Been back from Denver for a couple of days now and finally feel ready and able to compose an article reviewing the highlights. Hopefully I can give you a little taste of what the Great American Beer Festival scene and events were like.
The Colorado Convention Center in Denver is host to GABF. This year 580 breweries were represented and over 2,500 beers were tapped. We were fortunate to be able to attend 3 of the 4 sessions. Tickets are $65 per session, but I highly recommend purchasing tickets for more than one session if you are able. Rationale will be provided below. A handy guide was passed out which listed all of the breweries and the beers they were pouring. It definitely came in handy the next morning when Steve and I were trying to remember which booths we stopped at and which beers we had sampled. Lines were really short at all of the sessions, except for those at the “big-name” breweries or those that were pouring unique beers. The line at Cigar City, Lost Abbey, and Russian River never dropped below 15 people, although they all moved really quickly. The longest we had to wait for any one beer was 3 minutes. That is of course for what was already on tap. Some breweries released special beers at established times throughout the sessions. For those, the lines would begin forming at least 5 minutes early, if not sooner. Again though, once the bottles were opened or the beer was tapped, the line moved quickly. I waited 3 minutes for Black Tuesday. The event was helpfully set up by regions. Since we live in the Great Lakes, we didn’t spend a ton of time in that region, but were able to visit those booths in regions where we haven’t sampled a ton of beer in the past, like the Mountain and Pacific regions.
We were fortunate enough to attend the Awards Ceremony. What a fun and informational event this is! I haven’t always paid attention to which breweries and beers have won all of the medals in the past. I paid attention to those beers and breweries that I knew. This event opened my eyes to tons of new beers and breweries that I now want to try. After the Awards Ceremony, we did attempt to go to those booths that had winning beers. We were able to sample some of them. I was disappointed that some of the beers in the competition weren’t even brought to GABF by the brewers and even more disappointed that breweries who won medals weren’t in attendance. I understand that it costs a lot to ship kegs and people out to Denver and probably also causes a depletion or loss of product, but I feel as if they enter the contest, they should be represented. Just my opinion.
In addition to the beer, there were a few booths to purchase items for homebrewing or swag. A Pro-Am competition also took place near the front of the hall. There was a Brew Pub Pavilion, which I didn’t really understand. Inside this pub, there were just more beer booths and a food station. A Beer and Food Pavilion was also in the center of the convention center. We didn’t stop into this, so I can’t comment on it. Nor did we visit the Farm to Table Pavilion which required a separate ticket, the Brewers Studio where brewers and other important beer figureheads spoke, or the Silent Disco which was shockingly (to me anyway) always crowded.
Some of my new-to-me favorite beers were: Allagash Fluxus 2012, Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15, Charleville Box of Chocolates (which is 10 time better than Sexual Chocolate), Odd Side Mayan Mocha Stout, Russian River Toronado 25th Anniversary Ale, Deschutes Chainbreaker WIPA, Jester King Boxer’s Revenge, Kuhnhenn The Fluffer, Destihl Dosvidanya, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale (which may be the best pumpkin ale I’ve ever had), and Sun King Pappy Van Muckle. We also had some oldies but goodies: Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin, Lost Abbey Red Poppy, Russian River Row 2 Hill 56, The Bruery Black Tuesday, and KBS (which no one was getting).
Buy tickets to more than one session. If you only go to one session, you will feel as if you have to try everything. Even though they mostly stick to the 1 oz. pour rule, it is easy to get drunk really quickly. Trying to drink it all will not help. We were feeling quitegood at the first session and decided to call it quits about an hour early to go get food since we knew we could hit many of the breweries we wanted to try the next day. Our friend who only went to one session was pretty much destroyed.
Drink water. They do a great job having water stations around every corner. Cups are plentiful, but don’t use them. Instead, fill your dirty glass all of the way up and drink the water. That will not only clean the glass in preparation for the next beer but will also give you the hydration that you need.
This is the only time it has ever been beneficial to be a woman in need of a restroom. Every time I needed to use the bathroom on there was absolutely no line. I never waited. The line for the guy’s bathroom was outrageous. Steve found that it was much more convenient and quicker to use the Port-a-Potties that were available. So either get in line early if you are a guy or use those. Girls-we finally found somewhere where our line is shorter than theirs.
