Postcard From Great American Beer Festival
Greg Koch is co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, CA. Since starting the company with his partner Steve Wagner in 1996, Stone has become one of the fastest-growing and highest-rated breweries in the world. Brewing more than 148,000 barrels in 2011, Stone is the 11th largest craft brewery in the United States, a position it achieved without advertising, discounting, freebies or compromises. As co-author of 2 books -- The Craft of Stone Brewing, Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance and The Brewer’s Apprentice -- Koch is recognized as one of the leading experts and advocates in the craft brewing world. You can follow his musings on Twitter: @StoneGreg.
I went here to: Share great American craft beer with beer fans and old friends in the brewing business.
I traveled here with: My girlfriend, Sara, 15 members of the Stone team, and approximately 20,000+ other folks who traveled to Denver for GABF (nearly half the attendees come from outside the Denver region).
The best way to travel here is: Not the way I got here, which was by flying. Nothing wrong with flying, but the “best” way (in my opinion) would be by car, stopping to see my many brewing friends along the way. I love visiting them at their places and enjoying the wonderful scenery that exists between San Diego and Denver … not the least of which are those magnificent Rocky Mountains.
Once in Denver, the best way to travel around is by using the newly installed “b-cycle” bicycle rental system. Go to one of the many bike racks scattered around the city, pop your credit card in and out, grab a bike and you’re off! The beauty of this system is that once you are at your destination, you can return the bike to the nearest “b-cycle” rack and you’re done with it. Convenient as heck, practically responsibility-free, great exercise, and biking is a great way to see nearly any city. I’ve used similar systems in Minneapolis, Montreal, and throughout many cities in Europe. I’m a huge fan. San Diego’s on track to get a system by next spring, and I will be one of their first customers.
I stayed at: One night at the notorious, and notoriously-awful Hotel VQ (a last-minute booking snafu on our part, which left us with no other choice on the Tuesday night of Denver’s oversold GABF week), before thankfully moving to the Hilton Denver City Center where I’ve stayed many a time. Solid rooms, great service and a high-quality selection of craft beer at the hotel bar. The hotel is in a business part of downtown Denver, but within easy walking distance to great restaurants, bars, and the GABF.
When it comes to packing, be sure to bring: For Denver, and pretty much anywhere in Colorado for that matter, it’s all about layers, as the weather is well known for its (sometimes wild) fluctuations. Oh, and I always bring my bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap … I bring that with me everywhere I travel. There is nothing worse than hotel soap, which is typically laden with perfume additives that are way too strong for me. I like simple quality when I travel, not fancified stuff.
The best thing I ate was: I require simple quality as a starting place when it comes to food. From there, it can either remain simple (which is fine, because it’s quality), or it can be subjected to eclectic preparations. For the latter, it was the Midnight Breakfast at Euclid Hall. In a word: wow. I love Chef Jorel’s commitment to basic quality, layered with his creative style. However, it was the decidedly inauspicious Cheba Hut that made for the best meal. Partly because of their simple quality delivered with modest creativity and absolute deliciousness, and partly because it was after the Friday night GABF session at 10:15 p.m. with the hardworking Stone team when I enjoyed their sandwich … all while sharing a pint from their great craft beer draft lineup. Nothing like the feeling of a well-earned reward of a tasty sandwich and great beer with the team!
The best beer I tried was: If anyone actually answers this question with a direct answer, they’re a bit full of it! Think about it, there are well over 2,000 beers at the GABF so the very notion of a “best” is either illusive or just downright self-limiting.
Some of my favorite US breweries to visit are: This is always a challenging question for me because the list is so long. I’ll be in Sonoma in a couple weeks, and will be dropping by the Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa. I love it because of their super-tasty beers, casual atmosphere … and the fact that owners Vinnie and Natalie are old friends. It’s always great to see old friends when beer is involved! Locally, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Pizza Port Solana Beach brewpub. It’s close to my house, their beer is awesome (and so is their pizza!), and it was the first place on the planet to serve a keg of Stone beer.
I wish I hadn't: No regrets! I had a great time. Oh, well … I guess I could say, “I wish I hadn’t bothered to pack my running shoes.” Ha! Packing running shoes for GABF week is the definition of “Unrealistic.”
Don't miss: Going to the Botanical Gardens, like I did. My girlfriend Sara managed to go during one of the afternoons while I was engaged in GABF activities. I love botanical gardens, and the report she brought back was that it’s amazing. This was confirmed by everyone I talked to that had been. Next time, it’s firmly on my agenda! Hmmm … I wonder if there’s a running trail?
Next time I will definitely: See above, and make it out to Boulder for a hike. Simply put, it’s a spectacular part of the world.
My favorite part of the festival was: The sheer overwhelming randomness of it all. Running into people I know from all over the country, discovering amazing beers, and not-so-randomly being able to celebrate the incredible success of the craft beer revolution that so many of us have worked for!
My advice would be: Just go. Don’t hesitate. Note that in order to make that happen, you’ll need to follow @GABF or CraftBeer.com to be in-the-know and get information about when tickets go on sale…and then execute your purchase with lightning speed. Hesitate, and you’ll be left wanting. Oh, and book your hotel early, so you don’t end up at the VQ. Ugh.