I need to preface this blog post by saying that I feel like anything I write here is going to seem much less dramatic than Piney River’s first big win at the Great American Beer Festival. Even in those moments after we won Gold at GABF last October, I remember thinking, “There will never be another moment like this one.” There’s only one first time.
Shortly after the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, we were contacted to participate in the largest beer competition in the world–the World Beer Cup. Also put on by the Brewer’s Association, the World Beer Cup is an international stage for the winning beers. Gold, silver and bronze “cup” awards are given based on blind taste judging from a panel of judges–mostly from around the world. A World Beer Cup is held for two years because the competition is only held every other year, and this year, the World Beer Cup was scheduled to be held in Denver on Friday night following the Craft Brewer’s Conference.
Again, we entered the maximum number of beers–this time it was four styles. In February, Brian and I sat at the dining room table with four packs of freshly canned beer around us. We made our selections and sent our beers to Denver about a month ahead of the competition.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that Brian and I had more than one conversation about the possible “huge year” that we could have with a GABF gold followed by a World Beer Cup win. Was it possible?
We arrived in Denver last Monday evening. We attended our first Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC) in San Francisco in 2011. Over the past four years, we’ve watched the conference more than double in size. The trade show floor has grown too large to leisurely walk through. But the quality of the programs and the access to industry tools and information is unparallelled. Although we get up early and stay up way too late every night, Brian and I really enjoy taking a vacation from our day jobs to attend the CBC.
Most importantly, we get to be with “our people“. The longer we are in the industry, the more people we know. Sometimes we only see these people once a year, so it’s sort of like a mini-family reunion–with lots of beer!
Some highlights of the week–Great meal and craft beer at Euclid Hall. CBC opening reception at Mile High Stadium. Canarchy at Star Bar. The Infamous Stringdusters in concert at the Ogden Theatre hosted by Oskar Blues Brewery. Interesting seminars on everything from dissolved oxygen in your beer (yes, this is something we do worry about) to forecasting sales of seasonal beers. We even got to see Andy featured on the trade show hall floor in the You Tube I made of our labeling machine in action labeling cold, wet cans coming off our Wild Goose canning line.
Friday night and the World Beer Cup Gala rolled around really quickly. This time there were no dreams of winning gold while sleeping the night before. No “signs” on the trip to Denver. Again, we found ourselves sitting amongst a bunch of folks from California. Charlie Papazian had his tuxedo on. The lights dimmed. The awards ceremony began.
Four-thousand seven hundred fifty-four beers from 1,403 breweries representing 58 countries were included in the competition. (This was a 21 percent increase over the 2012 World Beer Cup.) Stiff competition.
I’ve always teased Brian about being an immediate gratification kind of guy, and that’s exactly what we got on Friday night. American-style wheat beer was the first category. Bronze and silver were announced and popped up on the large screens in the ballroom. “And the gold goes to…”
“Float” was all that Chris Swersey was able to say before Brian was whooping and jumping up out of his chair beside me.
Things were moving in slow motion for me. I remember hearing Brian start getting rowdy, but I sat and watched our name fill the screen.
There it was “Float Trip Ale” in large print with “Gold” right next to it.
High fives. Hugs. And then we were standing next to Paul Gatza getting ready to walk on stage for a photo with Charlie Papazian. AGAIN!
As we left the stage, there were arrows pointing us back behind some curtain where our actual award engraved with our name was given to us. Andy Sparhawk, the craft beer coordinator at the Brewer’s Association, came running over to us, eyes as big as saucers. Andy was the one that asked back in October last year, “What will you do if you win?”, referring to the possibility of a GABF award.
Andy, Brian, and I had an “Oh my god, how is this possible?!” moment together. More high fives and yelling. This is the stuff dreams are made of !
This time, Brian had the shakes. He went to get us celebratory beers, and he couldn’t hold the glasses still. As we weaved our way through the crowd to get back into the ballroom, our friends from The Public House Brewery in Rolla were on a back row with high fives and hugs.
When we got back to our seats, one of the ladies from the California group, said, “You freaked us out.” Then she wanted to know exactly who we were.
That was the only award for Piney River that night. But as we know, one is all you need.
Two hundred twenty-six breweries went home with one award that night. Twenty-six breweries won two awards, and one brewery won three. Twenty-eight percent of the awards went to breweries outside the US. We saw World Beer Cup awards go to breweries from all over Europe, and also to breweries in Asia, Australia, South and Central America.
We were there to witness our friends from Mike Hess Brewing in San Diego as they received their first major award–a World Cup Gold for Rye beer. Mike Hess Brewery started out as a nanobrewery, and we first met the Hess family in 2011 at the San Francisco CBC. Mike Hess recently put in a larger brewhouse and canning line. I got to yell, “Gold, baby!” Brian ran up and high fived the whole crew on their way to the stage. After the ceremony we all went to the top of the hotel and celebrated with a bottle of champagne.
Once again, we are fortunate to receive a huge honor for an extremely Ozark-centric beer. Float Trip. A “float trip” is a quintessential Ozark experience. We’ve made a world class beer that celebrates something that we all love to do in the Ozarks. Even better–this beer is a great beer to drink when you’re on a float trip!
Yeah, it’s still insane here at Piney River, but the time of our lives just keeps getting better and better.