Beer lovers, makers unite in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Beer lovers, makers unite in Aspen

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It’s food and what weekend?

Wine, schmine – on Wednesday the World Beer Cup in Aspen celebrated beer.

And not just your average brews, but some of the best beers worldwide, if you’re willing to go along with the judges. The competition, sponsored by the Boulder-based Association of Brewers, featured 1,173 beers from 38 countries.

During a two-hour ceremony at the Hotel Jerome, winning brewery names from 16 countries were read to polite applause and the occasional down-home cheer. This is beer we’re talking about, after all.

The well-behaved room full of brewers ranged in appearance from ties to T-shirts. All of the invitees were winners: the competition was judged in April at the Craft Brewers Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

What the brewers didn’t know was how many awards they would receive and in which categories. The biennial award ceremony was last held in New York City in 2000.

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If there’s irony at the World Beer Cup, it might be that the first prizes awarded are for the best nonalcoholic beers.

“They don’t start with the big ones, I guess,” laughed Joe Baumann from High Falls Brewing in Rochester, N.Y., which took the bronze in the category with Genesee Non-Alcoholic. “But it’s nice to be recognized. In this day and age, this category is an important part of brewing.”

Soon after, prizes were collected in the “Smoke-Flavored Beer” category. According to Chris Black of Rouge Ales in Newport, Ore., which collected the gold in the category, smoke-flavored beer comes from drying malt with a fire beneath it, flavoring the grain as part of a German tradition.

“It’s best with big foods like barbecue and sausages,” Black said.

There were finalists from Japan, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Nicaragua, and a brewery from Lithuania brought along their country’s ambassador to the United States.

Vygaudas Usackas said he only had to fly to Aspen from Washington, while representatives from Svyturys Utenos Alus brewery in Lithuania hopped on a 22-hour flight to make the award ceremony.

“It’s a great beer,” said Ambassador Usackas of the Svyturys Baltijos beer that took a bronze in the “German-Style Marzen/Oktoberfest” category. “Lithuania has a very long tradition with beer. Not only have we gained this award, but we’ve gained access to the U.S. market, and that’s where my interests are.”

The Lithuanians may have been the farthest from home, but the guys from the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co. were the closest when they took the silver award for their Sopris brew, in the “Strong Ale” category.

“This is the first time we’ve entered, and one of the reasons we entered was because the presentation was going to be here in Aspen,” said Ken Jones from the six-year-old brewery. “There are some old, historic breweries here, and some of these breweries from overseas are our models, so it’s nice to be here with these like-minded people.”

The breweries at the award ceremony may have been far-flung, but they all converged over a drink they feel should be savored, rather than guzzled, as Jones put it.

“Beer is a noble beverage,” he said. “And there are some really classy beverages here that deserve some serious attention.”