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Me and Some Brew Masters Took Over Green Flash Last Night

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I love San Diego. That’s an easy statement to make as a fan of craft beer, and as a specific fan of California craft beer its nothing short of a whopping no brainer. It won’t be long (literally, a couple weeks maybe?) until San Diego has over 100 breweries throughout the county. And while my hat goes off the newcomers that grace that Beer City USA with their best hopped foot forward, I still have a blast talking to the guys that have been sweating it out and riding the wave of suds since before craft beer became the “cool” thing to be involved in.
 
That’s why I was incredibly excited to be at Green Flash yesterday promoting my book with some outstanding brewers, all of whom took home medals at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Peter Zien from AleSmith, Nacho Cervantes from Pizza Port OB, Paul Segura from Karl Strauss, Travis Smith and Doug Constantiner from Societe, and of course Green Flash’s own Chuck Silva were nice enough to join me for a Q&A panel to answer questions from San Diego beer fans and to sign books (plenty still on sale at Green Flash by the way).
 
I apologize for not telling you all sooner, I promise to let the upcoming events be known in another blog post coming out VERY soon. In the meantime, enjoy some sweet photos we took at the event, and I hope to share a beer with you all at the next one. Cheers!

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Three Weavers Opens in Inglewood

All photos copyright Nicholas Gingold, © 2014

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It seems that like many others, I’ve been a fan of Three Weavers for quite a while. Which it surprising, considering their brewery just opened this Saturday. Full disclosure, this is a totally biased blog post. I have the honor of being the first artist to hang work on their walls (prints of brewers will be up for the next couple months, go check them out!), and I’ve known Alex Nowell, their brewer, for a couple years now. I even mentioned them in my previous blog post about GABF. I first met this talented brewer when I photographed Drake’s for the book, and in trying to stay as current as possible with the brewers we had chosen, I had to re-photograph Alex again once she settled into Los Angeles. While the space was purchased the brewery at that point was nothing more than a shell in an industrial complex, dripping with potential but at the time… empty. So we did our updated interview from my car, and did our photo shoot on the beach near LAX. Coming full circle, it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to see things finally complete – beers now being poured, and the space again dripping with potential. This time however, it’s tangible.
 
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The Three Weavers crew. Lynne, Molly, Alex, Omar, and Chris.

    
Saturday’s grand opening brought a few things to my attention. First off, if anyone had questioned if people would make it out to Inglewood – put those fears to rest – the place was packed from the start to the end. City plans ensure a Blue Line Metro stop within throwing distance, which will keep me safe and off the freeways when the time comes. Until then, officers, I’ll be the picture of moderation, I promise. Secondly, Saturday reenforced what I’ve already known for a while now, that LA beer is as tight-knit and welcoming of a community as I could hope for. We have plenty of room to grow here, and I see this community expanding daily with a full pint and open arms. I meet new people at each one of these events I go to, and I always, ALWAYS, come away with a new friend. Lastly, Saturday taught me that above all else, Three Weavers is making some damn fine beers.
 
My favorite might be the Session IPA, as the saying goes I could (and I did) drink that all day long. Bright, dry, citrus forward, just what the doctor ordered on a warm sunny day. Although the entire line up was quality, I’d say the porter, ESB, and DIPA were among my favorites. I’m especially happy they came out swinging with beers that everyone could enjoy; these were solid beers in classic styles that stood up quite well on their own. Sometimes I walk into a brewery that I’ve never been to, that hasn’t been open that long, and I see a list incorporating weird styles and additional flavors I’ve never heard of. Three Weavers will make you rethink the classic porter, and you might just find yourself ordering another over the usual craft beer nerd’s standard obsession of the Double IPA.
 
So even though I’m a big proponent of deciding if a brewery is good or not based on the beer, and only the beer, I don’t think we can ignore how freakin’ cool it is to see a brewery owned and ran by women. It’s far too uncommon. I just have to tell one little anecdote from Saturday, sitting behind the merch booth talking to owner Lynne Weaver’s husband. He said to me, “We wanted to show our three daughter’s that they could do or be anything.” That hit me for several reasons, (I didn’t know until then that Three Weavers is named for Lynne’s 3 daughters) but personally I think too often the thought by outsiders that this is a “white guy wearing a baseball cap with a beard” only type of thing. Which granted, undoubtedly is me, but what I’m itching to see is the growth in diversity. Both gender and race. I keep saying (preaching to the choir I’m sure) that this is people based industry. And with diversity of people will come a diversity in flavor, and that means better beer for all. So I’ll get off the damn soapbox and say nothing more than that it’s cool to see this place open, and it’s cool to see them already on a path of producing amazingly solid beers to a city that I hope continues to be as supportive as its shown itself to be thus far.
 
