Friday, October 1, 2010

Big Kahuna's Beer Based Migration to Denver

With summer barely behind us and the hectic holiday season ahead, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver offed a welcome weekend of relaxation and the best beer you’ll find.

The Denver Convention Center hosted the 29th annual Great American Beer Festival, September 16 - 18. The Brewers Association puts this event together every year to showcase the nations shining stars in the brewing industry.

In addition to the 2,200 beers on tap at GABF, it’s also the world’s largest commercial beer competition. It took 151 judges two full days to make their way through the 3,523 entries.

Three years ago, the GABF was the first “Beer Based” weekend vacation that I had ever taken with my wife. Someone should have given me a sign that said WARNING!!! SHE MAY LIKE IT!

We look forward to this event all year long. There isn’t any discussion about whether or not we will be going the next year, it’s simply understood.

Leaving in time to check into our hotel, we ended up hitting some pretty heavy traffic on I-70. I should have known better than to be west bound on I-70 in Denver at 3:00 in the afternoon. That city heads out early every Friday and I’ve been stuck there before. No matter, we are GABF BOUND!

By the time we checked in, got the car parked, had the valet bring the car back so we could get a cell phone out of it, and walked the 5 or 6 blocks over to the convention center, the line was as huge as ever. People were lined down Stout Street nearly back out the N. Speer Boulevard side of the convention center. People at the GABF are surprisingly patient though.

We all know that beer people are good people, but this is a rare example. There is no pushing and no shoving. People hold the door for the ladies, and are well mannered. It is all a great showing of self-control, because there are 2,200 examples of the nation’s best beer on the other side of that door!

Once you are inside, you are given a commemorative tasting glass that is marked at 1 oz. You will not get more than one ounce of any beer at a time. The rules are very strict about that. All that is left is to pick a line and drink some beer!
There are maps of the tasting hall everywhere, and I did bring my brewery list that I had marked up with all of the things I wanted to see. Ya Right! Even with this being my third year at GABF, I immediately went into shock and spent a good portion of my time wandering from isle to isle. Every time we set a destination, we saw something along the way that called our names—distraction is the name of the game.

Distracting as all of the great beer is, there is one thing that you MUST do to survive. Hydrate! Drink as much water as you do beer. That is simple enough thanks to the fine folks at Deep Rock who had water stations set up at the end of every row.

Beyond the overwhelming selection at GABF, there is a month’s worth of things to see and do around town.
Some friends of ours from Phoenix recommended Euclid Hall on 14th near Larimer St. The place has an incredible menu, a great beer selection and atmosphere to spare. Our party of 9 was very well taken care of, and our drinks never went dry.

When faced with a menu item that I can see as a challenge, I go for it. Fried pig ears seemed like enough of a challenge for me while we were at Euclid. They are served on a wooden rack with plenty of hot sauce and ranch. The ears are cut thin and fried to a perfect golden brown. They paired wonderfully with Avery’s Reverend.

Freshcraft at 1530 Blake St. offers a nice selection of 20 beers on tap, and a solid selection of around 100 bottles. The food at Freshcraft looked great, however we were only there for beer. Odell’s brewing had a firkin of Imperial Barrel Aged Porter sitting on the bar. I’m a sucker for firkins and Odells is one of my favorite breweries. Despite the Odells, I couldn’t fight the temptation--I opted for Russian River’s Temptation Ale, aged in French Oak wine barrels. Thanks to one of our friends who saw the firkin, I did get to taste the Odells Imperial Porter, and it was magnificent.

A GABF standard stop for me (and seemingly every other beer traveler at GABF) is the Falling Rock Tap House. We were lucky enough to be there when a keg of beer from Naked City Beer and Taphouse in Seattle, WA was tapped. It’s quite a treat to drink a beer brewed by someone you know at an event such as the one that the Falling Rock puts on during GABF.
My final beers of the weekend were from New Belgium Brewing out of Ft. Collins. They hold up some special concoctions for the final night of GABF at the Falling Rock. We were treated to Blackberry Love, a 2007 keg of LaFolie, a Grand Cru, and Erics Ale. The god’s shined upon me as I approached the bar, with 100’s of people in line behind me, the owner of the Falling Rock made the announcement and these four phenomenal offerings began to flow.
Mornings at the GABF can be tough, but the fine service and great food at the Delectable Egg just off of the 16th Street Mall on Court helped us get the day started. Plenty of water and coffee helped to fuel me up for the drive home.
Knowing that some of the folks I’d met over the course of the last few days had to drive home as far away as Washington, I could hardly complain about the hundred and some miles to my house.

Next year, there is no question we will be in attendance; we already have the space blocked on the calendar. We will arrive early and stay late! We will be at GABF, and I suggest that you do the same!

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