“GABF 2010” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
This was our third straight year in Denver attending the Great American Beer Festival. After our first visit we thought we could take or leave America’s largest beer tasting. But since then we have grown quite fond of GABF.
So enjoy our latest beer adventures at the Great American Beer Festival…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
Saturday dawned at the Great American Beer Festival with the gusto of having burned the candle at every possible end for the previous two days. Neither of us was anything approaching bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but there was a light at the end of tunnel. We were only going the member’s session on Saturday then flying home. We would safely be back in our bed with the pups on Saturday night.
We started our day at Marlowe’s for a breakfast hosted by Boston Beer Company. Besides food, beer and friends, we were at Marlowe’s to hear Jim Koch announce the winners of their Longshot homebrew contests. There were two announcements, the winner of the national contest, as well as the Boston Beer Company homebrew contest winner. As opposed to years past, the 2010 edition of Longshot had all entrants create brews fitting category 23 of BJCP, “Specialty” beer.
When we arrived, they had just started pouring the three employee finalist’s brews. Over 300 employee entries were brewed and the three finalists were all women; all first time hombrewers. Besides enjoying a breakfast, our job was to try these beers and vote for our favorite.
Besides the Longshot beers, the breakfast was also a chance to try some special Sam Adams brews that I don’t often see or have the inclination to buy. This year the special brews were from the Barrel House Collection, American Kriek, New World Tripel and Stony Brook Red. I’m not the biggest Sam Adams fan in the world but all three beers were excellent. If I had to chose a favorite, it probably was a Stony Brook Red, a fabulous tart brew that hid it’s 9% ABV quite well.
This year, two winners were chosen. Rodney Kibzey won Longshot for the second time with Blackened Hops, a Black IPA. He was joined by Richard Roper who brewed Friar Hop Ale, a really delicious Belgian-style IPA. Caitlin DeClerq triumphed in the employee contest with Honey Beer’s Lavender Wheat. My second time voting in the employee contest; my second time not choosing the winner.
Arriving at the member’s session, Merideth and I bee-lined for the Sierra Nevada booth. Well, I bee-lined and she followed. I had learned the previous night that they would be tapping a rare keg of Bourbon Barrel-aged Life and Limb. Very first in line, I was disappointed when Sierra Nevada Bill told me that the tapping wasn’t going to happen for an hour. I’ll admit, I begged and pleaded. And I got the first pour. I think I like regular Life and Limb more, as the barrel aging overwhelmed the maple flavor that I enjoyed in that brew. It was still really good, though.
Merideth was finally ready to have a beer. She started easy with Magnolia’s wonderful Kalifornia Kolsch. That must have done the trick because next thing I know Merideth was sampling Onslaught, a 9.6% ABV Belgo-American Imperial IPA from Mountain Sun in Boulder. Despite being way outside her comfort zone, Merideth liked it.
After wandering around for about an hour talking with friends and running into Mr. Beer Goddess about a dozen times, we finally heard the announcement. The awards ceremony was about to start. We joined the mass migration to the stage area. We found a nice spot near the large orange-clad, cowbell ringing contingent from Iron Hill.
The big questions for the awards ceremony were:
1) How many medals would Pizza Port Carlsbad win?
2) Could Firestone Walker Union Jack three-peat the coveted IPA gold?
I really enjoy the awards ceremony. It’s my favorite part of GABF. The crowd groans and chuckles when Category 30 medals (American-style Specialty Lager or Cream Ale) were announced: Hamms, Rainier and Old Style. But it’s the special moments that I like the best. We were standing in front of the Fat Head’s brewers when they won the silver medal in the hard fought IPA category. The looks on their faces was priceless.
Congratulations to our friends who won medals this year: Steve Donohue from Firehouse Grill and Brewery, Shaun O’Sullivan from 21st Amendment and Rodger Davis from Triple Rock. And a very big congrats goes out to Mad River Brewing Company for winning Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the year! I regret to say that Mad River had fallen off my radar in the last decade or so. I guess I need to revisit their brews.
