"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pre-Gaming the Great American Beer Festival

Did you get your Great American Beer Festival tickets?  No?  They sold out before you could get any?  Well, that’s okay; it probably wouldn’t be that fun anyway.  I mean, the place is a mess of people, you only get a sampler-sized glass, and the tickets are totally overpriced—you definitely don’t get what you paid for.  I really wouldn’t worry about it; you’re better off not going and just staying home.

Are you buying any of this?

Okay, okay, I can’t keep up the charade.  The GABF is great!  It’s the most fun a beer loving person can have!  Everybody who has ever glanced at this blog needs to make immediate plans to attend next year’s festival if you’re not already going this year.  If you find yourself lying on your deathbed without having gone to GABF at least once then your life did not reach its fullest potential.  I don’t care how much money you made, how many beautiful women you bedded, or how many third-world children you saved from starvation because a life without experiencing GABF is a life wasted.  Yeah, it’s that good.

Ah, nuts.  Now I’ve made you all depressed.  Hey, chin up, bucko.  There’s hope for you yet.  It’s no accident that GABF is held in Denver AKA the Napa Valley of Beer.  If you think this city’s love for craft beer can be contained in one measly event then think again!  As much as a juggernaut the GABF is, it’s still not enough to slake Denver’s thirst.  That’s why we have the third annual Denver Beer Fest wherein local bars, breweries, and restaurants put on special beer-related events in preparation for the culminating event: GABF.  Also, there are numerous other venues hosting their own beer fests that aren’t associated with either GABF or Denver Beer Week; absolutely everybody is getting in on the action!  If GABF is the big high school dance then those of you who couldn’t get tickets can be the nonconformist kids who throw a smaller, looser party together in Stacey Henderson’s garage (her parents are out of town) and take potshots at all the cool kids who’re at prom.

How does one find these smaller beer festivals?  Well, like I said, it isn’t all tied up in one, neat bundle; it’s all scattered about the city.  Look at websites, read the paper, and keep your eyes open for posters; it’s impossible not to find some information.  I, for one, don’t actively search for events—I wait for information to come to me.  Thus far, it has been a successful strategy. 

The first event I attended was the tapping of Sierra Nevada’s Yippie-Rye-Aye at Paramount Café which I heard about via Star Bar’s Beer Cocktail event.  I was schmoozing it up with some of the other attendees—handing out my card and shooting the breeze—and, lo and behold, several weeks later I get an e-mail from Jared, Paramount’s bar manager, about Paramount’s two weeks of GABF lead-up events.  The tapping of Yippie-Rye-Aye, held on Friday, was right in the middle of this two week event.  Unfortunately, Scott Cargile from Sierra Nevada was supposed to be there for a meet-and-greet but, by the time we arrived, he had already left.  Nevertheless, the beer was still there so I ordered myself a pint.

Yippie-Rye-Aye is a clear, rusty brown-red (I’m only guessing about the color since I was at the back of the bar and I wasn’t getting much ambient light) and it has a faint, nearly imperceptible aroma.  What is noticeable on the nose—however difficult it is to root out—is definitely rye.  The flavors are, likewise, ethereal and light with no bitterness.  The mouthfeel continues the trend by making the experience similar to that of drinking a fluffy white cloud: very light in body.  Yippie-Rye-Aye isn’t a beer that will challenge the drinker’s palate but it is a good, solid, sessionable brew recommended for any beginning-of-fall outdoor gatherings. 

Nicole and I intend to visit Paramount Café at least one more time before this two-week event comes to completion.

I also had the privilege of visiting Hops & Pie for their monthly Denver’s Littlest Big Beer Fest (DLBBF) which, this time, featured Upslope Brewing Company.  Sure, Hops & Pie holds this event year-round thus dismissing any inkling that it might be affiliated with Denver Beer Week or GABF but it’s hard to not consider it a pre-GABF event when it’s held during this time of the year.  I heard about this event through Luke, the Upslope sales and marketing associate who read my Examiner.com review of Craft Lager and asked that I attend the DLBBF showcasing several of their non-canned, non-distributed beers on tap: Coffee and Vanilla Bean Cask-Conditioned Brown Ale (6.7% ABV), Kolsch (5.7% ABV), Pumpkin (7.3% ABV), and Randalized India Pale Ale (Fresh Hopped) (7.2% ABV).  I happily obliged.
From left to right: India Pale Ale, Pumpkin, Kolsch, Brown Ale

Coffee and Vanilla Bean Cask-Conditioned Brown Ale is dark in color—like stained wood or Diet Coke—but possesses a clarity that makes it possible to see through.  The vanilla in this beer packs a punch but the coffee flavors, though fainter than the vanilla, can be tasted from the first sip to the last swallow.  The decadence of this beer makes it straddle the line between drink and dessert.

