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NBWA Convention and Trade Show 2007
Craft Beer Takes Center Stage
 
 
Sam Calagione (Founder/President of Dogfish Head), and next to him is Rob Tod (Founder of Allagash Brewing).
 
LAS VEGAS — The 70th annual National Beer Wholesalers Association Convention and Trade Show convened in Las Vegas Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 and attracted a record number of more than 3,800 industry representatives. The convention was a chance for distributors to research all that’s available in the world of brewing, while the trade show was a showcase of breweries from all over the world representing virtually every beer style.

I did my own research and discovered 282 exhibitors on the trade show floor, with several new and old favorites available for sampling. 23 craft breweries were represented in the Craft Beer Garden, but the rest of the trade show appeared to be dominated by artisanal beer sporting plenty of robust flavors. No surprise there, as the craft beer industry continues to be the fastest growing segment in the entire US beverage alcohol industry. The evidence is a 17.4% increase in dollar sales from 2006, and for the first time ever, craft beer has exceeded more than a 5% dollar share of total beer sales.

Will Hamill and Steve Kuftinec were promoting Uinta, their brewery from Salt Lake City. Uinta destroys the myth that they make only wimpy beer in Utah with its XIV Anniversary Barley Wine, a 10.4% abv full-flavored brew celebrating the brewery’s 14th anniversary. An earlier version of this brew placed third at the 2007 Toronado Barley Wine Festival. Their newly revamped Monkshine, a Belgian-style pale ale with the color of a triple and alcohol strength of a dubbel, has been increased from 4% to 6% abv and is produced with Belgian yeast strains. New to the line are Wildfire, a USDA certified organic extra pale ale made with organic barley; and Punk’n, a harvest pumpkin ale. The brewery is 100% wind-powered, its delivery truck runs on bio-diesel and it recycles its six-pack carriers and bottles. Their efforts towards protecting the environment have been recognized with awards from the EPA and US Department of Energy. Uinta is no stranger to awards in the brewing world, having earned 8 GABF, 6 WBC and 31 North American Brewers Association honors.

Starr Hill Brewery, from Charlottesville, Virginia, must be doing a lot of things right, and the proof was in its 11 GABF medals that were displayed on its booth’s serving table (closely guarded, of course). Award-winning beers being served were Jomo Lager, which won a GABF gold, silver and bronze in three consecutive years; Dark Starr Stout, which won GABF honors in four out of six years that it was entered; and Pale Ale, which won GABF gold two years in a row.

Shipyard Brewing from Portland, Maine, sailed in with Sea Dog Wild Blueberry (made with real blueberries) and Pumpkinhead (brewed with nutmeg, allspice and pumpkin pie spice). Both beers’ unique flavors jump right out at you and leave no doubt as to what ingredients you’re tasting.

Delaware’s Dogfish Head’s Founder Sam Calagione was serving his 90-minute IPA, made with a dry hop machine that hops continually throughout the boil resulting in a beer that’s full of hop flavor without being overly bitter. His new hopping machine is called Sofa King Hoppy, a massive air cannon that fires hops into the kettle while allowing the lid to remain closed. Some unique historical reproductions are the Midas Touch Golden Elixir-a cross between a beer, wine and mead, showcasing ingredients that were in the 2,700-year-old drinking vessels found in King Midas’s tomb, made with muscat grapes, saffron and honey; and Chateau Jiahu-inspired by preserved pottery from Northern China dating back to 7,000 BC using rice flakes, barley malt, honey, Muscat grapes, Chrysanthemum flowers and Hawthorne fruit. Dogfish Head recently expanded its brewhouse to a 100 barrel system, bringing its new capacity to 220,000 barrels (41,000 were produced in 2006).

