How I Enjoyed GABF Week Without Tickets (Part 2)

I’d like to warn our affiliates that we might go long.

Remember GABF?  You probably had oodles of fun.  You also probably went.  Unfortunately I didn’t attend, and know that though jealous of you as I am, dear hypothetical reader, I had my share of delightfulness that week sans-ticket.  This is part 2 of my shenanigans.

The real day one.  Where the Denver Convention Center is flooded with pretzel necklaces and foamy pitchers far as the eye can see.  What I did instead: almost nothing the entire day.  It felt weird, knowing there was so much rare and tasty beer out there being tapped, special brunches and carefully coordinated events being assembled.  But honestly, I had a budget to stick to.  That, and I was healing after Wednesday’s indulgences.

imageUntil I decided to venture to Falling Rock, the de-facto HQ for natives and visitors alike during GABF.  Crazy thing was, I didn’t even have a beer there, because on my way around the corner The Beerliner had parked its shiny wheels on the side of the street for the week.  I’ll talk much more on The Beerliner next week, but in a nutshell, it’s a big jockey box on wheels straight from Austin, TX…aaand they were just handing out cups of draft beer.  Good ones too, from all across my beloved home state, from a land heretofore known only as “where Shiner is made”.image_1

A few chats with the drivers (and a few cups of Belgian IPAs and Saisons), it was back to World of Beer in my cozy ‘burbs.  Ommegang had a small tap takeover, including Belgian Independence Day and their new Game of Thrones inspired beer, Take the Black.  Those wouldn’t last long even inside the convention center, so y’know, nerdy desires and all.  I also had a lucky taste of Wynkoop’s 25th Anniversary Kriek, which was remarkable for NOT being basically fizzy cherry juice (looking at you, Lindemans..), but was instead a bit tart and sour in all the right ways.  Had it been bottled under a Hill Farmstead or Russian River label, it would have shot to 100 on RateBeer and been regarded as ‘trade bait’.  I mean all that as a compliment to the beer, should anyone be confused.

image_4I ended my Thursday inside the Grand Hyatt hotel at a party being hosted by Left Hand.  There was music, there was a vertical tapping of the Fade to Black series (now on #5), there were old retired brews from Left Hand & Tabernash’s past, and there was my sweet Beer Week Sauce.  Because everyone needs an annually released coffee imperial porter in their lives, right?  But most importantly, this was the party Left Hand was throwing to celebrate/announce two more beers being released as Nitro bottles: Wake Up Dead, an imperial stout, and Sawtooth ESB.  There’s something just right about watching a nitro ESB cascade into stillness inside a curvy pint glass.image_2


If you behaved the first night of GABF and were willing for a pleasant drive north to Longmont, you could be treated to special beer deals and complimentary burritos at the Left Hand taproom, at their annual Wake Up Dead party.  9am might be a little much for some, but being a morning person, I had no problem with some pale ale and burritos and a Rush cover band that early in the day.  Rubbing elbows with excited brewers visiting from far flung coasts is also a plus.  And yes, I did make a 2 hour round trip just for burritos and morning beers at the Left Hand taproom.  It’s GABF.

Then it was back to downtown Denver for a lot of walking back and forth.  Specifically, Freshcraft for a bloody mary, then back over to The Beerliner (see Thursday), then back to Freshcraft for a delightful taster flight of the SKA Brewing takeover from the night before (because, for all its delights, Freshcraft is not super accommodating to massive crowds), which included Cru D’Etat, a Belgian ale aged for 2 years in foeders, and DaSkave de Fuego, an extra pale ale infused with habanero, fruits, and aged in a tequila barrel from Peach Street Distillery in Palisade, CO.  So, that.  Oh craft beer, you so silly and delicious.

image_6Then back to The Beerliner, because they had tapped new stuff and I needed to know what my fair home state was brewing up in all its glories.  In response, Peticolas handed me a double IPA and an imperial amber with funny names (Sit Down or I’ll Sit You Down and Velvet Hammer, respectively).  Wow-wee.

Then I was off to Wynkoop a few blocks away, to join a little meet and greet with Squatters and Wasatch breweries from Utah.  You may have heard of Polygamy Porter, yes?  Yeah, these guys.  They just expanded into the Colorado market about a week before GABF. Being brewers in Utah, where 4.2% ABV is the highest booze you can serve on draft, they really honed their craft to an art, not being able to hide impurities behind bigger alcohol numbers.  It completely shines through in Squatters Chasing Tail blonde ale.image_5

Being completely bored by this particular style, I had zero expectation for this beer.  And 4.2%? Cue eye roll.  Then I bring my little taster glass to my lips and…yessss!  I shamelessly spent the remainder of the hour chatting with Squatters and Wasatch brewers and media relations peoples exalting this one blonde ale.  When you make 4.2% beers for a living, you get really, really good at making them taste like they’re more than what they are, and more complex than they have any right to be.  A very translatable skill when they make bigger brews (not available on draft in Utah.  Silly Utah), evidenced by their 2 GABF 2013 silver medals, both for beers over 6%, bringing their GABF total to 28.

Go home. Rest.

This is where things start to calm down and my enthusiasm begins to wane.  But like I said, nerdy desires and all…can’t just sit at home when Freshcraft has leftover goodness from last night’s Firestone Walker/Odell tap takeover.  At this point the bartenders are recognizing me, and a part of me is proud of that.  A sample flight ensues. (A barrel aged cherry chocolate cream stout?  Yes please.)

image_3Then I walk to The Beerliner again.  They definitely recognize me by this point.  More Texas ales.

I know I’m headed to World of Beer again before finishing my day, but out of curiosity I swing by Ale House at Amato’s, a classy joint-brewpub operated by Wynkoop and Breckenridge.  Well, it just so happened that Lagunitas had a wee little tap takeover.  With donuts.  And free professional massages.  That massage changed my whole outlook on the day, and made me feel happier than perhaps half the beers I had tasted by that point.  Perhaps I’m putting money into the wrong hobby…

At this point it should be obvious that my GABF weekend without a ticket is largely sponsored by Freshcraft, The Beerliner, and World of Beer.  After a large and early dinner, a trip to all three was in order, as I knew each one would be clearing out their cellars for the closing night.  Not to mention the palate blow-out that was the Sun King tapping at Freshcraft (Pink Taco and Pappy Van Muckle, anyone?)


So what have I learned?  Well, not going to GABF doesn’t mean you have to go thirsty.  I learned a lot of cool people’s names, I learned that Texas craft brewing is about to explode, and a better sense of when to say ‘no’.  But I also learned that having a bit of coin helps you go to much cooler events than I described here and in Part 1.  Seriously, go look at some of the paid events listed here.  Kinda jealous.  But much like actually going to GABF, you can’t drink everything.

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