"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!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

GABF 2014: The Festival Itself

Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has once again blown through Denver and, once again, Nicole and I were on-hand to experience the wonder that is America’s premier beer festival.  How does one encapsulate the essence of GABF in a blog post?  Not easily; the festival is multi-faceted, nonlinear, and inconsistent to the narrative storytelling format.  Ergo, I shall recall my experiences via vignettes separated into broad categories: The Festival Itself, The Media Luncheon, and The Awards.

My beer was so manly, my glass sprouted a 'stache
The Festival Itself

·         Do long lines at a booth indicate a particularly good brewery?  Perhaps.  It’s equally likely the meandering queue is the result of hype.  I’m not saying Three Floyds Brewing Co. doesn’t brew stupendous beer (although, if you read one of my recent posts, the attitude of their taproom employees leaves something to be desired) but I am saying Sun King Brewery, only a booth or two down from Three Floyds, is, in my humblest opinion, a superior brewery and featured no line.  On the other hand, the folks in front of Three Floyds might as well have been waiting for a roller coaster at Six Flags.  I get it: Zombie Dust is highly-regarded and people covet the bragging rights that go along with having tasted it.  But, would you rather have a great and famous beer or a great and unknown beer?  Is the thought of a “celebrity” beer really that alluring?  Personally, I prefer to be a trendsetter, not a trend follower so, on that note, might I recommend Sun King’s Kung Pao Brett?  Perhaps their 2014 GABF medalists Lonesome Dove or Barrel Aged 666: Sympathy for the Devil

·         Platt Park Brewing Company, formerly Denver Pearl, poured next to Denver Beer Co. at GABF, Denver Beer being the brewery that recently threatened Platt Park with a trademark infringement lawsuit.  That was probably awkward for both parties but don’t blame the festival organizers; it makes alphabetical sense considering Platt Park registered for GABF under the name “Denver Pearl.”  It was only recently the change of name occurred, after all.  Platt Park probably forgot about their little litigious spat, though, when they took home the silver in the Vienna-Style Lager category.  

Hopefully, these booths were run by objective and unbiased volunteers the whole night.

·         Wish to avoid a Platt Park/Denver Beer Co.-type situation?  Name your brewery something ridiculous so no other brewery could (or would want to) imitate it.  GABF was ripe with absurd brewery and beer names and among my favorites were Belching Beaver Brewery, British Ugly from Four Fathers Brewing, and the suggestively named (to perverted minds e.g. my own) Golden Avalanche Brewing Company.  Technically named for a local college mascot, “Golden Avalanche” sounds more like an intense golden shower (again, I admit it may take a warped individual to make that leap).  Having been in business since 1999, Golden Avalanche has been around too long to operate under a new name.  However, it would be wise to update the logo.  The imagery of cascading, yellow liquid is supposed to be beer, I guess, but looks like, well, let's just say it looks like something else. 

I can't be the only one whose mind went to the gutter, can I?
·         Most people pay the brewers guild booths little mind but that’s a mistake; the booths are staffed by passionate beer geeks with tons of information on their state’s brewing scene and, sometimes, there are fun little activities like the Colorado Brewers Guild’s head-to-head competition between Colorado’s Senate and House of Representatives.  Both governmental entities brewed with local companies—the former with Dry Dock Brewing Co., the latter with Denver Beer Co.—and, when Nicole and I visited, the votes were in a near-tie with the Senate’s Upper Chamber Fresh Hop (originally titled “Burning Down the House” before being deemed a touch too violent) raking in 51% of the constituency and the House’s Representative Saison with 49%.  A family divided, I voted for one and Nicole the other.  UPDATE: the final count had the House winning with 51.9%

The House ended up winning
·         The award for best-dressed brewery reps goes to Short’s Brewing Company.  Donned in snappy, vintage garb, the green-vested, corsage’d pourers matched the brewery’s extravagantly old-fashioned end-cap skinned in distressed wood and worn tin tiles.  With such an eccentric booth, the beer needs to be similarly snazzy and Short’s delivered earning a gold medal for their experimental beer, Key Lime Pie.  That certainly wasn’t their only off-kilter brew.  See also: Bourbon Carrot Cake, Strawberry Short’s Cake, and Schnozzleberry Griffin.

