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Falling Rock's Bryan Jansing on Craft Beer and The Great American Beer Festival

Welcome to Lifers, a feature in which Eater interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant and bar industry for the better part of their lives. Here, they share their stories.

Bryan Jansing and Paul Vismara
Bryan Jansing and Paul Vismara

The Great American Beer Festival steamrolls through Denver each fall, bringing with it hordes of people and national attention. Thousands of beer enthusiasts opt to visit places like Falling Rock, one of the most iconic tap houses in the country, to get their fix during GABF week. In a sense, Falling Rock is like ground zero for the beer festival — a veritable family reunion of brewers and industry folk from all corners of the nation will be drinking beer at the local tap house this week.

Anyone who has feasted their eyes upon the prolific tap wall at Falling Rock will recognize one man in particular. Friendly and knowledgeable Bryan Jansing has been the face behind the bar for eighteen years. He has weathered the storm of no less than seventeen GABFs at Falling Rock, co-written a book on Italian craft beer, and witnessed Denver craft culture grow into its own along the way. Here, he shares his experiences, thoughts, and effusive love for craft beer.

How many rounds of the Great American Beer Festival have you survived and what's your take on them? Seventeen of them. It’s the greatest craft beer festival in the world and it’s growing every year. It’s a great time for brewers to get together and for us, it feels like a family reunion. Every year we get to see these people in the industry that we don’t get to see very often. It’s wonderful to touch base. But also the dynamics have changed a lot- there’s a lot of younger brewers and people in the industry.

For people who don't know beer, GABF is a reminder of how big this is and how amazing it is too. It's endless.

For people who don’t know beer, GABF is a reminder of how big this is and how amazing it is too. It’s endless. If you just walked into the beer scene today it’s so overwhelming and it’s impossible to keep up now. There’s no way. Even Einstein couldn’t keep up. Before he gets it down, somebody else is brewing something completely new and different.

How does the festival and the American craft beer culture look very different now then in years past? From my experience, in 1996 it was just the fat, bearded, fartin’ guys that came in to Falling Rock. Not anymore. Now it's a 21 year-old girl with her friends coming in on her birthday saying that she couldn't wait to come and try beers here. That’s way different. Even in Italy, when I was in Rome for a festival this time last year, there were a lot of young, beautiful women.

In 1996 it was just the fat, bearded, fartin' guys that came into Falling Rock. Not anymore.

Why is it that  you believe women are important for beer culture? Because beer has been associated with men for so long that I think it’s great- it's necessary, and it’s expanding the market. Women have better palettes for a flavor profile anyway so it’s going to help create a better market. Having women in this industry is really crucial.

Even from a bartender's standpoint, I'd much rather have a lot of pretty women sitting at my bar because it's going to bring business. Face it: that's the science of a bar. I remember when it was a sausage fest and it was the same people over and over and the dynamic was just dull. But now it's exciting. I love it when anybody comes in but particularly women because there's that stereotypical thought: girls don't like beer. So I give them two samples of something and then they love beer. Man, I wonder how many converts I've had over the years. has been associated with men for so long that it’s great- it's necessary, and it’s expanding the market. Women have better palettes for a flavor profile anyway so it’s going to help create a better market.

Has the beer industry becoming more inclusive helped its growth? It has to be open to everybody. If it’s not then it’s just a club, and it’s not as much fun. This is for everybody and that’s what makes it so exciting.

So the demographic has become more diversified in terms of people working in the beer industry and also people who are drinking the beer? Much more diversified. And in a positive way too. I see the same young kids coming in who are not there to get drunk. They’re not there to buy the bucket of beer or the discounted stuff, they really and truly want to try beer. So they sit down and drink a beer. It’s amazing to see a 21 year-old on their birthday come experience great beer not to get drunk but because they want to try beer. That's what this festival really represents. That makes it worthwhile. It makes me happy.

Is it an adventure to tend the bar at Falling Rock during GABF week? It’s not as bad as you would think. It’s not really a shit show; it’s fun. I mean, it’s packed, but the people are there for beer during this week. It’s concentrated. They know what they’re there for, we know what they’re there for. A lot of people at Falling Rock this week are going to be experienced beer-drinkers and people who are in the industry so they understand how the bar works: how to wait, how to order, how to tip- they know how all that works. We don’t wrestle with difficult customers during GABF as much as we do the rest of the year. Not as bad as opening day and nothing like St. Patrick’s Day- now that’s a shit show.

