Colorado Brewers Dominate GABF as Sustainability Becomes Prominent Theme

rich mauro the peoples palate

scenes from GABF

The 29th Great American Beer Festival (GABF) held a few weeks ago at the Colorado Convention Center continued its record setting ways. While most everything else in the economy is contracting, it seems the beer world just keeps expanding.  Attendance (estimated), volunteers, and the number of breweries, beers on the floor, beers in the competition, categories judged, and judges all increased over last year!

By my count, Colorado was the top winning state with Colorado brewers bringing home 29 medals won (12 percent of the total), besting even such craft beer powerhouses as California and Oregon. Blue Moon won the Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year awards and Rockyard Brewing Co. of Castle Rock took a silver medal in the Pro-Am competition.

The following breweries also brought home awards:

  • Boulder Beer Co., Boulder
  • Bristol Brewing Co., Colorado Springs
  • C. B. & Potts, Ft. Collins
  • Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery, Ridgway, CO
  • Del Norte Brewing Co., Denver
  • Dillon Dam Brewery, Dillon
  • Dry Dock Brewing Co., Aurora
  • Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co., Glenwood Springs
  • Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver
  • Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont
  • Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery, Boulder
  • New Planet Beer, Boulder
  • New Belgium Brewing Co., Inc., Fort Collins
  • Pagosa Brewing Co., Pagosa Springs
  • Pug Ryan’s Brewery, Dillon
  • Rockyard Brewing Co., Castle Rock
  • Rock Bottom Brewery, multiple locations
  • Ska Brewing Co., Durango
  • Steamworks Brewing Co., Durango

I was glad to see the festival continued its emphasis on matching beer with food. This was prominently on display in the more intimate Farm-to-Table Pavilion where local chefs created dishes using Colorado products to pair with selected beers from around the country. Even some of the Colorado farmers and ranchers were there to talk about their products. We sampled craft beers paired with foods sourced from these local farms and ranches.

As a “wine guy,” I’m well versed in the affinity between wine and food. So, I have been pleased to see craft brewers in recent years put more effort into making beers that are best drunk with food. The Farm-to-Table Pavilion presented a fine opportunity to discover how much local foods rendered by skilled chefs have in common with craft beer from small and independent breweries. The event featured products from thirteen Colorado farms and ranches paired with special releases available only in the pavilion. I found this is so innovative for a beer festival I feel compelled to reprint the menu here.

The Farm To Table Pavilion Menu


Roasted Vegetable Napoleon, Spent Grain Cracker Sweet Onion Jam & Micro Greens

Oskar Blues’ Hoppy Seconds

Sweetwater Brewing Co. Magnum IP Imperial Pilsner

Three Sisters (Corn, Beans & Squash) Red Quinoa with Southwestern Chile Vinaigrette

Rogue Chocolate Stout

Hazel Dell Wild Mushrooms & Thyme with Creamy Polenta

Odell Brewing Co. Woodcut #3

Wood Fired “Helios” Chicken Liver Mousse with Stone Fruit Gelee, House Pickle,

Apple & Thyme Foccacia

Victory Brewing Helios

House Made Pork Sausage, Smoked Fingerling Potato, Mixed Cabbage & Pear Slaw

Victory Brewing V12

Main Dishes

Colorado “Tongue of Fire” Stew – Braised Duck, House Made Rabbit Sausage, Winter Squash & Tongue of Fire Beans

New Holland Brewing Co. Charkoota Rye

Odell Cutthroat Porter

Smoked Trout, Corn Cake & Tomatillo Chutney

Rogue Juniper Pale Ale

Mini Rosemary Buffalo Burger with Windsor Dairy Bleu Cheese & Caramelized Onions on Brioche Bun

Ska Brewing Co. Buster Nut Brown

Stone Brewing Co. Saison du Buff

Heritage Turkey Confit Quesadillas, Haystack Goat Queso de Mano & Green Heirloom Tomato Pico de Gallo

Sweetwater Brewing Co. Happy Ending

Tripple M Bar Ranch Lamb Polpette, Mint Pesto, Goat Cheese, Curry Pinenuts, Micro Basil, Balsamic Reduction

Ninkasi Summer Radiant Ale

Aion BLT: Ten Fidy Cured Bacon, Crisp Butterhead Lettuce, Heirloom Tomato,

House Made Aioli & Bread

Oskar Blues Ten Fidy


House Made Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Honey Tuile & Colorado Berries

New Holland Brewing Co. Dragon’s Milk

Ska Dubbel Blond

Spice Cake with Roasted Pear Compote & Honey Goat Cheese Cream

Stone Brewing Co. Sawyer’s Triple

North Fork Valley Apple & Pine Nut Tartlets with Beer Caramel

Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale

Well-earned kudos go to Chef Chad Armstrong and Chef Marlyin Kakudo and the student chefs of the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder. And the Guest Chefs deserve recognition for some creative parings: Dakota Soifer and Eric Lee of Café Aion, Boulder, CO; Kelly Whitaker and Sean Magallanes of Pizzeria Basta in Boulder; and Elise Wiggins of Panzano in Denver’s Hotel Monaco.

Equally impressive was that the festival continued its efforts to remain on the cutting edge of sustainability initiatives. In partnership with ZeroHero (a Colorado company that works across the country reducing the impact of major events and festivals through zero-waste management, alternative energy and education), the Colorado Convention Center, Centerplate Catering, Governors Energy Office, Colorado Carbon Fun, and Renewable Choice Energy, the GABF worked to reduce its carbon footprint and come as close to a zero-waste event as possible.

Here are some of the programs implemented at the festival:

  • At least 85% of the waste to be diverted away from the landfill
  • Most disposable items were recyclable or compostable
  • All glass and plastic bottles, cans, paper and cardboard to be recycled
  • Use of styrofoam at food outlets in the event was banned
  • Bulk condiments used at concession areas
  • All compost processed by local company
  • Carbon production offset by purchasing wind credits
  • House lights kept at 50% during the show

The Brewers Association, a brewing company trade association based in Boulder that markets the festival should be proud for organizing such a successful event in these tough economic times. And the future looks good, too. The Brewers Association reports continued growth in the craft beer industry. With just about every other industry seeing declines, the craft beer industry in 2009 achieved growth rates of 7.2% by volume and 10.3% by dollars. And by August 2010, there were 1625 breweries operating, the most in 100 years.

Let’s all raise a glass or two!

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.