October 1, 2013

2013 GABF Strategy Guide

It’s that magical time of year again. The days get shorter, the crisp air nips at your nose, and the trees begin to show off their brilliant colors. Most importantly though, it’s the time that all beer geeks look forward to most, the Great American Beer Festival; our Christmas in October. Tickets sold out in a ridiculous few seconds this year, so hopefully you are one of the lucky few to obtain them. I will note that if you got shut out, tickets can often be had at face value or less from disappointed scalpers, around 30 minutes or so after the festival begins. I’ve never actually done this, but have heard about it from multiple sources.

With over 3,000 different beers being poured, a game plan is a must and each year I spend the weeks leading up planning out my strategy. To me, the best thing about GABF is getting access to beers that aren’t available for purchase in CO. If you think about it, there’s not much point in paying $80 to drink beer you can buy at your local liquor store.  With that in mind, here are my choices for top breweries to seek out at the 2013 GABF:

Snake River Brewing: A perennial GABF favorite, their cherry-infused Flander’s red ale, Le Serpent Cerise (8% ABV), is a blend of cherry pie and vanilla, and finishes with a refreshing acidic tang.

La Cumbre: Located in nearby Albuquerque, their Elevated IPA (7.2% ABV), with its masterful balance of malty richness and hop intensity, wins my vote for best IPA in the world. No kidding.

Three Floyds: This brewery makes just about every style of beer and does them all excellently. I personally think their best beers are their hoppy ones though. Check out their citrus-intense pale ale, Zombie Dust (6.4% ABV), and their ultra bitter, tropical fruit-laced double IPA, Arctic Panzer Wolf (9.0% ABV). Be sure to take a look at their fantastic label art.

Pelican Brewery: Probably the best brewery in America you’ve never heard of. Their Mother of All Storms barley wine (14.0% ABV), is aged for a year in bourbon barrels and is an absolute legend in the beer world. It’s never been served at a festival before. A must try.

Lost Abbey: Ok, they do distribute in CO. However, there beers are none-too-cheap and they always bring tons of goodies to GABF that you can’t buy off the shelf. Founder Tomme Arthur is a genius when it comes to creating Belgian style ales.  Don’t leave until you’ve tried everything.

Russian River: Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, beer geek’s Golden Child, has the Midas touch. Like Lost Abbey, they too distribute in CO, but they are just so good you still have to check out everything they bring. Their Hoptime Harvest Ale (6.8% ABV), is made with this year’s fresh hop crop and will win over hop lover’s hearts; while their Framboise for a Cure (7.5% ABV), a Belgian blonde ale aged in chardonnay barrels with heaps of raspberries, is sublime.

Cambridge Brewing Company: Their Shadows & Light (10% ABV), is my most anticipated beer of the fest. Made from various vintages of barrel-aged barleywines that have been stressed to the max (temperature fluctuations, sun exposure, and more), the resultant blend resembles a fine Maderia or Amontillado more than it does beer. There is nothing else like it in the world.

The Brew Kettle: Best known for their White Rajah (6.8% ABV), a fruit-forward (mango, pineapple, grapefruit) yet still bitter IPA. Their booth is well worth seeking out.

Shorts Brewing: A mad-scientist sort of operation, famous for their creative, unusual ingredients. Check out Gone Commando (4.5 % ABV), a Vienna Lager brewed with black currants, and Bourbon Woodmaster (10.0% ABV), an imperial brown ale fermented with maple syrup and toasted pecans, then aged in bourbon barrels.

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery:  This Minnesotan brewpub serves world class beers of all styles. Be sure to ask for Cherry Eye of the Storm (10.0% ABV), a barleywine brewed with buckets of MN honey and aged on local cherries.

Live Oak Brewing Company: Their Hefeweizen (5.2% ABV), is better than most of the “authentic” ones being brewed in Germany. Seriously.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales: David Logsdon, the original brewmaster at Full Sail, opened this little brewery in the midst of cherry orchards in the Hood River valley. The beers are Belgian-based and delectable. Try both the Seizoen (7.5% ABV) and Seizoen Bretta (8.0% ABV), the same beer but the latter spiked with brettanomyces (a la Crooked Stave).

Jack’s Abby: A lager-only brewery, their Hoponius Union IPL (India Plae Lager) shows just what those clean crisp lager notes can do when paired up with expertly selected hops. Unique and delicious.

Have fun, drink plenty of water, and be sure to thank the beer gods that the world’s greatest beer event happens every year right in our backyard.

