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And just in case there isn't already a sufficient amount of hoppy competition in Denver for the GABF, there's always the off-site Alpha King Challenge. Organized by Hopunion, Brewing News Publications and Three Floyds Brewing Company (whose flagship pale ale gives the contest its name), this additional judged competition has, since 1999, annually proclaimed a single hoppy beer as "the holy grail of well-balanced and drinkable, yet highly hopped ales."
A California beer has won the competition nine out of 13 years, with Russian River's Pliny the Elder taking the crown in 2007 and Moylan's Moylander Double IPA earning it back to back in 2001 and 2002. Moylan's founder and owner, Brendan Moylan, recalls those early awards ceremonies: "The original year I won, I got a hundred dollars, a kiss from a pretty girl, and a hop crown, which was almost a Burger King–esque crown with hops around it." This year he and his team will be entering their new 10.4 percent Hop Craic in hopes of regaining that crown. (Another hundred bucks wouldn't hurt either.)
Moylan himself has been traveling to the Denver area for GABF festivities since shortly after they first began back in 1982. The craft-beer industry was still in its infancy, and the very first GABF involved a mere 22 breweries (compared to 676-plus today). "The best beer we could find in any bar in Denver was a Guinness," Moylan recalls. "How the world has changed."
GABF Sans Airfare
Perhaps most importantly for area beer lovers who aren't braving the crowds in Denver next month is that many of the North Bay brews being entered into GABF competition are also available locally. As of this writing, Russian River is pouring both the Row 2, Hill 56 and HopTime Harvest ale at the brewpub. Sonoma Springs indicated that it will be offering its Oak-Aged Green Purl both on draft and in bottles. And Third Street Aleworks already tapped its limited-release Cascadian dark ale and Melissa's cream ale, among others.
Bear Republic, in particular, tends to go all out for GABF. "We're thinking about GABF all year round," comments their media liaison Clay Grosskopf, who's also involved in planning the annual pre-GABF cellar party. Along with having multiple booths on the festival floor and packing up an actual Bear Republic–branded racecar to showcase out in Denver, it'll be hosting its fourth Cellar Party in Healdsburg Sept. 30. Both Bear's brewpub and its production facility in Cloverdale are sending the maximum 10 GABF beers, and these, along with Smith's Pro-Am Buddha's Hand pale ale, will be previewed at the event.
For those of us heading to GABF for the first time this year, Smith sums it up nicely: "I'm looking forward to seeing all the energy, with all those people into beer . . . and just joining in on the fun and trying to survive." In anticipation of those thirsty crowds, I'll cheers to that.
Ken Weaver is a freelance beer writer and editor based in Petaluma. He's the author of 'The Northern California Craft Beer Guide' (Cameron + Co.) with photographer Anneliese Schmidt.