That's right friends, today we are heading to the (last) Thursday night session of the largest beer festival in North America, the Great American Beer Festival (henceforth: GABF), and let me tell you, this was a time to be had, and I had it, all of it)).
So leading up to the festival I wanted to do some research so I would know what I was getting myself into. I had never been in the past so I had no idea what I was really walking into. And here are some stats that I found (told in the future tense even though it already happened):
_This is the 29th annual GABF (math would lead us to believe that the first festival was in 1981).
_2,200 beers will be available for tasting (not only is this the largest beer selection of American beers ever served it is also way more than I could ever taste in one 4.5 hour period).
_49,000 attendees expected over the course of the three days.
_And there will be 455 breweries represented in the festival hall.
Armed with that knowledge I climbed into a New Belgium Eventing department truck and a few of us started the drive down to Denver Thursday at about 11am. The session didn't start until 5:30pm but we had some set up to accomplish and lunch had to be eaten as well as some pre-gaming beers to taste at the Falling Rock. When exhibitors pull into the convention center to drop off on Thursday morning it is a busy affair, fork trucks everywhere and probably 15 reefer trucks set up and cooling kegs and there is really only one way in. This way in was guarded by a very serious gentleman that didn't like letting people into the hall. In order to get past him you needed to be armed with your credentials already. Since we just pulled into the load in area we had no lanyards to prove our affiliation and this fellow was bent on keeping us out. We tried pointing to all the pop-up tents and other New Belgium booth making miscellanea as well as our NBB shirts (collars no less) and even our company ID cards, but no-dice, this guy had his instructions and he was living them out to the T. I was going to take a picture to document this event but the gaurdsmith's sense of humor was not as active as I would have liked, so no photo available. Eventually we got lanyards with the proper words typed out on them and we cooly walked past the man with the walkie-talkie and headed over to our booth space for set up. Some of the set up was already accomplished and we showed just in time to finish it off, and boy howdy it looked real nice:
The yellowish light present in this photo was a theme for the night, the whole room was lit like a faded polaroid from 1986, but you get used to it pretty fast. Man, doesn't that booth look great. We had an end-cap booth which allowed for 10 beers to pour rather than the 5 on the row booths, so we had everything from Fat Tire to Eric's Ale and pretty much everything in between. It was great and the eventing crew did a great job pulling off this event, with out them and all of their hard work it would not have been as awesome as it was. But onto the rest of the day.
First stop after set-up: lunch at the Corner Office in the lobby of the lovely Curtis Hotel. As you can tell from the link this is probably the sexiest place to eat lunch in the whole city of Denver, I had a burrito and it was great and I paired it with a Hoptober. The spice of the green chili smothered on the burrito bought out all those hoppy flavors in the beer, but the hops in the Hoptober aren't over the top so the green chili was a flavor I got to enjoy through the whole meal without drowning it in bitter. Lunch done, food layer set, time to start killing the next 1.75 hours before the festival doors open. First (and only) stop: The Falling Rock Taphouse.
This place has beers coming out of their ears. The sheer number of choices can be a bit on the intimidating side but I decided to pick a beer theme for the day so I narrowed the choices down to what was sour. And I had some Sanctification, le Friek, and something else that was a bit like fermented raspberries mixed with drainage water, I don't remember the name of the beer or the brewery, but in the end that might be a good thing. It is at this point that I should bring up my companion for the evening, the Professor:
(You may recall him from here or maybe here). The Professor is a beer lover and an easy going guy so his and I's grouping for the evening was like a leprechaun and a pot of gold getting together underneath a rainbow, perfect, and easy to look at (he is the pot of gold by the way). The professor's plan was to see how fast he could blow out his palette with gigantically hoppy beers, it was going to be fun to watch. At the falling rock we were smelling beer and sipping and enjoying the last big glasses that we would see for some time, from this point on it was going to be 1oz of beer at a time (probably a good idea).
As we walked back from the Falling Rock we were busy talking about the plan for the night and I made a really strong point about how lines make me sad and that I was going to try to not stand in one all night. The Professor thought this idea was a good one and we had an agreement, waiting in lines would be kept to a minimum and we would seek out beers that could be enjoyed without a 4 to 11 minute wait. Easy-peasy, we arrived back at the Convention Center, we walked up the steps into the GABF, and were immediately greeted with this:
That may give you an idea of the crowd at GABF, it's huge and full of people that love beer. And this was at the start of the night, it only got bigger and more rowdy. When you enter the festival hall the volenteers of the event give you a small lexan glass with a 1oz marker on the side to get the pour levels acurate and then you are set out on you way to explore the varities of beer. First stop: New Glarus. It was delicious and sour and at the end of the of a huge line so the Professor's and I's plan about line avoidence was shot in the foot in the first 5 minutes. But once these beers were enjoyed and rated and talked about we went back to our no line policy and for the most part stuck with it. And following is a quick list (list of 5) highlighting a few of my favorites and a few reasons why:
Calabaza Blanca, Jolly Pumpkin. Wood aged Belgian wit, traditional, spiced with orange peel and coriander hint of sour, very good
Gauva grove, Cigar City. Slightly sour, fruity notes. Tasty and refreshing.
