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Chatting Up the Brewers of the Great American Beer Festival

BY: Shannon Jewitt | Sep 23, 2015

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Despite the “beer-snob” attitude some people attribute to craft-beer culture, the Great American Beer Festival couldn’t be further from pretentious. “It’s kind of like when you first went to college, and everybody’s starting out and trying to figure things out,” said Kim Leshinski of Hail To The Ale and the Chicago Beer Gals Collective. “It’s a similar mentality, where [the brewers are] willing to help each other out and really want each other to succeed.”

That camaraderie—along with some of the nation’s best beers—will be on display at the 33rd annual Great American Beer Festival, which runs from September 24 to 26.

And since Groupon is an official sponsor, the Guide decided to prep for the festivities, reaching out to breweries and rifling through our archives for stories about unusual beer names, trend predictions, and what brew brewers reach for when they’re (gasp!) not drinking craft beers.

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Where the heck did you come up with that name?

Head brewer Chris Rockwood can’t definitively confirm the origins of Magic Hat Brewing Company’s name. But the story he points to goes back to the brewery’s start in the early 1990s. As Rockwood tells it, people would say, “‘In order to pull this off they’re going to have to pull magic out of a hat.’ And then it kind of stuck.”

“My creative process is truly random,” Clown Shoes Beer founder Gregg Berman told us when asked about his Tramp Stamp Belgian-style IPA. “The idea came one day while driving when I heard the phrase on the radio.” How many of the 7% ABV brews would he have to drink in order to actually get a tramp stamp? “I would pass out before that would ever occur,” he said.

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Berman then pointed us toward Flying Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA. “The yeast that we use is called ‘El Diablo,’” said Flying Dog brewmaster Matt Brophy. (That means “the devil” in Spanish.) “One of the things that we noticed very early on with this yeast strain is that [it’s] a very vigorous fermenter. … So we were starting to look at names, kind of devilish names, and just kind of thinking about this raging fermentation.” One of the women at Flying Dog suggested Raging Bitch, and the rest was history.

What’s your favorite brewery?

Gigantic Brewing Company’s brewmaster Ben Love picked Firestone Walker Brewing Company as his favorite. “Pivo Pils and Easy Jack are my go-to beers from them,” he told us via email. “Of course, they also make other incredible beers GABF attendees are going to want to try: Union Jack, Double Jack, Velvet Merkin, Parabola, Agrestic. The list goes on.”

Timothy Blevins, head brewer at Back Forty Beer Co., named Terrapin Beer Company as his favorite brewery. He recommended their RecreationAle and Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale.

Dee Dee Germain, a marketing rep and occasional brewer at Allagash Brewing Company, favors tart belgians like their own Allagash White. For that reason, she gives props to Boulevard Brewing Co.’s Zon and Avery Brewing Co.’s White Rascal.

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What’s your guilty pleasure beer?

“My go-to cheap beer is High Life in a bottle,” said Love.

Blevins said “Mother taught me if you can't say something good about someone just hold your tongue.” However, he did fess up to a particular fondness for Miller Lite.

How has the scene changed since the first Great American Beer Festival?

It wasn’t called craft beer when we started,” Abita Brewing Company president David Blossman told us. “We started brewing in ‘86, and we were just the local better beer, I guess … We were local, and we were trying to make more full-flavored ales and lagers and make them all naturally.”

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Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman recalls not having great access to varied or high-quality hops in the ‘80s. He began driving up to Yakima, Washington, from California to get Cascade hops, a variety he loved that was just making itself known. “He was just enamored with the pine and citrus and grapefruit character,” said brewery rep Ryan Arnold.And he ultimately put that toward a pale that was slightly more assertive than a pale ale you would have found in the UK.”

What do you think is the next craft-beer trend?

As a pioneer of sour ales himself, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales founder Ron Jeffries is totally on board with the growing popularity of sour beers. His faves from other breweries include Russian River Brewing Company’s Consecration and Supplication, The Bruery’s Tart of Darkness, The Lost Abbey’s Cuvee de Tomme, and New Belgium Brewing Company’s La Folie.

Many folks point to Founders Brewing Co.’s All Day IPA as a trendsetter for session IPAs. “All Day is really, I think, is in its infancy stage,” said co-founder Dave Engbers, who was all too happy to point to some other microbreweries he thinks are skillfully expanding on the style. He’s a big fan of Stone Brewing Co.’s Go To IPA, Lagunitas Brewing Company’s DayTime, and Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Easy Jack.

On that note, Gigantic Brewing’s Love predicted that the IPA will continue to dominate—“It’s the American beer.”

Top photo courtesy of the Great American Beer Festival's Facebook page. Hops Highway image: Desert Road by William Warby via CC BY 2.0. Beer bottle photos by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon.

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