Oh, to answer the two questions, Pizza Port Carlsbad won another boat load of medals and Union Jack did not three-peat.
After the awards ceremony, Merideth and I were in wind down mode because right after the session, we were headed to the airport. While we searched out a few award winners, we had one more major task to accomplish before we left: find Melissa Cole. A beer writer from London, we have been online friends with her for quite some time but had never met. It took us awhile but we finally found her with about an hour left in the session. It was great to finally meet.
Seven hours after we walked out of the Colorado Convention Center, we were at home with Porter and Stout jumping all over us. Another great trip to Denver was over. I am already looking forward to the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.
We couldn’t travel to Denver without visiting a few new breweries. It’s what we do. Plus, with the year winding down, I wanted to pick up three or four to help with our goal of reaching 600 by year’s end. The problem is that the eastern slope of the Rockies is well traveled territory for us. After a bit of research, I found four potential targets just south of Denver.
We were on the road late morning to reach our first stop at their 11am opening time. After what seemed like a million traffic signals, we were at our first destination, Hops Restaurant and Brewery, in the Denver suburb of Littleton.
I know I should have more of an open mind, but I’ll admit I am not a huge fan of chain breweries. My expectations tend to be low and I just view them as a notch on the bed post. However, we were pleasantly surprised at Hops. The staff was very friendly, even after we told them we were on a brewery tour so we only wanted a taster set.
And the beers were not too bad. My biggest beef with chains is that their beers usually taste the same no matter what style they’re supposed to be. Not so at Hops. There were a couple of flavorful beers amongst our six beer sampler. I thought the Thoroughbred Red and the Hoptoberfest were the best while Merideth’s favorite (although she’s embarrassed to admit it) was the Clearwater Light.
After visiting nearly 600 breweries, I have developed a sixth sense about when a brewery visit will potentially be a problem. It’s that “uh oh” feeling I get that tells me the brewery is going to be either a) closed, b) closed for good or c) not have any of their own beers.
Our second stop, Falcon Brewing in Parker, was one of those breweries where I got the “feeling.” Before our trip, I confirmed that the other brewery in Parker was open, so it wasn’t going to be a complete loss if my feeling about Falcon was correct.
And the correct prediction was… C. Falcon was out of their beer. The bartender told us that the house brews would be ready in a week. Even, “Oh, well, we’re from California” didn’t get us any samples from the fermenters. Out of luck, we headed over to Parker’s other brewery.
Elk Mountain Brewing was the pleasant surprise of the trip. Located in an industrial park off the main road into Parker, the tasting room is bright and spacious with that really new feel. That made a lot of sense as Elk Mountain had held its grand opening party just one month before. Like many of the new generation of beer places we have visited recently, Elk Mountain does not have food, but provides a number of takeout menus from local restaurants who will deliver.
As one of the only customers early on a Friday, we had a chance to chat with Tom, brewer/owner and his assistant. Elk Mountain is apparently known for their German-style beers and it showed with a wonderful Hefeweizen, Wild Wapiti Wheat. Lots of banana and clove, just how I like it. Merideth loved the clean and crisp Mine Shaft Kölsch. However, Puma IPA was the star of the show. A wonderful hop bomb!
We had one more stop before returning to Denver. Merideth picked up Dry Dock Brewing a few months back on a trip without me. That was an important moment for her as she leveled the brewery count. To show what a wonderful husband I am, I offered to skip Dry Dock on this trip so we could reach 600 at the same brewery this December in Europe (I’m such a romantic!). Merideth said not to worry about it and it was okay to go to Dry Dock. However, once there, she engaged in a bit of whining and claimed not to remember this pre -trip conversation.
A few hours before the Friday night session, Dry Dock was hopping when we rolled in. The bartender was quickly and efficiently pouring taster set after taster set. Wanting to try all 11 beers, we ordered an almost double taster set and found a table in the corner.
Dry Dock subsequently won four silver medals at GABF the following day, but unfortunately only one of those beers would be available on our visit. U-Boat Hefeweizen was the second great Hefe of the day!
