Life has not slowed down after the Great American Beer Festival for any of us in the Crew, much less for the brewers and brewery owners around town. In an effort to still catch up with most of the medal winners, I managed to track down our last missing first-time winner, head brewer Rob Whitlock of Starr Brothers, late last week.
Then I went to Denver again and saw an epic metal show. Now that my hearing has recovered enough to transcribe the interview, here is what Rob had to say after Starr Brothers brought back its first GABF medal, a bronze for Lampshade Porter in the Other Strong Beer category.
“You go in hoping for the best, but you’re ready for the letdown,” Rob said. “Every time I looked down when they got to one of our categories. I don’t look at the (video) board. I heard them say, ‘Lampshade Porter, Starr Brothers Brewing Company.’ I was like, ‘what?’ and then I was like, ‘bullshit!’ Then I looked at the board and it was up there on the screen. I was like, ‘Yeah!’”
The Starr Brothers team — Rob, assistant brewer Matthew Pullen, owner John Starr — was sitting on the aisle, so it was an easy walk to the stage to get the medal and the fist bump from the legendary Charlie Papazian. The Boxing Bear staff was also sitting across the aisle and had plenty of colorful, yet supportive words.
“Justin (Hamilton) and those guys were sitting on the other side of the aisle, and they’re (yelling), ‘Fuck yeah, Rob!’” Rob said with a laugh.
Rob had never been a professional brewer when he got the job at Starr Brothers. He was a retired plumber and accomplished home brewer, and he did spend several months as a sort of unpaid intern at Boxing Bear, learning all he could from Justin.
Now it has all paid off. Starr Brothers has already earned recognition for its food, and now it has the beer medal to match, if not surpass those accolades.
“It validates us, it validates my beer, that’s what it does,” Rob said. “I always try to be humble, but I know I make good beer. I have a pretty good palate. I’m never 100-percent happy with it, there’s always things that can be done, it can always be made better, but there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Doing it with a year-round offering is even better.
“This is one of our staples, yeah,” Rob said. “I’ve brewed it a thousand times in my garage before I came down here. It was the first beer we brewed on this system. Over the last year, year-and-a-half, I started whittling away at the recipe, really doing this with it, really dialing it in.”
As many other brewers have learned, it is not only all about the quality of the beer, but what category is chosen.
“I always enter it in robust porter and it always advances (up to a point),” Rob said. “This time I really started looking through the categories. I found Other Strong Beer, and there’s a sub-category Strong American Porter. I read the thing and that description fits Lampshade. It’s going to go up against all these other strong beers, there’s three sub-categories. It made it.”
In the end, all the hard work, from making the beer, to refining the beer, and self-transporting it all the way to Denver, has paid off.
“It just lets me know that I can do it,” Rob said. “You go in there and it’s just overwhelming, the (sheer) number of beers. This is my third GABF and I’ve done one World Beer Cup. You start to think, it’s $160 per beer to enter them, and you go to all this trouble and expense and (think) nothing’s going to happen, but then something happens. I can do it.”
Congrats to Rob and the Starr Brothers team. It is always nice to see so many first-time winners among our breweries (New Mexico had four of the 31 first-time winners, in fact).