A human shield surrounds the Colorado Convention Center as if to protect the building’s precious liquid contents. 2,700 beers sit inside; cold, vulnerable and perhaps a bit nervous to be percolated into their final transformation: Pee.
The Great American Beer Festival’s landscape sits before us like the Grand Canyon. In true American fashion, Scottish Bag Pipers squeeze their bags and blow to commence this epic three-day beer festival. I wipe the sheen of sweat from my brow and clench my butt cheeks in anticipation. What the hell am I going to drink first?
The parade of festival goers is as diverse as the beers inside. There’s the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebes, and the dickheads* – all here for one reason: Craft Beer. Mini-Pilsner plastic cups in hand, people prance in to find the perfect beer to wet their fest-whistles. Most have a plan in mind, but fuck all that. I choose to bounce around the festival like a shiny pinball, letting the occasional flipper bounce me back into action. With more than a quarter of all American breweries in this titanic-sized room, I like my odds!
A hundred people make a bee-line for Russian River Brewing Co’s booth. “It’s all about the Pliny”, says the guy next to me, sheepishly. Many people in the long line scope out breweries nearby like magazines in the grocery store checkout. My hometown brewery Noble Ale Works benefits from this as a number of people duck out of line for a pre-emptive strike.
Finally up front at Russian River, “I’ll take a number two, extra pickles” I say. The volunteer rolls her eyes. I clear my throat and ask for a Toronado 25th Anniversary (American Wild Ale) for my first beer. Despite my lame humor attempt, she levels my sample dead-even on the 1oz mark while squinting. My first sip makes me smile and sigh. I close my eyes and thank my Fairy Beer Mother. “Bippity, Beerpity, BOO!”, I say to Pliny guy. We tap our plastic festival glasses and part in different directions, thankfully. There’s nothing worse than a Pliny fanboy at a beer festival. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great beer…FOR ME TO POOP ON! JK OMG, calm down. You’re such a touchy reader, geez.
My first drinking buddy of the fest is Kendra Birdwell, GM and Cheesemonger of the Bruery Provisions in Orange. We graze over to the American Cheese Society’s booth and she vouches for the lineup. Feedin’ time at the cheese booth is slow like a bunch of heifers chewing cud. With fifty people in line, we move three feet in five minutes. “Ever milk a bull?” I ask. Thankfully it’s so loud she replies, “What?” while batting her alluring Zooey Desschanel-like eyes. “This line is nuts! Let’s drink some beer”. Indeed. We bolt like a bulls at a rodeo, aiming for the annoying clowns.
I thought for sure the line for Dogfish Head would be crooked, zig-zaggy, or shaped like an infinity symbol, considering their ales are for off-centered people. Nope. It was military straight. Sam Calagione is up front, high fiving, hand-shaking, kissing babies and posing for pics. Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn Brewery is doing the same! My new strategy while out of my region: skip the booth if it’s manned by all volunteers (unless they’re hot). If the brewers are there, stop in for a chat and a beer. If I like the first beer, get another. Repeat. If there’s a line > 10 people, hop in it and get whatever looks good.(Skipping ahead a blog post: this strategy worked out great! Many of the beers I sampled this way ended up winning awards!)
My tasting strategy: With a 1oz pour, beer evaluation is basic. After a complete glass-rinse, I drink the rinse water to refresh my palate and to hydrate on a 2:1 water/beer ratio. I then take a whiff and a small sip to evaluate aroma, then swish the rest in my mouth to evaluate flavor and mouthfeel. I ask for a second pour if something gives me chub! I front load my non-hoppy beers for the first couple hours, then increase IBU’s as the session wears on; although palate fatigue didn’t seem to be an issue with 1oz pours.
Like a crazy man, I attend all four sessions of GABF. Here’s notes on each:
Thursday: Great session! Not crowded, lots of rare stuff. Brewers linger at their booths and answer questions. Note to self: Go for lower ABV and IBU on the first day due to elevation change. You got shitcanned! Eat food before leaving for after-parties! Don’t choose a drinking buddy that will be there for only one day. They are running a 5K and you’re doing a marathon!
Friday: Same as Thursday, but SUPER crowded. I had two drinking buddies tonight! The lovely LeAnn Hubbard (Selmas Pizzaria & Taproom Manager RSM) and beer blogger friend Joslyn Ellstrom (pic above). Note to self: Hit the cheese first. Ramp up ABV and hoppy beers here, or don’t, you charming, sexy man.
Saturday Afternoon: This is the members only session where they have real glassware. Pours get a little looser. Brewers are at the awards show and grabbing lunch during the first half, so expect a lot of volunteers. After the awards show, look for award winning beers to sample!
Saturday Night: Holy shit. Even the volunteers are drunk at this session! People are dropping glassware at a rate of three a minute. Full pours on whatever is left! Most of the good stuff is gone. On the way out, I ask a girl dressed like Nintendo’s Mario if she wants to jump on my mushroom. She hums the Super Mario theme as I walk away into Denver’s cold, crisp night.
Overall: If you had to choose one session: go Thursday. If you want two, add Saturday afternoon. If you want to get barfed on, go Saturday night. With so much going on around town, there’s no way you will be disappointed.
Other stuff! This festival is the biggest and best out there. Where else can you say, “I’d like to sample Berliner Weiss’ from all over the country, then DO IT in one hour? I did! Where else can you sample Pliny the Elder, Bootleggers Knuckle Sandwich, Stone Brewing Co Enjoy By 11.09.12, Alpine Duet, and other beers back to back? I did! Where else can you discover Gruits, Cheecha, and a bulls balls Stout under one roof? Nowhere but the MF GABF. I went on a brett bender. I went on a sour bender. I went on a hop bender. I went on a barrel aged bender. I came and I conquered the Great American Beer Festival.
Gripes: The lighting. It’s bad enough you’re in a room with heavy drinkers with possible liver problems…the lighting made everyone look like stage three Jaundice. On Thursday, the lighting spiked up for a minute to normal levels showing it was option to dim them horribly. Environment Shmenvironment. Give us some light so we don’t look like Oompa Loompas!
The cup droppers. Every time someone dropped a cup, a hundred Andrew Dice Clay’s pop out of nowhere and yell, “OHHHhhhhhhh”. I heard someone drop their cup on purpose and yelled “Ohhhh” on his own! Joslynn said a girl dropped her cup in the restroom! Ewww. Put the damn cup in your cleavage, you butterfingered dingus!
Overall: This was my first time at GABF and won’t be my last! I can’t wait for the next one! Denver (and Colorado) is a craft beer utopia! So many great food options, gastropubs, and beer loving locals. “Craft Beer has changed how beer is perceived and America’s role as a brewing nation.” – Julia Herz, Brewers Association.
Any now, sleeping old dudes at GABF:
*quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; John Hughes (There’s the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebes, and the dickheads) CHEERS. Thanks for reading. In case you missed it, here’s my pre-GABF post that is so raunchy my work’s net-nanny blocks it.