Do not wear a pretzel necklace. I understand the rationale, but they look stupid. And it probably doesn’t help that much. It’s the water that will help. In addition, they are getting stupider. There were necklaces with bagels, packs of Doritos, different size pretzels, etc. Don’t be an amateur.
Plan to go to other events along with the GABF sessions. Many of the local bars and restaurants have fun events going on this week in correlation with GABF.
This is a great bar if you don’t mind being there with 500 other people. Somehow, on both nights, we got seats within a few minutes. I’m not really sure how that even occurred, but it did. However, just getting a seat doesn’t mean you will get beer. Servers are kind, but with the mass of people there, they are not quick. They simply can’t be. People are grabbing them from all angles requesting drinks, ordering food, and asking questions. Going to the bar doesn’t make getting a drink any quicker. The people around the bar were 3 deep from the moment we arrived to the moment we left. It probably took 15-20 minutes to get a beer from the bar. So pick your poison. They are about equal. This sounds like I’m complaining, but it was actually a really cool bar. There are bottles on the walls everywhere. They are truly out of shelf space. The beer that was on tap was fabulous and definitely worth the wait. Both times we arrived though, we were already feeling happy and weren’t able to drink that much more.
This bar was a bit farther away from the Convention Center. It was Steve’s favorite place though. It’s too bad we only made the trek out there on our last night. I guess I would categorize it as kind of a dive. The carpet was gross, the bathrooms were pretty much in the middle of the dance floor, and the booths were ripped up. This is probably one of the reasons we loved it. When we walked in, someone had put about 5 dollars worth of heavy metal and hard rock into the juke box. Pair that with a dive bar, and we fit right in. Not to mention the fact that Steve found someone had left about 20 credits in the jukebox, which he quickly utilized with more heavy metal. The only event was beer cocktails, which we don’t do, but it was still fun. The beer list was pretty small. It was a lot of local cans, which is a unique concept for Cleveland. We stayed as long as we could, but at that point, my stomach hated me. I wasn’t drunk, just done with beer and food. Although, when we left we headed over to…
Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs
Steve saw this place on Food Network and we had to go. Plus it was directly across the street from Star Bar. They only had the late night menu available, which was limited. And even though my stomach was ticked off, I still ordered an all-beef dog and loaded it up with relish, saurkraut, and hot peppers. Sadly, I wasn’t able to finish it. Steve had an Elk jalapeno dog with cream cheese and carmelized onions, which is the Classic preparation. Trust me, if you are in Denver, this is a place you need to eat. I’m not even a
Denver Rare Beer Tasting
Pints for Prostates hosts this tasting every year. Tickets are expensive, but the beer alone is worth it. 32 breweries brought some of their best and most sought after beers. Lines were only long at the Dogfish Head line, due to the fact that Sam was pouring the beer. All other lines were pretty much nonexistent. Especially an hour or so in. My favorites from this event were: Perennial’s Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout which is the base for Fantastic Voyage, Allagash Avance, Jester King Gotslandsdricka, New Belgium A Barrel of Funky Friends, and Uinta Oak Jacked. There are some that I simply wasn’t able to try. Not only because of my consumption at this event, but knowing that we were going to head almost immediately to another session of GABF afterwards. During this event there was a silent auction. I have a secret fetish with silent auctions. I love the feeling of winning, even though I’m actually paying for something. But I like feeling like I’m getting a deal on things that are priceless. We went in with two other couples who were with us and won/bought a trip to Perennial in the winter to spend a day brewing beer with them in St. Louis. How awesome is that! I know the price tag of this event will scare some people away, but consider doing it. You won’t have these beers anywhere else. Plus, many of the brewers are there pouring their own beers which gives you a chance to share your love and gratitude with them.
There are so many other things that I could talk about from our trip. But this post is already ridiculously long. Now I know why people break beer vacations into multiple posts. Hopefully you stuck with it. If not, I guess I’ll never know. If you get a chance to go out to Denver for GABF, I definitely recommend it. The experience is one you will never forget.
So now, 4 days off and then it’s Cleveland Beer Week! Cheers to beer!