France44 Goes To The Great American Beer Festival

image2-1Written By: Bennett Porter – France 44 Beer Guy, Certified Cicerone®

The Great American Beer Festival – America’s reply to Munich’s Oktoberfest – is the second largest beer festival on planet Earth. Every October over 60,000 attendees from around the world flock to the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado to celebrate all things beer. Because of France 44’s commitment to continuing staff education, Zack and I were lucky enough to attend this year’s festival.

When embarking on a journey to America’s greatest beer festival, it feels like Christmas morning. My alarm was set for 3 a.m. but I hadn’t hardly slept a wink all night. By  6 a.m. our plane’s wheels were kissing the runway goodbye. Upon landing we maneuvered our way to Timberline Grille,
per a recommendation from our Odell rep. It was well justified, our spirited server Roger instilled some energy in our veins. With a tex-mex breakfast, Odell suds and some good conversation, we were ready to take on the weekend ahead. Odell Brewing’s super cool CO Manager Ryan picked us up shortly after and we bee-lined it to Ft. Collins.

Odell Brewing’s craftsman-style architecture rises from the earth in eastside Ft. Collins with splashes of farmhouse red and stone slab. Founded in 1989, Doug and Wynne Odell’s brewery precedes its larger neighbor, New Belgium, by two years. Over a decade of passionate home-brewing led the couple to leave Seattle’s crowded brewing scene for the fresh water supply in Ft. Collins. Their flagship Scottish-style ale, 90 Shilling, remains a top-seller to this day. Beyond their solid year-round line-up is an impressive number of delicious microbrews. Jolly Russian, the rum barrel-aged imperial stout, is thick like molasses and packed with notes of cocoa, coffee, dried fruit, oak, and vanilla. (Hint, hint, it’s now available here at France 44). We toured the brewery with its shiny-new canning line, capable of packaging beers three times faster than the bottling line. Skipping across the patio, we entered Odell’s new barrel-aging facility, “Westwood”. With permission from our guide, we were able to pull nails and try aging beer fresh from the barrel, what an experience! Before we knew it, it was time to head south to Denver for Thursday’s opening session of the Great American Beer Fest.image5-1

Walking into the Colorado Convention Center during GABF was serious sensory overload. Hordes of us thirsty beer geeks were herded into roped off sections of a line to prevent stampedes. A throng of bagpipers bellowed celebratory tunes over the rumbling crowd. We tried to strategize our tour through the festival, but when the gates open, plans tend to fall apart immediately. The best course of action was to wander in search of the new and different. Rushing through the entrance led us to our first stop, the “Meet the Brewer” Hall. Comprised of roughly five separate blocks, this hall is where you can interact with the people behind the beer. Because of the scale of this festival, most booths are staffed by “green shirts” – outside volunteers. We tasted through a handful of Colorado’s younger breweries then headed for our targets. Funky Buddha Brewing from Ft. Lauderdale, FL was a personal favorite from my last GABF experience, and once again they didn’t disappoint. If you are looking for Willy Wonka-like beer, this is the place. The “No Crusts” peanut butter and jelly brown ale and “Last Snow” coconut coffee porter were clear highlights. Fremont Brewing out of Seattle, WA is also doing some great things. The Bourbon barrel-aged Dark Star and Field to Ferment fresh hop Pale Ale were wondrous. We tasted beer from coast to coast, and after a few hours our palates were weary. Luckily, Downtown Denver has some good eats, and Cheba Hut’s toasted subs evened our keel.

We awoke to a beautiful, sun-drenched Friday morning. After a much needed brunch and some urban exploration, we strode to the McNichols Civic Center – an ornately finished building located just a stone’s throw from the state capitol. Here is where Pints for Prostates hosts their annual fundraiser, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting, my favorite event of GABF weekend. With merely 54 breweries pouring, this event thrives on quality, not quantity. The Rare Beer Tasting features some craft beer “whales”, a term describing brews that are extraordinarily delicious, small-production, and near impossible to find. While nearly everything we sampled was top-notch, there were a few standout performances. Sour beers reigned supreme: Casey Brewing & Blending’s Attika Cherry, Yazoo’s Deux image3-1Rouges Cassis, Russian River’s Intinction, and The Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze, to name a few. Deschutes poured their previously unreleased Black Butte XXII Reserve. Once again, Funky Buddha and Fremont brought out the big guns. Call to Arms Brewery won the prize for best beer names: “Shirtless Putin Nuzzling with Dolphins” and “Frightened Baby Chipmunk” caught me off-guard. If you plan on heading to GABF, this tasting is an absolute must-do.