Lookin' sharp, Short's.
·         The one brewery I made absolutely sure to visit was Scratch Brewing Co., the Illinois brewery known for their foraged beers made with items picked from the surrounding woodlands.  This year, Scratch featured an all-gruitlineup—all five of their beers were without hops and instead bittered with the natural flora of the Midwest.  I was not disappointed when I tasted Scratch’s beers.  Craft beer runs a gamut of flavors—bitter, sweet, sour, salty, roasted, toasted, fruity, spicy,…etc.—but I was nonetheless surprised as I quaffed Scratch’s wares—I’ve literally never tasted another beer anything like the ones at Scratch.  Each beer was a whirlwind of flavors but, at times, I noticed essences of tea, mint, and general woodsy qualities.  They tasted like the forest floor and I mean that as a high compliment.

Yes, there's such a thing as too many pretzels
·         Beer geeks are generally a likeable bunch.  However, not everybody at GABF is a beer geek.  Some attendees are plain, old jackasses merely looking to get blotto.  This is especially true of the Saturday night session.  On the night in question, Nicole and I, along with usual cohorts Robin and Justin, were weaving through the throngs of revelers, looking for a space to recollect and plan our next move.  To give my diminutive wife a beacon as we navigated the crowd (and because I was feeling silly from the beer), I pressed through with an empty tasting glass held firmly to the crown of my head.  Unbeknownst to me, an over-served young lady made several attempts to dislodge said tasting glass from my noggin.  Mind you, this person was a perfect stranger, not a rambunctious friend of mine.  I’m glad her nefarious plan went unnoticed by me for there might have been an exchange of unkind words.  Robin did notice, though, and uttered a few words of admonishment as she passed the ne’er-do-well.  Friends got to stick up for each other.

Your friendly neighborhood Beer Geek
·         Speaking of Robin, she and Nicole reached milestone Untappd check-ins at GABF; Robin got her 500th beer, Nicole her 1,000thWicked Weed Brewing had the honor of lifting Robin to “Legendary” status but the brewery that gave Nicole her millennial brew shall remain nameless because, to commemorate the occasion, they did something nice but also something against festival rules—they filled Nicole’s taster cup all the way to the top.  Cheers to you, John Doe Brewing!

·         In 2014, GABF fully implemented the Beer Geek squad: roaming craft enthusiasts educating volunteers and assisting attendees in finding beers to match their tastes.  It’s a fantastic program, I think.  Granted, I’m in my element at GABF, I don’t need any assistance, but, just for fun, I’d chat up a Beer Geek and ask him or her for a recommendation or, to give them a challenge, ask for the weirdest beer they’ve had all night.  They certainly delivered on that last question; Brunch Money from Armadillo Ale Works—tasting like liquefied pancakes and syrup—was definitely weird.

·         I saw Charlie Papazian hanging out by the guilds and bothered him for a picture.  That was pretty cool.

Robin, Papazian, and I
·         Memorable beers I haven’t already mentioned: TheHook Up from Tow Yard Brewing Co., a radler/shandy hybrid blended with locally-made (Indianapolis-area) citrus soda.   WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GOSE from Strangeways BrewingSmoked Austoner Weisse from Namaste Brewing, a rauchbier-like Berliner weisse.  Rhubarb Lahey from Deep River Brewing Co., a refreshingly tart and fruity sour beer.  Rosa Gose from Wrecking Bar BrewpubNightbeer Before Christmas from Alameda Brewing Co., a strong, spiced brown ale which, according to the pourer, nobody could properly pronounce (I suppose everybody wanted to call it by the famous movie title from which the beer’s name is inspired; people saw the beer’s name on the sign but they didn’t read it).  Forbidden Root from the brewery of the same name, a root beer flavored beer.  Here Gose Nothin from DESTIHL  Anything and everything at The Rare BarrelThe Earl from CAUTION: Brewing Co., an English mild ale infused with Earl Grey tea. 

Stay tuned for the next GABF 2014 post: The Media Luncheon



Nicole likes this beer name because it reminds her of the TV series Weeds

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