Editor’s Note: Thanks to David Wright for attending the Rocky Mountain Microbrewery Symposium at UCCS and putting together this write up for us! We’ve really been enjoying his updates on his scholarly look at craft beer culture, and when we heard he was going to RMMS and wanted to put together an update we couldn’t say no!
Kicking off on Thursday night, the Rocky Mountain Microbrewery Symposium showed how the spirit of craft beer has the power to transcend boundaries and that Colorado’s future is ingrained in its growth and expansion. Starting with a small gathering in Bristol’s brewhouse, the event brought together over 150 people involved in promoting the value of beer across the state, region, and nation. The Colorado Brewers Guild helped put on the event at UCCS and companies representing the Springs stepped up to provide space and host the various portions of the conference’s agenda.
This year’s symposium also showcased the impact that women have on Colorado’s beer scene, with four of the seven sessions led by influential beer gals. Emily Hutto was the second speaker, discussing her journeys and mission to drink a “shit-ton of Colorado beer” and the publication of her book Colorado’s Top Brewers. Before she began formally reflecting on Colorado’s culture, she explained to me how she sees the state’s beer industry as an ecosystem with microcosms playing different roles within a larger scope. She recognized the role that Belgian beers have played in Fort Collins’ development, the entrepreneurial spirit of Denver, and the pioneering efforts of Boulder- fostering the heart and soul of brewpub mentality. Her message was based on five main themes in Colorado’s identity: Belgian, imperial, canning, niche, and nano. With these ideas as a base, she elegantly reminisced about her interactions with artisan crafters and underlined the camaraderie that is rampant among brewers in this state. She also highlighted the importance and beauty in pairing food and beer, as beer dinners and intentional consumption has the ability transform meals and elevate various flavor profiles.
Ashleigh Carter, a former brewer at Prost, spoke next, detailing the way in which she meticulously creates lager beers- the long and expensive way. Her main arguments focused on technique and simplicity in ingredients as well as the need to let lagers sit for a long time. A really long time. I enjoyed her blunt comments on why lagering means so much to a beer’s quality, as her pursuit of perfection was evident in every word that came out of her mouth. New Belgium’s Ali Schultz did incredibly well to outline how to run a successful sensory program and the way in which she set about creating a welcoming environment to more fully utilize all members of the company. Is it hard to set up a system in which employees drink beer for the overall betterment of the brewery? Apparently. She has been a large part of a movement to a more comprehensive education of New Belgium employee owners that compares beer to brand standards, throws in off flavor identification, and creates a culture of incredibly aware imbibers. Anna Nadasdy of Great Divide wrapped up the female portion of the program, describing the role of marketers and distributors in the holistic process of a brewery’s economic status. I saw her most important contribution in the idea that all breweries play off of each other- to put down another microbrewery is to do a disservice to the whole community.
Other highlights included the keynote speaker, Tom Kolicko, with a director’s commentary on “Crafting a Nation” and how individual breweries change the economic game of a nation. This movie powerfully tells the story of various companies and their struggles to open up community beer centers around the nation as well as the continual fight against Big Beer. The other sessions included a discourse and experiment on the utilization of hops and an introduction on the implementation of specialty malts into individual batches. Oh yeah, and there was a ridiculously large amount of available and bizarre beer. From Pikes Peak bringing a case of Penrose Private Reserve to Infinite Monkey Theorem’s wine, attendees tried diverse styles and sampled unique talent in crafted alcohol. Break between sessions? Go get a drink. It’s over? Go to Trinity! A beer dinner featuring two different salads, a vegetarian lasagna, bbq ribs, and meatballs awaited attendees at the brewery near Garden of the Gods. Saison Man, select sours, and $1 draught beers welcomed guests, as Jason Yester made way for the large amount of extra people in his brewery by moving around part of his barrel room. Did everyone drink enough over two days? Obviously not- the firkin rendezvous awaited even more guests on Saturday afternoon with breweries submitting fun and interesting recipes not commonly seen elsewhere.
This weekend of Colorado beer highlighted the magnificence in collaboration and “coopetition” that this industry brings about through congenial relations. The magic of craft beer continues to demonstrate that this industry is unlike any other because of its friendship and symbiotic ends. The conference also hinted at the surge and popularity of session beers, with Great Divide’s Lasso (a sessionable IPA at 5%) making its way around many tables. With Colorado Springs hosting the events, the city demonstrated its significant contributions to the state’s progress while bringing an insane amount of brewers into one, cohesive forum.