Storm Peak takes silver at Great American Beer Festival

Storm Peak Brewing Co.’s Hoochie Mama proudly displays its silver medal from the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.
courtesy of Julie Beckett

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The beers have been sipped, the judges have mulled the criteria points in their minds and on their tastebuds, and medals from the Great American Beer Festival have been awarded, one of which went to a Steamboat Springs brewery.

Storm Peak Brewing Co. triumphantly left the beer festival with a silver medal in the Fruited American-Style Sour Ale category for its Hoochie Mama Guava Kettle Sour.

The story of Hoochie Mama began several years ago.

“It started off as something we wanted to brew and drink ourselves,” said Storm Peak head brewer Rob Schwarz.

It wasn’t the brewery’s first fruity sour. The brewery had developed a watermelon beer earlier that was delicious but not cost-efficient, according to Storm Peak bartender Abby Harris.

“We wanted to have an easier sour, and the guava was the fruit that worked for us,” Harris said.

Compared with brewing other beers, sours can be an entirely different beast.

Sour beer can be a difficult environment for yeast, due to a lower pH level. Adjusting the beer’s sourness to the exact level and playing with how the yeast ferments took rounds of trial and error, according to Schwarz.

Storm Peak Brewing Co.’s Hoochie Mama took silver in the Fruited American-Style Sour Ale category of the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.
Julie Beckett/Courtesy

And for a while, the beer that would eventually be known as Hoochie Mama had trouble “holding in” the guava juice, Harris recalled.

“But we changed our methods and dialed everything in for the beer to be juicy all the time,” Harris said.

“There have been new challenges that have been fun to figure out,” Schwarz said. “It’s been a fun process for us and a learning experience.”

When Storm Peak began canning Hoochie Mama, it became the brewery’s fastest-selling shelf beer, Harris said. And now that Storm Peak has met the demand of taps and shelves at bars, restaurants and liquor stores across town, the brewery is able to further expand its distribution between Steamboat and the Front Range, according to Schwarz.

“We just made our biggest delivery ever down to Denver,” Harris said. 

Heading into the 2019 Great American Beer Festival, the Storm Peak team felt ready for whatever might happen.

“I come in with low hopes, so I don’t get my heart broken,” Schwarz said with a laugh.

This year, 322 judges considered 9,497 different beers from 2,295 breweries in what festival officials said represented the “largest collection of U.S. beer ever served.” With that many entrants, a medal or lack thereof can often be attributed to “how the cookie crumbles with which group the beer is in, or with the judging,” Schwarz said.

“But I’m happy it worked out for us this time,” Schwarz added.

The beer festival took place Oct. 3 to 5 in Denver.

The silver is Storm Peak’s first-ever great American Beer Festival award. The festival describes the silver medal criteria as “an excellent beer that may vary slightly from style parameters while maintaining close adherence to the style and displaying excellent taste, aroma and appearance.”

Coming in with the 2019 Gold medal for the Fruited American-Style Sour Ale was Austin, Texas’ St. Elmo Brewing Co. for its Roxanne, and with the bronze was Charleston, South Carolina’s Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. for its Sour Blackberry Raspberry.

Of the 320 medals awarded this year, according to the festival website, 40 were awarded to Colorado breweries.

Having attended another year of Great American Beer Festival and experiencing a slew of new brews, brewers across the country have plenty of ideas brewing for their next beer projects.

“When you get people really trying to not only make good beer but interesting beer, and you’re able to taste so many of them, plenty of ideas come up,” Schwarz said.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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