Leave it to Stone Brewing Company to push the limit on how many IBU’s one’s taste buds can handle. The 7.7% abv Ruination IPA weighs in with over 100 IBU’s, and is aptly named, since the human palette can’t actually taste more than 100. The Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale is yet another out of the ordinary brew, aged with toasted American oak chips.
Some IPA’s worth mentioning that I was fortunate enough to sample are: Saranac Imperial IPA-from its big beer series; Deschuttes Inversion IPA-a true IPA at 7% abv and 85 IBU’s; Victory Hop Devil Ale-made with American whole flower hops; and Rogue I2PA-an Imperial IPA packaged in a black silk-screened ceramic 750 ml bottle.

The craft beer industry continues to be the fastest growing segment in the entire U.S. beverage alcohol industry.

Sam Adams introduced its 8.8% abv Imperial Pilsner, made with Hallertau and Mittelfrueh hops to the tune of 12 pounds per barrel. Compare that to the one pound that’s in a barrel of its Sam Adams Lager. Definitely a showcase for hops, it’s without a doubt the hoppiest brew I’ve ever encountered from Sam Adams. Any hophead worth his buds will want to check it out.

There was no shortage of breweries proving that you don’t have to leave the US to enjoy brews as big and flavorful as those produced in Belgium. Allagash, out of Portland, Maine, is becoming sought out for its Belgian-style creations. Founder Rob Tod poured his 9% abv Tripel Reserve (golden, passion fruit and subtle suggestions of banana and honey). A great beer in its own right, it’s also produced in a version called Curieux (which means curious). Aged for two to three months in bourbon barrels obtained from Jim Beam, the beer picks up a soft vanilla character with quite noticeable bourbon tones. Alagash continues to grow with distribution in 23 states and a new larger facility that’s already near capacity.

Brewery Ommegang, from Cooperstown, New York, featured its Belgian-style ales, pouring its Hennepin-Farmhouse Saison with coriander and ginger notes; Ommegang-8.5% abv Abbey Ale with caramel and toffee flavors; Witte-traditional White Ale spiced with coriander and orange peel; Rare Vos-Belgian Amber Ale with caramel flavor and a dry hop finish; and Three Philosophers-Belgian Quadruple mixed with cherry-infused lambic from Belgium.

Another American brewery with Belgian tendencies is Victory Brewing out of Downington, Pennsylvania. I was impressed with its Twelve, a Belgian-inspired ale of 12% abv that sported big flavors, backed up by big hops; and Golden Monkey-a 9.5% abv Belgian Triple with abundant herbal and fruity notes.

Wolaver’s Organic Ales, from Middlebury, Vermont, is celebrating its 10th year of producing organic beer, using only organic barley and hops grown by small independent farmers. Its 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Ale is a Belgian-style Saison, and the brewery is showing its commitment to furthering organic farming by donating 10% of its sales to the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Flying Dog Brewery, from Denver, Colo. had plenty of brews to make a dog feel like flying, especially its Snake Dog IPA (6.4% abv and 60 IBU’s) and Horn Dog Barley Wine (10.5% abv and 45 IBU’s). Soon to be released is the Wild Dog Doppelbock Collaborator, a limited release experimental brew that was created in response to a blog that was set up to see what the brewery’s fans wanted. Only 5,000-750 ml bottles have been produced.

Oscar Blues Brewery, from Lyons, Colo. is espousing a canned beer apocalypse, asserting that great beer doesn’t have to pour from a bottle or keg. The company’s rationale is that cans offer the best protection from light and oxidation and allow for easy transport. On the serving table were Dale’s Pale Ale, a 6.5% abv hoppy pale made with all-American hops, and Old Chub, a hearty 8% abv Scottish Style Ale.

The Anchor Brewing wooden serving bar was a familiar sight, with Anchor’s Bob Brewer and John Dannerbeck tapping the hoppy Liberty Ale, venerable Anchor Steam, rich and chewy Old Foghorn barley wine, Summer Wheat Ale and Bock Beer. It would appear that the Bock Beer is gaining world-wide recognition; John reports that it is especially popular in Sweden.

