We were somewhere around Denver, on the edge of The Rockies, when the beers began to take hold. I remember saying something like my palette is scorched, maybe we should have a Pilsner Suddenly there was a terrible roar around us and the sky was full of what looked like beach balls, all bouncing and rolling all over the convention center. The place was jammed with thousands of drunken beer experts pounding beers one ounce at a time while moving from booth to both at speeds of 100 miles per hour. I heard a voice scream,Holy Jesus! Who are these goddamn animals?
They were not animals, they were, in fact, beer drinkers. They had all gathered in the home of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson for the largest celebration of beer of the year, The Great American Beer Festival.
For those of you that havent been fortunate enough to attend this beer-drenched event I will try to capture and depict the events of the week as accurately as possible. The GABF is technically located at the convention center but for that one week, everything in and around Denver is all about beer. Every store and restaurant has a sign in the window welcoming beer drinkers from around the world. Within blocks of the convention center there are great beer bars like Rock Bottom and Wynkoop Brewing Company. Denvers greatest beer asset Fallling Rock Tap House is a little bit further from the convention center in an area locals call LoDo (Lower Downtown) and is definitely worth the 10 minute walk. I am getting a little ahead of myself. I need to back up a bit and bring you up to speed with the events that brought me to LoDo¦Due to a snafu that was 1% mine and 99% Deltas fault, instead of arriving in Denver at 1 PM on Thursday I didnt arrive until 8:30 PM after being routed through D.C. and Atlanta. When I landed in Reagan International Airport I was in desperate need of a smoke. I asked one of the maintenance guys where the quickest place to get a smoke was and his answer resonated in my ears as I heard the sounds of trumpets and angels: The nearest place for a smoke is around the corner in the Brewpub. I had an hour to kill between flights. I figured this would be the perfect time to get a head start on The GABF and sample a couple of beers. My afternoon was not totally lost, or so I thought.Taking the corner I saw that the brewpub was a Foggy Bottom Brew Pub. Foggy Bottom was the premier D.C. beer years ago but is now contract brewed somewhere in the Northeast. Five minutes after seating myself at the bar in the pseudo-brewpub the barmaid finally asks me, in broken English, if I would like something to drink.I can understand why it took her so long to get to me, there was at least four of us at the bar. I studied the taps they had Foggy Bottom Ale and Foggy Bottom Lager on tap along with four or five of the national usual suspects. I knew I wanted an ale, but before ordering my drink I had to ask her the magic question. She was the bartender of a brewpub, so why not bask in her knowledge?What is the difference between the Ale and the Lager, I ask, looking puzzled. This heir apparent to Michael Jackson informed me The Ale is a Wheat Beer, the Lager is regular. I wasnt looking for her to go into the fermentation process of lagering, but give me a break. The Ale is a Wheat beer! No, this was not a Weizen, it was not even from the same country. Right on the tap it said English Style Pale Ale. Without correcting her, I drank my wheat beer and followed it up with the regular beer. The beer was uninspiring to say the least but it was wet and cold and hit the spot at that momentI remember thinking the good news is, in the past 10 years brewpubs have been popping up all over America. The bad news is, in the past 10 years brewpubs have been popping up all over America! What is next a McBeer to go along with my supersized McChicken value meal? There was better news¦ I was getting out of D.C. and getting one stop closer to the GABF and miles away from the Foggy Bottom Brewpub. I was heading to Atlanta.My experience at Atlantas airport was pretty uneventful. Feeling pity on me, Delta supplied me with a day pass for their Crown Club Executive Lounge. Seeing this upscale lounge had nothing but low-scale beer choices, fare usually reserved for the local bowling alleys, I figured I would have a nice scotch on Delta. Did you know if you drop a cell phone in a rocks glass full of scotch it wont work anymore! That is my lesson learnt from the Atlanta airport. You will soon see as I arrived in Denver my luck began to take a turn for the better.I did not expect