Christian DeBenedetti is widely considered a beer expert. The Portland-based writer and author of The Great American Ale Trail has been covering craft beer for nearly fifteen years. His beer- and travel-related writing has appeared in many publications from GQ to Esquire to Food & Wine and The New York Times Magazine. His book —which mentions forty-three Colorado breweries —was featured in publications like The New York Times and Men's Journal, and awarded the gold medal for best travel guidebook of 2011/2012 by the Society of American Travel Writers.
DeBenedetti is in town for the Great American Beer Festival. He shared with Eater his favorite Denver eats, advice on GABF, and opinion on who is elevating Colorado's craft beer movement.
What do you most look forward to when you visit Denver? Denver's got a killer food scene. I love how places like Euclid Hall are elevating beer with smart, interesting, delicious food. I mean, they have hops-infused pickles. It's a lot of fun to graze there, so I try to get there early in the evening and sit at the bar. Ordinarily I try not to order seafood if I couldn't smell the ocean within an hour's drive, but they do it very well. A brunch at Table 6 is an annual pilgrimage. I heard the Thai food cart from the downtown mall has gone brick-and-mortar, so I can't wait to hit that and high five Anna, the owner.
And what do you look forward to the most at GABF every year? Aside from hundreds of new beers? The people. It feels like a giant reunion. There's always a point at the Falling Rock Tap House when you're on the porch and every direction you turn, there's some legendary brewmaster just hanging out. The industry is on fire right now, and the energy level is contagious. The best part is that it's all still accessible. There's no velvet rope. As Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head puts it, the industry is also 99% A--hole free.
Why do you think Denver has such a vibrant beer culture? Like Portland, Denver is a city of true beer lovers. And craft beer has become a part of the active lifestyle. The Denverites I know are curious, knowledgeable, and down-to-earth, but they are really choosey about what they eat and drink. They're also loyal. Great Divide fans are die-hard, for good reason. The beer is always so on-point, and I love visiting the brewpub.
You name many of Denver's brews in your book, what do you think is the single hottest brewery, the hottest beer, the most forward-thinking brewer in Denver now? It's adding fuel to a raging fire, but definitely Crooked Stave, which specializes in sour, wood-aged and blended beers using Belgian traditions and a lot of D.I.Y. The beers are not only super interesting but also very well-made and food-friendly, and of course they're also becoming really hard to get. He wasn't even open for business when my book came out, now he's slammed.
I first met founder Chad Jakobson at a beer gathering called The Festival this summer, which I half-jokingly dubbed craft beer's Woodstock. I was one of many who loved Crooked Stave's lineup, including Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon in Belgium — sort of the Thomas Keller of Belgian beer — who was making a rare U.S. appearance and was basically surrounded by star-struck fans all weekend. According to Jakobson, Van Roy tried a Crooked Stave beer called Persica, then walked over and told him "this is why American beer will be better than Belgian beer"— just an incredible thing to say, because, well, Cantillon.
But with demand for sour and wood-aged beers flying through the roof worldwide and very little to go around, it can take four years to make one batch of the really good stuff. Jean Van Roy really welcomes new talents to the fold. Chad joined me in Portland for three panels I organized for Feast Portland with Bon Appétit magazine and Andrew Knowlton, and his knowledge of wild brewing yeast alone is scary.
What are the top 5 things GABF attendants should look for at the festival? I always recommend to jump the big lines and try a beer you've have never heard of — you might try the best beer you've ever tried. The skill level in craft brewing is just exploding, and it's certainly not confined to one region or another. Which is why I'll bolt for the South, Southwest, and Mid-Atlantic, all of which are bringing their A-game these days. And of course I'll spend some time with my hometown Portland and Oregon crews, a huge contingent this year rolling in with a lot of exciting new beers I haven't even been able to try yet.
Outside of the ticketed GABF events, do you have any recommendations of beer-related events or activities for GABF participants (or folks who were not quick enough to buy tickets)? Yes! I'm co-hosting a GABF kickoff party up in Boulder on Wednesday October 10 at 7 p.m. at the Kitchen Next Door with the following excellent local breweries: Oskar Blues, Dry Dock, Upslope, Funkwerks, and Odell. Also, I'm really excited about the book and beer dinner I'm doing with Central Bar & Bistro on Saturday, October 13 at 6 p.m. We're pairing great U.S. craft beers with new-American fare and some travel tales. Chef Barto just sent me the menu- a lot of crazy-good food and beer in between.
· All GABF Coverage [EDen]
Christian DeBenedetti [Photo: courtesy of d i s h publicity]