking the same beers as other judges with far more experience than me. Maybe I was more suited for this than I thought.
Next comes the hecticness. Everyone tries to pack as many events as they can into those few days. From special tappings at the Falling Rock (Denver's premier beer bar), to open house events at places like Great Divide and Sandlot, to trying to meet up with Illinois brewers, other brewer friends from across the country, and my friend Trevor who lives in Denver-it made for a busy week. Add into the mix the judging and the fact that my wife, Jenni, got to come out on Thursday night made it seem like I was always running, and certainly not sleeping.Well, we got through the evening GABF sessions, which were kinda weird because I didn't really feel like trying many beers the first two nights due to the rigorous judging schedule. I was all full up I guess. I made it a point to go by the booths that I didn't want to miss and the beers that were buzzing. Meanwhile I manned the booth a bit and it's a funny thing how a little fame makes a whole lot more people want to talk your ear off. I guess it comes with the territory.
Saturday afternoon was the awards ceremony. Nervousness was the understatement of the century here. Ask, my wife, I couldn't stand still. We cruised to the brewers breakfast at Breckenridge to get the base on. Great food and bloodies guys! Then we went to the Sports column to take in My Iowa Hawkeyes against the rival Fighting Illini. We won. Iowa's back. Bring on the Aloha Bowl! :) From there we headed to the fest and tried to stop thinking about the awards. As always I try to tell myself I will get shut out of the medals. Kind of like breaking the fall I suppose. As an aside, I really don't believe this because I know I have good beers and with the winning of last year, I just don't want to consider not being able to make a great beer. BUT the competion is huge and I really got a better perspective from judging this year. It takes a LOT to win even one award, let alone 8 that I have been fortunate enough to garner.Anyway, 8 beers-5 of which were in the first 18 categories. After some technical difficulties with the visuals, we were off:
Category 2-American Wheat Ales-Station Master-too cloudy I guess.
Category 4-Fruit beers-DeZuidentrein Frambozenbier-to tart I guess (Berry Weiss. WTF?)
Category 7-Specialty-Pullman-Ahhhhhh-we have consistency here, but no-I guess we were too complacent. Time to retool that beer.
Ok, Zero for 3. Bad start. More good beers to come.
Category 15-Strong Barrel-Wooden Hell, last years bronze-too many great beers I guess (71)Category 18-Zwickel-new one for us. Lots o good comments on the floor. Buzzzzzz-loser. So an ale took silver and bronze in the Zwickle/Kellar category. Bummer.
Ok, zero for 5. Not a good start. We feel good about the next two.
Category 33-Schwarzbier- Last years Gold. What!? no Bronze awarded. You're kidding me?Ok, are we going to get skunked here. A pain rang out in the pit of my stomach. All that work for naught. Why did we bother? I give up. The pessimism swelled.
Category 36 Baltic Porter. We made this beer in January. It can't win. Bronze-not us Silver-not us Gold......when the "K" of Killer Kowalski cracked his lips Andrew and I let out a howl for we knew we hadn't been shut out.
I slapped him on the back and we nearly shoved the wall of people out of our way. Nope, we're not getting Small Brewpbub of the year this year, but we are going home with Hardware. And a gold no less! It almost (almost) felt better than last year.Finally Category 60-Belgian Sour-nope, not enough I guess.So that's it. One gold this year. Time to celebrate with my friends from Illinois. And we did great. 12 medals in all. Only California, Colorado, and Wisconsin had more. Brew on Illinois!

So, that's the quick, yet lengthy rundown of my week in Denver. Slogging home Sunday through the rain and cold (and the Denver Marathon and the busy airport, etc. etc.) was a mixed bag. You don't want it to end (b/c work awaits you Monday), but I hadn't seen my two kids since they groggily dropped me at the airport Tues. at 6 AM, waving at me the whole time the train departed for the city. It's funny that no matter how many medals I win, no matter how many colleagues I meet or made anew, no matter what I did wrong this weekend, Nick and Ella sprinted to me shouting "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy". I love that gold medal I won this weekend, but I'd surely trade it for that experience coming home Sunday afternoon. (I told you it was a roller coaster of emotions-now go ahead and cry, you big tough guy!)


Anonymous said...

One medal is better than nothing. And I think I will still find my way to the bar at least once a week.

Good Job Matt and Andrew-- Keep the beers coming, and I will keep helping getting the kegs empty so you can brew more mind blowing beers.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations guys. That's one big medal you won.

I just couldn't help myself from commenting on this though.. You watched the game at The Sports Column.. Hawkeye coincidence? : )

I hope the kids sang the fight song upon your arrival home as well.

Congrats again guys. Go Hawks!