In recent years beer festivals have become like the rock concerts of my youth. The hunt for tickets for an event that you absolutely know is going to sell out. The anticipation of the crowd waiting to get in. The euphoria of the experience once you get in.
Taking that analogy one step further, GABF is like the multiday mega music festival where all of the current headliners perform; the local beer festivals are akin to the big bands coming through town; and the Firkin Rendezvous is like the rare performance by the supergroup composed of performers from every band you follow religiously.
This year’s festival, a benefit for the Colorado Brewers Guild, and the eighth annual, took place this last weekend on Saturday, February 18th at Bristol Brewing bringing delight and good times to the Colorado craft beer faithful.
Knowing that we’d be enjoying a considerable amount of beer, we made reservations at the Hilton Antlers in downtown Colorado Springs and took a taxi over to Bristol after parking the car for the duration. We lucked out in hailing a cab from Spring Cab, a mom and pop company that just started nine month ago; the service from our driver Shannon was outstanding and the fare cheap (they charge $1 a mile less than everyone else in town). We arrived with time to spare and far less stress than a lot of the cabs we take here in Denver.
The taproom was about half full when we entered, nearly everyone waiting to get in to the early VIP session. The wife and I always go for the early, more expensive sessions for any of the festivals we go to. We find that it’s well worth the extra money allowing us to actually talk with brewers and owners in a less crowded, more laid back atmosphere.
And it paid off for us as usual. With the smaller crowd, most of brewers were milling about because of the fewer requests for fills. The better than average commemorative short glasses were generously filled in record time by the brewers who were currently manning the firkin front lines. As we sampled the first tastes of the afternoon, we could carry on conversations with everyone from Tim of Strange Brewing, to Chris from Pikes Peak Brewing, meet Jeff from Royal Gorge Brewing, and gush to Jason from Trinity Brewing how much we loved his beers, food, and philosophy.
But while the brewers are usually the stars, that day they were more like roadies for the varied beers they brought for the event. And an all star line-up it was.
There has been tremendous buzz recently about the soon to be released Deviant Dales Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewing. A more hopped up version of the mainstay Dales Pale Ale, the anticipation for this beer has reached near critical mass. OB brought a double dry hopped version of the Deviant that day, and it was exalted by all who tried it. When comparing notes with everyone during the course of the afternoon, from the brewers to people recently met, it ranked at or near the top of everyone’s list that afternoon. The full bodied hop monster gave different flavor notes with every sip and every portion of the palate it covered.
Second on my list was a surprise for both the wife and I; a disappointment for her and a hidden gem for me: Avery’s New World Porter with Columbus Hops. A dark beer with very pronounced grassy hop flavors, it has to be the best porter I’ve ever had since I like porters in very limited quantities. One can only hope that they begin brewing this on a regular basis.
On the love it or hate list was Strange Brewing’s Lavender Saison aged on cherries. With a nose bordering on perfume, the beer was extremely complex, but evoked diverse reactions based upon personal taste. Neither the wife or I liked it, which is rare for us with Strange’s beers. Alyssa, the bartender at Trinity and her husband (a rep for New Belgium) split on their opinions of the brew as well. Tim definitely isn’t afraid to push the boundaries, and that’s what makes it an adventure to try everything he and John brew.
The wife’s top two of the day was Wynkoop’s Coconut Milk Stout and Pikes Peak Brewing’s Summit House Whiskey Stout. The milk stout had just a hint of coconut that complimented, rather than overpowered the dark notes.It’s been our experience that in the quest to add flavor to a beer, a good number of brewers err on the side of too much, when just a little will do; the Koop balanced it just right.
The Summit Whiskey Stout came across smooth and creamy, the whiskey tones rounding out the taste very well. It had much in common with my top draught pick of 2011, the Breckenridge 20th ESB, great woody tones on top of full bodied, complex dark malt.
Among the bottom choices of most people we talked to was Dry Dock’s Chocolate Raspberry Porter, even from self-professed fruit beer lovers. The berry was so cloying that it overwhelmed any taste evident from the other flavors. That, to me, is part of the fun of festivals like this, you never know what you’re going to get. Brewers push limits they normally wouldn’t dare since the quantity they brew for firkins is much smaller. If something goes wrong, or doesn’t come out as expected, it’s just 10 gallons down the drain rather than 10 barrels.
Another aspect is the uncertainty due to fate, as was evident with my most anticipated beer of the event, Ska Brewing’s Modus Head, a hopped up version of their mainstay, and one of my favorites, Modus Hopperandi. The bag that the brewer had used to contain the wet hops had burst sometime between filling and tapping, producing a green granular mess that was literally undrinkable. Since they had used pellet hops, a sludge of residue poured out of the cask offering a verdant Fuck You to those of us eagerly awaiting the tapping. Hopefully they’ll try again next year, or sometime sooner, so us Modus-heads can get our fix. May I suggest whole hops next time? Just saying.
By the end of the day we managed to try three-fourths of the beers brought, the majority of which we liked. Great Divide and Trinity’s double IPAs were excellent and near the top of what I enjoyed from the offerings. Reading the ingredients of Trinity’s Slap Your Mammy, I was extremely skeptical seeing tangerine and hibiscus, but as with all good brewers, they enhanced rather than overpowered.
I also have to mention the host brewery, Bristol Brewing and their fellow Springs brewer Kevin Baity Kraft Beers who brought contenders with a dry hopped IPA and premium bitter. Odell’s version of a coconut stout was high on the list for the wife also.
In the end it was all about drinking great craft beer while talking to brewers, fellow festival goers, and friends from long ago that we’ve recently reconnected with. When we buy a new calendar for next year, we will circle the date for this event, anticipating the unique beers and fun we’ll have with friends both known and yet to meet.