2009 GABF – We Hardly Knew Ya

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.

Falcon Pale Ale on cask at Rock Bottom
Falcon Pale Ale on cask at Rock Bottom

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.

Somehow there was a line at New Glarus one minute into the session.
The New Glarus line

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.

Hanging out at Allagash
Hanging out at Allagash

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.

The choices from Cambridge Brewing
The choices from Cambridge Brewing

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.

The crowd gathered for the medal announcement
The crowd gathered for the medal announcement

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.

Merideth with our friend and bronze medal winner Peter Hoey.
Merideth with our friend and bronze medal winner Peter Hoey of Sacramento Brewing

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.

There should be awards for best beer names
There should be awards for best beer name

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.

Our alt friend Dennis
Our ‘alt’ friend Dennis

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…

The moon over Red Rocks
The moon over Red Rocks