Tuesday, August 08, 2017

 
5 Things I Learned from Sesh Fest 2017

Bigger does not always equate to bigger at beer festivals. But with the exception of the far-too-big lines for the restrooms at Sesh Fest 2017, the growth of the festival - in brewers, in space and most importantly in diversity of beer - was something to celebrate.

Coming at a time when more breweries actually are making lower-alcohol beer to ride a wave of popularity among drinkers, the festival showed off how flavorful less boozy styles can be. Gone are the days when your choices below 5 percent ABV include a session IPA and a couple of watered-down English- or German-style beers. And that's a good thing.

Here then are things that became clear during an afternoon at the Highlands Masonic Events Center:

1) Sesh Fest could have been re-named "Low Alcohol Sour Fest"
It was almost hard to find a brewer whose offerings didn't include a gose or petite sour, all bursting with flavor even as they kept down the booze. Crooked Stave's Petite Sour Rose, a beautiful light-bodied sour with flavors of both fruit and flowers, may have been the best beer in the show. Or it may have been the Mila Petite Rouge Sour from Beryl's Beer, brimming with a fruity guava taste to bring even more drinkability to it. Or it could have been the New Wave from Ratio, a strawberry Berliner Weisse that lights up your taste buds with tartness only to fall back on big fruit notes. The point is, there were enough small sours there to make this a legitimate debate.

2) Low alcohol still permits high experimentation with adjuncts
Caution Brewing proved once again that you can get huge flavor into an English mild - no small feat in itself - by injecting Earl Grey tea, and The Earl stood out once again as one of the finest session beers at the event, if not in all of Colorado at this point. But 4 Noses Brewing also demonstrated aptly that dumping mango puree into a wheat beer (its Mango Wheat) allows you to make a beer that could pass as subtle yet is hugely refreshing, with enough flavor that you swirl it around your mouth an extra time to see how many flavors you can discover.

3) That said, don't go crazy with the adjuncts
Some very good brewers brought some very odd-tasting beers as well, producing mash-ups that didn't work quite as well as many of their other offerings. Horse & Dragon's Surf & Rescue, a coconut lime wheat, tasted oddly like perfume, even as the coconut oil was used to good effect to calm the taste. And Fate's Laimas Coffee Kolsch butted the sweeter malt tastes up against the harsher roast of the coffee in a way that felt like opposing forces clashing in your mouth - an opinion I'll maintain despite the fact that the brewery has been making this beer for years.

4) It's time to realize that Greeley isn't a one-brewery town
People often flock to a Weldwerks booth at any festival for good reason, as its beers are so flavorful they seem to overshadow everything else in Weld County. But time spent at the Wiley Roots booth on Saturday reinforced exactly how much the often-overlooked brewery in the same town is doing fantastic things. Its Watermelon Carousel Gose was full of fruit burst, with just enough spritz from its sour mash to tell you there was something more complex working your taste buds. And its session IPA stood out among similar offerings at the event.

5) Two Parts and Colorado Brewers Guild are upping their organizational game
First of all, getting 52 breweries to bring multiple session offerings showed just how much the push to pour flavorful low-alcohol beers has taken hold in the brewing community. But lines at all the booths were reasonable, food booths were plentiful and the Shandyland set-up inside the masonic center gave people a chance to try something new in a specific area. That said, the lines for the port-a-potties stretched longer than then lines for the bathrooms at Great American Beer Festival often do, creating too much talk about when it was appropriate to break the seal that could have been spent on which booths were offering unique beers.


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Thursday, August 03, 2017

 
Brewery Rickoli's American Dream


In an age when more breweries are pulling back on the idea of packaging beers and competing for retail space because of the high costs and heavy competition, Brewery Rickoli is getting a rare opportunity to go nationwide - for free.

The Wheat Ridge brewery's Oats McGoats, a gluten-reduced rye stout, is one of five beers from small companies that are part of Sam Adams' Brewing the American Dream 12-pack now available in liquor stores. Brewer Rick Abitbol got to be part of that group by winning the first-ever experienceship offered in 2013 by America's second-largest craft brewery, which gave him a chance to spend a week in Boston learning the finer points of the business and to continue to get advice up to this day.

But having Oats McGoats - a full-bodied offering that is the star of the five local beers in the 12-pack - get onto the national stage may be the biggest benefit yet from the association with Boston Beer, even considering the experienceship already helped Abitbol scale up to his current three-barrel system. The publicity is driving more people to his taproom on Wadsworth Boulevard, and it comes as Brewery Rickoli is trying to add to the 65 current liquor stores that carry its hand-bottled bombers.

"I can't even describe it. It's exposure that we couldn't obtain on our own," Abitbol said last week at a shark-tank style event in Denver where Boston Beer officials awarded $10,000 to a local coffee company before offering speed coaching to local brewers and other entrepreneurs. "And having Sam Adams behind us ... that's all it takes for us to have a lot of people come by the taproom and see how far we've come."

This 12-pack - which also features small breweries from New Mexico, New York and California - will help more than just the five beer makers who get their faces on the labels of those bottles, however. All of the profits go to Accion, a national micro-finance organization that focuses on entrepreneurs with limited or no access to bank credit, a group that includes brewers trying to start their business or take it to the next level.


The company got into a broader partnership with Sam Adams several years ago, though many of the breweries it has helped out are located in Colorado and in New Mexico, from which president and CEO Anne Haines hails. It looks at a variety of criteria when deciding who gets loans ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, but the biggest factor in deciding who gets help is the intangibles of the entrepreneur rather than their bottom line, she said.

"First and foremost, we are looking to people whose dream is on the line," Haines said, noting that seven different Colorado breweries are among the firm's many food- and drink-business clients. "We look for passion, commitment, determination."

It's a lot easier to get a loan these days to start or grow a brewery than it was 25 years ago, when no one yet understood the craft-beer model or how it was going to become such a vital part of community drinking. But to see such a large craft brewery like Sam Adams helping out its nascent competition and using its resources to link them to a company that will help them get new levels of attention says something powerful about the spirit of the craft-brewing industry.

"They're all small, local brewers, so the exposure for them is fantastic," said Jennifer Glanville, head brewer for Boston Beer. "To me, this has been the most exciting collaboration we've ever done."

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