September 30, 2014

GABF: From Fermentation to Festival

Beer festivals are plentiful these days, but none are grander than the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. But what does it take to get a beer from fermentation to the festival? We sought out our good friends at Fate Brewing in Scottsdale and had them walk us through the process.

The silver medal. Ooooh.
First, it’s important to note that Fate has already stood on the stage with Charlie Papazian upon procuring a silver medal for their sublime Candy Bar Milk Stout – in their first year at the fest nonetheless. But owner Steve McFate and bad-ass bearded brewer Adam Schmeichel aren’t resting on their laurels. While they’ll certainly be entering Candy Bar again, which is even better this year (think batch 1), the other four beers being entered and poured at the festival include: Single-Hop Sour, International Pale Ale, Hatch Chile Cream Ale and Double Oatmeal IPA. 

Beers being entered into the festival are brewed on different schedules depending on how long each needs in fermentation. This can be tricky for a small 7-barrel brewery like Fate, which is why timing is so very important. Smaller breweries feel inclined to keep their guests happy, which means they need to ensure the brewpub’s taps are flowing with as many of their house beers as possible.

Adam hard at work.
Once the beers are done fermenting, it’s time to bottle. This can also be a bit tricky for small breweries that don’t bottle their beers, which Fate does not. Breweries with a bottling line can fire off the six bottles for each beer entered in no time flat. Fate, on the other hand, has to hand-bottle beers using a homebrew bottling system. It’s not really difficult to do, as the system attaches to a keg for transfer. But getting the carbonation level right isn’t as easy without the right measuring tools, which can be expensive. Interestingly, I happened to be at Arizona Wilderness when they were bottling their GABF beers, and they were transferring directly from serving tanks. The issue they faced was that the high 20psi pressure caused some over-carbonation issues. Thankfully, they were able to figure it out and get their bottles entered in time.

Industry professionals from around the world, known as The Professional Judge Panel, are invited to sit together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers and determine the three best in each specified style category. Five different three-hour judging sessions take place over the three-day period during the week of GABF. The number of entries is increasing each year, which makes medaling that much more difficult. 

Fate is one of over 700 breweries pouring their wares at the festival. Mr. McFate plans on pouring himself, and promises to have Adam or another Fate representative behind the booth at all times. I always see beer-lebrities like Garrett Oliver, Sam Calagione and Vinnie Cilurzo pour on the session floor, and admire the hell out of them for taking the time to be on their feet and meet and greet fellow beer geeks. 

Is it fate? Well, no, it's McFate.
So what will Fate’s ultimate fate be when awards are doled out the morning of October 4? It’s all in the judges’ hands now. But after having the opportunity to personally quaff Fate’s five beers being entered, I’d be hard-pressed to believe they won’t share that stage with Charlie once again. 

The awards ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 4. Be on the lookout for BeerPHXation Facebook and Twitter updates whenever Arizona breweries take home medals. Until then…