Food & Wine Classic in Aspen celebrates 29th year; get discount tickets until March 15th

food and wine AspenBetter put your cardiologist on speed-dial; it’s almost time for the 29th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. The nation’s most-lauded culinary festival will be held June 17-19, featuring food, wine, and cocktail seminars, cooking demos and competitions, grand tastings, and book signings by celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, and Michael Symon. Get your tickets before March 15th, and you’ll save $100 off the $1,185 ticket price. Hey, no one said gastronomic blowouts in Colorado’s ski town Shangri-la come cheap.

The price includes attendance at five Grand Tastings, where you can sample the goods from over 300 vineyards, breweries, and distilleries, as well as charcuterie, cheese, olive oil, and chocolate.

Think it sounds a little too high-falutin’? Take note of a few of this year’s witty new seminars: “Sauce on the Side: Wine, Wieners & the Works,” with restaurateur Danny Meyer; “Global Street Food” with chef/one of half of Two Hot Tamales’ Susan Feniger, and “One Pot Meals” with Ming Tsai. Also sure to be popular: “Sophisticated Sipping Rums,” “Top Chef: Salty and Sweet,” with Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, and “Cheeses and Wine from Spain.”

FOOD & WINE donates two percent of the net proceeds from all Classic tickets sold to Grow for Good, benefiting Wholesome Wave Foundation. Grow for Good is FOOD & WINE’s national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. To purchase, call 877-900-WINE or click here.

Plan your Great American Beer Festival experience online

The Great American Beer Festival, one of the largest beer fests in the US, is just six days away. The three-day event known as the Olympics of beer is sold out, but if you are one of the lucky 50,000 or so who will be in attendance when it takes place in Denver next week, now is the time to plan your perfect GABF experience.

The GABF is more than just an excuse to drink beer (lots and lots of beer – nearly 2,000 beers will be available for sampling), it’s a chance to learn more about beer than you ever thought possible, meet the brewers of your favorites, and try brews not available in your local area.

In addition to the basic beer tasting, there are several special events going on at the festival. At the Beer and Food Pavilion, local chefs will be working with brewers to pair beer with food. Attendees can learn how to pair the two at home and taste samples. At the You Be the Judge booth, drinkers can learn the secrets of judging beer and taste several brews alongside an official judge. There’s also a Great American Beer Fest bookstore, lectures from the brewers, and a Designated Driver Lounge where DDs can sample craft-brewed root beers and soda and receive a free massage.

With so much going on, coming up with a strategy to make the most of each four-hour session can be daunting. The Great American Beer Festival website is here to help though. They’ve created an interactive networking website where attendees can talk about their favorite beers, arrange for beer trades, and discuss the best ways to plan their GABF experience. Veterans of the event offer advice to newbies like: eat beforehand (the high altitude can increase the effects of the beer), make a “pretzel necklace” to munch on as you taste so you don’t have to waste time waiting in the food line, costumes are not uncommon, and whatever you do, don’t drop your tasting glass.

The website also hosts a map of each brewery’s location so you can plan your route through the convention hall. Some GABF experts recommend you not try to do too much – chose your top 10-15 breweries and plan a strategy to visit them in the order of importance. Others suggest choosing the beers you want to taste according to style, maybe concentrating on IPAs or porters, or by geographical location of the brewery. And some attendees prefer to just bounce from booth to booth, sneaking in for a sample at whichever one has the shortest line. You can pick a plan of attack based on your preferences, but if you’re serious about tasting beer, you’ll need some kind of strategy to make the most of your limited time.

If you weren’t lucky enough to snag tickets this year, mark your calendar for June 2010. That’s when tickets for next year’s GABF, to be held September 16-18, go on sale.

Great Lakes Brewing: Saving the planet one beer at a time

At a recent farm dinner I attended, a multi-course meal of farm-fresh, organic ingredients was paired with beers from Great Lakes Brewing. As we dined and drank, we were treated to an informal lesson on brewing from owner Pat Conway, who also gave us the lowdown on the many greet initiatives that Great Lakes has undertaken in an effort to be environmentally responsible while producing top-notch beer. It’s a philosophy that the company calls a “triple bottom line” – a mission to run an environmentally and socially responsible business while still turning a profit – and it seems to be paying off.

The Cleveland, Ohio, brewery opened in 1988 as the state’s first micro-brewery and has been growing, and racking up awards, ever since. The Dortmunder Gold, one of the brewery’s first beers, was originally called the Heisman. After it won a gold medal in the Dortmunder category at the Great American Beer Festival in 1990, the New York Athletic Club noticed that the Heisman name was be used and requested it be changed. Other beers are more fancifully named and reflect the brewery’s location in the Great Lakes Region. There’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, honoring the boat that famously sank in Lake Superior; Eliot Ness, named for the man rumored to be responsible for the bullet holes in the brewery’s bar; and Burning River, a nod to the infamous burning of the Cuyahoga River in 1969.

But what makes these beers so special, aside from the quirky names and indisputable quality (each has won numerous Gold Medals at competitions around the world), is that they are produced using so many green and sustainable methods. The owners, brothers Pat and Daniel Conway, say they take a full-circle approach to reduce waste and make the company more efficient. This approach has filtered down to all levels of staff, and dictates the methods used in all aspects of the business.

