By Cal Meacham
2013 marked the first year that I was fortunate enough to travel to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival. G.A.B.F. is the mecca of great craft beer and beer lovers alike. It included over 3,100 beers, 49,000 attendees and was represented by 684 U.S. breweries. This past weekend, months of planning and excitement culminated in a several days of liver punishment and liquid deliciousness.
My arrival Thursday in Denver was greeted with the anticipation and the energy of thousands of other beer lovers coming from all over the world to enjoy the festival. I spent Thursday and Friday exploring some of the Colorado breweries and Saturday brought me to the main event which was the afternoon session of G.A.B.F. I could write endlessly about my explorations around Denver but instead I want to focus on my thoughts of the Festival and the beer that was enjoyed.
A stress-free experience – I’d like to first and foremost mention the festival organizers and their incredible ability to run and manage such a large festival. We got in line at 11:20 and we were already wrapped half way around the convention center. When the doors opened at 12, they had us in to the convention center within 15 minutes with a well-organized ticket, id check and glass distribution system. Needless to say, my stress about getting to the convention floor quickly was alleviated by a well-managed team. Secondly, the convention floor never felt overwhelming or overcrowded.
Plenty of beer and manageable lines – For the most part I was able to get through and try 95% of the beers that I had targeted and that is a big hats off to the breweries for coming prepared to hand out samples to anyone who wanted one. Not only where most of the breweries able to hand out samples of some of their rarest beers, they also did it in a speedy fashion which kept me moving around the floor.
Three Floyds – 30 minutes into the session and they were out of Zombie Dust…….Ok, fine. I can understand that there was a huge demand for a solid beer. An hour and a half later we walked past the booth again and they were out of everything……Yes, everything……… Good thing people paid good money to fly from all over and spent money on tickets only to have a brewery give them the middle finger. Don’t get me wrong, Three Floyds makes some great beer but to not bring enough beer to last an entire session is inexcusable.
The Food – I expected the festival to bring its “A” game food wise, instead we had average burgers and average hot dogs, a big let down if you ask me. Good thing there were plenty of free samples of Snyder’s pretzels and beef jerky!
Not enough swag – This year’s festival shirts had a great design, too bad they didn’t have it in my size. There were several “out of size” stickers on the official G.A.B.F. shirts and that left me a bit disappointed.
5 Amazing Beers:
- Sun King – Afternoon Delight
- Alesmith – Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout
- The Bruery – Chocolate Rain
- Weasel Boy Brewing Company – Bourbon Barrel Aged Anastasia Russian Imperial Stout
- Surly – Coffee Bender
2 Breweries To Watch For: Both of the breweries I have listed here have a large following but they continue to surpass expectations and deserve the attention.
Sun King – I tasted 3 great beers (Stupid Sexy Flanders, Afternoon Delight, Batch 777: Touched By an Angel) from Sun King and while the Batch 666: Sympathy For The Devil left me a little bored, the rest had great flavor profiles and knocked my socks off. These guys brought great beers and I will be on the watch for them in the next year.
The Bruery – I expected great things from California’s The Bruery and they far surpassed my expectations. I am a huge fan of Tart of Darkness so to have it on tap was a real treat. Along with Chocolate Rain, Sour In The Rye (Peach) and Saison Tonnellerie, my mouth was bursting with a ton of different flavors.
Lesser Known, but worth watching:
Alaskan Brewing Co. – It isn’t often that I can say that I was impressed with a Winter Ale but Alaskan’s Winter was a spruce tip touched ale that had my taste buds jumping. Their IPA was well balanced
G.A.B.F. was an amazing experience that should be had by all, at least once in their lives. To be exposed to so many different breweries all under one roof and be surrounded by people with a similar love of beer led to a thrilling experience as I grinned from ear to ear at each brewery stop. My qualms were very small and did little to impact the great time that was had at the festival and in the city of Denver. I have already circled my calendar for next year and will make sure that my drinking pants are pressed and ready to go! Oh and Triumph The Insult Comic Dog was there!