Tag Archives: GABF

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.

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.

Milling against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

On a continent awash with American renditions of India Pale Ale, it’s a rare and pleasant surprise to come across a North American brewery that does not have an IPA of some sort on its menu. Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, just a stone’s throw away from Fort Collins in Loveland, Colorado, continues this week’s Tempest in a Tankard German theme, venturing where few North American breweries have tread. With a bold all-Germanic line-up of beers that eschews the standard-issue IPAs, pale ales, and hopped-up ambers, even Grimms’ porter lays claim to German heritage.

The folks at Grimm Brothers not only brew up a wonderful array of medal-winning German standards such as their Fearless Youth Dunkel Lager, which brought home a bronze in the European-style Dunkel category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, and Little Red Cap Altbier, which took bronze in the German-style Altbier category at last year’s GABF. The brewery also has a penchant for resurrecting long-forgotten German beer styles, featuring an eastern German Kottbusser-style ale (Snowdrop, available year-round) and a seasonal Lichtenhainer-style ale (Gustavus, a kind of Berliner Rauchbier), along with its soon-to-be-released Broyhahn Bier called Pack of Scoundrels, a spicy stab at historical interpretation that traces its roots to Hannover. (If you’re in the Fort Collins area on November 16, you won’t want to miss this release.)

Grimm Bros - Scoundrels Sales Sheet

And though I can’t vouch for the authenticity of a brettanomyces-laced harvest bock – craft brewers in the U.S. have, after all, embraced the sour beer and wood-aged beer phenomenon with aplomb – Grimm also pours a seasonal Willow Wren Erntebier Brett Bock. Now drink three of those and say that four times.

When I visited co-owner and vice-president, Aaron Heaton, at the Grimm Brothers’ coolly minimalist tasting room back in October, one of my first questions concerned the connection with the Brothers Grimm.

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As the story goes, Amelia Chapman, wife of Grimm Brothers co-owner, Don Chapman, is a teacher, and much enamoured of the Grimms’ fairy tales. Heaton and Chapman were initially skeptical of the Grimm idea, but with over two-hundred-and-fifty fairy tales to inspire their grain- and hop-inspired poetic fancy, they decided to run with the idea. With the help of graphic designer, Josh Emrich, the beers found their visual muse. (A standout among Emrich’s labels is his witty citation of Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, for the Master Thief German Porter. In the spirit of good fun, I’d be inclined, though, to challenge Emrich to produce a more historically accurate, albeit fictitious, painting entitled Disraeli Crossing the Channel.)

Little Red Cap references the Rotkäpchen fairy tale better known in English as “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Grimm Bros - Red Cap Sales Sheet

Snow Drop draws on the Snow White tale. And Fearless Youth finds its inspiration in “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” – which, like all Grimm fairy tales, is a far from G-rated affair.

Heaton, an erstwhile accountant, and Chapman, an engineer in his former incarnation, were both one-time members of Fort Collins’ Liquid Poets homebrew club, a storied community of homebrewers that has spawned the likes of Funkwerks, Equinox, and Pateros Creek. Shortly after opening their doors in July 2010, the pair became three after joining forces with Russell Fruits, who handles sales and marketing. Though they still brew on the same ten-barrel system that got them off the ground, the trio has been so successful that they have increased their fermentation capacity, added 22-ounce bottlings, and expanded to a nearby unit to house their tasting room.

Alas, for the time being, Grimms’ excellent beers are available in Colorado only. Future plans include distribution to other states, but in the meantime, you’ll need to make sure friends traveling to Colorado bring you back a few treats. If on a winter’s night in Denver, you might also stop by Colorado Liquor Mart, which carries a selection of Grimm bottlings.

Further Reading:

Last year marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of the Grimms’ fairy tale collection, Kinder- und Hausmärchen. You’ll find plenty of literature that will introduce you to the Grimm brothers and their cultural significance, including Maria Tatar’s bicentennial annotated edition of the Grimms’ tales. (For an interview with Tatar on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR radio show, “On Point,” click here.) Another German literature scholar, Jack Zipes, has published a number of works on German fairy tales and the Grimms, including The Brothers Grimm: From the Enchanted Forest to the Modern World (1988), and, more recently, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre (2012).

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© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.