For a lot of beer loving folks, The Great American Beer Festival is a “bucket list” event. Each year in October, hundreds of breweries and tens of thousands of craft beer enthusiasts invade Denver for the three day festival. GABF as it’s commonly called, consists of four different beer tasting sessions over those three days, with nearly 4,000 different beers on draft, including "whales" that some people have been trying to taste for months or even years.
Last year was my first time attending GABF and I can say it met all of my expectations. I was able to tick off a handful of beers I thought I might never try and get turned on to plenty of breweries I’d never heard of. One thing I didn’t expect was the food and beer event I almost didn’t even attend: Paired. Formerly known as “Farm to Table,” Paired takes over 20 chefs and over 20 breweries from across the country and matches them together to create world-class food and beer pairings. While my attendance was a last-minute decision last year, it was the highlight of my time there and possibly the most amazing experience I’ve had with beer to date.
It should be no surprise then that when I saw the list of participating Chefs and breweries posted a few months ago, I got pretty excited. I began skimming through the list of participating breweries to see if any standouts from last year would be in attendance again. Would Oskar Blues try to top their Boilermaker Ice Cream Sundae made with Rum Barrel Aged Death by Coconut? Would there by any pairings that might beat out my favorite from 2016: Chef Sean Clark’s pork and lamb sausage with citrus zest and leeks with Real Ale Brewing Co.’s Royal Farmhouse Double IPA? My skimming came to a halt when I got to Table 10 and did a double-take after reading what it said: Crane Brewing Company, Raytown, MO.
I immediately reached for my phone and pulled up the number for Crane's Co-Founder Chris Meyers to shoot him a text. "Hey, Chris. Saw you guys are doing Paired this year. THAT'S AMAZING! If there's a way to cover Paired from your brewery's POV, I'd love to write an article about it!" He replied quickly, with a short and sweet "Yes. Happy to work together." Just like that, this year's GABF reached a new level for me.
With only 22 breweries pouring at the event, I was curious as to how Crane got the honor of being a participant. “This is our second year participating at the festival but our first year doing Paired,” Chris explained. “We were sent an invite to participate and since this was going to be the first year that I personally attended the festival, I wanted to get the full experience so I said ‘yes.'"
The beers that Crane was going to be pouring for the event, Beet Weiss and Gooseberry Gose, were carefully chosen by the brewery as beers that could lend themselves well to a unique food pairing. “The Gooseberry is a flavor that’s somewhat familiar to people in the Midwest but it’s going to be new to a lot of people. They also have a vinous, white grape kind of thing going on which we thought would be fun. The Beet Weiss has always been our food beer. It’s got these contrasting elements of earthiness and tartness that mix with these fruity and almost berry/punch flavors, too.”
This year was the third time Chef Gavin Fine of Roadhouse Pub and Eatery participated in Paired. He was randomly matched with Crane and was sent bottles of both beers prior to the event so he could taste them and develop the perfect menu. “The Beet Weiss I felt was just screaming for some cheese and some fat roundness to go with the tartness. With that in mind, I knew I wanted to make a homemade sausage with some cheese inside of it. Chef Joel Tate makes awesome sausages so he helped me get those done. Then we thought of a lobster dog, so we put lobster on top of the sausage, kind of like a relish to give it a little tartness. With the Gooseberry, I immediately thought it would go with some umami flavors like a miso. The unagi (eel) rounded out a miso aioli I wanted to create. Then, the crispy rice cake on that one was there for just some added texture.”
Chef Fine's Menu
Beer: Beet Weiss
Jackson Hole’s Bovine + Swine Black ‘n Blue Sausage, fresh lobster & pickled shallots
Served on Soft Rolls
Beer: Gooseberry Gose
Grilled Unagi + Tempura Fried Rice Cake
Sweet & Savory Soy-Miso Butter
I'm no foodie and wouldn't do the disservice of analyzing the dishes that Chef Fine created other than to say they were absolutely phenomenal. In spending time behind booth 10 during the event, the reactions to both the beer and the food were overwhelmingly positive. At least two times, I heard someone say "I was told this was the booth I had to come try" as word of mouth spread about the flavors that Raytown and Jackson Hole were teaming up to create. Those folks weren't wrong.
As Chris poured beer for eager attendees, many commented on the Beet Weiss' color (the deep red is definitely a conversation starter) and asked where Raytown was located. That second question is, in my opinion, the charming part of Crane's story. While nobody would shake a finger at the brewery were they to state they're located in Kansas City, they're unapologetically Raytown. Regardless of where they're located, with all they've accomplished in just over two years of being open, it's safe to say that Crane Brewing Company has undeniably put themselves on the map.