Fun and merriment…and beer, lots and lots of beer. That describes this year’s Great American Beer Festival which concluded on October 1 in Denver. 466 breweries from every state brought their beer to the Colorado Convention Center where it was sampled, evaluated, paired with food and enjoyed by the 49,000 people who were fortunate enough to get tickets in the week or so after they went on sale. Of course, that pretty much describes every year at the GABF as it is known.
So let’s finish up with the numbers first. A record 2,378 different beers were served by those 466 breweries and over 3,900 were judged in the competition that surrounds the festival. It took 169 judges to judge the 83 categories that were available to enter and each category averaged 48 beers with the American Style IPA category being the most popular with 175 entries, reflecting the continuing trend towards this style. Somewhere along the line over 3,000 volunteers logged around 54,000 volunteer hours to make this event successful. In exchange for their average 18 hours of unpaid work, they each got a ticket to a session at next year’s event. By the numbers, the 30th Annual GABF was a huge success.
Somewhere else on this web site you will find an outstanding write up of the event itself which will dig in to deeper detail on the event most likely written by somebody who has a hint of professionalism and may even carry a notebook, and possibly a camera. But that ain’t me. Instead, I thought I would bring you a little flavor of the events that went on around Denver during the week. Trust me, outside of the festival the party continued. There were well over 100 events, tappings, parties and the like to satisfy those without tickets to the festival or before and after the sessions. Since I don’t bother with notes, I may or may not be entirely accurate, but then again, you probably weren’t there either, so you won’t notice.
First of all, I believe firmly in arriving early and since the GABF starts on Thursday, Tuesday seems as good as time as any. So an early Tuesday arrival was in order and after checking in to a centrally located hotel, I set off to find the new places, as well as old favorites in Denver. First stop was the new Yard House on the 16th Street Mall. Attached to the Sheraton these folks were ready to shine at their first ever GABF. Our bartender advised us that nobody was allowed to ask off this week as they expected to be packed. Fortunately we were early enough that the festival goers hadn’t shown up yet, so we were able to get a nice seat at the bar and enjoy a Victory Golden Monkey and Russian River Damnation in relative quiet. First day in Denver requires a tripto one of the best beer bars in the world…Falling Rock Taphouse. Located on Blake just north of 19th, this is the place to be in Denver. Owner Chris Black was running around making last minute adjustments for the crowds that would soon reach overflow capacity. It is not unusual to see people waiting in lines 50 or so deep for a spot to open up. But today is still peaceful and a spot in the patio is available. We enjoyed a couple of beers including Russian River Sanctification, Jolly Pumpkin Madruga and the Elysian Jasmine IPA.
We learned that Breckenridge Brewing had a self guided rare beer tour so a quick stop at Sports Column for a pint of Summer Cab Ride (Breckenridge Summer Bright aged in cabernet casks) before making it to the Breckenridge Ballpark Brewpub which sometimes serves as our unofficial GABF headquarters . It’s not uncommon to see Todd Thibault who does sales for Breckenridge at the Ballpark Pub during the day, but alas Tebo, as he is called (sometimes known as the Mayor of LoDo), is off somewhere making arrangements for a wonderful week of events at all of their pubs. No worries as Breckenridge is still serving beer even without Tebo there. After that, I decide to continue my Rare Beer Tour on my own with stops at the Celtic Tavern (Barrel Aged Vanilla
Porter) and one of Denver’s newest great beer bars, FreshCraft (Just the Tips – an really nice spruce tip ale – my favorite so far). Word is that Tebo will be at Ale House at Amato in the late afternoon, so its time to head out there. Located just across three pedestrian bridges from LoDo, it is surprisingly easy to get to. Out there, I am amazed at both how nice the location is as well as the view back in to the downtown area. Tebo is running around making plans, but takes time to sit with me and enjoy a beer. He suggests Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing as it is one of his current favorites. As we sit and sip and talk he tells me a little about the week as well as the recent merger between Breckenridge and Wynkoop Brewing, Colorado’s first brewpub. After the Tank 7, a couple of firkins are being hooked up to the beer engines so I try them…seemed logical. Cask Conditioned Breckenridge Christmas ale followed by the Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Porter round out the evening.
