Great American Beer Festival General Recap
The Great American Beer Festival is the closest thing to a real-life, adult version of that “kid in a candy shop” moment. Experiencing the full gambit of everything beer related that surrounds the festival culminated in one of the more amazing weeks I’ve ever experienced.
Our GABF week began Tuesday when we were treated to a sneak peak, behind the scenes of the set up. Nearly 2,800 volunteers began rolling out kegs and setting up stations as early as Sunday morning to accommodate this year’s nearly one hundred additional breweries pouring at the event. The wheeled 4,540 kegs of beer into the festival hall, totaling 36,716 gallons. In addition to the kegs, there were 54,000+ bottles of beer being poured; that’s 5,561 gallons from bottles alone. To keep that beer cold they needed 132 tons of ice, which translates to the equivalent of 13,250 20-lb bags.
Thursday morning we dropped in to shoot a time lapse of New Belgium’s set up process which we posted yesterday. That process included a bit of strategery, a lot of hammering, and even more awesomeness when it was finished. Here’s the video once again in case you missed it.
For the two weeks leading up to GABF I spent most of my time calling or emailing breweries, writing articles, assigning articles, and setting up appointments for articles. So by Thursday afternoon it was finally time to have a little fun. As I mentioned in my day one recap, it was a surprise to be the first pour at New Glarus’s booth for a 1 oz pour of Raspberry Tart, the groundbreaking discovery from my first GABF experience. The main purpose of a festival of this magnitude is to allow beer geeks like myself to tap into beers may be difficult to find outside of their respective brewery hometowns. Its a chance to discover new tastes, meet the people who actually brew your beers and try beers you may never get the chance to try again.
Jonathan Shikes, Managing Editor of Denver’s the Westword Magazine explained yesterday how Brooklyn Brewing’s founder Garrett Oliver reached to his fellow colleagues before this year’s festival, imploring that they man their own stations meet with their fans, and pour their own beers. Clearly that call to arms resonated with the industry. It was in those three days that I met the founders of Odell, Avery, New Belgium, Samuel Evans, Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head, countless mid to nano sized breweries and yes, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing. It was in that convention hall that those founders personally poured me a beer, it was in a line waiting for DFH’s first pour that Sam Calagione personally recommended Choc Lobster and Hot Thoup to 30 person crowd of eager festival goers. It was during this festival that I heard stories from a taproom worker of one of the largest breweries in the nation about how their founder addressed his entire staff. He passionately reiterated that this weekend would be the only chance that many of the brewery’s fans would have to experience their taproom and that it was critical that they provide a knowledgeable, sincere, personal interaction with those fans because it reflected on the integrity of the brewery as a whole. These people care. They get it. And it showed.
While the festival itself was phenomenal, perhaps the best part of the week was everything that surrounded the fest. Wednesday night we were invited to a VIP tasting at the top floor of the Hyatt where Deschutes wined and dined guests to rarities like their Dissdent, Collage and Hop Trip, Chainbreaker, Jubelale, and Black Butte XXIV. Every beer bar town, and even some bars that just served one or two craft beers seemed to have tap take overs, rare beer releases, pairings, or themed beer dinners. Leading the pack of tap take overs and rare releases was Hops and Pie. We ventured over to the Highlands for H&P’s Cigar City night and exercise great restraint not to clean house on their Cubano style-Espresso Brown, Raspberry Saison and Peach IPA. I also warned my team to cholorform me if I made any hostile moves toward stealing their keg of Great Divide’s Grand Cru.
Of course Falling Rock Tap House was headquarters for all things craft beer. Never before had I seen a place so packed as Falling Rock was Wednesday night. It’s 70+ taps served up hourly specials to quench the thirst of anyone and everyone in the industry. Right around the corner from Falling Rock was a guest appearance by the Beerliner. Which was essentially an old school bus fitted with flat screen tv’s and 4 rotating taps, brought up from Texas that served free Texas craft beer during the hours that GABF was not in session. The best part and selfishly so, was that nobody outside of the tightly knit Texas community of breweries and bloggers really had any idea this was happening. Wynkoop Brewery hosted an all-star cast rare beer tasting for their pints for prostates event. Star Bar also hosted a number of extracurriculars and served as the main venue for those more in the know of the local beer scene. It was here that my photographer Will convinced me to drink a glass of Rumpkin after Friday’s session while Adam Avery himself looked on approvingly. (At the time I imaged him giving me a thumbs up, but it was most likely a fatherly sigh of disapproval) What resulted was catastrophic. It was here that I also tried my first beer cocktail outside of a Moscow Mule, and my first Beersicle, yes that’s a beer popsicle. Star Bar offered up Maui’s Coconut Porter and New Belgium’s Peach Porch Lounger in the beersicle varieties and neither disappointed.
The festival also served as an opportunity to meet a host of amazing people. Aside from the brewers, we also the founders of Bitch Beer, an Austin, TX based beer blog. Their staff is comprised entirely of women who are working toward promoting their gender’s role in the craft beer community. This group of lovely ladies share a similar chill, hilariously ridiculous approach to beer that align with the PorchDrinking mentality, so its safe to assume we’ll see more collaboration between the two entities in the near future. It was also through the help of the Bitch Beer team that we were able to coin such viral phrases as #overmilked, #OMF (old man farts, which we found out are pervasive at beer festivals), and #secretgarden.
So a few bulleted takeaways from the weekend for those who like to skim:
- Don’t drop your glass
- Hop air fresheners are worse than burps after eating Indian food.
- Beer popsicles are the next big thing.
- Dales Pale Ale cans do not need to get any bigger
- Vine St Pub is even more cool than you may think… and thats saying a lot
- Drinking Rumpkin after boozing for 4 hours is dangerous
- First lobster beer, then Rocky Mountain Oyster beer
- PBR is actually a gold medal winner on top of their mysterious blue ribbon
- Charlie Papazian is the Chuck Norris of craft beer and I bumped fists with him
- Coca Cola trucks don’t give cab rides
- If you can find the secret garden great things are possible
- Live tweeting the awards ceremony is an easy way to get carpal tunnel
- Beer makes everything better in the end.
- #OMF stands for old man farts contrary to popular beliefs.
- Beer can be #overmilked
- Its gonna be ok.
All in all the Great American Beer Festival is a must attend experience for anyone with a passion for craft beer. Never before have I seen such a large scale appreciation for the art of beer. It was a pervasive bond that swept the entire city of Denver. And for one weekend everyone spoke that language of brew.
We’ll have more later this week with a photo gallery recap, along with breweries and specific beers that most impressed at the festival.