The Great American Beer Fest is a combination of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and your birthday, all rolled into a week. It’s a love-story-hug-fest-drinkathon full of friends, family, and excess. The event is officially only 4 sessions, or a total of 18 hours of “show time”. But Denver shines its shoes, puts on a pretty dress, and opens its doors for much more than that.
Denver off the Wagon is a group of 30 or so drinkers who work in a variety of trades, write on a variety of topics, and drink a variety of… drinks. We live here, we drank a lot last week, and we have some stories for you.
Skip ahead to any section:
- Some stories
- Favorite Beers Inside the Fest
- Favorite Beers Outside the Fest
- Favorite Event(s) Besides the Fest
- What You’d Do Differently Next Year
- How You’d Change The Week/Fest/Events next year
One of the most awesome things was on Saturday afternoon, catching a ride with the New Brew Thursday guys to Falling Rock to deliver the beer for Dr. Bill’s rare beer tasting, and getting to go into the cooler. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, I want to live in it.Later that night at Colt & Gray was pretty rad just because there were 4 breweries (Avery, Victory, Lagunitas and Bison) all hanging out there, and there were Lagunitas cupcakes.
Another just neat thing was a couple of the Avery kids yelling “DOTW in the house” when Jess and I ran into them at Falling Rock Saturday.
Jess Hunter is the master of photo bombing. See how many photos you can find her in.
- Lisa getting carried across the festival by a brewer because he was hitting on her and she refused to walk all the way to his booth.
- Asking the Coors pourer for one of the Red Keystone cans as a keepsake and him looking confused and horrified, but still giving it to us (we needed proof that it was real and did exist)
- Amber bartering her way into cutting a long line with pretzel whoring
After the Saturday session I enjoyed what is apparently becoming a tradition at Star Bar where the brewers from Avery and Justin shotgun Avery IPA. It was delicious. If you see any Avery guys at Star Bar keep an eye out and you may witness this rare ritual.
I generally judge how good my evening the night before was by how and where I wake up in the morning. Friday morning, I woke up on my sofa, wearing only knee-high socks that said “BEER” and several temporary, beer-related tattoos. Next to me a glass crusted with Alka-Seltzer and a wrapper from a Hot Pocket. Epic. Night.Drunken people come up with some very viable theories. My favorite of the week was that penis size in different ethnicities is directly related to whether or not that ethnicity is known for sausage making. Example: men of German and Polish descent must have huge penises due to their prolific kielbasa making.
Second favorite, Jim insisting that it was Toby Keith that played Spiderman and the hilarity that ensued. Not just with explaining to Jim that it was in fact, Tobey Maguire that played Spiderman, but with all the conversation as to just what Toby Keith would look like in a Spiderman costume and how he would fight crime. Comic genius.
Hearing one of the (Where’s) Waldos tell another: “KNIFE FIGHT. HANDYCAP STALL. FIVE MINUTES.” while in line for the bathroom
Great American Beer Festival is a magical combination. It pools together people across the world of a collaborative industry over the love of beer.My favorite stories were snippets of great times with friends…drinking more Bud Light than I’d like to admit (BJCP Beer Judge School)…watching Nick Nunn’s presentation on beer drinkers/brewers and their similarity to metal fans/rockstars…proposing to Jonathan Shikes…parading through GABF on Thursday with Sean Buchan…foodgasming at the Farm to Table event…sitting down to chat with Zane Lamprey and his producer…scouting out breakfast sandwiches at Euclid’s midnight breakfast…heading to the Beer for Boobs brunch…sitting down with Will and Mari Kempers from Chuckanut…Attending Saturday Morning’s session…parading around with fellow Wagoneers…sampling beers with Andy Sparhawk, Lee Williams, and Billy Broas….Dr. Bill’s (rapid) Rare Beer Tasting….swapping many stories (including ones surrounding Charlie Papazian) with the New Brew Thursday guys…doing multiple pit-stops at Star Bar and Falling Rock Taphouse…photobombing with Sean Buchan….all to end with a full on bacon session at Rackhouse with the movers-and-shakers of the beer world in social media. What a whirldwind.