The brewery’s delivery truck and shuttle bus run on recycled restaurant vegetable oil, and they require that the trucks used by their distributors do the same. All cardboard, glass, aluminum, paper and brewer’s barley is recycled. Newsletters, napkins, and menus are printed on recycled paper, all beer packaging is done with unbleached “eco-carton” and Pat says they even go so far as to re-use the blank sides of printer paper for internal documents. The brewery cooler features skylights and sensors to reduce electricity used for lighting, and the cooling system brings in cold air from outside in the winter to reduce the amount of energy required to keep the temperature constant.

Great Lakes works with local organic farmers to serve only the freshest food in their restaurant. Currently, 60% of their food supply comes from local and organic sources, though Pat says they are striving for 100%. They recently contracted with an Amish farmer who will provide the kitchen with meat from animals that graze on the brewery’s own barley waste. Spent grain goes to a baker who makes pretzels and beer-bread served at the restaurant, and another local farm uses brewery grains to fertilize the organic mushrooms they grow and then sell back to Great Lakes for use in entrees. Other organic waste is fed to worms. In a process called vermicomposting, the worms turn the waste into fertilizer, which is used to grow herbs in the brewery’s garden. Even the low-fill beers (beers that aren’t quite filled to the top by the bottling machinery) are saved and used for sauces, salad dressings, and soups. The low-filled Edmund Fitzgerald Porter bottles are used by a local ice cream shop to make chocolate chunk ice cream.

The brewery’s outdoor beer garden is also eco-friendly. Rather than let the space go to waste during Cleveland’s bitterly-cold winters, the Conway brothers decided to cover it with a retractable canvas roofing, packed straw bales into the walls for insulation, and added a fireplace to warm the space. They were using wood logs for the fire, until one employee had a bright idea. Instead of composting the spent cinnamon sticks used to make the Christmas Ale, why not compress them into logs to fuel the beer garden fireplace? The result of all these features is that, even on the coldest days of winter, it costs just $8 per day to heat the beer garden.

The result of all these sustainable efforts is staggering. Great Lakes Brewing, a $25 million business, has zero waste bills. Pat says he looks at waste removal as “waste opportunity” and is always searching for new ways to make the business green, and keep it growing. But the brothers aren’t just pocketing all that profit. The company also contributes to the community. Every year they participate in the Great Lakes Burning River Festival, which raises awareness and funds for environmental cleanup in the Great Lakes Region. An environmentally responsible company that gives back to the community and makes delicious craft beer – I think we can all cheers to that.

If you can make it out the Cleveland brewery, in addition to dining in the brewpub or enjoying drinks in the beer garden, you can take a guided tour of the brewery facilities, attend “beer school” to learn all about the brewing process, or enjoy a multi-course Brewmaster’s dinner paired with beer. You can also find Great Lakes beers in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Beer travel for Memorial Day: 10 options and more

Head to any state and you’ll find a favorite local beer with quite the following. At HalogenLife, Kyle Anderson has come up with a favorite 10 beers in 10 states list to add perfection to a Memorial Day weekend trip. The list doesn’t mean you should drink and drive your way across America. Instead, use it as a guide to the best beers whether you’re beaching it, going on a picnic, or throwing a backyard barbecue.

Read on for Anderson’s suggestions as well as other best beer options.

I’m quite fond of Barley’s Brewing Company in Columbus. You’ll have to go to this microbrewery restaurants to partake, however–unless someone brings you a sealed glass jug of it like a friend of mine once did for her husband. Her main job was figuring out how to keep it cold long enough to make it to Sturbridge, MA. This was back when a glass jug filled with liquid could be a carry-on bag.

My favorite beer and food pairing is Barley’s Pilsner and sauerkraut balls. For a beer lover’s experience, order a sampling of each arranged from the lightest to the darkest. It’s a bit hard to find parking, but here’s a tip. Park at the North Market and head in to buy Jose Madrid salsa and chips. Get your parking ticket stamped, and voila, parking has just become affordable. By the way, this is a family friendly place.

For beer to take on the road, try Great Lakes Brewing Company. Brewed in Cleveland, the beer never disappoints. Burning River is the one we bring home the most. Great Lakes Brewing also has a brew pub in the Ohio City section of Cleveland, but it’s also easy to find at grocery stores and many convenience stores across Ohio.

If you’re driving through Montana, try Bayern Brewing Company, the only German-style microbrewery in the Rockies. The brewery is located in Missoula, but you can find its beer elsewhere. Every summer when we head to Montana, this beer is one thing we look forward to. Not the only thing. One thing. Try Juergen’s Bayern Pilsner.

Karen, the Gadling non-beer drinker vouches for St. Arnold’s Brewing Company in Houston and expressed disappointment it wasn’t on the list. Now it is. St. Arnold’s is touted as Texas’s oldest craft brewery. You don’t have to be at the brewery to partake On Thursday nights from how through the summer, you can quench that beer thirst while listening to a Thursday night concert at Discovery Green. Because this beer is also bottled, you can take it with you when you head out of Texas. Before you go, take in a public brewery tour at 1:00 on Saturday. Tours are $5 and included beer tasting and a souvenir glass.

Here’s Anderson’s list. The article gives a run-down of what makes each beer a standout. Enjoy a beer adventure this Memorial Day. Just don’t drink and drive.