my bags to be in Denver after the last-minute bizarre routing. I readied myself for the disappointment as I watched a garment bag with an official TheManRoom luggage tag roll towards me on the rack. The taxi got me to the Denver Marriott at warp speed with great reggae jamming at the same time. The better news was my cell phone was starting to dry out and with patience, I could finally connect a call.I checked into the Denver Marriott, stowed my bags and got ready to head out to the GABF when I noticed in the hotels lobby the Great Divide Pub & Grille! For those of you unfamiliar with Great Divide, they brew some of the funkiest beers in the country. I have loved them in the bottle for some time on the east coast. Here, I was in their backyard and had found their Double Pale Ale, Double IPA and Yeti Great Divides oak-aged Imperial Stout among others on tap. I had my TMR co-worker Joe waiting for me at the GABF, but I figured I was already 7 hours late, would one beer matter? What if I got back and all of the Great Divide was gone? They only had 7 or 8 Great Divide beers on tap! Ridiculous you say? The Great Divide was not wiped out that night but the next day the tap handle for the Double IPA was gone. By Sunday morning, only 2 tap handles remained. If the GABF was one day longer the brewers and media would have successfully drank The Denver Marriott dry!Long story short, 15 minutes later I was heading up California Street wiping Yeti foam from my upper lip (insert own joke here) with the GABF within my sight.My one big surprise at the GABF was as I entered the convention center they handed me a 1 oz. plastic glass. The beer festivals I attend in Boston typically have 4 oz glasses and even those I have to get accustomed to. With thimble in hand, I headed out to the convention floor.Surprisingly fast, Joe, better known to many of you as 3daddict, found me in this crowd of thousands. Quick hand shakes and niceties were exchanged and we headed towards the beer. I had one goal in mind¦ I promised myself the first beer I would try at the GABF would be a Pizza Port beer. I have heard nothing but raves about their products and sadly enough, Pizza Port does not ship their beers to the East Coast. That one ounce of Pizza Port beer was like heaven. I can pound beers like the rest of them, but that is not what I was there for. I was at the GABF to sample beers. Believe it or not the one ounce glass was enough to tell me that everything I had heard about Pizza Port was true¦ they made phenomenal beers.One would think Finding Pizza Port in a room of almost 400 brewers would be a hard task. I have to hand it to the Brewers Association, they brilliantly set up the convention floor regionally. This makes finding your favorite local brewers very easy. If your strategy was like mine, and you are intent on finding new beers to sample, you can simply walk over to a region of the country that you would like to sample the beers from.We traversed through the Southwest for a while sampling beers, but I had a few brewing buddies from Boston that I wanted to let know I had arrived in one piece. As we traveled through the Northeast section of the GABF I felt like I was at home. There was Cambridge Brewing Company, Millys Tavern and Allagash¦ familiar faces and familiar beers; or so I thought. Many of the brewers use the GABF to try out new brews or to brew up special beers that they typically dont serve at their brewpub locations or distribute in bottles. Even if you do live a certain region, having your local breweries that are sometimes separated by a 15 – 25 mile ride sitting side by side at tables is a huge plus. You can sample all of your regions finer brew all while making a list of brewers and brewpubs that you want to revisit for more lengthy sessions.One of our regional brewers that was new to Joe, but and old friend of mine, was Cambridge Brewing Company. These guys are magicians with brewing kettles. None of their beers come close to resembling each other, all have their own personality and flavor profile. Cambridge Blunderbuss Barleywine is one of the first Barleywines I ever fell in love with. Here I had the opportunity to turn my buddy Joe on to one of my favorite beers. Once again the one ounce glasses come into play. Cambridge Blunderbuss Barleywine is around 11% ABV, depending on the vintage. Had Joe or I drank a 9 oz glass of Barleywine after all of the sampling we had already done we would have been heading for the hotel after that beer. Fortunately for us a trip to the hotel was not needed. We simply walked 20 feet from