Can’t really think of a funny story though I was probably involved in a couple myself and just don’t remember.
Well, another GABF down. I spent this time with a few friends from around the country. This year I hosted a couple of the guys from the up-and-coming Bad Jimmy’s Brewery from Seattle. They are pretty good party fellows. And that is what we did. We started on Tuesday with some basic beers and a bit of whiskey to promptly begin pickling my internals. It gets a bit cloudy throughout. Tuesday was pretty quiet, Wednesday was a bit ridiculous – 3am discussions of starting a large fire. Thank god that common sense halted late night pyro… Thursday is our traditional GABF session. Great show and the evening moved to Star Bar for a few nightcaps. Those caused extraordinarily foul shoutings, illicit cab rides and possibly an ejection from a bar on Colfax that will not be named. Friday we cooled it and made a Ft Collins trip and Saturday I felt like dying. So I proceeded to drink some more beer… Whew.
Some things that happened..
- A request to touch my uterus and fallopian tubes.
- Dancing, dancing, and more dancing.
- Debates on the best way to get from bar to bar. Cab or escort? Escorts are more fun!
- Someone spilled sour beer on my dress (this may have happened more than once.)
- No I don’t work at Star Bar, but I do like to clean up glasses.
- @Beertographer told a dirty joke. It was amazing.
- Something about Yeti nipples…I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was hilarious.
- No, the “I Heart Beer4Boobs” tattoo on my leg is not real…but I’m thinking about getting one now…
- And last but not least, the beer!!!
Just toward the end of Thurs night, I commented on how this year was so much better than last, and how I even tried more great beer. I also reveled as to how not-f’ed-up I was. That was before I started the soul train line at the silent disco 15 mins later. I suppose some of those big beers snuck up on me, because my moves were red-hot.
GABF week came at a bad time for me this year. Or–wait–scratch that. My one crippling cold for the year came at a bad time. While I rallied myself enough to attend a few GABF events this year, I expected more out of me. My favorite event outside the festival this year was the newly-created Ignite Denver Off The Wagon (collaboration between Ignite Denver and Denver Off The Wagon… but you might have guessed that) which took place on the Wednesday before the GABF sessions kicked off. Funny and knowledgeable Denver folks presented alongside funny and knowledgeable beer industry folks for an awesome, good time. Despite most of the crowd’s laughter was likely beer-induced, I think the sold-out crowd would agree that this was an event not to be missed next year.
Every minute of last week is a story worth telling. But, for the sake of not writing a novel… Friday started with the media luncheon, followed by a few bars, a full GABF session, and closing out Star Bar – with an attempt to close out Whiskey Bar, but they were only offering shots. At 2am. And we had things to do.Eight of us climbed into a cab and went back to my apartment with the intent of opening all the rare bottles Alex brought as rent for the week. There were two people sitting at my neighbor’s door, unable to get in. After we all gave the lock a jiggle, I invited them to join the party. Mind you, it’s 2:30am at this point. The lock to my door opens without incident, and we all pour in and begin to pour some beer. By “some beer”, I mean Melange #1, 2004 Old Rasputin, The Bruery’s ISO:FT, Pinotlambicus, and Sour Rye, and a Firestone Walker 14. Turns out this couple from the hallway is in to craft beer, doesn’t live in Denver, and happened to be at our Ignite event two nights prior.
Anyway, we drank all this beer, laughed until it hurt, made fun of accents (two people from the northern border were present), and stayed up until irresponsible hours of the morning.
Favorite Beers Inside the Fest
Everything from Destihl. Indignant Bourbon imperial stout from Haymarket was a pretty silly awesome beer. Short’s Carrot Cake was swell.