For some reason I sleep in on Wednesday morning, go figure. Still I am up in time to pick up my credentials at the Convention Center and go find a few beers around town. Falling Rock is a mandatory stop and then we decide to head off to Great Divide, but along the way things turn horribly wrong. There is a great little dive bar on 20th street called El Chapultepec. Now don’t go looking for any craft beer there beyond Fat Tire because they don’t have it. Doubling as a great jazz bar at night, day drinking at El Chapultepec is a must. There are only two real options, Coors Original draft or whiskey, and the draft is only available during the day since the keg room is reached via a trap door in the bar area and it is too busy at night to be bothered with changing kegs. Great Divide is a wonderful brewery which, like many craft breweries these days, changes every time you see it. This year they have increased their tasting room size and added another row of fermenters outside. Sadly by GABF next year they probably won’t have the room to host their parties outside as it will be full of fermenters. But that is next year, this year is now. We say hello to National Sales Director Dave Duffy along with local sales goddess, Tannea Musselman who show us the changes and have a beer with us. At some point Tannea sneaks us in to the cooler where she breaks out a bottle of Barrel Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. This is a very limited release so we are sworn to secrecy on this one so I probably shouldn’t be telling you about this one. Sorry, Tannea.
As we are wrapping things up at Great Divide, it is time for the Brewers Reception to start. A private event held at Wynkoop Brewing, this is sort of a time for the brewers in attendance to relax and have a beer or two with industry folks before being inundated with civilians. This is a great time to say hello to people you only see once or twice a year, Garrett Marrero from Maui Brewing, David Myers from Redstone Meadery and…hey there’s Zane Lamprey. I have a quick chance to say hello to Zane and he graciously acts like he reads my column and reminds me to watch “Three Sheets”, which of course I always do. Anyway, after the reception, a group of us squeeze into Falling Rock for their Elysian Pumpkin Beer festival and sample a few of those autumn treats. Afterwards its back to FreshCraft where we bump into a variety of industry folks before wrapping up the evening.
Thursday during the day is our day to tour Colorado. So we hop into the car with folks from Papago Brewing and Sunflower Markets and head off to Longmont for our first two stops. Left Hand Brewing is a nice brewery which is our traditional first stop. We sample a couple of specialty beers and before we head out, we are reminded to make sure we make their special party later that night in Denver. After that we head to Oskar Blues. If you have ever enjoyed a canned craft beer, you can thank the folks at Oskar Blues. Their canned beer apocalypse started the trend towards canning great beer and all that came after owe them a debt of thanks. We take a walk around the brewery including sampling fresh Old Chub right off the canning line and then we are on our way to Boulder. A mandatory stop at Redstone Meadery because if mead was good enough for Zeus, it’s good enough for us, and besides I never pass up a chance to see Chairman of the Mead, David Myers and his lovely wife Madoka. But we have things to do so we wander down to Avery Brewing to say hello to Adam Avery and catch the tail end of his annual industry party and sample some brewery only rarities. Afterwards, we head back to Denver for a small festival at Ale House at Amato featuring SKA Brewing, Breckenridge, Lagunitas and Firestone Walker. A quick stop back at the hotel to freshen up and then to the first session of the GABF which remarkably I am still allowed in to. If you want to see why that is surprising, find my article from last year’s event.
As the session started to wind down, we headed to the Marriott for the big Left Hand Brewing announcement, and wow, what an announcement it was. Left Hand was introducing their Milk Stout Nitro in bottles. They are the first American brewery to offer a nitrogenated beer in bottles. Eschewing the widget that other nitro beers use in package, they have developed a method of capturing this creamy draft favorite in a bottle. The release party was packed and not one person walked away with anything but great things to say about this new effort from the boys in Longmont. Look for this to hit shelves across the country starting in February.
The rest of the week came fast and furious. Highlights included the Denver Rare Beer Tasting which benefited Pints for Prostates and the Colorado Affair which was put on by The Beer for Brains Foundation. New Belgium broke out some rarities at the Falling Rock Tap House, while The Bruery put on a breakfast event at The Cheeky Monk. Denver based breweries Breckenridge and Great Divide pulled out the stops hosting a nonstop stream of festival goers. As you may be able to tell, this is where I stopped taking notes, but suffice to say, everything was just as wonderful as the first couple of days, just more crowded.
Besides nationally recognized Falling Rock Tap House and The Cheeky Monk, FreshCraft and Euclid Hall proved that they could keep great beer bars running for multiple years. Mellow Mushroom was busy all week as was the Yard House. The real surprises were two newcomers to the Denver scene Ghost Plate and Tap as well as the aforementioned Ale House at Amato which both made big splashes with both great beer and great food. The latter was packed all week as the 40+ handles and rooftop patio drew attendees across the pedestrian bridges at the end of 16th Street. What a great view of the city, especially at night and the service was amazing. If you stop in at the Ale House, and you are of the male gender, make sure you check out the rooftop patio’s men room which was named the Best View from a Urinal in some magazine in Denver.
That was this year’s GABF in a nutshell…a very large nutshell. Every year could be summed up the same way; a great time with us already looking forward to next year…although we could use a little rest first. Until next time…
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