October 18, 2012

What's So Great About Denver?

Outside of Rockies baseball, just about everything. The old-fashioned brick buildings in LoDo. The friendly people. But most of all, it's Denver's thriving beer scene and its grandiose annual gathering, the Great American Beer Festival. Game on.

And it begins. On a plane. With my brother-in-law, Paul. He's a first-timer, but soon we were with GABF veteran Matt Wells of Lost Abbey — a chance meeting at Sky Harbor. We talk beer and toast to the week ahead with a Bloody Mary. Yeah, it was going to be that kind of week.

Craft beer and food at its freshest
First stop is Freshcraft. A personal fave from my inaugural 2010 trip, the Forgy brothers not only serve delicious gastropub fare and beer, they're genuinely really nice dudes. I recommend the steak au poivre sandwich paired with Trinity's Emma's Coffin pumpkin saison. A surprisingly good combo.

Alas, it's time for today's main event, the Colorado Rare Beer Tasting. Held at the Rackhouse Pub, which is adjacent to Stranahan's Whiskey Distillery, this tasting touted some of the best Colorado had to offer. Standouts included MillerCoors-owned AC Golden's De La Vigne batch 1 and Chardonnay Sour; Tweak, Avery's Mephistopheles infused with massive amounts of coffee; Elevation Beer Company's beautifully balanced honey-infused quad, Apis IV; and River North's Belgian saison aged in Stranahan barrels.

A trip to Falling Rock for a few 50/50 Eclipse beers was in order, but soon the clock strikes 2:00 and it's time to crash.

With no concrete plans other than the first GABF session at 5:30, it's time to take advantage of all the Mile High City has to offer.

Do you believe in the Yeti?
And what better way to start the day than with a Belgian Yeti at its birthplace, Great Divide. Though the tasting room was packed, the good vibes were high and the beer was even better. Not to mention I snagged one of the last rare barrel-aged Old Ruffians on the way out. Score!

One of the day's highlights was the Cigar City soiree at Freshcraft. Being this is one of my favorite breweries, plus the fact they don't distribute to the west, I was giddy. Marshal Zhukov's RIS, Cinnamon Apple IPA, Guava Grove saison, Ligero Black lager. Need I say more?

The calm before the storm
But the day's biggest highlight belonged to the first GABF session. With early-entry access, it was oddly calming seeing the convention center nearly empty, knowing that in mere minutes thousands of people will swarm the floor. And swarm they did. Bagpipers blew. Knowledgeable volunteers poured beer after beer, and head brewers and brewery owners mingled with groupie-eyed beer geeks (myself included). But what stood out to me most wasn't the thousands of brews from which to choose, but the true camaraderie and passion shared by most patrons there. Arizona was well-represented, my friends — more on that later. Oh, and the beers weren't too bad either. From Russian River's Toronado 25 to Sun King's Pappy Van Muckle, the possibilities, and inebriation levels, seemed endless.

And what GABF night wouldn't be complete without a trip to Falling Rock and Star Bar.

Been looking forward to this day for awhile. 22 beer lovers. A limo bus taking us to a few of the best Colorado breweries. 'Nuff said, right? Wrong. How about add a rolling bottle share of rare beers to and from each brewery? Because that's how we roll. 

Yup, it's that time
Stop 1: New Belgium in Fort Collins. If Jesus built a brewery, this might be it. The third-largest craft brewery in the country, New Belgium bucks the big brewery trend and focuses on quality, philanthropy, its workers (it's employee-owned) and bikes. Bikes? Yup. And cool New Belgium-emblazoned cruiser bikes, to boot. Employees are given one free after a few years of service.

Get your Friek on

Stop 2: Odell in Fort Collins. Though Doug Odell's brewery might be substantially smaller in size than New Belgium, it's big on producing some seriously bad-ass beers. Arizona Odell rep JR Wheeler was there to greet us and give us an insider's tour. We saw where expansion will take place, visited the barrel cellar where we tasted a pineapple gose out of what can only be called "Cube 1," and drank Friek directly from the bright tank. Now if we can just get JR to crack open that Woodcut 1.

Ten Fidy Friday!
Stop 3: Oskar Blues in Longmont. The party bus was definitely in full swing by the time we hit up Oskar's Weasel Tap Room. No tour this time around, but Ten Fidy Friday was going strong. A flight of all Fidy versions was in order — 2009-2012, nitro whiskey, and a sour barrel-aged version. All were fantastic, but sour Fidy was the bomb. Alas, it was time to go to Boulder for this writer's most anticiapted stop.

"A" is for amazing beer
Stop 4: Avery in Boulder. Because what better place to make our second-to-last stop than at the brewery with the biggest ABV beers? I was like a kid in a candy store deciding what to get for my flight. Not to mention the on-premise-only bottle list, which consisted of some real treats. Landed on Whiskey Sour Reverend, Odio Equum, Ale to the Chief (double dry-hopped) and Erimita IV for the flight, plus a bottle of their #8 barrel-aged series sour, Meretrix, to share. Pucker up!

Stop 5: Crooked Stave in Denver. I was in my happy place by the time we rolled into the Stave. I can see why it was one of the most talked-about spots at GABF. Nestled just north of Denver's Highlands neighborhood, the tasting room is microscopic compared to all the places we visited, but, man, do they make some absolutely amazing sour beers. Case in point their GABF silver medal-winning Sentience, a bourbon barrel-aged wild quadruple. Thank you, Chad Yakobson.

Stop 6: My bed at the hotel. A rest was much needed after this one-of-a-kind experience.

The bus tour troops. Can you spot the drunk one?

There's no sugarcoating the fact your fearless writer was struggling Saturday morning. Friday may have knocked me down for a bit, but Saturday was our last day in town so it was time to rally.

Sadly, Arizona only took home two medals this year. But a big congrats goes out to BJ's Derek Osborne who won gold for Jerry Maker in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category. And Flagstaff's Lumberyard IPA took the silver medal in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category. Check out our very own Rob Fullmer's live blogging notes from Saturday as well as the complete list of GABF winners.

And I thought I was a big dude
Sorry, babe, Sam says he's married
The members-only session on Saturday seemed just as packed as Thursday, but the beers were flowing and there was still a lot on my must-try list that needed checked off. I went all groupie and snapped pics and mingled with favorite brewers, and even got to meet baseball legend Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas — who knew the guy had his own beer? One thing that really stood out was the number of brewers who manned their own booths and poured for their patrons. Patrick Rue, Vinnie & Natalie Cilurzo, Sam Calagione and Garrett Oliver were just a few of the many familiar faces in the crowd. And speaking of Garrett Oliver, this is why I love the man. Kudos to you, Garrett, for stepping up and ensuring GABF fans get to meet their beer heroes.

So, what did I take from this beer-perience? First and foremost, Denver knows how to put on one hell of a party. What a fantastic beer town, and city in general. But what really made me proud was seeing the large number of Arizona peeps who made the pilgrimage. Paul Mangan, Dakine Beckman, Jon Petroff, Bryan Myron, Isaiah Garfias, Mr. Fullmer — the list goes on and on. It was an honor drinking with you in Denver. Let's keep the momentum going and make Arizona a force to be reckoned with in many Great American Beer Festivals to come.



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