- 2010 Olde School – Dogfish Head
- Saint Dekkera Barrel Reserve Sour Barleywine – Destihl Restaurant & BrewWorks
- Black Tuesday – The Bruery
- Genesis 15:15 (He’Brew Series) – Schmaltz Brewing
- 2000 Smoked Porter – Alaskan Brewing Co.
- Pumpkinhead from Shipyard
- Mexican Chocolate Stout from Copper Kettle Brewery
- Brainless on Peaches from Epic Brewing Company
- Shorts – Spruce Pilsner: So much spruce it was overly refreshing
- Shmaltz – Genesis 15:15 Barleywine: Sweet but not too boozy and not too heavy on the body, slightly smoky. My new favorite barleywine style ale
- Steelhead – Hopasaurus Rex: Best hop character I have tasted in a while without loosing it’s malt backbone
- Destihl – St. Dekkera Reserve Sour Barley Wine: The reason I stopped here and man am I glad. This beer was a bit more funky than sour but very interesting to have the heavy barleywine mouth feel balanced out by wet hay and horse blanket
- Cambridge – Arquebus: Lots of honey and caramel on the nose. Not too heavy, it has a fruity sweetness like pears and apricots. Drinks very well for an 11%er
- Double Jack / Firestone Walker
- Red Poppy / Lost Abby
- Provisional Farmhouse / Trinity
- St. Dekkera Reserve Sour Strawberry Ale / DESTIHL
- Black Angle Stout / DESTIHL
- Bonus Brew – Chaparral Saison / Ladyface Alehouse (most underrated, underreported, and least talked about (sadly) brewery of the festival)
- The Gambler – Short’s Brewing
- Zombie Dust – Three Floyd’s
- The Troegenator – Troeg’s
- Probably other things I should have written down
- Sun King’s Wee Muckle. It was aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Oh man.
- Saison Vautour by McKenzie
- Raspberry Tart from New Glarus
- St. Dekkera Reserve Sour Barley Wine from DESTIHL
- 1st Anniversary Ale from Ladyface
- “Black Tuesday. And Oude Tart. And then having them mixed. That was weird/awesome.”
- Bison Brew + The Beer Wench’s Saison de Wench
- The Bruery Oude Tart
- Lost Abbey Framboise De Amorosa
- Willoughby Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter
Highlights from the fest included Turnip The Beets from The Bull And Bush Pub, Sun King’s Grapefruit Jungle, and Arctic Panzer Wolf from 3 Floyds. Turnip The Beets is a bizarre vegetable beer that poured a gorgeous red color and tasted like beets. Sounds weird but it was really interesting and if you like beets, it was rad. The APW was a fat, round IIPA that fell on the side of malty with a lot of spicy hops coming through. Yum. Grapefruit Jungle was on the opposite end of the hop flavor spectrum. It was all citrus and glorious. The malt was there but only enough to sweeten up the orange and grapefruit flavors. Oh man. It was awesome. It is also fair to mention that anything from the sour program from Destihl is like heaven.
- Wee Muckle by Sun King
- Curieux by Allagash
- Cask Hop Karl by Bull & Bush
- 1 year anniversary by Ladyface
My top three (all from the Saturday day session, I almost peed my pants when I got this ticket. It was amazing!!!)
- Nebraska Brewing Melange a Trois – Belgian Style Strong Ale that spends six months aging in a Chardonnay barrel and won a gold at GABF this year.
- Portsmouth Fruit Gruit – Scottish Gruit/Ancient Herbed Ale has a nicely balanced fruit and sour sweetness with a bit of bitter hop and chocolate finish. I loved it. My research also found that Gruit and Ancient herbed ales are historically thought to “stimulate the mind, create euphoria, and enhance sexual drive.” Doesn’t get much better than that!
- 6 Rivers Pepper Spicy Ale – This beer is SPICY! Its jalapenos and red pepper skins blended with the 6 Rivers Wheat Ale. I enjoyed drinking it and I want to put it in chili or cornbread muffins. My little brother may have choked a bit, don’t worry though, little brother, no name dropping here.