Sang Noir, Cascade. Awesome, dark, biting. if you have never had this go find it now (I mean right now).
White Electric Coffee Stout, Trinity Brewing (Rhode Island). 100 IBU'S, this has bitter bite and a good one, but the bitter is coffee bitter not hops bitter, new flavor for me. Also aged in Woodford Reserve Barrels, taste like coffee, whiskey, and awesome mixed together.
Life and Limb, Sierra Nevada (/Dogfish Head collaboration (but I drank it at the Sierra Nevada booth)). Really good and maple-y, like the syrup, but thin and boozy.
And then there was the Ithaca Beer Company. I caught them at a moment without a line and a friend had suggested that I go and check out their sour called Brute. It's a golden ale aged in oak and finished with champagne yeasts. The second it touched my tongue I shouted that it was the best beer I had tried all day, and I truly meant it. I spent the rest of the night as well as the coming days talking about how good it was and how I needed to buy big bottles of it and maybe even start brushing my teeth with it. It was a revelation. Sour, but not a killer, light, crisp, and so quenching. And not to mention the carbonation, spritzy as all get out, like feel -it-in-your-nose spritzy. This beer was highlight of the whole GABF affair for me. Then a couple days later I come to find that it won a gold medal in the American Sour category. Deserving indeed. Cheers to you Ithaca Beer Company, you had that coming.
After the whole Brute endeavour my night was already made so I just followed the Professor like a tired puppy that doesn't want to go home yet trying to accomplish the palette blowing moment of to many really hoppy beers. And sure enough, it happened, my tongue exploded, and the Professor was there with a camera to catch it
The thumbs up is my way of telling the world that I can no longer taste anything, beer, food, whatever, my tastes buds were done.
And since I could no longer taste beers I decided to wander around and take in the people. The first thing that I noticed, pretzel necklaces. And I am not just talking about a few salty snacks dangling from a piece of dental floss, I am talking about meals hanging from rope, weighing down the posture of all who dared to don them. I saw peach rings, jerky, string cheese, miniature corn-dogs, just about everything suspended in ready to eat format. Just get a load of this:
I think these guys have granola bars roped in there.
My theory on all these necklaces is that there was some kind of contest going on among festival goers that was a secret (and maybe a little sadistic). My question here is what do you win? Because I am pretty sure the loser has to eat everything around their neck (and that is no prize my friends, no prize indeed). The winner must be able to take their necklace off and relax their neck for an hour or two, because that would be a blessing.
In continuing search through the GABF for all things fun I also stumbled across some pretty creative marketing, mostly in the men's room:
Now I must take a minute and sing high praises to these fine companies that have the gusto to try out new techniques in brand awareness as well as raising awareness in personal hygiene, KUDOS!
After walking around for a while and taking in all things beer and fun the professor and I were looking for a moment to relax. We headed over to the NBB booth to see if we could lend a hand. Their answer was "no, we don't need your help". This was most likely due to the abundance of volunteers at the pouring stations as well as our easy attitudes towards all things at that point. In not lending a hand we had time to walk out to the line waiting to taste New Belgium's beer and started mingling with the crowd. It was then that I ran into a few Liquid Center regulars and we exchanged pleasantries. They were in line hoping to score an Eric's Ale, and I was hoping they would let me snap a picture of them and a few moments later I pulled some strings and boom! A perfectly executed exchange:
I think the higher perspective adds an art-sie touch that you could appreciate.
It was at this point in the evening that I could no longer taste anything, I was tired (long day), hungry (not very many people were willing to share their pretzel necklaces with me) and ready to head home, so the Professor and I found our responsible ride home, loaded up and headed north. The whole way home was spent discussing the finer points of the day and evening and an unbelievable amount of time was spent speaking on the subject of what would be strung onto our theoretical pretzel necklaces, I decided on sourdough pretzels, cubes of cheddar cheese, lime wedges, tootsie rolls, and mustard packets.
And to finish up here (I know, I'm long winded) I have to mention that Eric's Ale took home a silver medal in the American Sour Catagory just behind Brute from Ithaca Beer Co. (YES! both of those beers are so good they are worth writing home about (or worth writing to you)), and please, go here to check out all the winners.
Until Friday my friends,