Great American Beer Festival 2014: A Brewer’s Perspective

By Rowland Wasgatt on Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Zwei Brüder Brewing - Fort Collins, Colorado

         The 2014 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) will be underway here soon, where brewers and beer connoisseurs from around the world will flood Denver, Colorado by the thousands. One will always learn about how this annual 3 day event sells out within minutes, or how there were so many styles of beer that you couldn’t get to them all. You can even read about all the variance of events around Denver that have now started to latch onto this world-wide beer competition and tasting. However, it’s rare to hear from the brewers themselves and what the GABF means to them, or what it’s like to see the GABF through their eyes.

         One such brewer, Eric Lombardi of Zwei Brüder Brewing in Fort Collins, sat down with me over a beer (one he had made of course) and gave his perspective on past experiences and what he learned participating at the GABF, where he got his start, and what his favorite style to brew and drink is. Eric loves to discuss brewing and beer styles. It’s the German styles we discussed, what he specializes in, and what he’s competed in over the years at the GABF. Here’s our conversation about Eric’s views on the GABF and what he enjoys about brewing.

Q: How did you get your start in brewing?

A: Well, it’s not what you know but who you know, and my brother Kirk was already brewing at C.B. & Potts, and I was hearing about how hard he was working. It was a lot for Kirk to keep up with the pace of things. We had worked together in various jobs before, and I thought I could come in and help out with things because we always had a great rapport with each other working together. So, Kirk needed an assistant and I start brewing at C.B. & Potts.

Q: When did you start competing at the GABF and how did you do in the competition?

A: For my brother Kirk he started earlier, but for me it was in 2001. I’ve competed every year since then in several beer competitions, but in 2001 at the GABF we received a silver medal for the Maibock style.

Q: What did you learn from this competition?

A: First, I learned how to compete by understanding all the rules for the timing of when to get your beer into the GABF, and all the logistics that go into that. So, you have to brew your beer in time to be entered into the competition, and deliver your beer to the GABF by late August. With our lager beers, which take more time to ferment, you really have to pay close attention to the timing with the deadlines into the competition. It’s an awesome event where you see these other breweries there that just win medal after medal, and you go back and try these styles, which really ingrained in my mind how other styles are made. Also, the camaraderie of all the brewers is something else that stood out for me. Although you’re competing against each other, there’s this support for each other as well. You learn how others vary in their brewing style from your own, and that was great to experience.

Q: What beers did Zwei Brüder Brewing enter into the 2014 GABF competition?

A: So, we entered all four of our German Classics line (Beers we’ll always have on tap) this year. The Helles, Pilsner, Dunkel and the Weiss (otherwise known as the Hefeweizen or wheat ale) is in this year’s GABF.

Q: What’s your favorite style of beer to brew?

A: Well, I guess I like the Pilsner the most. Although, for us, the steps in brewing our styles is the same. It’s the recipes that stand out. For me, I like the Pilsner because the hop additions has a better smell to it while brewing when you add it to the wort (the extracted malt from the grain from boiling it). You can just smell the awesomeness in the kettle, and makes brewing that style worthwhile for me.

Q: What’s your favorite style to drink?

A: Again, I got to go with the Pilsner here because of the hops used in making it. It is a lighter beer but still has lots of hop flavor and bitterness in it. It’s the lager beers that tend to be more palatable for me. We use all German ingredients in our beer, so it’s that German Pilsner style I like the most as opposed to others you see around.

Q: From past GABF competitions, what brewery impressed you the most?

A: Dry Dock Brewery in Aurora CO, because they won "Small Brewery of the Year" right out of the gate in their first year as a brewery. They’ve also won a substantial amount of medals for their beer. I’m also impressed with their German styles they’ve brewed in the past, like the Dunkel and the Hefeweizen. Both were very good even though they might not have those styles anymore.

Thanks for your time today, Eric. Good luck at the GABF this year!

         Most days, you’ll find Eric and his brother Kirk Lombardi (head of brewing operations at Zwei Brüder Brewing) milling about the brewery, either brewing their next German standard or creating a new Belgian or American style, and chatting it up with a new patron or two who are curious about what they do. You’ll experience fantastic beer (or “bier” in German) at this brewery, and can find Zwei Brüder Brewery on the south end of Fort Collins. Their building is nestled in between other establishments on the corner of College Avenue and Harmony at 4612 S Mason Street, Suite 120, right next to a bike store called Provelo. When the GABF competition ends here after October 4th 2014, keep your eye out for the Lombardi brothers and Zwei Brüder Brewing in the German style bracket. They just might bring home another medal from the GABF this year.