Beer Man

Five hip breweries that will pour beer in Denver next week, but not at GABF

The organizers of the Great American Beer Festival -- and craft beer fans -- will face an unusual situation when the three-day event returns to Denver for its thirty-second year on October 10: Not all of the hot, hard-to-find brewers will be inside the convention center hall. There are several breweries that will be serving their beers in other Denver and Boulder venues, either by choice or because they didn't register for the fest in time.

The situation is something that the Boulder-based Brewers Association will have to deal with before 2014, but in the meantime, here's where you can find beer from five hot breweries that won't be pouring at GABF -- and some comments from the owners.

See also: The ultimate calendar to the Great American Beer Festival 2013

Jester King Brewing Austin, Texas Jester King has quickly made a name for itself by producing limited quantities of carefully crafted, saison-style beers. But after attending GABF for three years running, the young brewery decided not to pour beer in the convention hall this year, says co-founder Jeff Stuffings, although Jester King did enter its beer into the competition.

"The biggest reason is that because of the amount of beer that we would have to bring, it is cost-prohibitive," he explains. Jester King beers typically take anywhere from four to twelve months to brew, ferment and age, "so our whole business model is low-volume, higher-margin. We figured that amount we would have to bring would cost us $5,000."

And while Stuffings enjoys GABF, he says it's more valuable to have his beers presented in more intimate settings and with like-minded breweries. "The beer drinkers at those events are more thoughtful about beer," he notes. "We've had experiences in the past where we felt that some of what we do gets lost on the average festival-goer."

Stuffings participated in the Farm-to-Table Pavilion at GABF last year and says he hopes that GABF will add more of these smaller events inside the fest in the future.

Jester King will be pouring numerous beers on draft and from bottles at Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse in Boulder on Saturday, October 12 at 6 p.m. The brewery will also be tapping beers and opening bottles at Hops & Pie and Euclid Hall, and is part of two sold-out events, the What the Funk festival on Friday and a dinner at the Kitchen.

Oh, and shhh: Jester King may put some of its beer in liquor stores around town as well, before, during and after the festival -- on a regular basis. Thai Me Up Jackson, Wyoming Even the geekiest beer lover probably hadn't heard of Jackson's Thai Me Up Restaurant and Brewery before it won gold medals for its IPA, Melvin, and its double IPA, 2X4, at GABF last year -- and then took home the top honors in the Alpha King Challenge, a more underground contest that rewards the best hoppy beers each year.

And for good reason: The brewery barely makes enough beer to supply the Thai restaurant it's attached to, according to founder and free spirit Jeremy Tofte. (That will change, as Tofte is building a second brewery in nearby Alpine and changing the name to Melvin Brewing. "Thai Me Up is a silly name to see on the shelves of a beer store," he says.)

Tofte wanted to return to Denver to defend his title this year but, like many breweries, missed out on the registration deadline in July when slots sold out within two hours. As a result, he decided to blow off GABF and take a surfing trip to Baja, Mexico.

"It's kind of nice not having to spend all that money to go to GABF," says Tofte, who has mixed feelings about the Brewers Association and his future participation in GABF.

"It's just not going to be as prestigious this year," he adds, not without breweries like Allagash, Prairie Ales and Chuckanut, which won Brewery of the Year 2011 and two silver medals in 2012 -- but which missed out on the deadline for registration in 2013.

You may be able to find Tofte's beer, though.

On Wednesday, October 9 at 6 p.m., Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse in Boulder will host a Thai Me Up/Melvin Brewing tap takeover, featuring Melvin, 2X4, Asterisk DIPA and Johnny Ryeale Rye IPA. There will also be some Thai Me Up/Melvin beers at the sold-out Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting on October 11. Black Shirt Brewing Denver

The owners of Black Shirt Brewing are excited to have the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, but never had any intention of attending.

"For us, we feel like its not really the right platform for our beer," says Branden Miller, who founded the brewery at this time last year with his brother and sister-in-law. "For one thing, there is sensory overload. It is so much beer in one place at one time. It is hard to have an impact and create a lasting memory in that short, brief minute."

Like Jester King's Stuffings, Miller wants to concentrate on smaller festivals -- if he even continues to do festivals at all. "They are so nomadic and they happen so quickly. It's hard to capture an audience that way," he says. "I can't fault the festivals for it; it's the nature of it. But it just isn't meaningful for us. We want to actually sit and have an intelligent conversation with people and talk about the beers and how they were made."

Black Shirt will be open all week, though, pouring its carefully-styled beer -- all of which are colored red -- and hosting events, including the tapping of a collaboration beer with Florida's Dunedin Brewing (which also won't be pouring at GABF), and a first anniversary celebration on Saturday, October 12, from 2 to 10 p.m. That event will feature Beet Saison, Coffee Red Porter, Chai Red Ale, Caraway Pale Red, Sticke Altbier, Red Farmhouse, Barrel-Aged Red Ale and Imperial Red Rye Stout; beers will be tapped every hour, and there will also be food and music. You can read about both events in our "Ultimate Calendar to the Great American Beer Festival 2013."

Black Shirt brews will also be available this week at Denver Bicycle Café and in a few restaurants, including Duo, Spuntino, Fuel Café and Old Major. Prairie Artisan Ales Tulsa, Oklahoma

Prairie Artisan Ales was founded several years ago by two Oklahoma brothers who travel to other breweries to make their beer. But the so-called "gypsy brewery" is now building its own location -- and building a big reputation. Still, brewmaster Chase Healey was brewing on GABF registration day, and the festival sold out before he got online.

"It's frustrating because, as far as we are concerned, breweries like...Jester King and Cascade and ourselves are ones that people are wanting to come see at GABF. The work we are doing is exciting," he told Westword a few weeks ago.

Although Prairie won't be attending the fest, you can still find its beer around town, especially since it is now being distributed here by Crooked Stave.

It will be at the sold-out What the Funk and Young Guns dinners, and will also make appearances at Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse in Boulder, the Kitchen in Denver, Euclid Hall, Hops & Pie and possibly elsewhere. Perennial Artisan Ales St. Louis, Missouri Perennial is one of several small artisan beer makers that either chose not to attend GABF or didn't register in time. Owned by Phil and Emily Wymore, Perennial is focused on seasonal beers with locally sourced ingredients, farmhouse releases and barrel-aged varieties.

You can try its beers, along with those made by other artisan breweries that are being imported in Colorado by Crooked Stave's distribution division (including Oklahoma's Prairie Ales, Chicago's Local Option, and the Stillwater gypsy brewery), at Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse on Sunday, October 6 at 6 p.m. and again on Thursday, October 10 at 6 p.m. Its beer will also be on tap at Hops & Pie on Wednesday, October 9 and at the sold-out What the Funk festival and Crooked Stave dinner at the Kitchen.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes