"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!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Great American Beer Festival 2013

Saturday night session attendees start to pour in
There’s no convincing me that Denver is anything less than the greatest beer city in America.  While “greatest” may technically be a qualitative, unsubstantiated designation, in my mind, it’s a scientific conclusion.  On many levels, Denver ties for greatest beer city; there are other cities with as many (or more) breweries, there are other cities that have renowned, influential breweries, and there are other cities that have their public image tied-in with beer.  It’s all give and take; where one city lacks, another excels thus presenting a dead heat.  Until, of course, you consider the tie-breaking element which shatters the “everybody’s a winner!” mentality like a beer bottle in a bar brawl: the biggest selection of American craft beer in the world, the Super Bowl of brewing competitions, the envy of all other beer cities, Great American Beer Festival (GABF)!

San Diego, Portland, Asheville,…etc.: you can crow all you want about your beer scene and, honestly, I agree; you all have wonderful beer.  Nonetheless, if you want to prove yourself to the beer-drinking nation, you got to come to Denver—to GABF!  Here are a few highlights from the most epic beer festival to grace this earth.

·         It has become my custom in recent years to attend both the Thursday and Saturday night sessions.  Thursday is essentially the Saturday afternoon members-only session except with non-members: people are a little more serious about the craft, they’re there to talk, sip, and savor fine beer, and there’s much less puking, shoving, and yelling “Oooooooh!” every time somebody drops a plastic tasting cup on the concrete floor.  Saturday, on the other hand, is composed mostly of people that give beer geeks a bad name: machismo frat bros, skanky-looking girls, and people slamming craft beer with complete disregard to the art and history that went behind its creation.  Thursday is for beer geeks, Saturday is for beer chuggers, and I find the dichotomy of the two nights endlessly fascinating.

·         Since Nicole and I received media passes, we were admitted early entrance.  During the Saturday night session, as our friends waited in line outside, we witnessed a very different GABF than most people are used to seeing: the transition from one session to another.  The members-only session had ended and the convention center staff and GABF volunteers where frantically cleaning up the place—picking up broken glass, mopping vomit, and riding their Zamboni-esque vacuum cleaners—only to have it befouled again once the Saturday night attendees arrived.  It’s an unearthly experience too see GABF so quiet, un-crowded, and well lit.  It’s like a ghost town; the booths are all set-up and ready but there’s nobody jostling for a sample.  Eerie.    
·         One piece of advice I can impart upon a GABF newbie is that, if you’re looking to sample from a popular brewery, move fast!  I’m native to Indiana and, on the Thursday session, I really wanted to try some Hoosier-made beers.  While I didn’t necessarily rush to get to Three Floyds Brewing Co., I didn’t put it off until the end of the night, either.  Yet, amazingly, all of their beers were tapped out within 90 minutes of the doors opening!  We managed to get a few tastes very early Saturday night but, if you’re only attending one session, plan your time accordingly.  

·         Each year, I find one or two standout beers from the most inconspicuous of breweries.  This year, my hat goes off to Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland, CO and their Greener’s Gruit Ale.  Gruit ales—hop-less beers of Scottish origin that balance the sweetness of malts with herbs and spices such as rosemary, berries, and spruce—are a rare find in the famously hop-headed U.S.  It makes a Colorado beer geek proud to see such a niche style being made at a tiny brewery in a secluded mountain town; most breweries of Very Nice’s size and location wouldn’t bother with such esoteric beers but, in Colorado, everybody’s an adventurous brewer.  Quick history lesson: it’s not just gruits, most beers from Scotland have little to no hops.  Why?  Even though contemporary Scotland and England are both under the U.K. umbrella, the two regions share a bloody history (remember Braveheart?) and the centuries-old conflict has left residual resentment.  In England, hops are prolific while Scotland’s northern climate prevents any such crop from growing meaning that, if a brewery in Scotland wanted hops, they had to do business with the English.  A traditional Scottish brewer would refuse to “taint” his beer with the plants from those minky basturts down south.

·         I noticed that Sixpoint Brewery was in attendance and—cheeky S.O.B.s—they brought Righteous Ale; the beer for which they gave Renegade Brewing Company so much headache (click here for the story).  I had to give it a try, see what the fuss was all about.  I walked up to the booth, bit my tongue hard as the brewery rep poured my sample, and gave it a sip.  I’m not just saying this because I think the Sixpoint executive team is composed of a bunch of d-bags, I actually, truly, honestly think that their Righteous Ale is swill when compared to the once similarly-named IPA from Renegade. 
·         I’m a fan of sour beers and, as a proud German-American, I like to get my hands on a good Berliner Weisse whenever possible.  As much as I love Berliner Weisse, I’ve never had it the true Berlin way: with Himbeere (raspberry syrup) or Waldmeister (woodruff syrup) to cut the acidic tartness.  Woodfour Brewing Company let me experience what I’ve been missing out on all these years.  While they didn’t have woodruff, they had a squirt bottle of raspberry syrup which they put in the glass prior to pouring the beer.  It’s an interesting way to drink a Berliner Weisse and not altogether unpleasant but, if I order a sour beer then, dammit, I want it to be sour!  The syrup is a cool gimmick but I’ll take my beer straight, thank you very much.  

·         To give myself a plan rather than wander aimlessly about the convention center, I tweeted out to the world asking for recommendations from each region of the United States.  It is, of course, the Great American Beer Festival and I wanted to know the best of the best in each corner of the nation.  I came fairly close to tasting all the recommendations and, while I won’t be specific, some folks are lucky to live near such fantastic beer.  In regards to the other folks, well, if that’s the best beer from your area then, good God, your craft beer scene has some catching up to do.

Cool German/Colorado hybrid; I wish they were das Boot-sized, though

·         GABF is more than just a giant tasting event, it’s also a competition.  I admit, I put very little credence into beer judging; I think people’s palates vary too widely for anybody to say with any certainty that one beer is better than another.  That said, I still like gloating over how Colorado is better than everybody else so here’s a few quick statistics from the 2013 GABF results.  Including all medals (gold, silver, and bronze), California won the most with 52, Colorado was second with 46, and Oregon was third with 25.  If you only count gold medals, however, Colorado is first with 19, California is second with 16, and Oregon is third with 10.  Celebrate your 36 silvers and bronzes all you want, Cali, it just means you came in second and third a lot.  Colorado focused on the medal that really counts; we have the most champions!  It’s said that it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, but, with more gold medals than any other state, Colorado actually has the highest quantity of quality. 
Some beers run out quicker than others
And so another GABF has come and gone, the out-of-towners have shuffled home, and Denver is in detox mode.  It’s always a bit of a let-down, the days following GABF, like the day after Christmas; there’s a big build-up and then, suddenly, nothing.  There’s frantic activity followed immediately by the calm.  It’s depressing.  However, that depression is easily overcome in America’s best beer city, where beer festivals are as common as BBQ in Kansas City, Taxis in New York, or mopey musicians in Seattle.  GABF is over but the beer still flows!  I’ll see you at the next event, Denver.



This year was the third time I attended GABF; the first year was overwhelming, the second year I mapped out the must-have beers to better utilize my time, and this year I concentrated on pumpkin beers.  When people in our group scattered about the room to find their next sample, I walked from booth to booth, read the signs, searching for new pumpkin beers (or old ones I already knew I liked).  Occasionally, I’d try a sour, an IPA (usually only if I liked the name), or something experimental and reminiscent of a holiday dessert.  Two of my favorite beers of GABF come from Ohio’s Rivertown Brewing Company meaning that, unfortunately, I can only find them at GABF or on a summer road trip.  I lover their Roebling Imperial Robust Porter which tastes like a fudgy brownie topped with vanilla ice cream as well as their Pumpkin Ale.  I enjoy a good dessert so it only makes sense that I would like these sweet, decadent beers.  Along those lines, another stand-out was the Gingerbread Stout from Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.  I think I had five or six samples of this beer alone; I enjoyed it that much.

I’d like to give a shout-out to Weasel Boy Brewing Company in Zanesville, OH—my godfather’s hometown.  I tasted their Snow Ermine Honey Vanilla Porter just so I could tell him I had a beer from his hometown.  It tasted like Christmas in a glass and I had to get several re-fills because I don’t know the next time I’ll pass through Zanesville.

One of my favorite breweries for pumpkin beers is Elysian Brewing Co., from Seattle.  They brought Dark O’ the Moon which puts a very spicy, cinnamon-y twist on the pumpkin beer style.  The next time I pick up this beer, I’m using it to make homemade chocolate ice cream.

It wouldn’t be GABF without some of the most popular, domestic beers.  Until this year, I had never tried Coors Banquet and, to keep with the macrobrewery theme, I also had some Miller High Life and Budweiser.  I’m not going to buy these beers so I might as well sample them when they’re available; they’re still good for Untappd credits. 


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