However, the beer I really went to Dry Dock for was Seven Seas Double IPA. I drank it for the first time the day before at Falling Rock. This massive hop bomb was my favorite beer of the trip and I was hoping to bring some home. When I inquired about purchasing a couple of bottles, the bartenders reaction told me I was light years too late. After a few sips of each of our beer samples, we slipped out and headed back to Denver. I had picked up three breweries, Merideth two; closer and closer to 600.
In our two previous GABFs, we have shied away from both the Friday and Saturday night sessions. They have the reputation for being really crowded with long beer lines. Not the kind of scene Merideth and I generally like. But this year, we attended Friday night’s session mainly because the beermen.TV guys were going. They missed meeting up with us at Falling Rock before the session (something about needing a beauty nap), so we agreed to hook up with them at the session.
Finding three Aussies and a Kiwi at the Friday night session was easier said than done. Employing our wandering down the aisle choosing breweries without lines tactic, we figured we would run into them sooner or later. Halfway through the three hour session, we still hadn’t found them. By 8:30pm, the crowds were getting too large for our enjoyment so we gave up our quest and left the festival.
We couldn’t leave Denver without trying one of the new beer establishments in the city. There were a number to choose from but we selected Freshcraft, mainly because it was a few blocks from Falling Rock. With the GABF session still going on, Merideth and I easily found a spot at the bar.
Earlier in the day, we learned from our friend and Colorado beer writer, Dan Rabin, that Boulder had a new organic brewery, Asher Brewing Company. What a coincidence… the first beer listed on the menu was Asher Amber. Merideth and I both ordered a pint of this really nice brew. After the din of the GABF session, it was nice to wind down a bit and have some dinner. Even the semi-annoying birthday girl couldn’t even damper our relaxation, though she tried hard.
But once the GABF session ended, the small restaurant filled up quickly and we felt pressed up against the bar. The party really got started when Greg Koch from Stone arrived to do an event in the back of the restaurant. At the same time, Odell Brewing started pouring a firkin of their Bourbon barrel-aged Stout. After chatting with Joe, a brewer from Odell for a few minutes and trying the Stout, we finally had enough for the day. Merideth and I looked at each other, giving each other the “it’s time to call it a night” look. We left Freshcraft and headed back to our hotel.
It was that time of year again… the pilgrimage of beer geeks from all over the world to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. Merideth and I were going for the third year in a row with the added bonus of our friends from beermenTV coming in from Australia to join in the fun. We arrived mid-morning in Denver and parted ways at the airport. While she took care of some business, I headed into Denver to hang out, waiting for her call. And by hang out, I mean drink beer…. sorta.
We had lived out this scenario once before on our first visit to Denver in 2001. While waiting for Merideth, I visited several of the numerous beer places in Denver (Falling Rock and Great Divide come to mind). By the time we were reunited in the evening, I was completely pissed. Merideth knows when I’ve had a lot to drink because I start telling her all these great entrepreneurial ideas that I have. After the second completely brilliant idea, she says to me, “Are your drunk?” Fast forward to 2010: as we said our goodbyes at the airport, I gave Merideth a kiss and promised that this year would not be a repeat of 2001.
I dropped my bag off at our hotel and I really wasn’t sure what to do next. With probably six hours to display some sort of self-control, delaying tactics were certainly in order. I left the hotel and wandered leisurely in the direction of the Convention Center to pick up our passes. There was no line so that took all of fifteen minutes. But they had given me a bunch of printed materials that I didn’t want to carry around, so I headed back to the hotel to drop the folder off. Another fifteen minutes off the clock.
Now I felt silly. I couldn’t do this all day. I made my first real decision. I would walk over to Great Divide and get a Titan IPA. Maybe a friend would even be there and I would have someone to chat with. Great Divide was crowded when I arrived. There was an industry get-together about to start in the brewery and the invitees were all crowded in the bar area getting a head start. Despite the number of people, I quickly had a glass of Titan IPA in my hand.