Kolsch is perhaps the least deviant of the four beers; while it is still a very good beer, it isn’t as adventurous as the others.  Kolsch is a clear, champagne yellow in color; it almost looks colorless (especially when viewed next to the other, darker-bodied beers).  The aroma houses a lemon-like scent that is likely derived from the Hersburcker hops used in its creation.  There is little to no bitterness in Kolsch and instead features the sweetness of the grains.  It is light, refreshing, and very dry. 
Like Brown Ale, Pumpkin is situated in the overlapping section of the Beer/Dessert Venn diagram.  It is slightly hazy and it takes an intense stare to see through it.  The color of Pumpkin is (appropriately) orange with red highlights.  When viewed through a strong light source, it looks as though the colors are layered: red on top and orange on bottom with a smooth blending zone in between.  This beer is straight-up pumpkin pie complete with nutmeg and vanilla.  Some people like their pumpkin beers to have a subtle hint of the titular flavor while others want a whole pie in the face.  This beer is for those who lean towards the latter. 
Randalized India Pale Ale is a fresh hopped beer which means the flavor and aroma of the hops get a boost.  This IPA certainly has the flavor and aroma but what it doesn’t have is a vicious, bitter bite; this one is for hop wimps who don’t want a beer with bite but still want that piney, grassy hop taste.  The color is dark yellow and slightly cloudy.  

As good as the beers were—and they were all quite good—the best part of any event is the people.  Nicole and I had a ball of a time talking shop with the other attendees who sat on our end of the bar.  We talked about the best beers we’ve had, the best breweries in town, homebrewing tips, caring for hop plants, and tasting notes and how they compare from person to person.  It was a total beer geek conversation and I loved every minute of it!  We got to talking so much that I found out that one of the fellow attendees is friends with the mother of a few kids with whom I went to high school.  I went to high school in Indiana so that’s pretty amazing.  Now, it’s not as if I really knew those kids but the smallness of our world still surprises me.
We also got to chit-chat a bit with Luke as well as with Matt, the founder of Upslope.  They were both affable chaps and I hope to see them again at Upslope’s third anniversary party on November 5th. 

Even after the great beers and the pleasant conversations, the highlight of the event was yet to come.  I was wearing—as I oftentimes do—my “Indiana Drinking Team” t-shirt from Sun King Brewery which features the Indiana state flag with a beer bottle substituted for the torch.  I obviously love my Colorado beers but I want to support my home state brews, too, so I often wear this shirt to beer events.  I also wear it around the house a lot because I just plain like the shirt.  This unhealthy attachment to my garments made a conundrum out the following series of events.
As we were about to leave, Luke stopped me and asked how much it would take for me to give him my shirt.  As odd as this conversation-starter was, I didn’t ask questions at first; I just tried to get the best deal possible.  I let him know that I really liked the shirt and that it would take a lot for me to give it up.  Being a sales and marketing associate, Luke knows how to haggle and sweeten a deal.  For one Sun King shirt I could get a) an Upslope shirt, b) an Upslope can coozie, c) an Upslope pint glass, d) a metal Upslope sign, and e) a free six pack. 

It was nice knowing you, shirt.  May your new owner treat you with the love and respect you deserve.
I changed out of my Sun King shirt, put on a paint-stained shirt Nicole happened to have in her car, and handed my pride and joy over to Luke.  I didn’t get everything promised in the deal right away because not everything was immediately at hand but I got your contact info, Luke, so don’t you renege on me.

I found out later that Luke wanted my shirt so that he could impress an Indiana-born girl he was meeting later that day so here’s hoping that my shirt led to some corn-fed, Hoosier lovin’.
GABF or no GABF, Denver beer geeks can still sip and savor the finest beers the craft world has to offer; you just have to keep your eyes open for them.  And wear a cool shirt.  You never know when it will come in handy.


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