Tag Archives: Denver

Six Tips to Help You Get the Most out of the Great American Beer Fest

The trees are starting to don their autumn colours and the kegs have already been tapped for this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich. Today in Vienna the curtain rises on a less well-known festival, but one entirely in keeping with the spirit of the harvest season: the Wiener Wiesn Fest in the broad and leafy expanses of Vienna’s Prater park.

GABF 2014 (TastingGlass-GABF FB) 2On the other side of the Atlantic, beer devotees are beginning to arrive at a different annual pilgrimage site. Yes, it’s that the time of year when thousands of thirsty craft beer enthusiasts converge upon Denver and its environs for the Great American Beer Festival. Equal parts serious beer connoisseurship and street carnival, the GABF may not be as large as Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it boasts a truly impressive cross-section of breweries currently operating in the U.S. and an unrivaled breadth of beer styles to match.

Whether you’re new to the beer fest circuit or a seasoned veteran, I’ve compiled a few tried-and-true tips to make sure you remember at least a portion of your experience and so that you don’t wake up the next day feeling like you’ve gone head-to-head, helmetless, with a Denver Broncos’ lineman.

First, though, some fun facts from 2014:

  • Approximately 49,000 attended
  • Average age of attendees: 34.5 years
  • 76% of attendees were male, 24% were female
  • 1309 breweries entered 5507 beers
  • 222 judges from 10 countries judged in five sessions
  • 90 + beer categories were evaluated, with an average of 61 beers per category
  • 279 American-style IPAs were entered for judging

Now, that’s a lot of beer and plenty of stylistic variation to take in. Add to that the dazzling array of ingredients that find their way into kettles and fermenters –– fruit, herbs, vegetables, flowers, legumes, chiles, and chocolate are all fair game ––, all those cutting-edge hop varieties, numerous sour this and barrel-aged that, and you’ll have plenty of reason to wonder how you’re going to come out on the other end with any lasting impressions of your GABF experience. And we haven’t even mentioned all the solid takes on straight-up styles like stout, porter, and pale ale.

Drink. (Water!)

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And then repeat. The downside of all this hydration? You’ll probably spend more time in those interminably long bathroom lineups than you’d like. But think of it this way: It’ll give you a chance to meet new people, or to mentally sort through the last hundred-odd beers you’ve just sampled.

Eat.

Eat a huge breakfast and then keep eating throughout the day. Food is available for sale inside the convention center for a price, but since you’ve dropped upwards of $85 on a ticket and spent your last pennies on those tap takeovers around town, why not get your money’s worth? Once you get yourself past the hordes of folks flocking to the beer booths, head straight for the cheese tables and stash away as much of it as you can for later. You might even discover your new favourite cheese in the process. (On a serious note, the cheese selection is immensely underrated by event-goers, so take full advantage!)

The Road Less Traveled.

Upon entering the hallowed precincts of the GABF, you’ll receive a map of the venue along with your tasting glass and program. Take a look around and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land.GABF Map (2015) Circle your top picks, but give yourself some leeway to explore areas outside of the Pacific Northwest, Cali, and Colorado. Never had a beer from Oklahoma? Head on down and have a beer with my friends from Roughtail.

The Hunt.

Rather than looking for that serendipitous find in far-flung regions of the U.S., get to know your fellow revelers and exchange notes on what might be most outrageous, outlandish beer in the festival. Have you ever stood in front of a shelf of beers and thought, man, I’d really like to try that lemon chiffon cruller beer or that bacon and maple syrup beer, but I don’t really feel like dropping upwards of 15 bux on this particular lottery ticket? Well, here’s your chance. Take a vacation from all those IPAs you’ve been drinking and see how many rabbit holes you can go down.

Flora and Fauna.

For the majority of you who have already purchased your tickets, you’re already locked into a session. But if you’re arriving in Denver hoping that all your BeerAdvocate “beer Karma” will help you land a ticket (or for those contemplating a trip to the GABF at some point in the future), I’ll try to give you a sense of how the sessions differ from one another.

