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GABF recap: Three days of beer, beer and more beer in Denver

November 07, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Events, Travelin'

GABF - sign

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival drew 49,000 attendees to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on Oct. 10-12.

The festival is the largest commercial beer competition in the world, and for craft beer enthusiasts, it’s heaven.

I was able to go as an entrant in the 2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition, thanks to Ghost River Brewing and the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs homebrew club. I had a brewer’s pass and was able to go all three days.

At the festival, I tried as many beers as possible, but ultimately one can only sample of fraction of what’s on tap. More than 2,700 beers were served by 578 breweries in the festival hall.

Among my new favorites: Alpine Beer Co.’s Duet, a West Coast IPA; Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Wookey Jack, an American-Style Black Ale; Redrock Brewing Co.’s Redrock Organic Zwickel Bier; and Laurelwood Brewing Co.’s Organic Deranger Imperial Red Ale.

GABF - sample glassThe sample glasses at GABF have a line showing the 1-ounce mark. The festival is fairly strict about pouring just an ounce, but the pours did get more liberal as the festival went on.

GABF - PBR outfitsAt GABF, you can’t bring in food unless you are wearing it, so you see a lot of people with homemade pretzel necklaces. There were also people wearing bagels, Funyuns and even bags of beef jerky!

GABF - Triple RockThe layout in the festival hall is divided up by region. I spent a lot of time hitting up the California breweries, including one of my favorites, Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse.

GABF - Charlie PapazianOne of the highlights for me? Getting to meet Charlie Papazian, who founded the Association of Brewers and the Great American Beer Festival and wrote The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.

GABF - 21st AmendmentBeers from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery, which is known for its cans and sweet designs, were pretty popular at GABF.

GABF - Silent DiscoI’ve spent some time in the Silent Disco at Bonnaroo, so I skipped it at GABF. But there was always a long line to get in. The concept is this: it’s a disco where people dance to music via wireless headphones. Fun to watch from the outside.

GABF - IdiotsHe’s with the idiot.

GABF - massageThe Designated Driver Lounge offered DDs free chair massages and the opportunity to taste craft-brewed sodas and root beers.

GABF - StoneSan Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. didn’t win any medals for its beers. But the brewery’s booth,  a popular destination at the festival, won the GABF Festival Flair Award for its awesome design.

GABF - Wall of T-shirtsOne of the cooler sites at GABF — the 30-foot wall of T-shirts for sale. I picked up shirts from New Belgium Brewing and Boulder Beer.

GABF - booksThe Beer Enthusiast Bookstore had a nice selection of homebrewing books and featured a full slate of book signings all three days, including authors Charlie Papazian, Garrett Oliver, John Palmer, Ray Daniels and Greg Koch.

GABF - Porter's PridePorter’s Pride, an imperial porter with chocolate, was brewed as part of a collaboration of Colorado breweries exclusively for the GABF awards ceremony.

GABF - governorColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, one of the founders of the original Wynkoop Brewing Company brewpub, spoke at the awards ceremony.

GABF-First AmendmentI met up with a monkey in a spacesuit and Abraham Lincoln, who were representing 21st Amendment.

GABF - Woo Hoo!Woo hoo! Hope to make it back to GABF soon!

A report from the Great American Beer Festival

September 27, 2010 By: grant Category: Craft beer, Events, Memphis, Travelin'

Ben Pugh's Black Hearted IPA

Ben Pugh's Black Hearted IPA

A few months ago the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs held a competition to pick the best beer to send to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, to represent Memphis in the Pro/Am competition. Club President Ben Pugh won that honor. As part of his prize, Boscos brewed seven barrels of that beer, his Black Hearted IPA. It’s on tap now (it’s delicious), but word is they’re running out. From the Boscos menu: “The 87 IBU’s is close to, or exceeds, the theoretical limit for the absorbtion of hop bitterness. In other words, we probably couldn’t make this beer any more bitter.” It has an original gravity of 1060.

Oh yeah, the club also sent him to the festival. How kick ass is that?

The crowd at the Great American Beer Festival

The crowd at the Great American Beer Festival

This is his report:

What do you get when you combine beer connoiseurs, beer nerds, beer snobs, drunks, dudes in lederhosen and over 2,000 different beers? Denver’s Great American Beer Fest a.k.a slam 1-ounce tasters until you wake up in a pile of your own puke.  This year’s festival did not disappoint.

With over 3,000 beers entered in the competition, 49,000 people descended upon the Mile High City to partake in the debauchery that is GABF. It’s a beer brewer’s Mecca. Among rows of craft beer, organized only by region, deviants were crammed into the Denver Convention Center with only a printed “road map” to guide them on their hop infused journey. You could not help but become giddy with excitement as the orange shirt clad volunteer handed you that precious plastic cup with the one ounce line as the bagpipers played in the background. The electricity in the air was infectious. Upon entering the event the twenty somethings raced to the Old English table while grown men in giant wiener costumes posed for pictures with barely dressed, leggy blondes. Does it get better than this?! I think not my friend.

The competition (all 79 categories of it) awarded contenders like PBR and Hamm’s top honors along with Flying Dog and Sierra Nevada in their respective categories. With that many categories, it’s surprising anyone went away without an award (myself included, but I’m not bitter…my beer was.) While some opted to sit through all the awards, ringing cow bells and congratulating the winners, many more utilized their time more efficiently by taking advantaged of the shortened lines and pounding as many beers as physically possible before the crowds would inevitably flood back to the winners’ tables to consume all remaining kegs.

Ben Pugh with Charlie Papazian, author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing

Ben Pugh with Charlie Papazian, author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and president of the Brewers Association

In the three days that spanned the event, my trusty partner (aka wife) and I tried so many beers we can’t come up with a number. Let’s just say we tried enough to feel content in that we left no pitcher untouched. Old reliables like Avery’s Maharaja and Bear Republic’s Racer 5 were enjoyed among new favorites including Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Pizza Port’s Imperial Red. Cigar City Brewing’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie had my wife in a beer-gasm afterglow for at least 2 days….while Short’s Imperial Spruce India Pilsner had us raking our tongues to rid our bodies of the taste.

Three days of mindless wandering, guided only by my quest to find the perfect brew (or to find where that tall brunette in the beer wench outfit went), leaves me not only wanting another beer but also already planning my return trip for GABF 2011. There are no words which would do justice to the event; you simply must go yourself to experience the grandeur that is the GABF. My advice, skip Saturday night and hit the cheese table early.

Click through for a complete list of GABF beer winners.