With plenty of daylight remaining, we had to check out Denver’s remarkable craft beer bar scene. Freshcraft was pouring a list so diverse that it was easiest to check out their up-to-the-minute-refreshed tap list online. After was Wynkoop’s, a massive taproom that seemed to be the local favorite. Down the street, Star Bar was hosting a Wicked Weed and Melvin tap takeover, our favorite stop of the night. Wicked Weed makes a stunning peach sour that went down a bit too easy. Melvin, from Wyoming, brews some of the best IPAs out there period. As icing on the cake, their delivery truck is a tricked-out school bus with off-road tires and a hydraulic lift in back. Take note, all other breweries.

Saturday’s day session of the festival was a hoot. Beer, beer, then more beer. We waited in the longest line of the day to try Scratch Brewing’s mushroom-infused beers. How does a Chanterelle Biere de Garde sound? In my mind, they took the cake for innovation. The musty, herbal, earthiness of mushrooms finds a harmonious balance in farmhouse-style ales. Sam Adams poured their famed Utopias, one of the strongest beers in existence, with brandy-like character. Oskar Blues held a funky-fresh silent disco where every dancer gets their own headphones with all of them playing the same tune. I dare you to listen to Midnight Star’s “Midas Touch” and try to resist grooving along. After plenty of sampling and dancing, the session came to an end and we said farewell to the festivities of GABF.

A relaxing final day in Denver was spent watching the Vikings move to 5-0 (SKOL!!!) and checking out a few of Denver’s taprooms. Crooked Stave is a highly-regarded producer of wild and sour ales, their taproom is sure to satisfy any beer geek’s desires. You can image1-1find some of their beers here at France 44. Try the wild saisons “Vieille” and “Surette”: they’re funky, dry, acidic, and super refreshing. Great Divide just completed the construction of a brand-new production brewery that has a cozy little taproom. The Yeti Imperial Stout variants are the perfect motor-oil stout for a frosty fall evening.

With the final day in the books, we boarded for the flight home to Minneapolis with bags full of memories. Denver and the Twin Cities share a lot of similar vibes: kind people, fascinating architecture, a thriving arts scene, and (most notably) an inspiring food and beer community. Denver’s beer landscape is a model on which others can learn from. People in this city live for the stuff. It is electrifying to converse with others who share your passion, and who can pass on their knowledge. Though we are still playing catch up, Minnesota’s beer community has exploded in recent years. Never before have there been so many quality local beers available. Thank your local brewers and brewery staff! They put in long, labor-intensive hours so we can kick back with a barley pop (Had to squeeze my favorite beer moniker in here somewhere). Our home state fared well in competition. Major props to Surly and Summit for each bringing home the gold!

Here are the GABF Medal winners that you can find here at France 44:

Summit Extra Pale Ale – St. Paul, MN: GOLD, Classic English-Style Pale Ale

Surly Barrel-Aged Darkness – Brooklyn Center, MN (Not currently avail.): GOLD, Barrel-Aged Strong Stout

Bell’s Expedition Imperial Stout – Comstock, MI: GOLD, Aged Beer

The Bruery Mischief – Placentia, CA: GOLD, American Belgo-Style Ale

Brewery Ommegang Witte Ale – Cooperstown, NY: GOLD, Belgian-Style Witbier

AleSmith Old Numbskull – San Diego, CA: GOLD, Barleywine-Style Ale

Kona Longboard Island Lager – Kailua-Kona, HI: SILVER, Dortmunder-style Lager

Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen – Salt Lake City, UT: BRONZE, Fruit Wheat Beer

Widmer Omission Lager – Portland, OR: BRONZE, American-Style Lager




Germany’s familiar stein-accompanied toast to greetings, celebration and good will carries stronger significance this time of year. Oktoberfest, Germany’s grandest folk festival, is commencing in just past a week’s time. Clearly the world’s most famous event for beer consumption, it’s also a celebration of autumn and the harvest.

Oktoberfest merriments have been Bavarian tradition for over 200 years. In 1810, King Maximilian hosted a festival to celebrate the marriage of his son Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. Horse races were held at what is now termed “Theresenwiese”. Free beer and food was consumed in generous quantities. It was so spectacular that Munich adopted it as an annual festivity. Despite its name, Oktoberfest is celebrated mostly in the last two weeks of September, ending on the first weekend of October. This year, at noon on September 17th, Munich’s mayor will tap the first keg proclaiming, “O’Zapft is!” (It is tapped!).

