Friday, November 14, 2008

GABF 2008---the full story, part 3

jump back to Part 1 jump back to Part 2 I've lagged, obviously, in the past few weeks since GABF. My mother-in-law's passing, the World Series, the election, marathon training, and oh yeah my day job have all contributed to me being distracted from putting out the final installments of my 2008 GABF wrap-up. So, I'll try to put it all together here in one big part 3 posting, without getting too carried away (think I can do it? nah, don't even think those crazy thoughts!), so that I can move on to other beer writings that are backing up in the queue. So, sit back, maybe even send this one off to the printer, and have one last read of what was GABF 2008. It's a nice weekend to catch up with reading, right? I'm sure that in everything that's ever been said in the past about the magnitude of GABF, you've certainly got the proper impression (if you've never attended) that it is big...very big. And, it can be overwhelming if you don't go into it with this understanding and a plan for how to deal with it. Without one, you can quickly find yourself drunk and missing things that, in hindsight, you wished you'd seen while at the festival. (On the other hand, if getting drunk and stupid is your thing, then forget the don't need a plan for that.) Plus, before and after each festival session, bars and breweries across town (and the region) are hosting their own mini-festivals of events, tastings, and the like. It truly is an almost 4 day long beer festival with something to do in practically every hour of each day. Our first order of business on Thursday was to take advantage of one of these off-site parties. Starting at noon was the luncheon at Great Divide's brewery. It used to be more of a luncheon for media types. But, apparently it's turned into more of a "if you know about it, then you can come" event. Which, of course, is fine too. The beers are the same, so is the food, and it's still all "on the house." But, it's still not an advertised event and these kind of events I found to be pretty darn fun. After several beers, a bunch of tasty cheeses, meats, and other finger foods, and an unofficial tour of the brewery, we wandered back to our hotel to prepare for the evening session. My plan for the festival sessions, as I hear is that of many other attendees, was to concentrate on regions that I typically don't drink from. Another plan of attack could be to focus on a single style and move across the festival floor tasting as many of the style as possible to contrast differences. I tried this approach as well for a short time with about eight to ten porters. Upon arrival at the first session on Thursday, I stood back just to take in the vastness of the festival floor. The noise can be almost like an arena crowd much in the way it sounds when the "wave" circulates around the space. It didn't take long to run into the first people I recognized, James Spencer and Andy Sparks of Basic Brewing. We chatted for a while, never having previously met in person. They then captured an interview with me for the video side of their website. These guys have one of the most useful websites (and products) related to homebrewing and I highly recommend that you check them, their DVDs, and other merchandise out. On top of that, they are some of the nicest folks as well...sheesh, I get tired of saying that about beervolk, don't you?! Speaking of meeting up with people. I can barely make a list of all of the people (well, actually I did, but it was more than a page) I ran into that I knew or were meeting finally for the first time in person. Almost as long would be the list of people that I somehow didn't run into after four sessions and days in Denver. That's just how big this thing is... The first official GABF beer for me was a porter from Sixpoint in Brooklyn. I'm pretty sure that this wasn't the baltic porter that they won a bronze for; this was more "basic," but a tasty basic porter. I got sidetracked by a dark lager from Bend Brewing. Then, I stopped messing around and made a beeline for the Plains region, the first checkpoint on my plan. The introduction to the midwest/Plains was just perfect with a wonderfully malty maibock from Blind Tiger...not this Blind Tiger....this one. Once in the midwest, it didn't take long for me to predict that the perfectly-not-too-tart Grand Cru from Upstream would be a festival standout for me (while they didn't medal for the Grand Cru, they did win a well-deserved silver for their gueuze). Don agreed as well. Apparently, their secret wasn't kept for very long as Upstream was out of beer by half way through the afternoon session on Saturday. Also capturing my fascination from the midwest included: The Covey's strong Belgian ale called Predicament (okay, not really midwest I suppose) and Piece Brewery's Top Heavy Hefe (they won silver for a German Wheat). Then, as if the midwest, plains, etc. hadn't already stood out, I then ran into a solid lineup from Goose Island's brewpub and production plant. Matilda (duh, I suppose most would say), a 5% brown called Naughty Goose, and a very nice La Petite Saison. Still trying to figure out how these guys only took home one medal. One of the most interesting beers that I tried to dissect was New Holland's CharkootaRye, a hopefully-not one-off doppelbock with smoked malted barley and rye. Lastly, from the midwest, I was glad to pick up on the oatmeal stout and American wheat from Gella's Diner, yes you read that correctly, Gella's Diner in Kansas before their medals were awarded. These were both medal winners, and without a doubt deservedly so. As a matter of fact, this was the second time across the stage for the oatmeal stout, previously a silver in 2005. Thursday night was a lot of fun as well because of the Philadelphia contingent (and bandwagon hangers-on) around the Coors table. While some sipped Prohibition Lager from Coors, and liked it, we all reveled in the Phillies game 1 victory over the Dodgers. This will certainly be a significant memory of mine of the Phillies 2008 World Series voyage. Thursday night was rowdier than I was prepared for. Past attendees had warned me of the sophomoric nature of the Friday and Saturday night crowds (going so far as to recommend skipping Saturday night). But, it was barely an hour into the Thursday night session when I witnessed glasses being knocked out people's hands, running through the crowds, and a general energy level that kept my guard up throughout the session. Saturday night was a similar experience, though not that much markedly different. Not a problem, so much, just an observation... But, on a much more positive note, can someone please remind me who came up to me on the festival floor with a half-ounce of Utopias? I need to say thank you once again! This was my third run-in ever with this beer and I haven't tired of it yet. Another one of these off site events came to us after leaving session #1. I'd known that the Rock Bottom (just a few blocks from the Convention Center and conveniently along the walk to LoDo) was planning several events during GABF, but never really put them on my radar. I'd just figured that we'd eventually stop in there and see if they're doing the decent quality Rock Bottom beer that I'm accustomed to at my local King of Prussia outpost. Here, with the proper credentials (thanks again, Iron Hill, for ours), we could get into a private sidewalk patio, a buffet line of food, and a choice of two different beers in a commemorative mug/stein. Frivolity ensued as one might expect. I've written about Michael "Mufasa" Ferguson (from BJs) before and it didn't take long for me to recognize him. We struck up a conversation for a while about various topics, but as expected settled on the extract versus all-grain homebrewing debate for a little while. More importantly though, my takeaway was that there may be no two other men in brewing with as distinctive of voices as Ferguson and Lew Bryson....maybe Jim Koch too, but definitely Mufasa and Lew. Friday we made a day trip to Boulder. It turned out to be a cool, breezy day so we cruised through some shops and walked along Pearl Street, doing a bit of brewer spotting along the way. Then the decision to grab lunch was between the BJs (on Pearl Street) and Boulder Brewing (a bit of a drive from Pearl Street) or a visit to Avery. Then there was Mountain Sun. I'd heard of them before, knew they were in Colorado, but never put the proverbial two and two together to think to look them up in Boulder. Okay, they were actually on my list, I just overlooked them. But, boy, I'm glad we decided to stop in. We fed the meter a bit more and off we went for a quick lunch and some very generous samples of some very good beer. One of my first reactions to Mountain Sun was the similarity to Magnolia in San Francisco. Similar in the way of the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and the whole laid back and psychedelic vibe of the 70s. And, the people? Super nice. The team concept in waiting on tables is perfect. Anyone on the floor staff might stop by to take an order, check in on our happiness, or clear the table. The head brewer even stopped by just to make sure that everything was going okay for us. Being that it was my cynical day off, I determined that this is something that happens year-round, not just when industry folk are in the region for GABF every autumn. And the beer? Well, not too shabby in that regard either. Six samples that looked to be around five ounces for $9.25. Great deal, especially considering that a couple other samples were thrown in gratis...simply because we showed an interest in them. Good thing we were planning to share the samplers; it was more than enough for the two of us. The amber (well-balanced malty brew), the Colorado Kind (great hop bitterness), the IPA (well-balanced IPA, hops first), the Java Porter (perfect undertones of coffee) were just four of what were all very well-done beers. Even the lightest of the bunch, the Golden, would be a perfectly fine session-y type of beer that delivered enough, but not too much, flavor. All of these beers and a solid spicy, chicken burrito was the perfect way to begin our day before heading back into Denver to prepare for the Friday evening session. Along the way to the Friday night session, we paid a visit to the Philly Beer Week promotional event at The Corner Office. A bunch of Philly regional beers were being poured for dozens of industry folk from around the country. Not a bad, the game 2 of the NLCS was on, so we once again got a chance to show off our great beer and great baseball team. I attended roughly half of Friday's session since we had made plans to meet up with college friends that we hadn't seen in years. I spent a bit more time in the Plains region, but also made sure to get to some of the West Coast and Pacific Northwest breweries that I don't see often enough on the East Coast. From the northwest, a very nice organic tree hugger porter from Oregon's Laurelwood (who took gold for a Munich Helles) captured my attention with its slightly roasty flavor. From the west coast, it was impossible to get past the Lost Abbey table where Isabelle and Angel's Share (boozy, woody, yet smooth and seductive) captured my attention for multiple pours, oh yes, multiple pours. Had one Hop 15 sample as well; it won bronze the next day. Ran into James and Andy again here; this time they were "off the clock." :) Also in this region, I couldn't pass up the still perfect Moylan's Hopsickle, a newfound oatmeal stout favorite (and bronze winner) from Schooner's, and a bronze-winning Russian Imperial Stout from TAPS in Brea, CA. I also hung for a bit at the back stage listening to a couple members of the Brett Pack (Calagione, Cilurzo), Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin, and Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) discuss