Avoid the Saturday evening session unless your main reason for going is to get hammered. Most of the brewers have long since checked out to party with their compadres, and many of the most sought-after beers have long since been Untappd.GABF 2014 (Alaska-GABF FB) The Saturday afternoon session is the one filled with the most serious beer enthusiasts and “tickers,” so be prepared to stand in long lineups for any of the so-called whales. For my money, the Friday evening session is the best. You’ll have a chance to meet many of the brewers and to try some truly extraordinary beers before the kegs start running dry. Since the proportion of flannel-clad beer geeks and neck beard-stroking wannabes is much lower, you won’t be stuck in too many lineups waiting to taste the beers you might have on your list. (Note: I haven’t been to a Thursday session yet, so can’t comment on the pros and cons.)

Know Your Limits.

You don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl.” If you’re new to this whole beer fest thing, brush up on your beer styles ahead of time. Given the widespread adulation of high ABV beers among the craft beer brewing and drinking community, many of the beers you drink will clock in well above the 5% ABV to which you may be accustomed. Most barley wines, Doppelbocks, Double IPAs, and Imperial Stouts tip the scales above 7% ABV, and beers topping out over 10% ABV are not uncommon at the GABF. You paid good money to be here, so enjoy that beer rather than treating your commemorative cup like a shot glass.

Good Housekeeping.

Keep Track. You will, after all, be drinking. And drinking has been known to interfere with our mnemonic faculties on occasion. (Did you really think you were going to remember all those beers?) Bring a small notebook or, at the very least, a pen so that you can jot down notes in the program you received. If you really must, enter your finds into Untappd. Regardless of your chosen method, keeping track of all those beers is going to be one of the toughest things you’ll do at GABF––especially if you’re with a group of friends. Stick with it, though. You’ll thank me for the tip when you get home and can remember what characterized even a few of the beers you liked.

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This year’s GABF runs from September 24 through September 26 in Denver, CO.

As the organizers of the GABF put it, “Savor the flavor responsibly.” I’ll be thinking of you while I drink my Maß of beer here in Vienna. Cheers and Prost!

Related Tempest Articles

Check out these articles if you’re looking for breweries, brewpubs, and bottle shops beyond the general GABF festivities. Boulder is easily reachable from Denver via public transit, and Fort Collins is but a short car ride from both Denver and Boulder.

Striking Gold at Boulder Breweries (The Front Range Series)

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Sources and Images

GABF Post-Event Report 2014

GABF Floor Plan

All other images from the GABF Facebook page.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

Imperceptibly but steadily the arid ranchland terrain of dry gullies and crevices rises to meet the horizon as I leave behind a limitless expanse stretching eastward as far as the eye can see. A few hours pass before I crest a small hill, and there, spread out before me in the distance is the spine of the continent soaring to majestic heights.Albert Bierstadt - SurveyorsWagonRockies (1859-WikiCommons) Tucked up against the Front Range palisades that form the entry to the Rockies, Denver and other erstwhile frontier settlements beckon with a cosmopolitan flair that belies their one-time reputation as a collection of cow towns.

* * *

Home to hikers, cyclists, and other fitness-conscious denizens of Whole Foods and similar paycheque-depleting grocery stores, Colorado boasts the second-highest number of gallons of beer consumed per capita in the United States. Beards abound, but there’s hardly a beer belly in sight.

  • 175 craft breweries (4th in the U.S.)
  • 4.7 breweries per 100,000 adults 21 years of age or older (4th in the U.S.)
  • 1,413,242 barrels produced (2nd in the U.S.) *One barrel = 31 U.S. gallons
  • 11.7 gallons of beer per adult 21 years of age or older (2nd in the U.S.)

