Not tired of GABF articles and recaps? Well, here’s another one.
I’ve been to beer festivals before, as I’m sure you have, but nothing has come close to the magnitude of the Greater American Beer Festival. Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming sea of bodies, copious amounts of breweries and beer, and square feet of it all. You can’t go in being timid like some weirdo standing in the corner of an orgy in a Real Sex segment. You definitely don’t want to end up as a glassy-eyed, shambling mess who is gifted with a chorus of comical groans that spreads throughout the hall like a wave when your taster slips out of fingers and spills to the ground. That is unless you are staying nearby or have a designated driver. I had an hour drive back home waiting for me so I had to pace myself.
The first and most important thing was getting some good sustenance in me. I stopped by Torchy’s Tacos to meet up with our fearless leader, Max, and his partner in crime and fellow contributor, Madison (We call them M&M around these parts…no we don’t. I made that up.). What better way to start off the day with some delicious tacos? I’d make future treks to Denver just for some Torchy’s. After our meal, we headed off in our separate directions to meet back up later on at the festival.
This Saturday was going to a busy one for Denver, and not just because of GABF. There was going to be a Columbus Day Parade (I had earlier seen the replicas of Columbus’ ships getting prepped as I made my way to Torchy’s), a counter-protest parade for the Four Directions All Nations March, and a Zombie Crawl. An interesting mix for a beautiful day.
Walking back to the convention center you could see the hordes of people waiting in line wearing their favorite brewery gear, costumes, and necklaces containing an assortment of snacks. The mix of anticipation and excitement on the faces of everyone eagerly waiting gave off a vibe of a huge sporting event or concert. This is most likely cliched but the GABF is the Super Bowl for craft beer without the animosity between fans. There were even scalpers hitting up passersby and carts selling water and Gatorade.
There was no game plan as I walked through the metal detectors and got my lil tasting glass. I did know I had no interest in waiting in long lines. As I walked around taking everything in I noticed how eery it was with the sparse crowd. Having a press pass gets you in a little earlier, but within minutes that would soon change. I quickly hit up some Bay Area favorites like Bear Republic Brewing Co., and then made a visit to Great Lakes Brewing Co. of Cleveland as it was one of the popular breweries back home in Western New York. They have an appropriately named red ale called Nosferatu.
After a few texts, I was able to track down Max and Madison. The drone of the bagpipes signified that session had started. Like I said before, there was no game plan for me, so I was just going with the flow which somehow ended up being lots of sours/wild ales, barleywines, barrel-aged beers, and a sprinkling of IPAs. There were some odd ducks like a Thanksgiving beer that I found to smell and taste like sage and rosemary. I was in minority of not liking it, and I love stuffing. Sometimes the name of a beer draws you in, like the Jean-Claude Van Blond from Wit’s End Brewing Company in Denver, or the gose made with pink Himalayan salt from Atlas Brew Works in our nation’s capital that plays off the name of a song by The Clash.
Goses seemed to be the trend of the day subconsciously when it came to sours. I sampled quite a bit but the one that stood out was Barn Phantom Gose with Blueberries from
Triton Brewing Company out of Indianapolis. It smelled like blueberry muffins straight out of the oven. Some of the other sours that made an impression were from California. The Bay Area’s Almanac Beer Co. had a Strawberry & Basil wild ale that was fruity, herbal, and gave the tongue a prickly sensation. SoCal’s Modern Times Beer from Whale’s Vagina had their funky saison One Million Tomorrows with Raspberries and Blueberries, which might have ended up being my favorite beer of the day. It’s berrylicious and full of pucker power.
Pacific Northwest favorite Deschutes Brewery had a black barleywine aged in bourbon and wine casks that was quite interesting. The roasted coffee, chocolate, and licorice notes added a whole other level to the concept of barleywines. Barleywine purists might be put off by it, but If you’ve had Deschutes’ Abyss or Black Butte Birthday Reserve you’ll probably get the idea. Deep Ellum Brewing Company, hailing from Dallas, had their Numb Comfort, another barrel-aged barleywine. This one was a sweet, boozy, malt bomb that was a nice palate cleanser to the sours. #barleywineislife or whatever stupid hashtag.
Of the barrel-aged beers I tried, that were not sours or barleywines, there was one from the Mitten State that made an impression. Of course I got in line at Grand Rapid’s Founders Brewing Company’s KBS, but I’ve had that one before. The surprise for me was a stout out Kalamazoo. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.’s Blackbeard’s Bear Hug Imperial Stout is aged in rum barrels with vanilla beans, toasted coconut, and cinnamon bark. I am not a fan of coconut (I actually hate it), but everything works so damn well in this beer.
I happened to be wearing my Buffalo Bills hat and I ran into three Bills fan. The first time I was zoning off when I felt a slight nudge from behind. At first, I thought it was becuase I was standing in someone’s way like a total idiot, but when I turned around I came face to face with an older gentleman emphatically pointing to his Bills cap. We got to talking. He lived nearby in Greeley. As per usual with Bills fans, we started to commiserate about past seasons and talked about the upcoming game against the Bengals. I mentioned how the Bills usually lose games they should win, but we both agreed this season seemed different (they lost). Another fan I ran into actually grew up in the same town as me. The GABF brings people together. Who woulda thunk it?
One of my favorite things about beer festivals is the free schwag. A brewery from where I grew up, Rochester, NY, had a table. Genesee Brew House, a “craft” offshoot of Genesee Brewing Company, had a barrel-aged old ale. Honestly, I was taken back. Genny, as the locals like to call it, is known for its Cream Ale, Light beer, and Dundee Honey Brown. As I was asking for a sample of the old ale the rep looks at my Bills hat and asks me where I’m from. I inform him, and then he leans forward and whispers, “Large or extra large?” “Large,” I say and soon enough he’s discreetly sliding a rolled up t-shirt my way. I ended up making off with bottle opener key chains, buttons, PBR chapstick (ironic score), and I won a coaster with a bottle opener at the corner of it. (But, hey, free stuff!)
One session is never going to do the GABF justice. I don’t even think going for the three days will get you the full experience. There is so much beer it’s overwhelming. The experience is exhilarating and exhausting. At one point I looked at my phone and saw that there were two more hours to go. That couldn’t be. It had to be a mistake. There’s was no way we were at the halfway point. I gathered myself and soldiered on. Finding more delicious beers to add to my memory banks.
As we were let out and walking with the inebriated masses we started coming across those participating with the Zombie Crawl. So you had two lurching and shuffling groups intermingling. One was in character, and the other just couldn’t help it. I think running into a horde of zombies is a good way to end a beer festival. (There’s a movie pitch for you.) Although, I think some of the zombies were just a bunch of Cybergoths going about their regular day.
I hope this one visit isn’t an anomaly. Going once is an amazing experience and one that I’ll cherish. I made some of my friends slightly jealous with my social media updates (isn’t that what social media is for?). One of my good friends lives in Norway and is a big craft beer fan and home brewer. It’s surprising to see what craft beers from the states make it out that way. Well, we’ve started to vaguely make plans for next year’s GABF. Maybe next time I won’t have to worry about an hour drive afterward, and can be one of those poor bastards that gets serenaded when I drop my taster. I do know that I’ll definitely be getting tacos.