Cambridge MA. to Manchester NH to sample some of Millys Taverns fare.Millys is New Hampshires crown jewel of brewpubs. Brewer Mike Roy is always serving up some of the most interesting beers you have ever seen. From wood finished ales to delicate flowery pilsners, Millys has something for every level of beer drinker. As we were making our way through Millys array of beers, one beer slammed my palette. I felt like a young Mike Tyson had punched me in the tongue, but believe me this was not a bad felling. Being a hop head this was what I was looking for¦ I had found Millys Hopnoxius. After trying multiple big beers Hopnoxius still had enough flavors to cut through everything that had hit my palette to wake it up and say hey taste me!It was around then that I realized that I was doing all of this tasting on an empty stomach. I had been surviving the day on airline peanuts and granola bars. Thursdays GABF session would have to be wrapped up. Fear not, we still have Friday and Saturday. I havent gotten to the wild beer swilling session with Dogfish Heads Sam Calagione at Falling Rock Tap House, dinner with Brooklyn Brewings Garrett Oliver and brunch with Boston Brewings Jim Koch to name a few of the wild times we had at the GABF.Expect Friday & Saturdays columns soon but until then here is my beer picks for Day One at the GABF:Millys Tavern Hopnoxius This beer had a great color deep amber with a white head, as expected the aroma has a huge hop presence the mouthfeel is medium and surprisingly on the exhale there is a nice malt backbone that balances the hops. The malt is quickly washed away by yet another health dosing of hops.
Commercial description: This Imperial India Pale Ale is excessively hopped and for serious hop heads only. Generous usage of Chinook, Centennial and Crystal hops will surely have you scraping them off your teeth.Cambridge Brewing Company Blunderbuss Barleywine This barleywine is a deep mahogany in color at first sniff you pick up huge fruit tones figs, raisins and plums. The mouthfeel is very full and warming with a nice round alcohol presence and a beautiful malt flavor. There is a generous helping of hops that are not over whelming in any way they perfectly balance this ale. This is a must find if you visit CBC.
Commercial description: Once again, your ethanol-charged brewers at Cambridge Brewing Company have thrown caution to the wind in our annual effort to create the biggest, baddest, strongest, bestest beer around. Barleywines are generally the strongest style of ale, with an alcohol content to rival most wines. In fact, it is this high alcohol content coupled with extensive aging which contributes to the very complex nature of our Blunderbuss. A beverage such as this is meant to be savored and appreciated much like a fine brandy or cognac, or, in the world of wine, a fortified sherry or vintage port. (But a barleywine is all beer!)Pizza Port Wipeout IPAThis is California in a glass. The beer pours a golden deep tone with a fluffy white head the aroma has a great malt presence with perfume like hop aromas. The mouthfeel is medium with a sparkling but not overly lively carbonation. The is a fantastic hop finish not to the hop bomb level but Pizza Port has a ton of other offerings if that is what you are looking for.
Commercial description: Our version of this West Coast IPA brings a smile to the face of hopheads everywhere. BIG AND HOPPY, this beer has a huge bitter finish which is mildly tempered by the large amounts of crystal malt we use. One sip and you’ll know why it’s called WipeoutThis weeks number one pick is:Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti This beer is black as pith with a tan head. The first thing to hit you in the aroma is oak, once you get past the wood there are huge vanilla tones and chocolate/toffee aromas that rise from the glass. The mouthfeel is very full and very vinous the palette is a mirror of the aroma with touches of molasses and fruit. There is a classic imperial stout hopping in the finish and the chocolate malt clings to your tongue.
Commercial description: Crack open Yeti Imperial Stouts sophisticated sibling “ Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. Although these beers come from the same clan, they have entirely different personalities. Aging on a blend of French and toasted oak chips infuses a subtle oak and vanilla character into Yetis already intense chocolate, roasted coffee malt flavor and hugely assertive hop profile. Who says you cant tame a Yeti? A respectable 75 International Bittering Units (IBUs). Alcohol by volume: 9.5%