~Brewers’ Association data current as of 2013~

* * *

Arapaho and Cheyenne buffalo hunters once occupied the land that rumours of riches transformed. Gold drew the tide of white pioneers and adventurers to the Front Range in the middle of the nineteenth century, establishing Denver as a major supply point at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

* * *

Over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I’d be seeing old Denver at last. […] Before I knew it we were going over the wholesale fruitmarkets outside Denver; there were smokestacks, smoke, railyards, red-brick buildings, and the distant downtown gray-stone buildings, and here I was in Denver. He let me off at Larimer Street. I stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world, among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street.  (Jack Kerouac, On the Road)

Just as Denver once attracted luminaries of the postwar counter-cultural efflorescence, the city has also played a central role in a more recent “revolution” that is leaving an indelible imprint on the recent cultural history of North America.Kerouac - On the Road Even if Kerouac’s beat prose pulses more faintly in Denver today than it did in the late 1940s, a host of Denver breweries and brewpubs have channeled the ethos of this earlier generation in challenging taste preferences for massed-produced beer. Though we may debate the merits of gentrification, establishments like Wynkoop and Great Divide have shaped the urban revitalization of Denver.

Wynkoop Brewing Company

With its three-story brewpub with its sea of pool tables on the second floor and convivial downstairs bar and dining area, Wynkoop is a Denver institution with deep roots in the community.

Back when it opened in 1988, there was nary a brewpub in sight between California and Chicago. And not only that: The historic building in which John Hickenlooper and his partners chose to establish their brewpub––the J.S. Brown Mercantile Building (1899)––was in an area of town that had long since fallen on hard times. The partners had to lobby the state legislature to change the laws governing the production and sale of beer at a single site. The work paid off. With one cut of the ribbon on opening day, Wynkoop became Colorado’s first brewpub and Denver’s first microbrewery. (It seems the experience with the political process paid off for Hickenlooper. If you’re not from Colorado but were wondering why the name sounds familiar, Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver fifteen years after Wynkoop opened, and was elected governor twenty-two years after the first pint was raised.)

Wynkoop - RockyMtnOysterStout (www-wynkoop-com)Rather than settling on a pint, try a sampler flight of three 5-oz pours. Two beers in particular stood out among the two flights I ordered. The Cherry Sour is a relatively complex barrel-aged beer with pleasant oak and vanilla aromatics stitched together with a playful sour cherry and hay-like Brett character. If you like darker beers, try the B3K Black Lager––plenty of sweet cocoa and caramel together with toast and roast aromas complementing spicy-herbal noble hops and a bitter-sweet chocolate nuttiness on the palate. Should you happen upon Wynkoop around April Fools’ Day, try the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout if you dare.

Great Divide

No frills here. Just a wrap-around bar, a room with a view (to the brewhouse), and the occasional food truck parked out front. Located in a serviceable early-vintage brick building a few steps off the beaten path in a part of town that still retains a Kerouacian feel, Great Divide’s tasting room is all about what’s in the glass.IMG_9399 Even if you live in a place that sees plenty of Great Divide distribution, this is one taproom and brewery where your well-spent time won’t cost you more than a happy song to sample the richly warming offerings that don’t make it far beyond the Denver city limits. The prices for samples of their various Yeti iterations (Espresso Oak-Aged, Chocolate Oak-Aged, Belgian-Style, you name it) are eye-popping, but in a good way. With the proliferating rivers of excellent imperial stouts available these days, it still pays to rediscover the craft beer “classics” from time to time.

If you’re not as much a fan of the heavy hitters as I am––or if you entertain any hope of partaking of Denver’s rich cultural scene in addition to your beer explorations––the taproom’s sixteen handles also include Great Divide’s widely available lighter fare like Heyday Belgian-Style White Ale and Lasso IPA.

Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

Just off Larimer Street, Euclid Hall occupies a stately brick building once home to a Masonic Lodge and the Colorado Women’s Relief Corps. A small selection of mainly Colorado breweries such as Elevation, Telluride, Epic, Odell, Avery, and Left Hand flow from the twelve taps, and the roughly fifty bottles and cans come reasonably priced.Euclid Hall Exterior (FB page) Choose from the Arithmetic or Algebra list for lighter beers, or try your luck with Trigonometry or Calculus at the higher ABV/IBU/sour quotient end of the list.

You may well find a larger selection of beers at several of the taprooms within a stone’s throw of Euclid Hall, but you’d be harder pressed to find food that matched the caliber of this gastropub’s dishes: house-made sausages, hand-ground mustards, and P.E.I. mussels steamed in New Belgium Tripel are just a few of the beer-friendly dishes you’ll find here. I had a rich and silky Duck Poutine that had me thinking for a moment that I was at the legendary Au Pièd de Cochon in Montreal. My dinner companion, who’s vegetarian, had no objections about the Asparagus Gribiche.

