Friday, September 19, 2008

How do you get to the GABF?

"Practice, practice, practice." That was the punchline to the old joke: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

But how does a brewer get his/her beers to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) - the premier judged competition for all US beers?

Bill Madden, brewer at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, Va., has put up a post about just that at his Madd Brewer's blog.

I have five beers from V-50 going to GABF this year. Selecting the beers is a pleasure - what are the best beers we have going right now? Kolsch and Wee Heavy have been the work horses over the years, each winning multiple medals in the past for me.

The categories that the beers are entered into play a big factor with regard to how much of a chance they have for a medal. Entering in the west coast dominated categories like APA, American IPA or Imperial IPA is asking for disappointment - most of the judges are west coasties and they are looking for a palate punishing hop-spike experience that has nothing to do with my beer balance philosophy.

So, I picked the styles that emphasize balance over single dimension extremes - Catoctin Kolsch, V-50 Saison, V-50 Porter (Robust Porter), Wee Heavy, and Old Abominable Old Ale.

The less than fun part is kegging and bottling.

Bottling is a real pain for a brewpub. I have a Melvico manual counter-pressure bottle filler that does great fills - one bottle at a time. But, the fills are clean with low dissolved oxygen that handle the shipping and handling in the September heat for the competition.

Bottling done, I need to keg the entries for shipping to GABF. The kegs are provided by Microstar, a company that manages a large shared pool of kegs. These kegs arrive clean, in theory. I take them over to Coastal Brewing (former Old Dominion) for a run through their keg cleaner to de-funkify before filling with my beer. It takes as much work to fill one 15.5 gallon keg as a single 12 oz. bottle.

Mike McCarthy of Capitol City Brewing Company is letting us piggyback our kegs with his delivery to the regional GABF dropoff site at Starr Hill where Mark Thompson is pulling all of the region’s kegs together. These kegs get shipped through the Anheuser-Busch distribution network to Denver for the festival.

the rest of the post: Preparing for GABF

Note the high level of cooperation between the area's breweries. Competitors yes, but all friends in fermentation.
  • The 27th Great American Beer Festival is in Denver, Colorado, on October 9, 10, 11. Go to for more information.
  • I was alerted to Bill Madden's blog post at DC-Beer.

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