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Posted: September 23, 2009

Suds buds, rejoice! Denver celebrates new brews and old

The Great American Beer Festival offers brewmasters a chance to showcase their best

Jay Dedrick

This weekend's Great American Beer Festival brings beer lovers and the brews they love under one roof in Denver. It's a chance for businesses to reach customers from Colorado and across the country, and a golden opportunity for suds fans to try offerings from the oldest - and newest - beer makers in the U.S.

Consider two Boulder breweries that exemplify the longevity differential: Boulder Beer Co. turns 30 on Friday, the second day of this year's sold-out festival at the Colorado Convention Center. The creators of Buffalo Gold, Hazed & Infused and other brands will proudly serve products that have made Boulder Beer the state's longest-running craft brewer.

In a booth not far away, Upslope Brewing Co. promises tastes of its brews that founder Matt Cutter and his small crew only began brewing and canning in November 2008. So while Boulder Beer toasts its 30th, Upslope still must wait a couple of months before celebrating that milestone first anniversary.

"We're like little kids right now, we're so excited," says Cutter, whose 15 years of home brewing experience inspired him to make the hobby his business. "We're just really excited to be at our first Great American Beer Festival. Four out of the six beers we'll have on the floor are ones that we've only brewed once. That's probably unique for that event."

If you haven't spotted Upslope's distinctive cans with minimalist design, you're not alone. Upslope's start has been decidedly small, beginning with distribution strictly at liquor stores and taverns relatively close to the North Boulder brewery. Just last month, Upslope extended its reach into Denver-area liquor stores.

"We started very locally, and we found that the liquor stores were really excited that not only did we have a good product, but it was in cans," Cutter says. "There told us they had very limited offerings of canned microbrews."

Cutter gives kudos to Lyons' Oskar Blues for opening the minds of craft brew drinkers, making the case that quality craft beer made sense in cans. New Belgium and Breckenridge are among the Colorado craft brewers who have begun offering cans over the past year or so, furthering the cause.

"It's a good vessel to protect beer," says Cutter, who currently sells a pale ale and an India Pale Ale under the Upslope label. "It prevents light from reaching the beer inside. It has a very good seal to it. It's lightweight, doesn't shatter and it's crushable, so you can put it back in your backpack. It just fits the Colorado lifestyle so well."

Cutter targeted a 600-barrel production year to start, and says he expects to beat that. Upslope grew went from a 1,000-barrel-per-year capacity to 2,000 barrels in July when Cutter added two new fermenters.

Since then, head brewer Dany Pages has been tinkering with four new offerings: a dunkelweizen, a bitter brown, a Belgian dubbel and a Belgian pale ale.. The last one is the product of teamwork with amateur brewer Brian Patterson, who's entered in the GABF's pro-am competition. All of those experimental beers are available at the Upslope tap room, 1501 Lee Hill Road, Unit 20, in North Boulder, and they'll be at the fest, too.. Cutter figures one of them might become the third Upslope canned selection - just not right away.

"Profitability is our next goal," Cutter says. "We're lean and mean, so we're watching our costs very closely.. Once we're profitable, we want to establish controlled growth. We want to move the products we have and promote our existing accounts. Then, in the next five to seven years, I'd like us to be a regional brewery, making 15,000 barrels per year or more."

GABF update: As expected, the three-day festival sold out of tickets well in advance of this coming Thursday's opening night. That's bad news if you don't already have your tickets..

The good news: The first Denver Beer Fest continues its 10-day schedule of events through Sunday. Visit Denver, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, promotes a slate of tastings, dinners and other events as a way of amplifying the Mile High City's image as a major U.S. beer hub - and times it to borrow some of the GABF's limelight. Among the events getting a boost is Denver Oktoberfest, which organizers say is ending after a 40-year run. Towns like Greeley and Breckenridge will have Oktoberfests, but not Denver? I'll believe it when I see it.

For the latest on GABF happenings, go to http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/. For details on Denver Beer Fest, go to http://www.denver.org/denverbeerfest/Default.aspx.

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