the merits of "exotic brewing." I poured Iron Hill beer for a while; man, the buzz around Iron Hill was palpable and this was before they won any of their six 2008 awards. Then, it was off to meet our friends for drinks at the Canadian-based Earl's and Marlowe's. After a few hours and a few Odell beers, we headed back to the hotel. We'd thought of catching up with the Iron Hill party which was just breaking up around 1:30am, but we took the conservative route. Saturday was the motherload of the day that would test our capacity. Up early enough in the morning to pay a breakfast visit to Dixon's, which came highly recommended from Big Dan...and we can pass that recommendation on down the line. We did a bit of reorganizing and packing prior to leaving for the 12pm start of the afternoon, members-only session back at the convention center. The lines were once again snaking around the block. With the awards ceremony starting around 1pm, we had a bit of time to cruise around for some samples before getting a spot to view the ceremony. We also stopped in to the Draft Magazine hospitality room for some grub and Ommegang beer (Rare Vos and Witte, thank you!). We had the pleasure of running into Zane Lamprey of Three Sheets fame (Pleepleus did not come along on the GABF trip) and spent 20-30 minutes chatting about things (mostly) drinking related. Good times, great down-to-earth and fun guy...exactly who we imagined him to be. The awards ceremony was also exactly as I imagined. At first I thought I may watch a few category presentations, grab some beer samples, perhaps ducking in and out during the course of the ceremony. But, I was so caught up in watching the presentations and the camaraderie amongst brewers. What seemed most genuine was the support that fellow brewers showed for each other, applauding the awards that they missed out on as well as applauding the awards that went to the "big boys." Most pleasing, of course, was watching brewers from the home turf walking across the stage. Whether it was the Iron Hill crew for the umpteenth time or the Flying Fish boys for the first, the "Delaware Valley" region represented very well. You can get a look at all of the medals awarded over at the Brewers Association's website. (If you'd like to get a more intimate look at the judging process, check out the brewers blog over at Flossmoor Station.) After a couple of hours of an empty glass, I headed back out to the tasting floor to discover an understandable run on most of the medal winners. We headed out just prior to the end of this session to grab some dinner a few blocks away at Appaloosa Grill. Another good base set, along with some Great Divide Hades and Deschutes Black Butte, and we were set to return for one last session at the convention center. We had ninety minutes of pouring to do for Iron Hill during the evening session. Once again, especially now more than ever during the four sessions, the Iron Hill beer was in high demand. The post-awards buzz had certainly circulated with a constant crush of party people lining up for a taste of whatever was still remaining on the table. Before we did our pouring, we did one last tour through the tasting floor looking for beers and breweries that had still yet escaped our reach. We also stopped in to see Carolyn Smagalski and Chuck Skypeck putting on a cooking demonstration (with beer, of course), wandered through the book stalls, gazed longingly at the chair massage station, and checked out some of the more unique and interesting merchandise being sold (ex-Mormons, Beer Bottle Nightlights, Beer Clothing Co., just to name a few). Once our pouring was finished, we took off to get a couple hour headstart on the rest of the party by getting to Falling Rock Tap House one last time to secure some elbow space before the crush came calling from the convention center. And, what an after party it was. First of all, to see all of the brewing, ownership, and other industry-related talent gathered in one space is staggering. Then, watching everyone who worked so hard to organize the events and participate in the festival finally let their hair down (though, you could argue that some certainly had their hair let down all week long!) was also quite the scene. And, that's probably where the Saturday night story should end ;-) The FINAL T.U.D.? At the airport, of course. While we didn't take the time to get a beer at Timberline Steakhouse on our way in from Philly, it seemed only appropriate, since we had the time to spare, to stop for lunch and one final T.U.D. What was it, you ask? A simple beer...Stone IPA, heheh. And, with that, our time in Colorado came to a close. (By the way, if you'd like to see the amazing lineup that is typical at this atypical airport bar, plus many many more airports around the world, check out Lesson Learned? You can certainly get as much or as little out of a GABF experience as you can handle. Sure, you can go balls to the wall, drinking nonstop and let the chips fall where they may. Or, you can pick and choose and take a more cautious approach. Either way you go, it's difficult to imagine not having a great time. With so much to choose from, you're a winner no matter how you go. And don't forget the picture links below, if you haven't checked them out in the past. People Pictures Brewery Pictures GABF Awards Ceremony Pictures Scenery and Nature Pictures Miscellaneous Beer Pictures (aka whatever's left)


Adam said...

I was hoping for a bit more ;-)

Bryan Kolesar said...

Don't encourage me. You got the edited version. You should see all of the spillage on the editing room floor

I'd planned on a putting a coupon for a free beer somewhere in the middle to see who read through it all...did you find it?!

Adam said...

I'm not fallin' for that ol' free beer trick.

I still haven't tasted Utopius :-( Not even a half ounce.