Congrats on a great opening day, and now check out some damn photos.
 

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The Great American Beer Festival – A Photographic Perspective

Note: This article was published on BeersInParadise.com, thanks to the great folks there for letting me share my experiences through there website. It is re-posted here because, well screw it I wrote the damn thing. All photos copyright Nicholas Gingold, © 2014. Don’t steal photos, it’s bad karma.
 
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The Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s largest and most illustrious festival celebrating all things craft beer, is now a week in my rear view. Admittedly it took some time, but with my clarity fully restored I’ve had the chance to think about my time in Denver and reflect on my first GABF. I’ve been thinking a lot of about what this festival meant both to me as a beer drinker and to the ever-expanding industry of craft beer. As a photographer I like these conversations to be started with images. I want to share GABF with you through my lens.
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The festival is in short, awe inducing. It’s huge, bigger than my wildest expectations. 710 breweries from every corner of the country poured a staggering 3,500+ beers. 49,000 fellow attendees would be my subjects while trudging through this beer-Mecca. And as one might guess, there was no shortage of flavor – from crazy costumes to a bevvy of pretzel-necklaces; it was enough to keep you smiling at every turn; the unlimited one-ounce pours helped keep the crowd smiling as well.
 
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I set a few ground rules for myself during the festival. Rule 1: Whenever possible do not try a beer you’ve already had. Rule 2: Stick to a particular style of beer, at least for a couple hours, before moving onto the next. Rule 3: Always try a beer with a hilarious name. These rules would at least narrow the field, providing a loose path for me to wonder my way down the rabbit hole. And in case you’re curious (and I know you are), the winner of “best name” goes to Lickinghole Brewing, located in Goochland, VA, pouring Magic Beaver. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
 
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It may be the nation’s largest beer festival, but it can still be an extremely intimate experience. At the heart of this are individuals – people like Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione or Ballast Point’s Jack White. You might just run into these guys on the festival floor, perfectly willing to chat it up with beer fans, take pictures, and talk all things beer. Hell, you might even see Charlie Papazian, founder of the Great American Beer Festival and the Brewers Association, at lunch. What you begin to realize is that while this industry is growing at an alarming rate (1.5 breweries are now opening up per day, according to Bart Watson, staff economist at the Brewers Association told me), it’s still a small enough world filled with friendly faces to make it appealing. And these faces are accessible, which to me is what craft beer was all about in the first place. The minute we lose that accessibility, we might as well be wine.
 
Ballast Point owner Jack White talks with Firestone Walker’s David Walker before the festival began on Thursday afternoon.

Ballast Point owner Jack White talks with Firestone Walker’s David Walker before the festival began on Thursday afternoon.

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Lagunitas brought vaporized hops to share with festival-goers at their booth.

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I began this post by trying to decode this festival on both a personal level as a beer fan and as an active member of California’s beer community. One can easily drift through this whole event in a perpetual fog, attaching little value on one beer or the next, but I needed to think that there was meaning at the center of the galaxy. For the industry, GABF provides validation through its numerous awards and acts as a catalyst for networking and collaboration, as well as a way for newer breweries to develop a national buzz. We’ll talk about awards soon, but for the latter point I think this is an incredibly special and rare opportunity for many brewers and breweries.

 

Three Weavers brewer Alex Nowell, left at their GABF booth.

Three Weavers brewer Alex Nowell, left at their GABF booth.

 
I’ll use Three Weavers as an example, a new Los Angeles brewery in Inglewood whose grand opening is this Saturday, October 18th. That’s right – it wasn’t even open during GABF. With their first batch of beer in tow, they had a huge buzz about them. Maybe it’s because I’m hyper-aware of my local breweries, but it seemed that everywhere I looked I saw a Three Weavers temp-tattoo on necks and arms. I would hear them brought up in conversations between people unfamiliar with California breweries. It’s the type of hype that you can’t generate without a festival like this – making it one of many invaluable resources for brand new breweries.

 

Outside Events

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Falling Rock, a popular post-festival watering hole.

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There are plenty of events outside the festival that make Denver come alive. Sometimes that rare beer you’re after might just be found at one of the many great beer bars located downtown. Falling Rock, Fresh Craft, and Star Bar were among some of the spots I visited after hours. And yes, things had the potential to get a little weird.
 

