It was a decent night for some homebrew. The clouds had remained relatively light, and the temperature had finally dropped to below 80. At the nearly empty, save for dozens of people lugging cases of brown bottles, Gulfstream Park Thursday night, the South Florida beverage distributor Gold Coast put up camp to host their annual employee homebrewing competition.
That's right, at this company you get to not only work with beer, but make it yourself.
It's a sort of teambuilding exercise, though a far cry from the trust games of any typical corporate retreat. No, this is a gathering, under the bright lights and Vegas-style ambiance of Hallendale Beach's Gulfstream Park, aimed to bring employees from all sections of the company together for an evening of casual conversation and a bit of friendly competition.
Being distributors of beer, Gold Coast President Eric Levin felt that having over 20 teams create and brew their own batches of beer would be a plus for not only the company, but for the people who work at Gold Coast.
"It's good education," Levin said. "This is the fifth year that we've done this, and the quality just gets better over the years. Our people get to interact with major brewers, and go all out with their creativity... One of the biggest markets now is craft beer, not only in the number of beers entering the market, but the volume of taps for new accounts. Previously we had three to four taps for craft per account, now they're coming to us with 20."
"We sell the stuff, we need to know how it's made."
Levin also participated in the brewing, being part of the Thor's Hammer team that wore viking garb, complete with swords, axes and fur.
Juan Vasquez, a member of Levin's team, explained it thusly. "It's fun, especially the employee interaction. Learning about the hops and the yeast and what it takes to brew beer... it definitely gets you interested in craft beer."
Around the massive auditorium-like room, other teams had tables set up with equally creative costumes and accoutrement. There was a team wearing kilts. I saw a large pool of goldfish swimming in a tropical venue for a summer-styled beer. There were sexy booth girls, and manly brutes. Construction workers and witches. It began to remind me of a Halloween party.
Eric Dennis was part of the team that created Hop Head, a 10% abv IPA. Their booth spread was traditionally artisanal, with whole hops and grain showcasing the makeup of their beer. "We used oak cubes soaked in Grand Marnier and dry hopped," he said of their hoppy but smooth IPA. "Our team works in sales and has some district managers in it. I think this event helps us out tremendously. We can take what we learn and it applies to everything that we sell."
Also in attendance were a couple of notable locals from the beer scene, including Bobby Gordash, the recently acquired brewer at Florida Beer Company in Cape Canaveral. Decked out in the appropriate FBC workshirt, Gordash was on hand for one of the teams, for which he helped give some of his expert insights to in their brewing of an IPA. I was surprised to learn that he commutes back and forth from South Florida to the Cape twice a month.
"Florida Beer has given me lots of freedom in the facility," he said of his new position. "We'll be putting out a white IPA [think a blend of styles between a wheat-based white ale and a traditional American IPA] and a Belgian Trippel hopefully sometime in 2014."
We also discussed a bit on FBC's famed beer, Swamp Ape. "Many people would be surprised that we put smoked malts into it. It's one of those almost hidden flavors that is hard to point out, but it's there." As a double IPA, it's definitely out of the box as we previously discussed, and Gordash too is convinced that it falls in between styles. Perhaps with this knowledge of smoked malts, we can call it a double scotch ale? A Wee Wee Heavy? Ponderings for another time...
At the end of the night, with enough home brewed beer imbibed to send everyone into a pleasant party mood, the stage cleared save for a few sofas, and the judges came out to applause. The scene, in such a huge space and with such influential company, played out more like a Wired tech event then a beverage distributor's homebrew competition.
The beers created had no ordinary judges to rate them. Gold Coast pulled out all of the stops to get expert representatives from Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Orange Blossom Pilsner, and Leinenkugel to judge all of the homebrews.
Through their deliberations, it was determined that Scatterbrain IPA, composed of Marc Beaubien, Jim Thornton, Chris Dombovary, Bob Gordash, and Corey Brysman, was the winner. And with that win, a trip to any brewery in the Gold Coast portfolio.
Not bad for just another day at the office.
The crowds thinned and the booths were packed up. Levin, collecting his viking hat and making sure the swords made their way home, was extremely pleased with how the event turned out. "At the end of the day, we don't sell Bibles, we sell beer."
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