Even in Denver, Seattle Brews Are the Talk of the Town

Notes from the Great American Beer Festival.

The Great American Beer Festival, held every year in Denver, is one of the 1,000 places you must visit before you die. It's been on my list for years, so I spent Oct. 11–14 blogging from the festival. My badge said "Media" and "Maggie" in gigantic type (yes, this became annoying), with "Seattle Weekly" printed in teeny lettering beneath. So I was as proud as a Rockies fan when people would offer me advice before reading the fine print on my badge—and would tell me of all the Pacific Northwest beers I couldn't miss. No duh, I'd say. Call me a homer, but the Pacific Northwest had an extremely strong selection this year. Praise for Flyer's Restaurant, Silver City, and Elliott Bay circulated around the exhibition-hall floor. Once people found out I was from Seattle, the question I was asked most often was, "I love that jasmine IPA. Have you tried it?" Again, no duh. Made by Elysian Brewing Company, the Avatar Jasmine IPA is a lighter India pale ale brewed with jasmine flowers; the hops make for a wonderful complement to the beer's fresh floral aroma. The beer was the "SexyBack" of the GABF this year. Though judges, attendees, and media all buzzed about it, the IPA won nothing except hearts and minds. Elysian didn't come away with nothing: The brewery medaled thrice at this year's festival and missed "Brewpub of the Year" and "Brewer of the Year" honors by mere points. After the awards were announced, I headed straight to the Pacific Northwest alley of the exhibition hall to congratulate the winners (more details and photos on Voracious, our food blog, at www.seattleweekly.com/voracious). "I think we feel fortunate to win any awards, so to walk out with a gold and two silvers is just great," said David Buhler, Elysian's head of sales. "The quality of the American beer movement is so good that there are many contenders in each category." Nearly 2,800 beers from 473 breweries competed in 75 different categories. Elysian's Wise ESB won gold in the Extra Special Bitter category, and the Great Pumpkin won a silver in the Fruit and Vegetable Beer category, a hot one with 96 entries. Judging adheres to strict style guidelines, and beers that make it to the medal round have passed through their passionate deliberation. I talked with Elysian's brewmaster, Dick Cantwell, who also serves as a judge for the festival, about how competitions like the GABF inform his brewing. Cantwell said, "I think half of winning medals is picking the categories to put them in." For example, Elysian's Dragonstooth Stout added a silver medal this year to two golds from previous years. Cantwell entered the beer as an "other strong ale or lager" instead of an "imperial stout." Having had the chance to go through a sample imperial stout judging, I see why: The Dragonstooth is plenty robust but just short of the imperial style's necessary bitterness. I also discovered that Cantwell is one of the cool kids at the festival, respected by many of the brew nerds. Many know him from his regular columns in American Brewer, where I always enjoy his turns of phrase (he wields words like impedimenta). You can taste Elysian's award-winning Great Pumpkin, alongside other pumpkin-inspired beers, at the brewery's Pumpkinfest, which will be held from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Pioneer Square location. (For more information, visit www.elysianbrewing.com.) One of the frightfully delicious beers will be served out of a genuine giant pumpkin. mdutton@seattleweekly.com

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