Great American Beer Festival

“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 16

September, 2006

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

“Getting excited?” Will, the head brewer at Funky Flatirons, asked his assistant as they zig-zigged between clusters of people gathered outside the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. The early afternoon was sunny and warmer than usual for the end of September.

“Are you kidding?” Brad replied, pulling open an entry door. “Ever since I started homebrewing in high school, I would have traded my beat-up Blazer for a ticket to the Great American Beer Festival.”

“You’ll get to taste every kind of beer imaginable and talk with some of the best craft brewers in the country. Make that in the world.”

“I’m psyched.”

The long line moved faster than Brad anticipated, thanks to the large crew of volunteers taking tickets and slapping on wristbands. The two men were collecting their four-ounce sampler glasses when Brad heard a shout. “Will! Will Headley!”

He turned to see a tall man across the way waving an arm in the air. He wore black frame glasses and a red beard down to his chest. Will grinned and returned the salute. The brewer had been at Funky Flatirons since the pub opened over a decade ago. No surprise he’d get recognized walking in the door at the GABF.

“I’ll have to introduce you later,” Will said.

They entered the gigantic hall, organized into rows of tables where representatives of some 380 breweries and volunteers filled attendees’ glasses. “This is fricking awesome!” Brad said under his breath.

Will laughed. “I wish I had a camera. The look on your face is priceless. Welcome to the world’s biggest beer festival. They’re predicting more than 40,000 people this year.”

An hour in, Brad had lost count of the beers he’d sampled and the brewers Will had introduced him to. They rounded a corner and, behind the table, Red Beard was laughing and pouring a glass. Spying them, he came around and bear-hugged Will, who said, “Aussie, great to see you back here in Denver. This is Brad, my assistant brewer. Brad, Aussie—Frank—hails from Sidney, but he’s got a great little brewery in the Bay Area. You’re looking at a man who’s won enough GABF medals to fill a wall.”

“A very small wall,” Aussie said with a wink as he shook Brad’s hand.

“How many beers did you submit this year?” Will asked.

“Just three this time. Too many other things going on. I’ve got a new stout that’s selling like tickets to the World Cup. Come try a sample of Pandemonium.”

Brad held out his glass, always ready to try his favorite beer style. He’d brewed his first stout as a junior in high school and worked on the recipe for the next two years. It had morphed into his go-to beer after Eric Villarreal and their other buddies named it Peters’ Black Gold.

He held up the small glass of Pandemonium, a midnight-black beer with a creamy ivory head. He waved it under his nose, inhaling the roasted malt aroma and a hint of chocolate. There was something more in the aroma, something he couldn’t identify. And that intrigued him.

He took a sip and swished it in his mouth. He swallowed and waited. The aftertaste was exactly the rich burnt flavor of a good stout, not too acidic, not cloyingly sweet. Then there it was again, that something he couldn’t pin down. He swished another sip around his mouth, felt it on the tip, sides, back of his tongue before swallowing. “There’s a hop variety I don’t think I know here.”

“Aha!” Aussie exclaimed. “Good man! I believe that’s the secret to Pandemonium’s success with you Yanks.”

“You going to share it with us?” Will asked.

“Pride of Ringwood for bittering,” Aussie said. Brad had heard of the variety but never used it. Certainly, Will didn’t use it in any of Funky Flatirons recipes.

“Ah, you Aussies loved your Pride of Ringwood,” Will said. “But Brad is right. What else is in here?”

“Oh, you two are observant. It’s the Golden Cluster for aroma.”

“Golden Cluster.” Brad repeated. “I haven’t heard of it.”

“It’s the Down Under Secret to great beer,” Aussie whispered. “Try it in your next one-off at Funky Flatirons, Headley.”


November, 2006

Brad lugged the iced-down bucket with a five-gallon keg up the sidewalk to the house where he had lived his sophomore year at CU. Everything felt so familiar, still. Eric had stayed on after Brad left to live with Maddy, replacing him and, eventually, the two other roommates with new co-renters. Hard to believe that in six months, they’d all be graduating and leaving Boulder. Not bothering to knock, he opened the front door with his free hand.

“All right, the Beer Man has arrived!”

“What took you so long?”

“Time for some Peters’ Black Gold.”

Brad barely set the bucket in the center of the living room before seven guys were elbowing each other. Without saying a word, he watched for reactions. Ryan and Justin, who treated all beer like a Bud, chugged their first glasses. Eric sniffed and sipped the way Brad had taught him but didn’t immediately say anything. Scott, the most perceptive of the group, took one taste and said, “Damn, Beer Man, what’d you do? This is better than ever!”

“Varied the hops,” Brad said with a shrug, knowing a ridiculous grin was spreading across his face.

Eric nodded his approval. “Dang, Peters, this could win one of those Great American Beer Festival medals.” Brad tried to contain the stupid grin, knowing that, thanks to Pandemonium, Aussie had waltzed home to the Bay Area with one more bronze for his wall of medals.

Ryan jumped to serve himself a second glass that he would, hopefully, take the time to taste. Three other guys soon chimed in with their compliments. Brad poured his own glass. It tasted even better than his first one a few hours earlier.


February, 2007

Brad had taken classes every summer. He was now a glorious nine credits short of a Chem Eng degree and definitely feeling the early pangs of senioritis. He much preferred working in the Funky Flatirons brewery over sitting in a classroom. But when had he ever preferred school to brewing? He was putting in thirty hours a week or more at work. In January, he had even convinced Will and Ted, the owner, to let him brew a one-time batch of Peters’ Black Gold at the pub.

Today was the first taste test of what, at Funky Flatirons, would be known simply as Black Gold. Brad poured four glasses from the keg in the walk-in cooler. The pub wouldn’t open for another hour. Will, Ted and Jessica, one of the bartenders, sat at the bar. Brad passed out the glasses and waited.

Jessica sniffed and took the first sip. Her face didn’t give any hints as she took another sip. Ted smacked his lips after the first taste. Most of all, Brad cared about Will’s opinion. After the first sip, he stared into the glass. He took another drink, swished it around and looked Brad in the eye. “That’s a pretty darn good beer for your first commercial brew.”

“You think?”

“I do.”

“I agree,” Ted added.

“It’s going to go over well,” Jessica said.

Maybe Eric’s prediction would come true. Brad dared to dream. Peters’ Black Gold, winner of a 2007 GABF gold medal.

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