"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, October 15, 2012

Great American Beer Festival 2012: Pt. 1

It’s that time of the year when beer bloggers—and especially Colorado beer bloggers—are presented with a plethora of possible post topics and little time to actually write said post: it’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF) time!  As if 580 breweries and 2,500+ beers in one space isn’t enough to keep fingers of beer journalists typing at hypersonic speeds there’s also Denver Beer Fest, a city-wide celebration of suds.  Suffice to say, Nicole and I have been very busy and we regret not being able to keep the blog current.  Scratch that, we’re not that remorseful; with all the beer-y good times we’ve been having lately it’s hard to feel sorry about anything.

The shenanigans commenced on October 5th with Mayor Hancock tapping his beer at Denver Beer Co. and they continued into the next day with the Cultivate Festival which, while not being a pure beer festival and not being sponsored by GABF or the Denver Beer Fest, featured enough local craft beer to warrant mentioning in this blog.  Those events, however, were simply warm-ups—stretching exercises before the big game.

I’ve been to three GABF’s before this year but, until 2012, I’ve never been to a Thursday night session.  I’ve always heard Thursday is the best night for beer geeks because the convention floor isn’t crowded with punk-ass frat bros just looking to get smashed.  Instead, the crowd consists mainly of aficionados that take their time and *gasp* actually taste beer rather than slamming it (aficionados still get smashed, of course, but that’s secondary).  In short, Thursday is for true believers and Saturday is for “party people.”  Nicole was unable to attend Thursday but we both went to the Saturday night session regardless of its reputation.

On Thursday, all the volunteers and brewery reps are fresh and rested and happy to talk with guests whereas, during the last night of GABF, they’re worn out and irritated from the constant revelry.  The uncorrupted energy and enthusiasm meant I could chat briefly with reps from BRU Handbuilt Ales and with my personal brewing mentor Tom Hennessy of Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery who expressed mock outrage that one of his former students who opened Echo Brewing Company may defeat him in the Irish-Style Red Ale category, a category in which Tom takes a lot of pride.  The student has indeed become the teacher: Echo took bronze and Colorado Boy was shut-out.  He was rushing to his booth and not able to talk long but I also intercepted CAUTION: Brewing Company’s Danny Wang in the aisle and even saw Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver bustle past at the end of the night like he was trying to beat the crowds.

The Bull & Bush Shriners
Other non-brewing beer people with whom I made contact with include Mike the BrewDad who Nicole and I met at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis, Jeff Blackburn who made his award winning homebrew saison with Funkwerks (which won Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year) last year, “Chipper Dave” Butler of Fermentedly Challenged, and Steve Kurowski of the Colorado Brewers Guild.  Is it  pure luck that I recognize so many individuals in a tremendous crowd?  I like to think it’s because Nicole and I've made so many contacts through beer blogging that, no matter where we go, we’re bound to see people we know.  We’re part of the club now; we have “arrived” as they say.

Always some characters at the silent disco
It’s a task trying to remember the best beers at GABF: one drinks a large variety of beers in short time, it’s nearly impossible keeping it mentally organized.  One’s compromised sobriety doesn’t help memory, either.  Luckily, because I had tickets for more than one night, I didn’t feel as rushed as previous years.  I paced myself and, when possible, marked the names of the beers I was drinking. 

I made a concerted effort to drink at Sun King Brewery early since, due to high demand, they tapped out of almost everything last year.  To my very pleasant surprise, they were serving Popcorn Pilsner—I’ve been searching for that beer for over a year!  The eponymous ingredient is grown by my second cousins and, because of that familial connection, I’ve been on the hunt for this specific beer.  Unfortunately, every time I’m in Indianapolis it’s either too early or too late for the popcorn harvest.  I never thought the first time I’d drink Popcorn Pilsner would be in Denver!

Any Coloradoan worthy of the demonym has indulged in a dish of Rocky Mountain oysters (AKA bull testicles) at least once in his or her life and, although I’m a transplant, I’m still a proud mountain man and have experienced such a meal.  That’s why I wasn’t as grossed out by Wynkoop Brewing Company’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout as were so many flat-lander beer geeks; it tasted essentially like a smoked stout—no discernible ball taste whatsoever (not that I'm the expert).  It’s actually a mighty appetizing brew but, please, do me a favor—don’t quip it has a “nutty” flavor. I’ve seen about a thousand internet comments of people making that same lame pun. 
Even Wynkoop makes dumb puns

I’d never had a beer from Cigar City Brewing before but I’ve heard fantastic reviews; I had to give them a try.  Everybody else at the festival must have had the same idea—the line at their booth looked a mile long!  However, my press pass gave me special privileges.  I forwent the wait and had myself a Cucumber Saison from the side of the booth.  Other than a homebrew I made about a year ago, this was the first cucumber beer I’d tasted and dammit if it’s not one of the most refreshing beers I’ve ever experienced.

I reiterate “one of the most refreshing beers” because Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer from 21st Amendment Brewery—which I’ve been trying to track down for an even longer time than Popcorn Pilsner—also has near-superhuman powers of thirst quenching.  The watermelon flavor is quite pronounced. 

Only a few booths over from 21st Amendment was Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits serving Habanero Sculpin IPAI had a Sculpin on nitro at the taproom last year and the addition of habanero intrigued me.  Heat wimps need not apply, you can taste every bit of that hot pepper although the bittering hops do much to keep the burn in check.

A few briefs mentions of other standouts beers: Wildland Sour from Pumphouse Brewery & Restaurant, Helles Keller (a standout because of its oh-so-wrong but oh-so-funny name) from Fredericksburg Brewing Company, Inc., Kashmir Godzilla from Bluegrass Brewing Company, and almost everything at Rivertown Brewing Company.

After GABF,  I went to Blake Street Tavern for Oskar Blues Brewery’s new package release party.  Oskar Blues rocked the craft beer world when they put their beer in aluminum cans and now they’re ruffling more feathers with their new monstrously-sized 19.2 ounce extra-tallboy cans; seriously, these things look like a cylinder of Pringles!  The new packaging—complete with ten tick marks to mark Oskar Blues’ tenth anniversary—was impressive but the real reason I was at Blake Street was to get my hands on The Deuce, the latest collaboration between Oskar Blues and Sun King.  The Deuce, like its predecessor Chaka, is served in resalable, artillery shell cans that almost dwarf the new 19.2 ouncers (almost).  A “hopped up brown ale,” The Deuce is much more “hopped up” than it is “brown”; it is all hops and hardly any of the sweet or nutty or chocolate-y qualities usually found in brown ales.  Aside from it not being pale, The Deuce is essentially an IPA with mega-aromas of pine and a flavor that’s almost minty.
Big, new cans

Before I left I also said hi to Win Bassett from All About Beer Magazine and the NC Brewers Guild who, like BrewDad, I also met at the Beer Bloggers Conference.  It was a loud and dark room and it'd been several months since he last saw me so I'm not sure if he recognized me right away.  That's why I always greet casual acquaintances by first saying my name and where it was we met.  If I'm wearing a hat, I take that off, too.  This strategy helps make the conversation progress less awkwardly; the other person doesn't have to pretend they remember you.   

That’s one night of GABF down and one to go.  Stay tuned for posts about Friday’s media luncheon, the awards ceremony, and the Saturday night session.

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Best beer art ever? Yes.  Yes, it is.

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