We’re back after a much needed vacation. The week after GABF we took a trip to Maine to visit the in-laws and spend a few days after just for ourselves. We actually exceeded our planned visits to breweries there and a post on them is coming next. But before that, enjoy our recollections on this year’s best brewfest in the world.
Do you remember what you were doing 30 years ago? If you’re like me, you are old enough to recall that year, but it was an age that was so rich and full you’d have a tough time calling up all of the memories from then.
I’m sure that the founders of the Great American Beer Festival recall the first years with fondness and nostalgia. I’m also fairly certain they are proud of the prestige it garners not only with the breweries that participate, but also with the medals awarded, and definitely among the craft beer lovers who travel from all parts of the country specifically for it. Another measure of its increasing popularity is the number of ancillary events that have sprung up during the week, many of which are benefits for worthy causes, such as Beer for Boobs, The Great COntenders, and Pints for Prostates, just to name a few.
For the past decade tickets for GABF have been increasingly tough to come by, and this year was no exception, selling out in a record seven days. Whether this was because of the 30th anniversary, the increased enthusiasm for craft beer, or a cosmic conjunction of the beer gods, I don’t know; your guess is as good as mine. Luckily, I didn’t wait like most years, and instead bought my tickets during the AHA presale. I was also lucky enough to have bought my ticket for the Pints for Prostates early on as well.
Even though the myriad of beer events called out, we were forced to limit our enjoyment of the week to just the Thursday night session, and the P for P event. A ridiculous amount of work at my job, the expense of the number of beer events we’ve attended so far this year, and an upcoming trip all conspired to curtail our attendance to anything more.
The patio at Falling Rock was bursting at the seams, as would be expected, as I left work that Thursday afternoon and made my way to meet the wife at Freshcraft and a bite to eat. I was stopped at the door because of the beer hordes filling every nook and cranny there and anywhere else that is even remotely beer related in Denver. Even with the wife sitting in sight at a table in the bar area, an empty chair beckoning, I was barred from entry by the hostess; they were at capacity. Fortunately it was only a couple of minutes before the place lost a few more patrons, and the gate keeper granted access.
Sipping a Compass IPA and a Left Hand Milk Stout, both on nitro, we dug into an outstanding Reuben for myself, and a French Dip for the wifey. The whole while watching many of the yellow-tagged brewery owners, reps, and brewers piled in.
The anticipation for the first night of GABF lifted the mood everywhere downtown as we made our way to the convention center; light-hearted beer banter filling the air on the streets and the 16th Street Mall shuttle. And the feeling only heightened as we got in line for the members only entrance.
A virtual craft beer Mardi Gras, the lobby was awash in various costumes and accoutrements adorning the crowd waiting to get in; the highlight being a Where’s Waldo attired group. This was the first year I bought the Members Only tickets, and I must say it was much nicer waiting inside than out on the street with the sea of festival goers.
Like a crowd of general admission ticket holders at a rock concert, but much better behaved, we flowed into the hall for the first tastings of the night. We opted for Bear Republic to start since the California booths were located this year right at the entrance, and we were lucky to get those first tastes. It seems they had let us in early and a number of the volunteers were sticking by the “no beer until 5:30” instructions they were given. By the time we had made it to the Colorado section, the word had been passed that it was okay to start serving.
We made our rounds checking in with friends and acquaintances throughout the Colorado booths getting sips of a number of favorites and new offerings. Boone from Bristol Brewing said they were still on track for a Summer 2012 opening in their new location; John from Strange Brewing related that they were very happy with their new seven barrel system; and business is booming for Dan and Chris from Pikes Peak Brewing who have been releasing new beers in a steady stream.
In the course of our meandering through the Colorado booths we ran across Colorado Boy Brewery from Ridgway, chatting with the owner, Tom Hennesy, while enjoying some very good traditional English ales. The conversation, in addition to the beers, impressed us so much that we easily committed to visiting them next Summer during our already planned trip to the Western Slope.
As we made our way out to sample the other regions, we met up with Mike Laur of the Beer Drinker’s Guide to Colorado, and easily expressed our appreciation of his map. As has been stated numerous times in this blog, if you live in Colorado, or are planning to visit our state, this map is indispensable if you plan on sampling our breweries; the coupons alone make it worth the price. If our discussions come to fruition, look for some collaborations between us sometime in the future.
A key region that we wanted to sample because of an upcoming vacation was New England, and while we ended up not visiting any of them on our trip, we were still impressed by many of those we tasted. The key stand-out for myself was Evolution Brewing out of Delaware. Their double IPA can stand on its own against many of the hop bombs out here in the West.
As the night wore on and our endurance wore out, we prepared to leave and stopped in at the Anniversary Pavilion, hosting most of the 22 breweries who participated in the very first GABF. In truth, we sampled only a couple of the beers there, but enjoyed the banter with the servers about how the festival has grown.
Friday came a little bleary eyed, enough so that I forgot to insert the memory card for the camera before I left for the event; but I was still enthusiastic for the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer event. I looked forward to not only tasting the beers, but also meeting a fellow Denverite who comments on the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, Alex. When I met up with him and another compatriot, the line for the event stretched around the block. As we acquainted ourselves, festival goers roamed up and down the line dressed almost as flamboyantly as at GABF the night before.
Held upstairs in the pool hall, the brewers ranged throughout the second floor. We made a beeline to Cigar City based upon what Alex had heard about their beers, and we were well rewarded. The Neilsbohrium Rum Barrel-Aged Imperial Raisin Sweet Stout, a collaboration with Mikkeller, was mellow, yet full-bodied and complex. The chocolate undertones complemented every taste, the raisin tones not at all overpowering. It became all of ours favorite, even after the many varied beers we would have over the course of the afternoon.
Two breweries who, in my opinion, are over-hyped, actually had some great offerings. Dogfish Head’s 2004 Olde School barleywine was nice and mellow with just a hint of dates and the original hoppiness. Stone’s Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (aged in Stranahan’s barrels) also impressed with its slight smokiness.
It quickly became apparent that Belgian beer lovers would be more happy here than those of us with more main stream palettes. A few were totally off the mark to my taste. The Agrestic Ale from Firestone Walker was more like a tart cider, while Sam Adam’s Utopias tasted more of a cherry whiskey to me. Weighing in at over 27% ABV, the Utopias definitely has its fans, I’m just not one of them.
While I could rave on and on about some of the other beers I liked from Great Divide, New Holland, and Nebraska Brewing, I’ll finish with the most unique brew of the day for me; Cuvee de la Crochet Rouge from Brooklyn Brewery. Aged in wine barrels with lees from two different wines, the beer was nearly effervescent. The wild yeasts used also contributed to the overall unbeer-like esters. Like the Utopias, I’m not sure if I would classify this as beer, but I definitely liked it.
Friday afternoon came to a close after a visit to Euclid Hall with Alex and his two fellow homebrewers, Jeff and Liles. As we compared notes from the event over housemade sausages, sinfully tasty marrow, and beers (the Avery double IPA a winner for me); we all agreed that it had been an event to remember.