Posted on October 24th, 2011
The Great American Beer Festival, the second largest beer festival in the world took place last month and I had the good fortune of attending this year’s festivities. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, the GABF tickets sold out in record time, clocking in with 49,000 attendees. There were 466 breweries at the festival, serving 2,375 different beers, and 238 medals were awarded, including 18 to breweries entering the competition for the first time. In a word, it was EPIC.
In addition to the festival itself, there are dozens of ancillary events at beer bars and breweries around town. From beer releases to beer dinners to lectures and tastings, it was a week of non-stop beer love. I attended a few extra events, including a beer tasting class with BJCP judge Gwen Conley, and a midnight beer dinner with Avery Brewing at Euclid Hall. My point being that the week surrounding the Great American Beer Festival was a jam-packed week of awesome events, amazing beer, and crazy people. I didn’t take a single picture (who has time for cameras when you have a beer in your hand?), but I did take notes. They’re more like scribbles vaguely resembling words, but for the purposes of this article, they’ll have to do. So without further ado, I give you some of my favorite beers from this week’s festival
1. Short’s Brewing – This Michigan-based brewery received permission to distribute their beer in Colorado for the week surrounding GABF, something that had never been done before. So in addition to trying their stuff at the festival, I was also able to pick up some of their six packs. If you can, find the Bellaire Brown Ale (a year-round release) and their Woodmaster, a high gravity brown ale fermented with maple syrup and toasted pecans.
2. Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery – In spite of their ridiculous name and even more absurd costumes (disco balls on top of construction hats?), Bull & Bush turned out one of my favorite beers of the festival: Turnip the Beets. Honestly, I don’t remember in what stage of brewing the beets were used, but I do remember the lovely balance between the malty and earthy flavors of this stellar ale.
3. Ignite Denver – Think lecture series meets speed dating, in which beer industry big-wigs are given 5 minutes to talk about their role in the beer industry, while their powerpoint slides are advanced automatically every 15 seconds. Wild, crazy, hilarious, and surprisingly informative. Also, unlimited beer. Only downside: Greg Koch of Stone Brewing wearing a t-shirt with his own face on it.
4. Avery Brabant – Served at the Euclid Hall Midnight Brunch event, Avery’s Brabant is a wild ale aged for 8 months in Zinfandel barrels with brettanomyces. Sour. Dark. Delicious.
5. Right Brain Brewing’s Lavender Wheat Beer – Every lavender-flavored beverage I’ve ever had (including my own lavender pale ale) has inevitably tasted like soap. That was until I tried Right Brain Brewing’s Lavender wheat beer. Clean and floral, balanced with a light caramel malt flavor. Perfect amount of lavender. Well done Right Brain.
6. Pints for Prostates’ Rare Beer Tasting – 30 different hard to find beers from some of the best breweries in the country. My favorite: Lost Abbey’s Deliverance, a blend of brandy barrel-aged Angel’s Share and bourbon barrel aged Serpent’s Stout, packaged in 2010. This smooth and well-balanced ale offered a subtle boozy heat with notes of caramel, vanilla, and raisins. Least favorite: Sam Adams’ Utopias. This 27% ABV beer was overly boozy, syrupy, and completely unbalanced. Generally just not worth my time.
I could go on and on and on about all of the amazing things that happened during the week surrounding GABF. But in reality, the Great American Beer Festival is something that needs to be experienced in person, because no words can actually describe the enormity of this event. People come from all across the states to be a part of the magic that the craft beer industry has created. It’s a beautiful time for discovery and exploration of all those beers you can’t find in your city, and trying everything you can until your palate can’t take it anymore. With every passing year, the festival gets bigger and bigger, so I suggest you mark your calendars and book your tickets for next year’s fest. You can thank me later.