Going to GABF for beer drinkers is kind of a big deal. I know I was stoked. It is like the Mecca for beer people everywhere. Drinkers and brewers alike make the pilgrimage to the Rocky Mountains and the concrete mausoleum to find their new and old favorites. Since I was lucky enough to get a press pass, I was one of the first ones in. The convention center is vast and breathtaking, dazzling lights and displays cover the interior. I noticed the smell of concrete and beer. How charming, much like a baseball stadium. It was almost eerie, breathtaking. I find it pretty cool to see the event before the madness takes place. Before the gates unleash the hoards. So I grabbed my little plastic glass and stepped forth, one ounce tastes at a time. The search was on to find the most delicious brews that The Great American Beer Festival had to offer.
So, for those that have been, you know what it is like, or maybe not depending on your habits. However, for those that only hear the tales, they are all true. Everything from the aisles of breweries giving you beer, the madness of the masses, or maybe the way your feet occasionally stick to the floor. Smiles all around, people with wonky dress (proud of them), and how everyone jeers at those that dare drop their tasting glass. It’s a good thing us kids had adult supervision. You almost have to be strategic when figuring out what to drink. I got a lay of the land before entering so I knew who was where. Despite knowing this, I was still awestruck and lost, but I was able to quickly find the bigger breweries. These lines fill FAST! They stretch and bend like Mississippi River. Get those ones first, I had the luck to get to Avery, Surly, and Deschutes before the madness set it. A nice thing about this, however, is that the little guys have almost no wait. Sometimes the little guys give you the best beer. That is who I focused on, the smaller breweries that might not get the attention of the big breweries, but have earned the credibility.
The Little Guys
Even at an event that encourages craft beer, the smaller ones can be missed. Large brands like Stone, Avery, Oskar Blue, and Deschutes dominate the stage. In this room, they steal the spotlight (not saying it isn’t deserved). Hundreds of start-up or smaller breweries flank the grand displays. They all blend together and it may be difficult to notice some of them. Despite their size, these breweries have some damn good beer. So to avoid the lines and to stick up for the little guy, I decided to stick to the Davids, the unsung heroes of the beer world. Small breweries don’t have the ten-year barrel aged, the Belgian extravaganza, or an extensive lineup. They can’t always do the grand things that some others do, but they do little beers in a grand way.
It took a lot of tasting and prodding in the name of quality journalism to find which ones to pick from. The criteria for me was simple; did I keep coming back? Well, these guys certainly had that effect. For the most part, these fellers make New England Style IPAs and Saisons. Both were represented, along with a few new players in the lineup.
East Coast Transplant
As an east coast transplant myself, I had to try this brew. This was a double IPA made in the New England Style. Which means that the beer is going to be straw colored and hazy, with citrus bursts. That is exactly what this brew was. Hazy and delicious. This beer was the first one of theirs that I tried and I kept coming back. Orange, pineapple, mouth drying bitterness, with a discrete vanilla vanish. Not much malt on this one, but that’s okay. The beer was still balanced and didn’t knock you on your ass with a hostile amount of bitterness like some IPAs. A must try for IPA lovers everywhere.
Now I know this name does not instill excitement or catches the eye. Not to offend the Pauls of the world, but its kind of a mundane name; like Matt or Bob. I was grateful that the beer did not take after its namesake. To me, Paul was an excellent twist on an American Pale Ale. Lazy golden haze, grassy and zippy. Orange and lemongrass with just the perfect touch of apricot. Enough bitterness to land a punch, but delicate enough to where it fades away and left me wanting for more.
Barrel Aged Melanoidin
This was a fun one. I had consumed more than my fill of IPAs so it was time to turn to the dark side. This beer was a deviation it seemed, from their normal lineup.
I find Wildwoods to be the poster child for nano breweries. They started with just 2 barrels! Now they have 7, but it is still tiny. One aspect of Wildwoods that I love is they make some creative beers. Exotic twists on classic styles. They have qualities that are reminiscent of the great outdoors, one thing we Coloradans love.
Porters and stouts are some of my favorite beer styles. Which is why, much to my chagrin, they have become the next style to “beef up”. Brewers make the biggest, malt bomb beer. The smooth, sessionable stouts are hard to find. Such is why I loved the Ponderosa. From the alliteration in the name to its enchanting flavor. The brewers age this beer in oak barrels and with some vanilla chips. A little rye is put in the mash which gives it an extra flavorful punch. I found that it tasted like a roasty vanilla cake that was decorated with a sprinkle of pine needles. One of the better porters I have had in my day and one that everyone should try, especially with winter coming!
Gin Barrel Aged IPA
This beer is an acquired taste. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who it is meant for, they will love. In lamens, it’s kinky. You know, a little weird, but you’re into it. Some people just aren’t into weird shit and that’s fine (looking at you Sam). But for those who like to keep it weird, this is one to try. The barrels come from Vapor Distilling, which is right next door. Those folks age their gin and then roll the barrels next door. The first thing I noticed, was that the beer defiantly came from a gin barrel. That juniper, pine needle sting. Just enough to grab my attention and make me think, “Fuck, that’s good. Yep, I’m a fan”. Gin has always been a love of mine so those flavors mixed with the grassy, piney bitterness of an IPA; come one that’s gold right there. All in all, this one’s a must try for people who like exotic things in life.
Bonus: Jack’s Abbey
Now I know this is called the Rocky Mountain Brew Review and we only do Colorado beers, but this was a nationwide event. Specifically, I would like to give a shoutout to a fun brewery from my home state. The make almost exclusively lagers, which are beers I love. They have a cool spot in Framingham, MA with a massive copper still being used as a wood fire oven. A must visit for locals and their beer is a must try whenever you find it at your local liquor store.