In a city where rare beers from around the nation are relatively easy to find, and even the rarest beers from other countries can be dug up if you know where to look, it's not easy to impress people. But The Festival, an annual show hosted by Shelton Brothers Importers, is cause to take note, even here.
Founded int 2012, the Festival includes not just some of the best, the rarest and the most interesting beers in the world, but it also typically brings in the brewers and the owners of these companies. As Shelton Brothers itself says, "You’d have to spend months and countless dollars for a chance to meet this many world-class brewers. We’ve saved you the trouble and the expense — they’ll all be on hand personally to talk about their work and to pour for you. And many will be creating special brews specifically for the event."
"It's a truly amazing festival, and we are always honored to be a part of it," says Chad Yakobson, owner of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in Denver. "It draws a different crowd than most festivals. Many are beer people and bar owners from around the world who travel for it every year."
Founded by three brothers in Massachusetts, Shelton Brothers began importing beer to the United States from countries like Belgium, France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Netherlands before most people here even knew they wanted to try them. By the time the beers became highly sought-after, Shelton had created a vast network that allowed it to distribute rare and unusual U.S.-made beers as well. In 2012, Shelton held its first invitation-only Festival, in Massachusetts, and has moved it from city to city every since.
Crooked Stave was in its infancy when Shelton Brothers asked the brewery to be a part of the first festival in 2012, and Yakobson says it led to many of his current friendships and even his marriage. It also inspired him to create the What the Funk Festival, which took place in Denver annually until this year.
"It has gone back and forth between the coasts almost every year, so it is really special that it is in Denver this year, and I think everyone is really excited for it," Yakobson adds.
Part of the reason for planting the festival in Denver this year is that Shelton Brothers is opening its own operation in Colorado. Up until recently, the importer had worked with Crooked Stave Artisans — an arm of the brewery — to distribute some of its foreign beers here. “The plan was always to partner with Shelton Brothers, bringing in their exceptional portfolio until they were ready to open their own company in Colorado," Yakobson says.
This year's sold-out event, taking place Friday and Saturday (October 19 and 20) at Denver Rock Drill, counts 100 breweries on its pour list, along with several cider and mead makers. Some of the big names include Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, De Ranke, Tilquin, all from Belgium; Amager Bryghus and To Øl from Denmark; Brew by Numbers, Cloudwater and Magic Rock from England; Brewfist and Toccalmatto from Italy; and Brewski from Sweden.
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Breweries from the U.S. include American Solera, Arizona Wilderness, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Blackberry Farm, Burial Beer, Fonta Flora, De Garde, Grimm Artisan Ales, Jester King, Monkish, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Scratch, Side Project, Tired Hands, Trillium, The Veil, Wolves and People, and Yazoo.
Seven are from Colorado: Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales, Cannonball Creek Brewing, Casey Brewing and Blending, Crooked Stave, TRVE Brewing and Weldwerks, along with Haykin Family Ciders.
In addition to the festival, there are several related events taking place at breweries, restaurants and beer bars around town. You can find those in Westword's weekly beer calendar.
"We’re pretty stoked to have Shelton here this year," says TRVE Brewing founder Nick Nunns. "We’ve not participated in the past, but everything I’ve heard from friends in the industry is that it’s a great time. It’ll be nice for people to have a reason to come out to visit Denver outside the typical GABF-visit window. It’s definitely an honor to be pouring among some of the best breweries in the world."