HOLY SMOKES! I almost didn't make it out of there alive. GABF has come and gone for 2011 and it was truly a success. But as promised, I took some photos and jotted some notes and I would love to present that information to you... and if there is time, my predictions for some of the categories winners (even though the medal ceremony is over and all the winners have gone home already). This is a long one so hang on, here it goes--->
I was running late, like super late, I was coming off giving a tour of NBB HQ and my ride was waiting and my phone was dieing and I felt flustered. Her car was parked in the loading zone and she started to roll off as she lowered her backseat window and I jumped in (head first (like superman (only larger and conspicuously cape-less))). But upon the thud of landing we were headed to Denver. We had a couple scheduled stops (again, mostly my fault) but we made it there just after the doors to the festival opened. Last year I had a real nice lanyard (credentials baby) which granted me access to the door without a line, but this year was different, I had a mere ticket which relegated me to the back of the line (and boy-howdy, that line was huge). We found the back of that line eventually and then started making our way towards the entry door.
Upon getting in to the big show I decided it prudent to head directly towards the New Belgium Booth to take a look see and start my evening of with a delicious Belgo IPA. My mind was immediately blown. That new booth had everything: gorgeous art, lots of tap handles and a line of people to back it up. The folks who designed and built this booth (Ryan and Troy and Karen, et al...) should really be high in their boots right now because they did a tremendous job. And as my plan would suggest I started my evening with a 1oz pour of delicious Belgo IPA. Now, if you read this blog (even sometimes) you should know that I love Belgo IPA. Truth be told I just love Belgian style IPA's but Belgo is my favorite and that small plastic glass of love was the right way to start out my GABF tasting adventures.
After that quick NBB stop I promptly headed towards the Midwest. I hail from the great state of Missouri and I love tasting the beers from my hometown as well as other adjacent Midwestern cities. Town Hall had a lavender explosion of wonderful-ness in LSD and O'Fallon's Pumpkin was great too. I made stops at Boulevard and Mother's and many other great USA-centered breweries before heading into the wilds of the Northeast. Allagash (as always) provided unbelievable beers and great companionship. To the dismay of the building line behind me I stayed up front at the Allagash booth chit-chatting and sipping some amazing beers. The Curieux was great, as was the Coolship Resurgam, wild and crazy and quenching and awesome.
Now at this stage in the GABF game I was plan-less. Last year I stuck with sours and had a fun time (and by the end, a stomach ache), but this year I was hoping to just mosey about until a plan presented itself. 35 minutes in and no ideas had surfaced so I figured I'd better head into the great and hoppy wilds of the Pacific Northwest before my aimless ways blew out my palate prematurely. I stopped first at Breakside Brewery and upon tasting my first sample there a plan became clear. I drank Farmhouse Grisette and from that moment on (GABF and otherwise) I wanted to drink nothing but sessionable saisons. This beer was somewhere hanging about 3.2% ABV and the saison characteristics were still very present. There was a touch of fruitiness, a light, delicate balance of the funk/tart, and it was drinkable till daybreak. I absolutely loved this beer and it set the bar for my new favorite style (sorry Belgian style IPA's). The problem with this plan, however, was that over the next two and a half hours of this GABF sipping time I found less than a couple other low alcohol saisons; (Fort Collins local) Funkwerks Saison is one great beer but the 6.2% ABV removes it from the front porch sessionability of a great low-octane beer. So thanks to Breakside I was heartbroken and then further heartbroken when I realized my next trip to Portland isn't even planned yet, so who knows when I will get to enjoy their wonderful beers again, sigh...
But my GABF Pacific Northwest wanderings were not quite done. I have been a fan of Deschutes since my ill-fated move to Bend, Oregon in the year 2000. I left Bend a mere 8 months later but my love of their brews continues today. I stopped by to try the Deschutes/ Boulevard Collaboration: Conflux number 2. The beer was amazing, flat out, a wheat IPA, so good. And then I noticed that Deschutes had a branded spit-toon. As I was stepping back to try it out (fresh cheek full of chaw) Alicia from Deschutes politely asked to keep the spit-toon for beer related spits only. Which I guess I can understand, but I bet I could have hit that thing from 10 yards (I have been practicing and the spit accepting hole on that spit-toon was huge). I also had 1oz pour of Stoic while at the Deschutes booth and was blown away (again (every time I have that beer it is a borderline religious experience)).
Then, as typical at this stage in the GABF game, my palate went the way of the Kangaroo Island Emu and I could no longer taste anything, so I set out to snap a few more photos before my phone died (and took my camera with it). I have an affinity for pretzels and outdoing people so I brought this as my pretzel necklace (see image to the right). It tasted like plastic and wasn't very filling but man, it was huge and it grabbed people's attention. I also thought it relevant (based on my love of pretzels) to head on over to the Snyder's of Hanover booth to say hello and talk about the ancient art of pretzel making (a study of mine). It was here that I ran into my long lost German relatives Ingrid and Bert. I have not seen these two since their last trip to the USA and I had not expected to see them at GABF. I mean sure, they are beer lovers (and fancy dressers) but Germany is a long ways away. Needless to say it was nice to see them. We are all pictured together and the photo caught the moment in which I was explaining my family relations and their outfits to the Snyder's of Hanover spokesman, they were super impressed that my cousin Bert had our family crest on his lederhosen.
It was then (walking from the Snyder's booth) that I ran into Eric from www.focusonthebeer.com. He is a good friend and truly a gifted beer blogger. If you don't read Focus on the Beer already follow the link over and check it out, great stuff. Anyway, Eric and I were talking about GABF and the great beers we had tried to that point (he talked about the Coche de Medinoche from Elysian (or was that me (I don't know)). We were also trying to make plans for some beer sipping after GABF closed for the night. It was the heat of the moment, I was so excited about running into him and the possibility of hanging out with him later and the mood caught me just right. Yep, I kissed him. It was a big moment and luckily it was caught on camera.
Then the 2011 edition of the Great American Beer Festival ended, some of us headed to the bar and some of us headed home. It was a good session and fun was had by all (but especially Eric (look at that face)) and now we can all start looking forward to 2012 and the 31st GABF.
As far as my predictions for the medal winners go, I have none (I was just joking about that). But I am super excited to say that Le Terroir, New Belgium's own dry hopped sour ale took home GOLD in the American Sour category and in total Colorado craft beer took home 39 medals. It's really is amazing to be part of this beer community and to be able to call American Craft Beer home.
To GABF! CHEERS!