A festive celebration of all things fermented in town
Author: Certified Sommelier - September 9, 2013 - Updated: September 9, 2013
Colorado’s first Fermentation Festival took place August 24 and 25 at the Masonic Center in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood. Guests sampled fermented foods and beverages from across the country, and participants included craft brewers, local distillers, kombucha makers, and various other wineries, restaurants and sauerkraut makers. Festival proceeds, including a canned food drive at the door, benefitted the Carpenters Cupboard, a food bank ministry.
Fermentation Festival & Market
Highlands Masonic Center
3550 Federal Blvd
Denver, CO 80211
Tel: (215) 630-4231
Education was one of the festival’s core values, with classes and seminars ranging from Homebrew Kombucha to Kefir Fermentation, Cheesemaking, Crafting Seasonal Small Batch Fruit Wines, Basic Kimchi and Kraut (learning how to make your own countertop ferments), and Fermented Korean Foods. There was even a Pickle Toss in which contestants tossed pickles into their team’s mouths from a distance. The winners, Jeremy Zeitlin and Mary Kate O’Brien, took home serious bragging rights, a gallon of pickles, and $50.
For event organizer Mike Burns (beercraving.com), it was crucial for guests to come away with the knowledge and tools needed to begin fermenting at home. “We definitely reached these goals. This educational component, the classes and variety of new foods, far exceeded what we had hoped for.”
Younger crowds are usually the first to embrace new concepts, and this was no exception. “Our marketing efforts were centered on social media, which I think reaches a younger demographic, says Burns. But our goal was to have people attend from all walks of life and backgrounds. We hope that they will now spread the word to friends and family about the good times they had, which will give us more credibility with others who may have been skeptical at first.” Next year’s event will build on what has already been established, with even more classes and an emphasis on hands-on demonstrations. “We would also like to draw more families and are working on additional activities for kids.”
Yakking About Yeast
Fermentation, in which a metabolic process converts sugar to acids, gases and/or alcohol using yeast or bacteria, produces flavor combinations unobtainable in any other way. Entire cultures have relied on fermentation as a form of preservation since before the advent of modern refrigeration. Many medical professionals also believe that fermented foods and beverages are a key to longevity and happiness in life.
Healthy is good, but Joseph Kim of Dae Gee Korean BBQ (daegee.com) in Westminster says that the best thing about this particular festival was the ability to showcase his passion for Korean-style fermentation. “It also attracted those who already love the fermented products so prevalent in Korean culture. We were able to network with local brewers and even discussed creating new beers for our restaurant.”
Roundhouse Spirits owner Mike Belochi (also Director of Sales & Marketing, roundhousespirits.com) agrees that this sort of event really brings out the folks who are interested in learning and tasting. “That fits right into our style because our products are innovative and tasty. We definitely got the word out about us and our retail partners including local bars, restaurants and liquor stores.”
Kombucha, an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea, is not a familiar food to most Americans. So Jenni Lyons, Owner/Brewer at Happy Leaf Kombucha (happyleafkombucha.com), was psyched to be able to introduce her product to some new faces. “Hands down, the best part of being at the Fermentation Festival was meeting and talking with everyone who stopped by. Answering questions and opening a whole new path of healthy living is very rewarding.”
Just a Bit of Gas, Please
While all sorts of fermented products are available in a modern city, understandably the focus at Fermentation Festival was on items of an alcoholic nature. Bryan Leavelle, brew master for Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew (OMF, omfmb.com) at 28th and Larimer in Denver, liked how the organizers invited some of Colorado’s best small, lesser-known brewers and companies. “Being so busy at my own brewery, it’s hard to get out and try all of these new products. So it was great to be able to meet some of the new guys on the scene and also to talk to ordinary people about my passion.”
Speaking of new brews, OMF’s Huckleberry Roasters Coffee Stout, black as coal, definitely impressed me. Sour blueberry and cola married on a high intensity, very long finish, really a treat on a warm summer’s day. Other terrific suds included a shiny, black Kokopelli Beer Company’s Happy Accident, smelling of sunflower and yellow apricot while tasting of dried sage, smoke, and cola, and the Grossen Bart Dali DunkelWeizen, a heady brownish concoction that nosed black cherry and white pepper before settling into flavors of brown sugar and root beer on a medium-weight frame.
This was the first festival appearance for Shad Chancey, Grossen Bart’s owner (grossenbart.com), “and the crowd was perfect! I thought everything ran smoothly and was well organized. Plenty of restrooms, ice and delicious food.” Although Grossen Bart doesn’t yet have a public taproom (one is due to open in Longmont in early February, 2014), the exposure was still priceless. “It was awesome getting our name out to so many people. We felt like we made a lot of terrific new connections and friends.”
For Marka Rapenchuk, owner of Beer Bites Premium Jelly, this was also her premier festival as a vendor. “I was blown away by the positive response from the festival goers. I very much enjoyed introducing my products — how to use and order them, gift ideas, etc.” The fest put Rapenchuck in front of a lot of people who absolutely loved her jellies, including me, and she would not have reached them otherwise. “Beer jelly is so novel,” understates Rapenchuk, “and it would have taken months of heavy marketing to share my concept with as many people as I did over the weekend.” In the coming year she expects to work with local brewers to produce beer jelly for sale in their retail space. “I want to have it available to local and chain food stores and am also looking forward to working with home brewers to produce small jelly batches of their beers and ciders.”
The Future Is Bright And Fizzy
The craft beer and spirits segments of Colorado’s fermentation frenzy are growing fast, nowhere more so than near Roundhouse Distillery’s Boulder base. In fact, a three-quarter mile circle drawn around Roundhouse Distillery (near 55th and Arapahoe) encompasses a whole bunch of alcohol beverage manufacturers, including Fate Brewing, Boulder Beer, 303 Vodka, Redstone Meadery, Wild Woods nano-Brewery, J Wells Brewery, Upslope Brewing Company, Avery Brewery and more.
Roundhouse’s Belochi is proud to be part of this revolution in craft beverages and took the occasion of his festival appearance to announce the debut of his fourth commercially available distillation, an all-natural Pumpkin King Cordial liqueur. This elixir gets its start from roasted fresh pie pumpkins grown just a few miles from the distillery at Munson Farms. The pumpkin puree is then united with award-winning Roundhouse Gin and clove, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla spices to create a delicious, handcrafted, botanical beauty. Look for even more big developments at Roundhouse that should be in place by the end of September, including a renovation to its modest tasting room that will create a full bar in a fun, speakeasy destination.
Full of good cheer and happiness, Fermentation Festival founder Marni Wahlquist of Vital Cultured Foods in Fort Collins (vitalculturedfoods.com) even deigned to get a bit political. But not much. “Our politics lie in supporting small local farms that do not use harmful chemicals, as well as using produce and ingredients that have not been genetically modified.” Similarly, Grossen Bart’s Chancey volunteers that he isn’t particularly political, “although my beard leans more to the left…”
For Wahlquist, bringing the vast community of fermentation together in one place was much more important than worrying about events that are beyond her control. “Beer, vegetable, dairy, kombucha, spirits, we all get to interact with one another and see how diverse fermentation is within our fields of expertise. This integrates us into the Colorado community and gives festival goers the opportunity to try our fermented delights.”
Fermenting The Imagination
Much of the fun of writing this column revolves around interacting with the entrepreneurs and small business folk that populate our local crafted beverage and food scene. The Fermentation Festival was a blast to attend, accomplished exactly that goal in a laid back, fun atmosphere, and I highly recommend you attend next year.
Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com. Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com