Binding Brauerei USA featured several European brews, including Radeberger Pilsner. Brewed in the Dresden suburb of Radeberg since 1872, Radeberger has the distinction of being the first German brewery to ever brew the classic pilsner style. In 1905, his Majesty King Frederic August of Saxony decreed that the Radeberg Export Brewery would become the "Royal Court Brewery of Saxony." Before the fall of the iron curtain, it was so in demand that it was used as a secret secondary currency by the East German government as barter in exchange for goods from other communist countries. New to Binding’s portfolio is Krusovice, a Czech Imperial lager that won a gold medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Natural spring water from the Krivolat Woods, and hops from the Zatec region are used in the production, resulting in a sharp, hoppy, robust brew. The brewery dates back to 1581 and the Bohemian Royal Crown.

Merchant du Vin brought out a stunning array of imports that included Orval, Lindemans, Samuel Smith, Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, and Pinkus Organic Hefe-Weizen. New to its portfolio is Zatec, a nicely balanced full-flavored Czech lager that has been produced in the city of Zatec since 1801. Zatec is the Czech name of the hop that most Americans know as Saaz, which is the German translation. Since the regional hops cooperative is just a few blocks from the brewery, and the hops are grown in the fields around the city, the brewers pick up the hops immediately before brewing.

Warsteiner brought some new mixes to give Americans a taste of how they drink soda in Germany. Its new line, set for a spring release in the States, mixes beer with lemonade (Radler), lemon lime (Lemon), Orange and Cola. All are a 60/40 mix of beer and additives and weigh in at a mere 2.9% abv.

Total Beverage Solution imports high-caliber beers from England and Germany, including Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Greene King IPA, Olde Suffolk, and brews from Weihenstephan, the world’s oldest operating brewery dating from 1040. A new US release from the brewery is Weihenstephaner Vitus, a 7.7% abv bock that is made from a 1780 recipe of the beer that provided the sole sustenance for fasting monks.

Another brewery from antiquity is the Namyslow Brewery, established in 1321 in the town of Namyslow, Poland. Introduced were Plum-the first plum beer to ever hit the Polish market; and Malina-a raspberry blend of bitter and sweet. Both versions are packaged in 500 ml cans.

The land down under was represented by Coopers, which brought its seasonal Vintage Ale, a bottle conditioned 7.5% abv strong ale brewed with an extended top fermentation and with Saaz, Cascade and Hersbrucker hops.

Daniel Thwaites Brewery, independent family brewers from Blackburn, Lancashire, brought out its Double Century Celebration Ale, created to celebrate its 200th year of brewing. This 5.2% abv amber ale has a malty character and a bitter orange finish that’s derived from a late addition of Bramling Cross hops.

Owner/Brewer Hugues Van Poucke of La Brasserie d’Ecaussinnes was pouring his unique Belgian beers: Cookie Beer-named after Speculoos cookies because it uses the same spices; La Penneffoise-8% abv, made with fresh prunes; and Ultramour-made with four fruits: raspberry, strawberry, cherry, and a secret one, resulting in a wonderful blend with an enticing aroma. The brewery is located 20 miles southwest of Brussels.

Other Belgians worthy of sipping were Brasserie de Rocs Triple Imperiale-a 10% abv complex compilation of coriander, ginger and several types of barley; Brewery Van Den Bossche Pater Lieven Tripel-a 9% abv Tripel Abbey Ale; Brewery Belgoobeer Belgoo Magus-brewed with barley, oats, wheat and spelt; and Brasserie La Binchoise Biere des Ours-8.4% abv with honey added before fermentation.

This was my fifth time attending the trade show, which has become noticeably dominated by craft beer choices, a trend that has grown exponentially over the past eight years. If this trade show is any indication, it would appear that more and more distributors are embracing the craft beer segment as it slowly but surely chips away at the pie, securing a larger piece of its share of the beer market.

The NBWA is a major beer biz convention that wisely comes to Vegas every other year and alternates in other cities (sans trade show). Next year’s convention will meet in San Francisco, Sept. 14-17. For more information visit the NBWA’s website at nbwa.org.

 

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