Brooklyn Brewery “The Concoction”
Favorite beers from GABF included Pizza Port’s Poor Man’s IPA, Blue Point’s Double White IPA and Captain Lawrence’s Rosso e Marrone.
- Wee Muckle aged in Pappy Van Winkle Barrels – Sun King
- The sours and the hype around Destihl
- Black Tuesday, as always
- Defenestration from Russian River, for both the flavor and the name
Favorite Beers Outside the Fest
The Cranberry citrus Yeti from GD was surprisingly delicious. I was a fan off the Fifth Horseman as well. The mama’s mimosa Sunday morning was killer too.:) Oh and whiskey, whiskey was a good beer.
- 2004 Olde School – Dogfish Head (Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting)
- Neilsbohrium Rum Barrel-Aged Imperial Raisin Sweet Stout – Cigar City Brewing (Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting)
- Bourbonic Plague – Cascade Brewing Company (Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting)
- 2009 Sexual Chocolate – Foothills Brewing (Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting)
- Margarete – Avery Brewing Co. (Euclid Hall Midnight Breakfast)
- Oskar Blues – Sour Cherry Ten Fidy: dessert in a glass. The cherry comes through very strongly and works well with the chocolate notes in Ten Fidy
- New Belgium – Star #1: A special blend of La Folie by Justin at Star Bar. It still has that signature La Folie flavor of earthy fruit but was not quite as much of a sour bomb. Better than normal La Folie!
- Great Divide – Ginger Cranberry Yeti: Exactly what it sounds like. The aroma picks up a lot of cranberry but not much ginger. It really kept the Yeti chocolate bitter malty stuff and just added a little bit extra flavor with the fruit and root.
- Cracked Black Pepper Saison / Black Fox
- Ginger Yeti ? (sorry, cannot remember the name) / Great Divide
- The 5th Horseman Saison / Denver Beer Co.
- Rooftop Honey Saison / Wynkoop
- The Stoic / Deschutes (I am not 100% that this was not avail at their booth)
I only have one I can really remember: The PBR I had after the member’s only at the Skeletonwitch show. It was kinda rad to have a boring & plain beer after having my face blown off at all the GABF sessions.
- Wake Up It’s Morning from The Funky Buddha Lounge
- Sacrilicious (Avery Collaboration with Colt and Gray)
- Star Folie (Collaboration with New Belgium and Star Bar)
- Black Xantus from Nectar Ales
- Darkness from Surly Ales
- Margarete from Avery (our toast at Midnight. Pure love)
- New Belgium Eric’s Ale
- The Bruery The Wanderer
- Stone Russian Imperial Stout aged in Stranahan barrels
Really, you can’t get a real grasp on all of the beers you slug down. Hell, I chased a taster of Bud Light Lime with some La Folie. A GABF session usually becomes a mess after the first hour or so, so I just roll with it. I keep a bit more track outside of the convention center. I was lucky enough to have a good friend from the east coast send out some Baby Tree quad from Pretty Things. They know what they are doing out there in Massachusetts. It was huge but didn’t fall into the fault of many quadrupels where the balance is shot by an overwhelming sweetness. The sweetness was just enough to deliver a bunch of prune and raisin and peel off dry at the end. I also tried Renegade Brewing for the first time and was pretty impressed overall. The coffee ale that they serve is just a surprise. It was cool to find coffee in a reddish ale rather than a porter or some other dark beer. Nice stuff.
Great Divide Cranberry Orange Yeti
I had the opportunity to drink some ridiculous beers from California. My buddy stays with me every year, and brings a box of “rent”. This year included Melange #1, 2004 Old Rasputin, The Bruery’s ISO:FT, Pinotlambicus, and Sour Rye, and a Firestone Walker 14. Add to that a Funky Buddha Boca Wide Awake It’s Morning, which I had the chance to sip on from another good friend, and it was a decent collection of beers last week. And of course, the Denver Beer Co / Denver off the Wagon collaboration, The Fifth Horseman, was refreshing all week long.