Colorado Liquor Mart

Colorado Liquor Mart features knowledgeable service if you’re lucky enough to get “the beer guy.” Colorado craft beer is well represented, and the store has an inconspicuous walk-in behind the showcase coolers where you can search for rarer beers from the U.S. and beyond. Be sure to ask about it; staff members were more than happy to take me back for a look. Easily accessible from I-25, Colorado Liquor Mart makes a perfect pit-stop for loading up on the way out of town. Mr. B.’s Wine & Spirits and Mondo Vino get good press, but I haven’t been. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Endnote:

Thanks for reading the first part of Tempest’s series on Colorado’s Northern Front Range. The compendium of articles I’ll be rolling out over the coming weeks is eons from exhaustive––who among us can conceivably visit every establishment in the Denver, Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins areas within the space of a week, especially while taking in two sessions of the Great American Beer Festival? Feel most free to chime in with a comment about your own favourite brewery and taproom gems beyond the justifiably famous ones that saturate the Front Range.

Related Tempest Articles

Striking Gold: Boulder Breweries Further Afield (Northern Front Range Series)

Boulder: Craft Beer at the Foot of the Mountain (Northern Front Range Series)

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Wild Mountain: Come for the Great Outdoors, Stay for the Beer and Barbeque

Green Pints at Asher Brewing Company

Images

Albert Bierstadt. Surveyor’s Wagon in the Rockies (1859). Two-dimensional public-domain reproduction of the original housed in the St. Louis Art Museum.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, www.wynkoop.com, photo gallery.

Great Divide taproom, F.D. Hofer.

Euclid Hall exterior, Euclid Hall Facebook page.

Useful Further Reading

Ed Sealover. Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado’s Breweries (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011).

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Seven Steps to Surviving the Great American Beer Festival

It’s that time of the year again when the leaves start to turn and the National Hockey League season begins. It’s also the time of year when thousands of thirsty craft beer enthusiasts converge upon Denver for that annual pilgrimage known as the Great American Beer Festival.

GABF 2014 1

Equal parts serious beer connoisseurship, Bacchanalian revelry, and street carnival, the GABF may not be as large as Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it boasts a truly impressive cross-section of American breweries and an array of beers to match.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who scored a ticket to this year’s GABF. Or maybe you’re putting your trust in all that “beer karma” you’ve built up on Beer Advocate and are heading to Denver in the hopes that you don’t get hosed too badly on a last-minute Craigslist deal. (It has worked for me in the past.) Whatever the case may be, and whether you’re new to the beer fest circuit or a seasoned veteran, I’ve compiled a few tips to ensure that you don’t expel all your hard-earned Untappd badges into your tankard at the end of the night.GABF 2014 (Alaska-GABF FB)But first, some fun facts from 2013:

The annual GABF offers the avant-gardists of the craft beer world plenty of compelling styles and ingredients du jour. 2013 was all about key lime (usually in saisons and lagers) and cocoa nibs (often in conjunction with coffee). Speaking of coffee, the seemingly perennial chili teamed up with shots of java and sometimes chocolate in many a stout and porter, often to convincing effect. Central American hot chocolate, anyone? Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, Galaxy, and Mosaic hops featured prominently, especially in American-style pale ales and IPAs. Cucumber also made the occasional cameo (Cigar City, Trinity, Wicked Weed), lending those beers an intensely refreshing quality reminiscent of running through the sprinkler on a sun-baked day.

  • Attendance: approximately 49,000
  • Competing breweries: 747
  • Judges: 208
  • Beers judged: 4,863
  • Number of categories judged: 84
  • Number of IPAs entered: 252
  • Fewest beers in a category: Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest (29)

Now, that’s a lot of beer and plenty of stylistic variation to take in. How are you going to come out on the other end with any lasting impressions of your GABF experience?

Eat.