Glancing around, my heart sank. I knew no one. Well, there were the Alström brothers but we’re not quite on a first name basis yet. As I settled into a spot in corner of the tasting room, an odd feeling settled over me. I realized I was alone, without Merideth. We rarely spend any time apart and especially not during beer travels. In my mind, everyone was staring at me thinking “who is that loser here all alone…”
Three very friendly guys from Texas tried to engage me in conversation. But I was too frazzled to manage much conversation beyond that they were from Houston and it took them 18 hours driving to get to Denver. I resolved to finish my Titan and walk over to Falling Rock Tap House. I WOULD know someone there.
Falling Rock was crowded but not as crowded as I thought it might have been a few hours before the first GABF session. Fortuitously, I was reunited with Lisa and Mark (Beer Goddess and Mr. Beer Goddess). I had shared a shuttle from the airport into the city with them a few hours before. During the ride over, I told them the 2001 story and my pledge to Merideth. I had even put them in charge of keeping an eye on me. Joining them at an outside table, I ordered some much needed food and my second beer of the day, an Odell IPA.
The afternoon went smoothly after that. I chatted with Mark and Lisa, the two Matts from Big Sky and three quarters of the beermenTV crew. I even moderated my drinking though that became more difficult once the Aussies arrived.
Merideth finally called around 3:30pm. I left everyone at Falling Rock to connect with her at the hotel and get ready for the first GABF session.
For some reason, I always need a strategy or theme to choosing beers at GABF. In the past, I have focused on breweries with no lines. This year, I thought I was particularly brilliant. I would try beers from breweries that I had never heard of. Given the sparsity of our beer travels in the South and Midwest, I thought this would afford me a large number of targets.
Two things went wrong with my “brilliant” strategy. First, the beers from earlier in the day finally must have caught up with me because my very first beer from a brewery that I have never heard of… was a brewery that we visited in 2007.
The second problem was more perplexing. There had to be plenty of breweries that I never heard of making great beer. But after the first five or six beers I tried, I had yet to have one I liked. After the sixth disappointing beer, I spied the Fat Heads booth. From North Olmsted, OH, I knew of Fat Heads from their surprise win at the Bistro’s IPA festival a few years ago. Never having tried any of their winning brews, the brilliant strategy was ditched. Head Hunter IPA was a great beer. The rest of the evening, I stuck with more sure things.
Our GABF evening was short. With still two hours left in the Thursday night session, we left the beer world and assumed our punk music fan personas. As many of you know, we are huge Flogging Molly fans. Nathen Maxwell, bassist for the band was playing a solo acoustic show at a Denver Irish pub, Scruffy Murphys. He has a side project band called Nathen Maxwell and the Original Bunny Gang where he performs his own songs. We spent the rest of the evening listening to Nate and a few other local musicians. Nate was awesome but Todd, lead singer of the Denver punk/ska band Synthetic Elements stole the show with his acoustic cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”
Another short trip is in the books; the second of three successive quick beer trips. This quickie adventure was to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. We packed a lot into a 22-hour visit.
Being the anxious traveler that I am, I fretted the whole week about getting to Denver. We had a only a small window of error and any delays could negatively impact the whole day.
But our early, early flight from San Jose got us to Denver on time. Quickly making it downtown, we had time to check into our hotel and then walk over to Rock Bottom for a quick pint.
Rock Bottom was less crowded than I expected and we easily found a seat in the front bar area. A pint of beer was definitely needed not only to calm my traveling nerves. More important, I find the one ounce pours at GABF annoying and needed an adult-sized beer before enduring the Lilliputian-sized pours at the festival. And a pint of Falcon Pale Ale on cask fit the bill nicely. Merideth even got to indulge in her beloved Kölsch. With our beer craving satisfied, it was time to head over to the convention center.
At the opening bell, we were at Jolly Pumpkin where we had been patiently waiting for several minutes. Jolly Pumpkin only had two beers left which points out one of the downfalls of missing the earlier sessions. Beers run out never to reappear. Merideth and I started our 2009 GABF experience with EYO (pronounced I-O), a Red Saison brewed with rose petals and hibiscus, oak aged and bottle conditioned.