Favorite Event(s) Besides the Fest
Ignite GABF was completely ridiculous. Beer for Boobs brunch is a good time as well.
My two favorite events outside of GABF were the Denver Rare Beer Tasting put on by Pints for Prostates and the Avery/Euclid Hall Midnight Breakfast. The Denver Rare Beer Tasting featured some of the most amazing beers I’ve ever had the privileged of trying, including Utopias by Boston Beer Co. which nearly blew my palate. Held at Wynkoop, this is an event that should be on everyone’s must-do list if you are a fan of stouts, porters, barleywines, sours, or BBQ (they had an all-you-can-eat buffet). The Avery/Euclid Hall Midnight Breakfast was amazing as well. Every 15-20 minutes it seemed like, they would release a new breakfast item paired with a rare Avery beer… like fresh doughnuts with a Rumpkin glaze paired with Meph Addict! I’m pretty sure I gained 5 pounds that night, but it was worth it.
My favorite event was the sour tapping at Star Bar where 10 sour beers were served. Sour beer is one of my favorite styles and it is rare to find that many tapped in one place!
- Ignite Denver GABF tie-in = awesome
- Brown Palace / Wynkoop food & beer pairing lunch
- The nightly round-up of Wagon people (and beer loving strangers) at Star Bar
- Seeing the Kentucky Parlor Pickers at both Star Bar and Great Divide
Seeing Skeletonwitch at the Gothic with one of my best friends from out of town. The most brutal 30 minutes of my life.
- Ignite GABF. It was just a great way to kick off one ridiciulous week
- Anything that Euclid Hall puts on. Seriously, Ryan Conklin and the folks at Avery know how to put on an event. Having the Midnight Breakfast with Avery was pure genius. Meph Addict and Margarete to name a few…
- The Hoe Down and every other fun party put on by Star Bar
- Beer Judge School at Rackhouse with Gwen Conley. While it was a lot of spiked Bud Light, it was fascinating to try the off-flavors in beer at three times their threshold
- Dr. Bill’s / New Brew Thursday’s Rare Beer Tasting at Falling Rock Taphouse
Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting
My favorite events this year were the Ignite Denver Off the Wagonevent on Wednesday. Thursday at work was rough, but totally worth it. Some of the funniest moments of my week happened this night. The speakers were excellent. Chris Rippe from Rackhouse Pub was my favorite: “Hey Prohibition! Suck it!” I was very tempted to yell this at the Friday night session just to see if there were any fellow attendees around…I was also at Star Bar just about every night last week. They had live music for all of our amazing dance moves to be shown off to, and ridiculous beer on tap. This is also the spot for beer cocktails. Hit up Justin and Dina and they will blow your mind with what can be done with beer and spirits. They expanded their bar and tap handle selection just for this week. The New Belgium tap take-over on Thursday was fantastic.
The beer garden at Great Divide Brewing was rocking as well. They had live music and expanded their tap room to pack in more awesome people.
Big wild sours @ Star Bar (good to have a place to go to that had live music all week). Felt it was like the go-to place after all the other events, so i guess it was kinda like a non-event
Ignite Denver off the Wagon was a blast. It was amazing to see so many people come out for the event, and the free beer didn’t hurt. Not fully over my dislike of standing on stage in front of people just yet, but beer in hand seems to help. A lot.
What You’d Do Differently Next Year
I would remind myself to eat more than one meal on a day filled with drinking. The problem is being so full of beer that you don’t get hungry. Small plate munchies aka table food at every stop is the way to go.
I wouldn’t do anything differently that I can think of. I had a fantastic time during GABF. Bring on next year!
I wouldn’t go early to stand in line. It moves so quickly, and there are so many beers inside that you aren’t really at any advantage by being the first ones in.
I may actually skip the Thursday session next year as it was more crowded than I remember it being last year and I had a lot more fun at the members session on Saturday. However I would tell everyone that it is a great idea to have a chill out day in between sessions. I take Friday to eat right and drink a lot of water with my beer so that I can recover a little bit before the rest of the weekend.
- Definitely more involvement in the events going around Denver for GABF week. I missed a lot of things that week because I was not paying attention or did not plan ahead.
- Adopting a more tactical and planned approach to Beer Fest and less meandering.
- Buying multiple day tickets to Beer Fest so I can enjoy some of the seminars, etc…without thinking I am missing out on the beer tastings.
- Step my stalking of @colobeerman due to my odd attraction to him.
Have my brewery open so I can use the VIP entrance.
- I will go to the Farm to Table again. And I will go there once I enter the festival. And I will hang out there for the night until they kick me out.
- I will meander and talk on Thursday, try different beers on Friday from those on Thursday, and on Saturday morning, I will do the final round up. If any of you have the opportunity to go to the Saturday morning session, do it. You will not regret it whatsoever.
- Solidify my marriage to Jonathan Shikes, (You know, @ColoBeerMan)
Next year I would actually go to GABF and or events every damn day! I had to work all week.
Go to more sessions inside the fest. great change of pace vs walking around and sampling.
Play it a little less by ear. Usually I just go with the flow and jump in on events as they happen. Next year, I’d like to plan for a few more events, like the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting. But, the freedom of no schedule did make for some awesome late nights…
How You’d Change The Week/Fest/Events next year
Maybe it was just me or the events I was interested in but I felt like it was often the case that the would be three all at the same time and then large stretches where there was nothing going on or the events going on were expensive as balls/sold out.
I would like to have a better idea of good beers to try and where they’re located. I think they should’ve made the GABF app for iPhone and Android, and PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO BRING THEIR BABIES.
The events surrounding GABF get more and more exciting every year, but they also get more and more spread out around town. I don’t have any ideas yet but I would like to see more options for transportation being advertised other than taxis. I’ll keep brainstorming on this issue.
My biggest change (if I ruled GABF) would be to the way the beers are presented at the Fest. If there is not going to be a knowledgeable representative of the beer, for the LOVE OF GOD, at least have a placard on the beer with some details. Bless the volunteers, but there needs to be some sort of requirement to know SOMETHING about the beer they are pouring. Make sure they are assigned to the same booth, get them an info sheet on their pours, maybe a quick meet and greet with the brewery just prior to first pour. Something. Anything.
If I could change something it would be the blasphemous sounds when someone drops a glass. But oh well, pick your battles.
- The sessions need better food options.
- Too many beers are gone by the Saturday night session. Keep some in reserve or bring more.
The event pool is too diluted! At least all the powerhouses of GABF spots need to have their flagship events on different days or times (Falling Rock, Euclid, FreshCraft, Colt and Gray, Rackhouse, Bull and Bush, StarBar, etc)
The festival itself gets a bit too crowded. I realize that there are 49,000 people in attendance, and I don’t have a particularly good solution on how to make it less crowded. Possibly – and my liver cries as I say this – more sessions? Also, I really, really don’t like Ticketmaster. I’m not sure if the BA’s online store can handle the traffic, but do away with Ticketmaster and find a solution that a) doesn’t charge such an exorbitant “service fee” and b) doesn’t open the festival up to as many scalpers (my theory on b. is that Ticketmaster is more noticeable to the general, non-GABF public, when compared to Brown Paper Tickets).But honestly, this week rocks so hard, just keep on keeping on.
This is the shit we live for. Great American Beer Fest, and the surrounding events, people, and 4am mornings, these are our raisons d’être. Beyond the beer itself, beyond the sunrises and the bottle shares and all of that, it’s you. The people. The personalities. The community. Thank you all for supporting us this far. Running in to so many of you this past week caused some seriously warm and fuzzies in our insides, and that really helped offset the heartburn from the all the sour beers.
We’re not going anywhere. Keep reading, join us for a beer, and tell us your story!