Eat a huge breakfast and then follow it up with an ample lunch. Avoid intensely-flavoured foods that will linger on the palate, but don’t be shy about indulging any latent desires for waffles, pancakes, or French toast. Food is available for sale inside the convention center, but perhaps you’re broke because you’ve just dropped upwards of $85 on a ticket, gave blood so you could pay for your over-priced accommodation, and spent your last pennies on those rare beers being tapped around town. What’s a hungry but penurious beer drinker to do? Once you get yourself past the deluge of people lining up to get their beer on, head straight for the cheese tables and stash away as much of it as you can for later. The pretzel necklaces work in a pinch, too.

Drink. (But of course!)

Every seasoned imbiber knows this––and then promptly forgets. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And then repeat. And then repeat again after every booth you visit. Wear a CamelBak if you have one. You’ll fit right in with all the other mad hatters wearing scuba gear, Viking helmets, Lederhosen, pretzel necklaces, and sundry beer paraphernalia. The downside of all this hydration? You’ll probably spend more time in those interminably long bathroom lineups than you’d like.GABF 2014 (Floorplan-GABF website) But hey, it’ll give you a chance to meet new people, or to mentally sort through the last fifty-odd beers you’ve sampled.

Cartography 101.

Dust off your map-reading skills, folks! Google Maps won’t help you pinpoint where your favourite brewery will be pouring its libations. You’ll receive a map of the (cavernous) venue along with your tasting glass and program when you get in the door. Before you start running around like a kid in a candy shop (it happens to the best of us), take a look around and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. The convention center is laid out regionally: Great Lakes; Mid-Atlantic; Midwest; Mountain; New England; Pacific; Pacific Northwest; Southeast; and Southwest. Circle your top picks, but give yourself some leeway to explore. You might find that you’d rather not stand in line for fifteen minutes for a sip of one of those “must-taste” brews.

The Serendipitous Find.

Alternately, put that map in your back pocket and just wander around. You’ll find an inordinately high number of quality brewers whose booths have no lineup whatsoever, especially from regions of the country less renowned for their craft beer scene. Advice: Head to the tiny Midwest section (Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma). After that, go south. And then head east. You’ll find some real gems.

The Notebook.

Did you really think you were going to remember all those beers? Bring a small notebook or, at the very least, a pen so that you can jot down notes in the program you received.Muji Notebooks 2 If you really must, enter all your beers into everybody’s favourite “record and forget” trophy app, Untappd. Regardless of your chosen method, keeping track of all those beers is going to be one of the toughest things you’ll do at GABF––especially if you’re with a group of friends. But stick with it. You’ll thank me for the tip when you get home and can remember what characterized even a few of the beers you liked.

The Time Out.

Sure, we came here to sample the beer, but it doesn’t hurt to check out what’s happening away from the main stage. Our arms may not get very tired from repetitively hoisting a four-ounce sample glass,GABF 2014 (TastingGlass-GABF FB) 2 but our palates will most certainly suffer a minor beating after drinking all those sours, Brett beers, IPAs, and Imperial Stouts in quick succession. Give yourself a break from all that hard work!

Want a quick primer in judging beer? The Cicerone program offers half-hour workshops that’ll help you put a finer point on what you’re tasting at the festival, or identify common flaws in beer. How about a quiet respite from the colourful mayhem surrounding you? Step into the comparative sanctuary of the “bookstore” and strike up a conversation with beer writers like Garret Oliver, Stan Hieronymus, or Jamil Zainasheff.

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One last tip thrown in for good measure: Stay in Boulder and take advantage of the reasonably-priced and very convenient public transit that runs between the two cities.

Most importantly, enjoy!––or, as the organizers of the GABF put it, “Savor the flavor responsibly.”

Related Tempest Articles

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Milling Against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

Crystal Springs is in the Boulder area; Grimm Bros. is near Fort Collins. Stop in for a visit if you’re touring Colorado’s Front Range beer scene.

Sources

2013 Great American Beer Festival. Official Program.

2013 Great American Beer Festival. Winners List.

GABF Festival History/Facts and Figures

Images

GABF Site Plan 2014: www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com

Notebooks: www.muji.us

All other images from the GABF Facebook page.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.