Gene Muller and Flying Fish Brewing Co. Face the Heat of GABF Competition

by Erica Bauwens on Sep 29, 2014 in Beer
Gene Muller and Flying Fish Brewing Co. Face the Heat of GABF Competition

With the Great American Beer Festival in Denver just around the corner, we’ve got craft beer on the mind. And as we prepare to join dozens of local brewers in the trek across the country we couldn’t help but wonder just what they’re doing to get ready.

One of those beer geniuses is Gene Muller, the owner and founder of Somerdale’s Flying Fish Brewing Company. Muller has been submitting his craft beers for competition since 2007, but has been attending the festival since the 90s. Since joining the competitive side, Flying Fish has notched five medals at the GABF, including a gold medal in 2009 for their Exit 4 Trippel and a silver medal at last year’s competition for OktoberFish.

While Flying Fish won’t have a tasting table at this year’s festival, they will be competing again. We talked with Muller in anticipation of the GABF to hear just what preparation goes into the country’s biggest beer competition.

DrinkPhilly.com: What is it like to prepare for the Great American Beer Festival?
Gene Muller: The toughest thing for us is that the beers have to be shipped and arrive there a month before the judging. As its grown, the timelines have extended. I can’t even imagine the hoops the folks have to jump through to get everything organized. And obviously the fresher beer is, the better represented we are. We are always trying to anticipate how the hop character is going to hold up or anticipate what one will taste better after 30 days.

DP: So how do you anticipate that?
GM: For a small brewery there’s always differences. Wineries have it easy. They can say the grapes aren’t that good that year. We’re always dealing with different batches of malt or hops. Sometimes a different batch’s hop flavor can be a little more juicy this time. You kind of have to catch lightning in a bottle.

DP: What do you think judges look for when determining a gold medal winner?
GM: What you think is good may not be what the judges think is good. Take a perennial winter like Troegenator: That has won big several times, but sometimes it doesn’t. And you have to wonder why, but it’s all up to what the judges were looking for that day. And I’ve done beer judging before and it depends when the beer is judged. We get palate fatigue, and everybody deals with that. The quality of beer is higher than it’s ever been, and to me it’s not the end of the world if you don’t win but it’s definitely fun if we do.

DP: What are you presenting this year?
GM: We’re submitting five beers this year: OktoberFish, RedFish, our Extra Pale Ale, Abbey Dubbel and HopFish

DP: How do you decide what to enter?
GM: The tough thing is, our Grand Kru isn’t in production during the GABF cycle. There are certain beers we’ve never entered because they aren’t in the competition window. And that’s always a consideration. So we pick the ones and think about which has the best chance of shipping and packaging and producing the best quality product.

DP: How do you suggest navigating a craft beer festival?
GM: Pick a style, early on while your palate is fresh and stay within that style. The very first time I went was as a beer writer in 1993, and the very first beer I had was Ed’s Cave Creek Chili beer and for the next 45 minutes that’s all I tasted. The other thing that people do is that people go for the trophy beers. They’ll say they want to go for Dogfish or Cigar City or the hot new beers of the moment. But if you’re looking for a good range try several different varieties and talk to people around you, see what they’ve tried and what they’ve loved.

DP: Is the competition really cut throat amongst local brewers?
GM: Usually for the brewers, by the time you get there it’s like a party. You work your booth but you are also catching up with other brewers and seeing how they’re doing. It’s really nice to win but you’re not going to go out of business if you don’t. Especially the Philly area breweries are always rooting for each other, and it’s great for everybody. So if I lose out to another local brewer I’m still excited.

DP: Do you have any beers or breweries to watch for at the festival?
GM: If they’re there I’m a big fan of the Oregon breweries. 10 Barrel [Brewing Company] and Deschutes Brewery are great. Last year I was out there tasting a beer called Hop Drop [n’ Roll] from NoDa Brewing Company and it was one of the freshest beers I’ve ever had. Look for a lot of fresh hop beers while you’re out there too, like from Double Mountain. There’s just so many people out there. There’s 3,500 breweries competing and they’re all making something different.

DP: Do you think that the expanding amount of craft breweries is a problem?
GM: In 1900, the city of philadelphia had 100 breweries and a lot less population. So there’s still an opportunity for growth. And with craft beer, once you start drinking it, you don’t want to go back.

Photo via Flying Fish

 


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