Great American Beer Festival Q&A: Healdsburg Beer Company

The Great American Beer Festival, the nation's largest, staggers into the Colorado Convention Center this weekend. Last year, 46,000 attendees sampled nearly 3,000 beers, and this year's Fest is already sold out. Check Cafe Society through the week for survival tactics and beer recommendations from some of the breweries bringing their wares to Denver.

Healdsburg Beer Company: Healdsburg, California Q&A with Founder Kevin McGee

We round out our GABF Q&As with a beer you can't even try at the Festival. Healdsburg is a judges-only entrant, but in the interest of hearing from the greatest diversity of brewers possible, we thought we'd see what sort of insights a brewer with no marketing department has. Healdsburg Beer Company is relatively new on the scene, but McGee won a bronze medal at the 2009 U.S. Open Beer Championships for his English style IPA, beating out, among others, Sam Adams, Boulder Brewery, and Brooklyn Brewery.

Westword: If people only try one of your beers, which should it be? Kevin McGee: The IPA. Its an English style IPA and does a great job of highlighting what we do. Its a really nice balance of the flavors we get from the malt and hops and also has some yeast character to contribute more nuance. Its an easy drinking pint, but still has enough flavor and complexity to be the subject of some contemplation.

WW: Other than your own, what is your favorite beer? KM: There's too many. Almost anything from Moonlight Brewery in Nor Cal, New Belgium or Russian River Brewery.

WW: What is the best thing about the Great American Beer Festival? KM: The fact that it gives such a diverse and ranging art like brewing the opportunity to gather and open eyes to things we haven't thought of or tasted before. At times we get stuck in regional styles, BJCP styles and other preconceptions and our desire to keep learning wanes. The GABF is the antidote to this kind of complacency.

WW: What is the best way to avoid liver damage at this year's Festival? KM: Lots of water and fried food.

WW: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be? KM: Russian River's Damnation.

WW: What got you interested in craft beer? KM: My wife -- the person from whom all the good things in my life have come. She suggested I try and make beer as a "creative outlet" after one too many batches of wine that didn't turn out like I wanted. I made my first batch of beer and found in myself a little talent and a lot of passion. It all took off from there.

WW: Why do you think craft beer is becoming so popular? KM: Beer is a wonderful and compelling thing with almost infinite variations. Craft beer is growing in popularity because the public is being educated on the fact that there are the wonderful and compelling varieties out there and more brewers are discovering that this public - once aware - really likes the stuff. Until relatively recently I think there was an inclination in much of the industry that "brewing safe" was the only reasonable path to business growth and solvency. A few luminaries showed us all that when we challenge and intrigue the public with something that bears no resemblance to a light lager and the public embraces it. That opened the floodgates.

WW: What prizes do you think you have a good chance of winning this year? KM: "Nicest smile."

WW: What should people know about your brewery? KM: I'm a nano-brewery and quite proud of it. I produce less than 50 barrels a year and I sweat the details over every fluid ounce. Hand crafted, small lot artisan brewing and that's not marketing hype. And I'm not alone - people need to keep an eye out for the artisanal and hyper-locals breweries because more and more of us are popping up every day.

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Kiernan Maletsky is Westword's music editor. His writing has appeared in alt-weeklies around the country as well as Miley Cyrus's mom's Twitter feed.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky