Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2012 Great American Beer Festival: Chris' Running Diary

The main reason I'm back in the Super Power Rectangle of Colorado: the Great American Beer Festival.  In case you're somehow not aware of this event- think of nearly 600 breweries giving out more or less bottomless samples within a single colossal convention hall.  A ticket gets you a cup and the ability to wander around and put away as much incredible (and some not-so-incredible) beer as you can manage, one ounce at a time, for four and a half hours.  Though I'm a Colorado native, this was somehow my first time attending the GABF.  I don't know what the hell I was waiting for.  I decided to take a page out of Bill Simmons' playbook and keep a running diary.

5:33 PM: Arrival at the Denver Convention Center.  Fucking Denver cabs making us three minutes late (we were trying to get here by 5:00, much less 5:30).  The line is ridiculous.  And no beer while you're waiting?  What kind of show are they running?

5:35 PM: They asked us to make the line wider.  That can't be a good sign for how long the line is.

5:39 PM: This is the widest line in which I've ever had the privilege to stand.

5:41 PM: I just spent 8 minutes talking about the line.  Most boring intro to a blog post ever?  It's in the running.

In line, followed by Creepy Samer.
5:45 PM: We've discussed the plan of attack at length.  The main idea is to haul ass in there, and then Samer will pull his junk out.  People will scream and flee (or laugh hysterically, or look for a magnifying glass), leaving the brewery tables deserted.  We all drink a lot, Samer gets sent to Gitmo, America wins.

5:48 PM: Almost there.

5:49 PM: We've reconsidered the plan.  We're going to spend the entire next 4 hours at the Coors table.

5:50 PM: Seriously, fuck Coors.

5:51 PM: Look out, big lady on a Segway who has apparently been appointed Minister of Queue Protocol.  If my ID isn't in my hand when I get to the door, I'll be dragged behind a dumpster and beaten with reeds.

5:53 PM: I wasn't planning on circumnavigating anything today, but we've just done so with the Denver Convention Center.

5:57 PM: The MQP on the Segway's back and she's actually pretty scary.  She somehow makes a Segway look intimidating.

5:58 PM: There are hops all over the ground for some reason.  Samer thinks this is some sort of offense against the brewing gods.

6:00 PM: And we're in.

View from the entrance.
6:02 PM: Holy shit.

6:03 PM: No time for dallying.  First brewery, because it was right near the entrance: COOP Ale Works (Oklahoma City, OK) DNR Belgian Strong Ale (10% ABV, starting off light obviously).  Not half bad, not great.  Kind of a lackluster start.

The first beer.  I don't think Dylbot's impressed.
6:05 PM: Kuhnhenn Brewing Company (Warren, MI) Double Rice IPA (DRIPA for short, 9.5% ABV).  If we wanted a spectacular start, we should've come here first.  This beer is incredible.  Incredibly light body, full of delicious citrusy hop flavor, barely any bitterness.  Alpine-quality, and I don't say that lightly.
*As it turns out, this beer won a 2012 WBC Gold Medal in the American-Style IPA category.  Well-deserved.  In retrospect, using rice as the grain base for an IPA, particularly a west coast-style IPA, makes a lot of sense- it brings a bunch of fermentable sugar but hardly any body- so you can make a super light IPA that can really focus on the hop flavors.

6:09 PM: Bell's Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI) Two Hearted Ale (7.0% ABV).  One I've been looking for for quite some time due to its reputation.  It's really easy drinkin' and delicious.  A bit heavier body than I typically want in an IPA, but that's just personal preference.  Oh, and hey Bell's- next time, please bring some Hopslam.

6:11 PM: Central Waters Brewing Company (Amherst, WI) Brewhouse Coffee Stout (8.2% ABV).  Really excellent, tastes like straight espresso made slightly Irish.  Pretty much exactly what I'd want were I after a coffee stout.

6:15 PM: New Glarus Brewing Company (New Glarus, WI) Enigma Sour Brown Ale (ABV unknown).  First sour of the night.  Tastes like it's spice-mulled.  Good palate cleanser.

6:17 PM: Nebraska Brewing Company (Papillion, NE) Melange a Trois Belgian-Style Blonde Ale (10.0% ABV).  Pretty brett-heavy, and served a bit too warm, so it's slightly overpowering.  Could probably use some cellaring to smooth out the rough edges.

6:19 PM: Mustang Brewing Company (Oklahoma City, OK) Brandy's Imperial Sundae Imperial Porter (9.1% ABV). Pretty much the most delicious vanilla ice cream-flavored porter I've ever had. Would love to drink this for dessert all winter.

