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The Great American Beer Festival – A GB Report

Saturday, October 12 2013: With over 4,000 beers to choose from, the first emotion that struck me walking into the Great American Beer Festival was awe. From Thursday, October 10 through Sunday, October 13, Downtown Denver, Colorado was inundated with eager hop heads, and mellowed malt devotees. Nearly encircling the Colorado Convention Center, the crowd munched on their pretzel necklaces (though I did see bagels, candy bars, and even a baguette on one) with fervor once reserved for children on Christmas Eve. They were there for the world beverage: Beer!

Here are the highlights of the ales that I really enjoyed, those that I didn’t, and those that confused my senses and sensibilities:

The Good

Wasatch Brew Pub and Brewery: Pumpkin Ale, Park City, Utah

Style: Pumpkin/Yam Beer

4% ABV

Why: It tasted like a great pumpkin pie, but without the over spiced syrupy taste that tends to be included. It was crisp and light, but straight pumpkin.

Fate Brewing Company: Watermelon Kolsch, Boulder, Colorado

Style: Fruit/Kolsch

5% ABV

Why: Man I wish I would have had this on a hot summer day! Since Kolsch is so light it simply steps out-of-the-way of the pure sweet watermelon.

Boom Island Brewing Company: Brimstone Tripel, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Style: Belgian Tripel

9.5% ABV

Why: According to the brewery representative who poured my ale, and also may have been founder and brewer Kevin Welch, Tripels shouldn’t be sweet, rather, clean and crisp. This brew certainly was that. I couldn’t even tell the alcohol content, which makes this dangerous, but stylistically pure. I often avoid the heavy Belgians because of the overwhelming power and combination of tastes, but this one hit a clean note.

Right Brain Brewing Company: Naughty Girl Stout, Traverse City, Michigan

Style: American Stout

5.8% ABV

Why: Great take on what has turned in to a staple of American imbibery. While I wished for a little more mint on the end, the nose was full of chocolate and coffee. I would like this with a fresh chocolate cake, preferably with this stout cooked into the batter.

Darwin’s on Fourth: Charapa, Sarasota, Florida

Style: Spiced Porter

7% ABV

Why: According to the display, this beer is brewed with “Amazon Cacao, Annatto, Florida Orange Blossom Honey, and Aji Charapita Peppers,” which combined to form the most interesting ale of the night for me. It started with a sweet citrus and coffee nose and front, and then hit the middle of the tongue with the pleasant porter froth. Finally, the piece de resistance, the warmth of the pepper at the end: enough to grab attention, but not leaving you breathing heavy.

The Bad

This is a short list, as I really avoided most beers that would be less than stellar, but here goes:

Big Hurt Brewery: Big Hurt Beer, Monterey, California

Style: Malt Liquor

7% ABV

Why: Even though I got a photo with owner and former MLB slugger Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas, this truly was not anything I would buy. I’d rather get Mickey’s or Red Dog. I will add though, this was my favorite conversation with a representative all night. When I asked Mr. Thomas why he started making beer after baseball, he responded with, “Why? Beer and baseball go together!” For that, I would buy one cup at the ballpark. Then no more.

great american beer festival 6

Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company: Kentucky Kolsch, Lexington, Kentucky

Style: Bourbon-Barrel Kolsch

4% ABV

Why: This take on the Euro-classic was simply a poor combination of flavors. The LBDC makes some really great stuff, but this isn’t it.

The Strange

These aren’t necessarily nasty, maybe mediocre, possible positive. Try them and tell me what I think:

Boston Brewing Company: Utopias (2013), Boston, Massachusetts

Style: American Strong Ale

29% ABV

Why: This hurt to drink. When the reps started pouring this, all of the aficionados came a running. They were looking to the beer gods and praising their glories. I don’t get it. I’ll probably get yelled at by the holier-than-thou beer geeks, but this I just can’t palate the punch, especially when it cost 190 dollars for last year’s batch. Seriously.

Empire Brewing Company: Golden Dragon, Syracuse, New York

Style: Belgian Style Gold Ale

7.7% ABV

Why: This would make a great base to cooking Asian food. With Organic Thai Basil grown locally, this beer grabbed my attention right quick. I don’t know if I would enjoy a full pint, but the taster was striking.

Medal Winners

If you were interested in other opinions than mine, try these two links, which will explain the big winners of the 2013 GABF.

– Great American Beer Festival: Winners

– Brewer’s Association

The Experience

With all this in mind, here are some photos of my experience at this year’s GABF. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

The Great American Beer Festival Is The Place To Be

That’s right ladies and gents; yours truly will be attending the Academy Awards of beer gatherings. While is this my fourth time going to the GABF, it is my first time wit a press pass, which will include hobnobbing with the likes of Jim Cook, founder of Sam Adams Brewing Company, and a special “press only” bus tour of some of the finest breweries of the greater Denver area. Oh, I’m fancy.

Gloating aside, I’m truly excited at the opportunity to get in the doors early, and maybe even have a “press only” bathroom, as opposed to the overused port-o-johns that turn hellish within the first two hours. Come on Saturday!

great american beer festival crowd shot

If you’ve no knowledge of this Mecca of all that is beer, it is a three day festival at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. I’ll have my choice of taste-testing two ounce samples of 3,000+ brews, including everything from the big boys (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc.) to the sincere crafts (Bell’s, O’Dell’s, etc.). I already have my GABF app on my phone ready to guide me. I have passes to the Saturday night session, which in the past has translated to “super-drunk, oh crap the vendors are running out of beer. Drink faster!”

Click here for more information on the GABF: http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/

Here are a few of the highlights of the experience:

  • Booing every time someone drops their two ounce plastic memorable cup.
  • Hitting random cups out of people’s hands to get everyone to boo them.
  • Trying the 3,000 beers (I will lose count, but I will start out trying)
  • Strange drunkards wearing stranger costumes
  • Hopefully seeing Frank Thomas again! (“The Big Hurt” beer…better than Kid Rock’s)
  • A line of port-o-johns a half mile long
  • Free swag from breweries (I love my PBR t-shirt)
  • Tasting some of the most inventive beers in the world
  • Tasting some of the strongest, strangest, nastiest, or all of the above
  • Trying to get my 50 beers from 50 states badge
  • Not driving home (thank you wife)
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

So early next week (because Sunday likely will not be productive for me) be looking for my personal narrative on the chaos, the debauchery, the sophomoric attempt to validate inebriation: The Great American Beer Festival. By the way, the GABF is on the list of “1000 places to see before you die.” I’m just saying.






A Votre Sante

P.S. Even if you can’t make it to the GABF, download the app. If you want to try the best of the best, look for the medal winners after the festival. Most will be fantastic.