A regulation “Maßkrug” stein holds a Maß (pronounced mas) amount, one litre of beer. What kind of beer? The dominant beer styles at Oktoberfest have been subject to adaptation and innovation across time. Before refrigeration, Märzen beers were produced in the waning cool of spring to last the populous through summer until the winter brewing season resumed. Much of the spring beer was thus consumed at the festival. These initial Märzen beers were typically dunkel (dark) lagers. Their darkly kilned malt offered a slightly roasty overtone. Adoption of modern kilning and refrigeration led to lighter-style lagers that could be brewed year-round, rendering the term ‘Märzen’ useless.

It is storied that in 1872, Spaten’s Schottenhamel beer tent ran dry of dunkel. To keep the beer flowing they poured kegs of a strong Vienna-style lager. Though quite pricey, Spaten’s Ur-Märzen was an instant hit. This amber-hued malty style was of bock strength but still very quaffable. Oktoberfest lagers remained high octane through the end of the 19th c., eventually losing strength during both World Wars. Märzen lagers of the 20th c. became reddish-brown and of moderate strength. It is in the last two decades that golden lagers have taken the reigns as the most popular Oktoberfest accompaniment.

The festival’s strict beer regulations mean only breweries within Munich are allowed to serve beer, including: Augustinerbräu Mϋnchen, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten-Franziskaner Bräu. However, those rules only apply in Munich! Many German and American craft breweries have created exceptional examples of Oktoberfest lagers. Following are some of our seasonal favorites:

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Wiesn: 6pk – $9.99 //  Brewed and distributed to the United States but once a year to honor Oktoberfest. Paulaner’s Wiesn is of the golden variety, full-bodied yet super mellow. Fragrant noble hop aromas and a clean, seamless maltiness please the senses. The Oktoberfest-Wiesn is currently the most popular beer at Oktoberfest.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen: 500ml – $3.49, 4pk – $9.99 //  A perennial favorite of the France 44 staff, this is one seductive lager. Incredibly smooth, you’ll find yourself sipping it without intention. A slightly sweet, malty nose with notes of dark bread, raisins, tea, and honey. The palate is serene: balanced caramel-y malt with a touch of spicy, herbal bitterness. Truly one of the best you’ll ever try.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen: 500ml – $4.99 //  A common belief in Germany is that you cannot say you have visited Bamberg if you haven’t been to the Schlenkerla brewery. Their specialty Märzen-style Rauchbier (literally smokebeer) is unique and aromatic. Schlenkerla kilns their malt with fire from beechwood logs, lending a noticeable smoky campfire aroma. Matured in centuries-old cellars, it tastes mellow yet magnificent. Woody smoke, coffee, tobacco, and bacon-like aromas greet your senses. In the face of its intense nose, the palate is much cleaner and light-footed: malty notes of caramel, chocolate, earthy smoke and a slight salinity. It’s surprisingly smooth and quaffable! Try this delicious brew if you’re in for an adventure off of the Märzen style’s well-beaten path.

Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest: 4pk 16oz Cans – $7.99 //  Don your finest lederhosen or dirndl and crack a Schwandtoberfest! This Minnesota craft take on the festbier balances rich, toasty malt with a crisp hop bitterness. Floral, tangerine and orange blossom aromas. Caramel, toffee and bread crust flavors. Consider this a well-done, fresh take on the Oktoberfest lager!

Great Lakes Oktoberfest: 6pk – $9.49 //  Rustic and autumnal. Great Lakes Oktoberfest is Über smooth with vibrant malt flavor and a flourish of noble hops. Pours copper with great clarity. Because it’s American, expect a little crispier hop finish. This is a crowd-favorite!

What’s In Your Fridge? The August 2016 Beer Edition


The France 44 floor staff love sampling, learning about and recommending the latest and the greatest. But what do you find in our refrigerators at home after we shed our work clothes and kick back for a cold one? Following is some insight into our personal preferences for chilly suds on a hot August day.

Bill Nosan – Beer Buyer/Manager

My upstairs beer fridge is filled with everyday drinkers.  I like having a beer while I cook dinner, so I want them easy drinking.  This summer’s everyday drinkers are: Surly Todd the Axeman IPA, Summit Keller Pils, Indeed Shenanigans, Odell IPA, Six Point Sweet Action, Bent Paddle Venture Pils, Toppling Pseudo Sue, Castle Danger Ode IPA and most anything sour.

The opposite of my upstairs fridge is my downstairs fridge.  It’s filled with never-drinkers.  This fridge is packed with beers I want, but rarely drink, especially in the summer.  Most of the beers downstairs are 10% ABV or higher.  Things like older vintage GI BCBS, Firestone Walker stouts and barley wines, Surly Darkness, etc.  These are beers I really like drinking socially, with friends or family, not by myself.