6:21 PM: Whoo, that's a fast start.  Gotta remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

6:25 PM: Troegs Brewing Company (Hershey, PA) Perpetual IPA (7.5% ABV).  God bless non-west-coasters making west coast-style IPAs.  Quite good.  Just a touch too bitter to be really top-notch though.

The Mid-Atlantic section of the hall.
6:31 PM: Wind River Brewing Company (Pinedale, WY) Wyoming Pale Ale (7.2% ABV).  Very nicely hopped & flavorful.  Just a bit heavy-bodied.  Unrelatedly, there was a lady with a baby next to me in line.  Is it weird to take a baby to a rowdy beer festival?  I thought it was a bit weird.

6:36 PM: Three Floyds Brewing Company (Munster, IN).  One hour in, and they're already out of Zombie Dust, Arctic Panzer Wolf, and Dreadnaught.  Really?  The Munster Fest Oktoberfest (6.0% ABV) is OK, I guess, but fuck you all the same.

6:41 PM: Pisgah Brewing Company (Black Mountain, NC) Wet Hop Rye (no website, ABV unknown).  Oddest one yet.  Smells like tomato paste.  Tastes like honey.  Not great.

6:45 PM: Mother Earth Brewing Company (Kinston, NC) Sisters of the Moon IPA (6.9% ABV).  This is an IPA?  Don't get much hop smell at all. The flavor's just straight bitter, not much else.

6:52 PM: Terrapin Beer Company (Athens, GA) Hopsecutioner IPA (7.3% ABV).  Decided to give this another shot after the failure at Glidewell's in Blowing Rock, NC.  It's still not very good. Too bitter (minimal hop flavor) and too heavy.

7:01 PM: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver, CO) Persica Sour Peach (no website, 7.5% ABV).  Absolutely amazing.  And I don't like sours.  But, as Andy would say, ball rockin'.  Only brett beer I've had that's on the same level as the Logsdon Seizoen Bretta (*which, as it turns out, won a GABF Gold Medal in the American-Style Brett Ale category).

The line at Crooked Stave.  Definitely worth the wait.
7:07 PM: Another trip through the Crooked Stave line for more Persica.  Plus Brett Indigo (no website, ABV unknown), a wild ale made with blueberries.  Not as good as Persica, but still pretty excellent.

7:12 PM: Starting to feel ever-so-slightly drunkish.

7:15 PM: Renegade Brewing Company (Denver, CO) Elevation Triple IPA (11.2% ABV).  And the dude 'accidentally' gave me a 2 oz pour.  OK then.  Smells sweet, the hops are pretty understated for a triple IPA.  But it's actually not half bad.  Still pretty sweet, but the hops are just strong enough to keep up.  Most IPAs of this magnitude are disastrous, but this one wasn't.

7:21 PM: Squatters (Salt Lake City, UT) IPA (6.0% ABV).  Too sweet and not enough hops.  Kind of a letdown after Hop Rising.
*The Squatters website says this is an English-style IPA.  No wonder I didn't like it.

7:30 PM: Walked right by the Heavy Seas Beer (from Clipper City Brewing Company, Baltimore, MD) tent four times without even seeing it.  The casked hand-pulled Loose Cannon IPA (reviewed by Alex a while back, 7.25% ABV normally, not sure about the cask version) was nice and smooth, well-balanced, a really good selection for a cask approach.

7:39 PM: Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, NY) Black Ops (no website, 10.7% ABV), a bourbon-barreled imperial stout poured by the man himself, Garrett Oliver (editor-in-chief of the Oxford Companion to Beer and Brooklyn brewmaster).  Woo doggy.  I'm not a big bourbon-barreled guy, but this is really good, and nice and strong.

7:43 PM: Stuck around for another Brooklyn, Local 1 Belgian Strong Pale Ale/Tripel (9.0% ABV).  Pretty bretty, pretty good.

7:47 PM: Since the Pro-Am Booth was right next to Brooklyn, we stopped by for a couple. First was WEEEEEEEEE Heavy (ABV unknown, I don't know if that's the correct number of E's), a peated scotch ale collaboration between homebrewer Wayne Nichols and Laughing Dog Brewing Company (Ponderay, ID).  Weird.  Smells like trash.  No lie, actual garbage.  But it tastes like a scotch ale with peat.  Ah, the peat.  Second was Ken Schmidt and Stone Brewing Company's (San Marcos, CA) Imperial Oatmeal Stout with Mint Chocolate (9.6% ABV, Iron Fist participated too, but wasn't given credit at the Pro-Am Booth for some reason).  Not half bad, but the mint gives it an alcohol-like sharpness (like someone dropped some Everclear in there) that's a bit offputting.