Call me pig-headed. With so many choices at GABF, this year over 2,100 brews from 457 breweries, I refuse to stand in a long line for a beer. Even if the lines supposedly move quickly.
With that in mind, I really wanted to try the New Glarus beers. I think the last time I sampled New Glarus was in the mid 1990s at the Oregon Brewers Festival. Back then, they were this new brewery doing fruit beers. But somehow there was already a long line one minute into the session. So, we passed on New Glarus and looked for easier opportunities.
We used to our tried and true method that we learned last year of wandering up and down the aisles picking random breweries based upon lack of line. But doing only one session this year, our wandering was a bit quicker and more focused. Using this tactic, we tried beers from breweries such as Lakefront (Milwaukee, WI), Real Ale (Blanco, TX), Sprecher (Glendale, WI), Sullivan’s Black Forest Brew Haus (Frankenmuth, MI) and 23rd Street (Lawrence, KS).
Our method also found us trying the range of beers from such notables as Bell’s, Allagash and Cambridge. Somewhat shocking to me given their reputations, none of these breweries had a line. So, it was easy to camp out and try all the beers.
First up was Bell’s. We don’t get the famed Michigan brews here in California so I was excited to give them a try. Still in a sour phase, Wild One was my pick of their offerings.
Next up was Allagash and Cambridge Brewing who were conveniently neighbors in the New England section. Focusing on them was a bit odd considering we are visiting both breweries in a few weeks. But I love their beers.
I’ll admit that Allagash prices has prevented us from sampling a wider range of the their brews. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to try some of their more esoteric brews such as Curieux and Victor.
Cambridge Brewing has always been our favorite brewery in Boston. So, it was no surprise that they had my favorite beer of GABF: Sgt. Pepper, a saison-style brew made with whole peppercorn. And The Wind Cried Mary was a very impressive Heather Ale.
With plenty of one ounce pours under our belts, it was time for the award ceremony. A large percentage of the session crowd gathered in the far corner of the hall to see medals awarded in 78 categories. From American-Style Cream Ale or Lager (Milwaukee’s Best) to the hotly contested American-style IPA (Firestone Walker Union Jack) to Barleywine (Valley Brewing Old Inventory) the winners were announced to the raucous crowd.
I would be remiss if we didn’t congratulate our friends who pulled in medals this year. Steve Donohue from Firehouse Grill and Brewery in Sunnyvale pulled in a bronze for his Veles Baltic Porter. We tried this beer in its infancy 4 months ago and it was brilliant then.
21st Amendment in San Francisco also won a bronze in the Smoked Beer category with Diesel Imperial Smoked Porter.
Finally, Peter Hoey from Sacramento Brewing won a bronze in the Belgian and French Style Ale category with Collaborative Evil.
This year there seemed to be a high number of entertaining brew names. If I could offer a suggestion to improve GABF (besides bigger pours), maybe there should be an award for most creative name. Coincidentally, the gold and silver could have gone to the gold and silver medal winners in the Kellerbier/Zwickelbier category. However, I might reverse the order and give the gold to Devil’s Backbone Brewing for “Natural Born Keller”.
After the awards, we ran around trying some of the medal winners. Then, before we knew it, our GABF experience was over and we shuffled out of the hall. My last act at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival was my glass dropping out of my bag and shattering all over the concrete floor. Of course, this elicited the requisite cheers and jeers.
The Great American Beer Festival might have been over but our day wasn’t. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and made our way down to Falling Rock Tap House to have a few beers before we headed out to Red Rocks.
Falling Rock was crowded but surprisingly not packed when we arrived. We found our friends JJ and Scott and grabbed a table downstairs. While we were chatting and enjoying a few beers, who should come up but our American altbier drinking buddy from Düsseldorf, Dennis. Though it was only two months ago, we reminisced about our time beer-filled time with the Slovaks at Hausbrauerei zum Schlüssel.
Just like GABF, our time at Falling Rock was quickly over as we had to head out to Red Rocks for the Flogging Molly show. In the end, we didn’t try all the beers we wanted, didn’t see all the people were were hoping to, but still had a memorable day. It was the beer geek thing to do…