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October 22, 2012

GABF Planning Strategy

The Great American Beer Festival is just around the corner and for those lucky enough to score tickets to this sold-out event, there’s good news: this is going to be your best GABF ever! Why you ask? Because we’ve been tracking the pulse on the craft beer scene and have the lowdown on the festival’s best breweries and the most efficient way to hit them all.

A few quick pointers for the newbies out there though… Rule #1: Hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE. You’d be surprised how fast 1-oz samples add up. Rule #2: Eat beforehand. Arriving with a fairly full stomach is important for obvious reasons. But besides that, food is limited to hotdogs and such inside and you don’t want to waste too much time eating anyway. Lastly, don’t panic when you see the line; it moves surprisingly fast and is actually a fun, festive environment.

Alright, here’s the itinerary we’ll be following this year. It includes a mix of large and small breweries, as well as experimental and classic beers. Use this guideline and I guarantee most of you will try beers you’ve never encountered before. After all, checking out new, exciting brews is what the GABF is all about!

[Disclaimer: Everyone’s alcohol tolerance is different. Be sure to take the evening slow and not over-indulge. The following itinerary is merely a suggestion. The author, nor North Denver Tribune, can be held liable for any resultant actions.]

At last, you’ve entered the hall and have your tasting cup in hand. Make sure to grab a map and soak in the glory that is the GABF. You’ll quickly notice that the festival is organized by US regions and at the entry point, you’ll find yourself in front of the Midwest section.  Immediately head to Founder’s and get things started right with a taster of their insanely delicious Breakfast Stout (coffee-infused imperial stout), as well as the bourbon barrel-aged version, Kentucky Breakfast Stout. To cut your coffee buzz, continue on to New Glarus and ask for their appropriately named, Raspberry Tart; a sour raspberry-packed ale.

Pressing on in a counterclockwise direction, you’ll hit the small New England section that houses Allagash. Give their barrel-aged trippel, Curieux, a try; its wonderful mix of fruity Belgian yeast and oaky vanilla is a truly masterful combination. The adjacent aisle hosts the equally small Southeast section. Tampa Bay’s Cigar City is a GABF staple due to their never-ending creativity. Their Jai Alai IPA, with its caramel notes and complementary citrusy bitterness, is a must.

Moving onwards, you’ll hit the Silent Disco. Grab some headphones and cut the rug for a track or two. You can thank me later.

Exiting the dance floor with music still ringing in your ears, you’ll find yourself in front of the Pacific section. Locate The Bruery’s booth and taste their Hottenroth berlinerweiss; a uniquely tangy wheat beer style rarely found in the US. Be sure to ask what time they’re opening bottles of Black Tuesday, an ~20% ABV bruiser of a stout that many consider to be the best beer poured at the festival.

Next stops are Lost Abbey and Russian River. There will be lines, but for good reason. Be patient; they move fast. Considered two of the finest breweries in the world, every beer they pour is worth trying. Many are sour, so keep an open mind when sampling them; considering them almost more like a wine or fruit liqueur is advice I give many people when trying for the first time. Once you get a taster, get back in line to try the next one on the list.

At this point you should be at the far end of the festival hall. Keep moving counter-clockwise to the Southwest section. Jester King, located in the hills of Austin, has elevated the Texas brewing scene to a national level; be sure to check them and their Noble King, a spicy and dry, yet grainy saison, out. Spend time perusing their bottle labels too, which are some of the most creatively illustrated in the entire beer world. On your way through, stop at Live Oak who brews one of country’s (if not the world’s) best hefeweizens.

You’re on the home stretch! The Pacific Northwest section is up next and hosts perennial medal favorites Alaskan Brewing Co and Elysian. Alaskan’s Smoked Porter has won more medals than any other beer in GABF history and for good reason. Elysian meanwhile, has perfected the art of pumpkin beers and their bountiful interpretations of this versatile gourd can’t be missed.

Looming ahead should be the final section: the Mid-Atlantic. For those still feeling up to it, Dogfish Head, the region’s craft brewing powerhouse, and their seemingly endless list of uber-artistic brews, is a great way to pass the dwindling moments of the festival.

As last call is announced, head out a few minutes early to avoid the drunken taxi queue that’s always been the bane of this otherwise illustrious event. On the cab ride home, realize how lucky you are to live in Denver and mark next year’s fest on your phone’s calendar. Until then, Prost!

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