8:05 PM: Jester King Craft Brewery (Austin, TX) Das Uberkind! Vieille Saison (6.5% ABV, no website, but I presume that it's a special version of Das Wunderkind! Sour Saison).  Pretty brett-forward.  Not bad, but a bit watery, which makes the brett a bit strong for the body.

8:10 PM: Should we visit Stone like the other 300 people waiting in line?  Nah, I'll just go to the liquor store down the street from my house where they have everything Stone's offering.  AHAAAHAHAHAHAHA.

8:10 PM: Even though the Stone line's long, it's got nothing on Russian River.  Longest line in the whole place.  As it should be.

8:11 PM: But we're too impatient to wait in such a long line, so instead, let's go to Bear Republic Brewing Company (Healdsburg, CA), where they've just cracked a keg of Tartare Berliner-style Weisse (4.0% ABV).  Perfect palate cleanser halfway through- like a nice shot of lemon juice.  Samer had roughly 20 tastes in ~8 minutes, after which he had so much acid in his stomach he spent the rest of the night shuffling around like an indigent and looking like he was about to projectile vomit.

8:14 PM: One more from Bear Republic, Black Racer Black IPA (7.8% ABV).  Pretty good, but I'm wondering why I decided to go for darker stuff at this point in the evening (*this wondering didn't stay with me for very long, as you'll see).

8:25 PM: Been in line at Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO) for a while, and it's barely moving.  Stupid people trying to have a conversation with the brewers when there's a big line.  Just get your ass out of the way so I can get more beer.  Overheard in line: "Hey, Ninja! Fuck you!"  Alrighty then.

8:29 PM: Finally, beer.  Avery's Lilikoi Kepolo (no website, 5.6% ABV), a Belgian Pale Ale with passion fruit.  Sounds a bit weird, right?  It's delicious.  Super light and refreshing, with a great passion fruit tanginess.  I'd session the shit out of this if I could get my hands on more.

8:32 PM: Alpine Beer Company (Alpine, CA).  Wandered over here because I was curious what kind of line they had.  There wasn't one.  So I became the line, and I followed myself in line repeatedly.  Duet IPA, Bad Boy Double IPA, Firings Quad (7.0%, 9.0%, 11.0% ABV, respectively).  The guy manning the station seemed happy to keep pouring for me, so I kept drinking.  Because, when in doubt, free Bad Boy.  On one hand, I was happy I didn't have to wait.  But on the other, for fuck's sake, why are there not more people experiencing Alpine while they can?

8:45 PM: Oskar Blues?  Nah.  Shit's too heavy.  But the can-necklace-cupholder thing is clever.  Talk about a hands-free device.  Kind of handy when you're drunkenly trying to take notes.

The running diary, with a little help from Oskar Blues' cupholder.  Go Buffs.
8:48 PM: The Samer train has derailed.  

Sambo's struggling, but fighting the good fight.
8:50 PM: Smuttynose Brewing Company (Portsmouth, NH) Baltic Porter (9.24% ABV).  Apparently lagered, which I found interesting.  Actually reminds me of an American strong ale (more fruity than roasty).  Pretty good.

8:53 PM: This place is a complete shitshow at this point.  There's a lot of dry humping going on.

8:54 PM: People are getting haircuts at a Wahl station.  What the hell?  "I'm shitfaced, time for an uptown fade!"

8:56 PM: Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI) Kentucky Breakfast Stout (11.2% ABV).  Gotta say, I'm surprised that a) they brought this, and b) they have any left.  Damn, is it good.  Smells like coffee, bourbon, caramel, deliciousness.  Even at this point it's noticeably a step above most of the other beers I've had, and is easily the top dark beer so far.  I probably should've stuck around to drink my fill, as they didn't have a line either.

9:02 PM: Fuck I feel fat.

9:05 PM: Shock Top is hosting karaoke.  The participants are a bunch of folks who will never be able to run for president due to the existence of highly incriminating photographs.  Some dude just tried to hit the high notes in "Billie Jean" and it caused an earthquake in Guatemala.

9:07 PM: And Oskar Blues is hosting a "Silent Disco", which is a dance floor where all of the participants are wearing headphones so only they can hear the music.  Dave Chappelle would have a field day with all of the terrible white-dude dancing.

20 seconds of sideways Silent Disco, followed by 7 seconds of Dylbot forgetting he was recording.  I really hope this guy was trying to be ironic, because if not, there are no words.  Although he did manage to get a girl to dance with him.