Bennett Porter – Beer Specialist

Most days, there’s a rather hodgepodge mix of beers in my fridge, but there is some method to the madness. At heart I’m a total hophead, but I love the classic imports as well, we’re talking Belgians and Germans. On muggy days I crave something fresh and crisp, mostly pilseners. Any and all kinds of sours are great too! Despite loving the occasional rare stout,  I keep a somewhat limited selection in my cellar.

So what’s in the fridge right now? Bent Paddle Lollygagger and Lagunitas 12th of Never Pale Ale to satisfy those Hoppy moments. Delirium Tremens tallboys and McChouffe for some Belgian-y flare. Victory’s Prima Pils, Pilsner Urquell and (gasp) Leinenkugel’s Original bring up the lighter side of things. Though it’s not in my fridge at the moment, I like to call Saison Dupont my desert island beer, it’s the beer I’d drink if I could only choose one! Cheers!

Zack Potts – Beer Specialist

Although it is only the middle of August I broke down and brought Summit Oktoberfest back into the rotation at home. It has a strong malt backbone, a tad bit of sweetness, but still plenty crisp to enjoy around a late summer bonfire. Because it STILL is August, I am continuing to restock my fridge with Castle Danger Summer Crush. Why you ask? It is in the name and Summer Crush is just that, crush-able. The light and lemony hop profile is just enough for you to notice, but never enough for you to get tired of drinking. A newcomer in my fridge is a newcomer into the state, and that beer is 10 Barrel Brewing’s Joe IPA. I was pleasantly surprised by the bowl of fruit aroma that I discovered after cracking open a bottle. The flavor profile follows suit and I bet you would be hard pressed to find a hop head that didn’t enjoy this IPA.

Dustin Harkins – Wine Manager

As the Wine Manager, we all know grapes are near and dear to my heart, but I also can’t say no to the sudsy goodness of a cold brew.  I have a lot of dark beer in my cellar at the moment that will be consumed over the holidays (bourbon barrel everything!) and only a few key selections in my fridge.  My go to brewski at the moment is Pseudo Sue Pale Ale from Toppling Goliath.  It has a great balance of citrusy hop flavor that pairs well with the crazy hot weather.  My other go to is the Odell IPA, super classic India Pale that isn’t too over the top.  This is making me thirsty!

Karina Roe – Wine Specialist

I love a crisp, clean session ale when I get off work, and Odell’s Loose Leaf is usually my go-to. I’m also a huge fan of Goses; Evil Twin’s Geyser Gose is funky, yet still way too drinkable. If I run out of beer (gasp), my fridge is always stocked with a bottle or two of my favorite “beer wines” (wines for drinking, not for thinking), which include Avinyo Petillant and Fritz Muller Rose!

Adam Krueger – Wine Specialist

I’m a seasonal beer drinker. In the spring and summer I gravitate towards lighter, hoppier, fruitier beer. In the fall I begin to move towards heavier stouts and porters. But enough about me, you want to know what’s in my fridge! (Drumroll)

Steel Toe Size 7 cans
Indeed LSD (Lavender-Sunflower Honey-Date Ale)
Lagunitas Sucks

Surly Overrated IPA
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – the Classic

Lindeman’s Framboise
Wyder’s Reposado-Barrel Aged Pear Cider

Tom Schneider – Liquor Buyer

What’s in my fridge? I’ll tell you. Passion Fruit Kicker from Green Flash because passion fruit and wheat beer were meant for each other. There’s a six pack of Steel Toe Size 7 cans in the fridge to support the local shawties, of course, as well as a twelve pack of Farm Girl Saison, my girlfriend’s favorite beer. There’s also a six pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo to remind me of my first hop-bomb love from my college days. The door of my fridge is a different story, there’s a rotating cast of vermouths and aperitifs, right now there are bottles of Cocchi Americano, Saler’s Aperitif (both for my summer white negronis) as well as a small bottle of Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, because it’s my favorite thing in the whole store.

Corey Ryan – Internet Sales & Shipping

My fridge is stocked with easy hot-weather drinkers like Budweiser, Keystone Light, Sociable Freewheeler, Loon Juice, and a couple kegs of Bauhaus Stargrazer and Coors Light—you need to be prepared for those spontaneous get-togethers that always seem to happen during the summer. Currently there’s also Bell’s Oracle Double IPA. The “good stuff” includes past vintages of Surly Darkness, Bourbon County, Indeed Rum King, Founders KBS, and Deschutes Abyss.

An Apple-y Renaissance

Hard cider consumers’ tastes have shifted with the explosion of options. Five years ago, your choices were likely limited to a few large national brands and a handful of imports. Today, there is an overwhelming selection available.

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