- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

DENVER | Innovation, celebrations of milestones and whiskey-beer collaborations were just some of the stories wafting out of the Colorado Convention Center this weekend at the Great American Beer Festival, wherein brewers from all 50 states converged to show off their wares at the country’s largest annual suds-fest.

Here are some newsworthy items The Washington Times picked up over the beer-tastic weekend.

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Alaskan Brewing Company, based in the capital city of Juneau, was in town celebrating three decades since founders Jeff and Marcy Larson left corporate careers behind to start The Last Frontier’s first craft brewery.

“For our first 10 years, we were the only brewery in Alaska,” Andy Kline, communications manager at Alaskan, told The Washington Times in an eerily empty Colorado Convention Center hours before the evening rush. “Then, for the next 10 years, there were only a handful of other breweries, mostly in the Anchorage area. But we’re the only one still in Juneau.”

Mr. Kline said that 200,000 barrels of beer were produced in the 49th state in 2015 — 160,000 of them at Alaskan Brewing alone. Mr. Kline estimates that makes his employers the 22nd largest craft brewery in America by volume.

“It’s cool to feel like we’re leaders and a brewery that represents the best of what craft beer is trying to be,” he said, adding his company aims to tap into the wild spirit of outdoor adventure that so many come to Alaska to experience.

The first beer off the line in 1986 was based on a pre-Prohibition recipe the Larsons found in the records of an Austro-Hungarian immigrant who came to work in the Alaska gold mines at the turn of the 20th century.

“He talked about this smooth amber ale that he brewed, pitched in the yeast, and then he found a place in Juneau where he had consistent temperature year-round,” Mr. Kline said of the European brewer, who kept his ale “refrigerated” in a mine cave, whose ambience stayed at 58 degrees throughout the year, regardless of the punishing Alaska winters and mild summers.

Mr. Kline said Mr. Larson, a chemical engineer by trade who worked in mining until being laid off in the mid-‘80s, decided to try a recipe similar to the European miner’s for his upstart brewery — as well as a proprietary yeast.

“[Mr. Larson] had mining history himself, and he loved that idea of tying that in,” Mr. Kline said.

Alaskan beers can now be found in 18 states, mostly concentrated in the Western U.S. Mr. Kline said the company has no plans to form an East Coast production facility, similar to what Western craft kings like Stone have done, however, they would eventually like to be distributed in the East.

“A second production facility on the East Coast would not feel right for our specific brand,” Mr. Kline said, adding the company is nonetheless expanding its Juneau facilities.

Despite craft beers taking ever more market share away from the Big Three, they still only tap 12 percent of the market, Mr. Kline said. However, even though they compete with one another, there is a camaraderie among craft brewers unlike in any other industry.

“There is genuine, warm affection — the absolute bear hugs when they see each other,” Mr. Kline said of brewers’ camaraderie. “I’ve worked in software, I’ve worked in radio, and you didn’t get that.

“Especially [the respect] for those pioneers really forging new ground, trying to explain to people what ‘craft beer’ even meant.”

Persistence pays off. And for their pearl anniversary, Alaskan Brewing Company has unveiled its Perseverance Ale, a Russian imperial stout sourced with local Alaska ingredients.

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Friday evening, it was brews and blues at Denver’s Summit Music Hall, where Great Divide Brewing Company and Jameson celebrated their unique partnership with a rocking concert from “The Voice” finalist Laith Al-Saadi, one of the most accomplished blues singers and guitarists in the country. Colorado’s own Brent Cowles and Austin mainstay Garrett Lebeau were also on the night’s bill.

The evening festivus was to commemorate the end result of Great Divide crafting a beer in Jameson’s barrels as part of the Jameson Caskmates Drinking Buddies program, which pairs breweries with the famous Irish distiller. Great Divide is one of the first American brewers to be selected for the program.

“This is the launch for their beer called ‘The Smoothness,’” Emma White, Jameson brand ambassador, told The Times at the Summit event. “We’ve given them some of our Jameson barrels [and] the barrels have had an effect on their beer.”

Ms. White relates how David Quinn, Jameson’s master of science, was drinking with a brewer in Midleton, Ireland, and, after several drinks, the brewer asked if he might “borrow” some of the whiskey barrels to ferment his own beer. The result was a new kind of brew, with the Jameson residue “singing a different tune” in the final product, which offered notes of butterscotch and chocolate and coffee.

“We’ve teamed up this year with seven different breweries to create a different beer,” Ms. White said. “So we’re testing out these barrels to bring back to [the Jameson facility in] Midleton, and checking out to see if we can get a localized Jameson’s cask that’s going to be a whiskey.

“So it’s a very exciting time for us … to be here in Denver.”

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Craft canning pioneers Oskar Blues Brewery, with operations in Longmont, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Brevard, North Carolina, are going global. The makers of Dale’s Pale Ale are taking their suds across many ponds, expanding into Belgium, Brazil, New Zealand, Japan, Spain, Chile and The Netherlands. Oskar Blues beers are already in all 50 states, the District, U.K., Ireland, Sweden and even parts of Canada and Australia.

“After launching the canned craft beer movement in the U.S., we’re ready to push boundaries around the globe,” said Chris Russell, Business Development Director of Oskar Blues, in a statement. “As American craft beer travels worldwide, we want to challenge the perception of cans once again.”

Never doubt that cans are cool.

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Hometown Denver brewer Keith Villa announced the opening of the Blue Moon Brewing Co.’s newest brewery location, located in Denver’s happening River North (RiNo) Art District. Following a soft opening over the summer, Mr. Villa touted the 26,000-square-foot RiNo facility’s grand opening to coincide with GABF.

“For the last 21 years we have been experimenting with and creating new beers, and having a lot of fun with that process,” Mr. Villa said. “Now, we’re excited to bring that same creative spirit to our new, inspired space.”

Featuring 24 beers on tap and a full-service kitchen, the BlueMoon Brewery RiNo joins the brand’s flagship Denver home base, The SandLot in Coors Field. Its new brewhouse touts an annual capacity of 10,000 barrels, and can seat 450 patrons to both imbibe and dine.

Mr. Villa lived in Belgium, where he refined his tastes as well as brought the Belgian beer touch to his company, which he opened in 1995.

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It’s not just a music genre. And Ska Brewing of Durango, Colorado, is continuing to prove its mettle by taking home accolades at GABF for its Mexican Logger, which won the bronze medal in the International Style Pilsner Category. It took home the silver medal for the same elixir last year in Denver.

“We always knew Mexican Logger was a crowd pleaser, but to have it win a medal two years in a row at the Great American Beer Festival is super exciting for us,” said Kristen Muraro, marketing director at Ska Brewing.

Ska Brewing announced that it will up production of its flagship beer 20 percent in order to meet demand. The brewery expects to increase production again by the same amount in 2017.

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Yes, recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, and one enterprising brewery out of Aurora is taking that to next level with its Sativa 420% Legal Ale, which is partially made with cannabis extract.

“We’re all about the will of the people, and this is what the people want,” said Mason Hembry of Dads & Dudes Breweria.

And how is the Colorado beer public — and GABF in particular — responding to the barely legal product?

“Business is blossoming like wildfire,” Mr. Hembry told The Times.

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