9:09 PM: Whenever someone drops their taster cup, he or she is immediately jeered by anyone and everyone in the vicinity.  It's been happening all night, it's pretty entertaining, and at this point, it's starting to get kind of nasty.  Some girl dropped her cup, and a random dude yelled "AWWWWWWWWW! You're mother's a whore!"

9:12 PM: Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery (San Francisco, CA) Proving Ground IPA (no website, 7.2% ABV).  Heavy bitterness.  Heavy all around.  A bit behind the eight ball at this point, but still, if it was good, I would've noticed.

9:14 PM: Maui Brewing Company (Lahaina, HI) Sobrehumano Palena 'Ole (6.0% ABV), a red ale collaboration with Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter, MI), brewed with passion fruit and cherries.  Tastes a bit muddled and the fruit character seems a bit delicate, which isn't exactly working for my palate since it's somewhere in Grand Junction.

9:15 PM: My main thought right now- can I go until closing (10:00 PM) without breaking the seal?  Wait, don't think about it.  Don't think about it.

9:16 PM: Shit, I'm thinking about it.

9:18 PM: The cropdusting in here is BRUTAL.  Anyone whose significant other enjoys Belgian beer and/or IPA knows what I'm talking about.  But multiply that by a convention center full of bloated idiots who have been overindulging not only on beer but also pretzels, pizza, and turkey legs?  Yikes.  It's like a Soldier Field tailgate, but enclosed.

9:19 PM: Odell Brewing Company (Fort Collins, CO) IPA (7.0% ABV). This one won a 2012 WBC silver medal in the American-Style strong pale ale category, and I have to admit, I was skeptical.  But it was really excellent.  Kind of wondering why the hell I haven't had more of it.  I've said this before, but if you're in Fort Collins and looking for beer, stroll right past New Belgium and go to Odell.

9:27 PM: In line at Cigar City Brewing Company (Tampa, FL).  Quite the reputation, as illustrated by the fact that they've maintained a pretty long line all night- and it's the same length with 30 minutes remaining as it was when we came in.

9:32 PM: Finally, some Jai Alai IPA (7.5% ABV).  Pretty light nose.  Body's light too, and it tastes nicely grassy.  Four hours in and still noticeably good?  Pretty impressive.

9:36 PM: Guh.  More cropdusting.  They're going to have to call in the CDC Hazmat specialists to hose this place down.

9:37 PM: Fuck it, back to Kuhnhenn.  DRIPA is still incredible, and Samer and I are the only ones here.  So more DRIPA.

9:42 PM: A random (and highly boozed-up, as in eyes-barely-open-boozed-up) lady at Lakefront (next door to Kuhnhenn) backs into me, turns around, and says, laughing, "Aww, get out of my way!  You don't even, you don't even, you don't even..." and then exits stage right without another word.

9:43 PM: More DRIPA.  The end of the evening, just hanging out and drinking with the nice folks from Kuhnhenn, who may or may not have been sampling their own wares for a couple of hours.  One of those cool interactions I'd never have had without coming here.  Really solid people.  When's the next time I'll be in Warren, MI?  Don't know.  May have to make a special trip.

9:52 PM: Lights up.  The ol' "We don't care where you go but you can't stay here."

This picture isn't blurry.  It's what things actually looked like at the end of the night.
10:01 PM: I made it.  The seal is finally broken.  Best piss ever?  It's in the running.

In summary: ~35 beers tasted (many more tasters consumed)...which is 1.3% of the total number offered (2700).  Even though I barely scratched the surface, I tried to pay attention to what people were offering, and I feel like I got a good feel for the direction of the craft brewing industry.  Lots of IPA, sours, and imperials, and a lot of liquor and wine barrelling.  Big, challenging, palate-blasting beers, and nobody's shying away from boosting the ABV.  It seems the days of craft breweries focusing on lighter fare like blonde and brown ales are rapidly being left behind.

For me, best in show (in no particular order, and I'm pretty sure Sambo would agree with the first two...I'm not including Alpine because we already spend a lot of time raving about them around here):
Kuhnhenn DRIPA (obviously)
Crooked Stave Persica
Founders KBS

Honorable mention:
Avery Lilikoi Kepolo
Mustang Brandy's Imperial Sundae
Brooklyn Black Ops
Central Waters Brewhouse Coffee Stout

Worst in show:
Three Floyds (next time, bring enough beer, folks)
Me, for not having come to the GABF before.  Shame on me.


  1. Two things:

    1) Dilbo Baggins, aka Dilly Bob Throton makes his first appearance!

    2) Brilliant work. Especially working in a reference to Guantanamo Bay.

    1. Oh, and Samer looks like this in the third pic:

  2. Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know. nano brewery equipment