That's indicative of the more sophisticated beer culture you spoke of before, right? A new generation of drinkers that are not there to get obliterated, but to taste and enjoy beer. Yes absolutely. Look at the new drive for session beers. I love it. I love to drink a 4% beer because then I can have four of them. I’m a lightweight- two Pliny’s and I’m pretty much drunk. If I can have a Pivo Pilsner and have more than one, I love it. I cannot get enough of that beer.

I agree. It's one of the most perfect beers ever created. So that's a great segue into talking about Italian craft beer. That beer is an Italian craft beer. It would be the first Italian craft beer ever made. That dry-hopped pilsner is the ‘Tipo Pilsner’ from Birrificio Italiano, which was the first brewery in Italy. The brewer was brewing in Germanic styles, hence the introduction of the pilsner style. So he

If I were to pinpoint America's true trademark style, it's the bourbon barrel-aged stout. That is a quintessential American beer.

took a German style pilsner, dry-hopped it with an English technique and called it: ‘Tipo Pilsner’ which means type of pilsner, because he knew it wasn’t really a traditional pilsner. And what’s his name from Firestone Walker?… Anyway, they’re good friends, they brew together. And so they brewed the Pivo Pils as an offshoot to the Tipo Pils. but that is the first true Italian craft beer. If I were to pinpoint America’s true trademark style, it’s the bourbon barrel-aged stout. That is a quintessential American beer. Nobody could do that except for America. A bourbon barrel-aged stout is so uniquely America. Tipo pilsner, a dry-hopped pilsner, is uniquely Italian.

Why do you think countries like the United States and now Italy have been able to foster healthy craft beer scenes? We all know that American craft beer made it to the forefront because of its ingenuity. Not having an existing beer culture and being able to reproduce in our own manner all of these different styles is key. Like taking a pilsner and making it an American-style pilsner or putting stouts in bourbon barrels. That kind of ingenuity is what has made the American craft beer scene so unique and that’s why its blowing up around the world. What we’ve been doing here in the the U.S. is based upon being able to do what we want to: make great beers with the freedom of creativity. Similarly as in Italy, without an ingrained beer culture, they can do whatever they want and there’s no limitations. Germany, with their very strict beer laws, is now relenting on traditional beer laws and regulations and their craft scene is beginning to build a little more.

That kind of ingenuity is what has made the American craft beer scene so unique and that's why it's blowing up around the world.

What exactly is happening in Italian craft beer right now? I went home one year (my family’s mostly in Rome) and my friend sent me to a brewery. And I was floored because it was just like what was happening in 1996 in Denver. Exactly like Denver ’96. That struggle, trying to get there was so reflected in what they were doing. It was Italian craft beer. Now, next to the United States, Italy is truly the second best craft beer nation in the world. And nobody knows it yet.

In this vast pool of breweries and beer, are there any you have your eye on in particular for GABF this year? I won’t be able to make it to the festival because we’re so busy and I just sort of tune it out after a while. When I walk into Falling Rock this week, that list will be there. There’s been a lot of beers passing through my mind so I just have to sort of turn it off for a little bit. But you know, I’m excited to see Comrade. We’ve been drinking it for a year and it’s already a gold medal, I already know it. We’re drinking gold medal beer. If that Superpower IPA is not a gold medal it’ll be surprising.

Should it win a medal? It’s such a great beer and they’re a great brewery. I think if there was anybody I was really looking at, it’s them. I think the guys at Comrade encompass a lot of what makes the craft beer scene great: they make great beers, they’ve learned the craft well, they've come up with a good business plan because at the end of the day, this is still your business and that’s where a lot of breweries will fail. They were ready to expand but knew where they wanted to go. I was talking to Dave from Comrade and he explained how the plan is to get to a certain number and stop expansion because they’ll start to lose the quality of beer and that is forbidden. That’s the way you brew beer. Don’t ever destroy the quality of your beer or else you’re Budweiser or Miller or anybody else.

What is the last beer you will drink on this earth and your favorite beer-oriented book? The last beer would have to be Tipo Pilsner by Birrificio Italiano. I love that beer. It’s the perfect craft beer: simple, but so hard to make. To make something so simple and so delicious, the Tipo Pils nails it. So the Firestone Walker Pivo Pilsner is how I get my fix here. The book that you have to read is obviously Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium, that’s the bible. There’s no other book that says better what beer is, where it has been, where it’s going, even today.

Falling Rock Tap House

1919 Blake Street, , CO 80202 (303) 293-8338 Visit Website