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Other events of note: a Magic Hat morning event featuring their new coffee beer, Drip IPA, which paired excellently with gourmet donuts, and the media luncheon, put on by the brewers association.
 
 
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Ross Thompson, lead brewer for Magic Hat, gets interviewed during the event. The Denver Convention Center sits in the background.

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Magic Hat Hop Drip IPA being poured by a hotel employee.

 

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Beer Media at the Media Luncheon. A who’s who of the craft beer industry.

 

Beer Judging and Awards

At the heart of the Great American Beer Festival is the judging of beers leading up to the awards ceremony. 222 judges from 10 countries judged 5,507 beers this year (not including 89 Pro-Am competition entries), a 16 percent increase over 2013. There were 90 categories. It’s the one thing putting brewers on edge during this festival, and you can see just the smallest amount of anxiousness in their eyes leading up to Saturday morning’s awards ceremony. Many of these brewers are judges themselves, and I can recall running into more than a few departing the Marriott hotel where the judging was being held with glazed over eyes, having just come out of what can only be described as beer-battle. “They gave us over 20 Belgian Strong Ales to try at 10am,” remarked one brewer.
 
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In this double-exposure we can see the staging area for the beer judging competition in the belly of the Marriot Hotel, and unmarked bottles to be poured for judges.

 
Come Saturday morning the results are in. Again – I need to emphasize how massive, yet intimate this all seemed to me. There was beer flowing, of course, but what made it so interesting to me was how accessible everyone was. You could be sitting next to a tiny brewery from Texas or the Firestone Walker crew, probably both. Whenever anyone would win one of the numerous awards presented, there was always applause, high-fives, and warm hugs between competitors and neighboring breweries. If there were any loyalties, it seemed to be at a regional level to cheer on breweries from your home state.

 

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Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Co in Santa Rosa, CA get their photo taken with Charlie Papazian after winning a medal for their famous IPA Pliny the Elder.

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Ritual Brewing Co. brewer Owen Williams congratulates Kyle Mann on a medal win.

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Firestone Walker Brewer Matt Brynildson (left) and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo during the award’s ceremony. Both breweries took home a medal for their Pilsner.

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Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a 30 year home-brewer himself, addresses the brewers at Saturday’s awards ceremony.

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Founder of the Great American Beer Festival Charlie Papazian greets the awards ceremony crowd.

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Some state’s performed much better than I expected, New Mexico and Texas had surprising amounts of medals. While California (47 medals), Colorado (40), and Oregon (22), still rounded out the top three, states like Texas (16), Pennsylvania (10) and New Mexico (8), had surprising victories. This was eye opening to me, a native Californian with a proud emphasis on West Coast beers. I of course, rooted on my home state, and need to give special recognition to places like Beachwood BBQ, taking home the award for winning best Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year, as well as to San Diego for sweeping the Session Beer category.
 
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Ballast Point’s Colby Chandler, center, waiting to get on stage for a medal win.

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The Lost Abbey crew gets excited about a big win on stage.

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Jeff Bagby, wearing arguably the best pants at the festival, walks up to the stage for a medal win. This must be a hugely validating achievement for Bagby Beer, having only opened at the end of this summer.

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So to wrap this up, the Great American Beer Festival brought me eye to eye with the vastness that is American craft beer. It showed me just how quickly things are moving in this industry, and I had to come to terms that no matter how hard I try to keep my ear to the ground, there’s just too much happening in too many places to get a handle on it all. In contrast, it also showed this industry to be as personal and warm as I’ve always found it to be from the get-go. It’s what got me into craft in the first place. The circle of friends is only expanding, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s plenty of room for more. All are welcome in American beer.
 

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Times Flies When You’re Having Fun

Hey Craft Beer Fans,

So guess what, this blog has been inactive for far too long. Since our book launch at the Firestone Invitational in MAY a LOT has happened. And I mean, a lot a lot. I’ve gone to beer event after beer event, met some wacky, crazy, amazing fellow beer drinkers, and we’ve made great strides with the success of the book. But the concept of California BrewMasters is not one that will live in the rear view just because the book is out. No, my dear friends, there is just so much more to talk about, so much more to do… so much new beer to drink and breweries to try. Dammit we have hands to shake and babies to kiss! So from now on look for this to be a little more active, I’ll just talk about whatever suits my fancy. Stay tuned for a post on GABF which ran in a great LA Beer blog, Beers In Paradise. I’ll be reposting it here but take a look if you’re THAT impatient.

GABF, A Photo Perspective: http://www.beersinparadise.com/?p=19421

Much more to come, new content on the way. Love you all much.

Nick