Things to do in Denver when you’re drunk (aka: attending GABF)

19 Oct

Not even sure what beer was in the glass when this was taken…but who cares, right? GABF!!!

So…GABF.  Big beer festival.  Really big beer festival.  I returned Sunday from my first trip to this craft beer institution and it’s only now that I feel physically and mentally ready to write about what I saw and experienced.  That should tell you a little something about the amount of beer that was consumed on this trip.  What’s funny is that I ran into plenty of Oregon brewers and industry folk and they hit it twice as hard as I did.  I don’t know how people do it.  I thought of breaking this thing up into multiple posts, but I’m thinking now that I’ll just break the days out and cram the whole thing into one.  Hang on, folks!

Wednesday– As documented by our review of Wynkoop, we hit the ground running when we landed in Denver.  We got a real early start (left PDX at 6:10 AM), which was the way to go, in my opinion.  It gave us a full day in Denver to leisurely check out some of the many available breweries.  And there are many breweries in Denver, with new ones opening all the time.  After sampling the wares at Wynkoop, we wandered past Coors Field and made our way to Breckenridge Brewery.  Their in-house beer list was fairly pedestrian, but they had quite the selection of guest taps, so I went with a Boulder Beer Company’s Mojo Risin’ Double IPA on nitro.  It has only been recently that I have had IPAs on nitro, and I have to say, what a revelation!  This beer was just amazing.  Smooth, citrusy…an intense IPA experience.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and have one more before we left, so I ordered another Mojo.  In hindsight, that beer was probably the tipping point towards total intoxication prior to dinner.  If I had bypassed it, the two I drank next at Great Divide Brewing Company probably wouldn’t have left me feeling like I went 12 rounds with Manny Pacquiao.  Great Divide was jumping when we walked in, with almost no place to sit/stand and enjoy our beers.  That it was so crowded seemed appropriate, as it was later in the afternoon and it felt like the hordes were descending on Denver for the Festival.  The whole place felt like it was overflowing with seasoned brewing professionals and knowledgable craft beer drinkers.  It was kinda cool, I have to say.  Lots of energy, and all of it focused on beer.  We managed to strike up a conversation with two guys who own and operate a brewery in La Vista, Nebraska called Lucky Bucket Brewing Company.  They were great dudes, and we ended up visiting their booth on Friday night.  There was plenty to choose from, but my first beer was a special brew on the their board, something called the Colorado Fresh Hop.  Holy fucking fresh hop, Batman!  It started off with a nice citrusy nose, but the thing tasted the way peaches smell when you pick them off the tree. It was un-fucking-believable.  Best beer of the day, easy.  After cleaning myself up in the bathroom with a couple of paper towels and entering my refractory period, I decided to come down easy with a Hoss, which is their rye lager.  I have had it in bottles before, but it was 10x better on draft at the taphouse.  Just clean, crisp, and full of rye goodness.  Upon stumbling out of the bar we caught a shuttle to the hotel.  Somehow we managed to walk to a super-trendy restaurant called Linger and have some dinner.  We were so tired we bolted our food and passed out before 9:30.  It was a great day.

Thursday– Ok, so here it is.  First day of the festival, and we were determined to be ready for the 5:30 PM opening.  That meant little-to-no drinking prior to going in.  I broke down and had a Great Divide ESB with my lunch, but otherwise we stuck with water and Gatorade.  Fully hydrated, rested, and fed, we got into line at 3:30. At the time we were a little bummed, thinking we might have jumped the gun and sat in line too early.  What we learned over the next two days was that we made the right choice (more on this in the Saturday section).

When they finally opened the doors at 5:25 we were lined up at the base of some stairs to wait for the official opening.  At 5:30 the bagpipes roared to life and we were on our way.  People were whooping and hollering and the whole thing was electric.  When you enter the convention center, even though you’ve seen the layout on a map, you are not really ready for the sheer size of the space and the amount of breweries that are serving.  It was awesome.  Michael and I had been talking quite a bit about what place we would hit first, and truth be told, I was really too overwhelmed to make an informed decision about it.  We had spotted the Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace, an interesting take on a Saison, on the list and decided that was as good a place to start as any.  We walked up to the Brooklyn Brewery table and there was Mr. Garrett Oliver himself, pouring samples for everyone!  So it’s gonna be like that, huh?  It wasn’t all star gazing so much as it was cool to see the actual people you read about…the people who have contributed so much to this incredible passion that is craft beer.  This was just one example, too.  The entire three days was about running into well-known industry people and striking up conversations with random beer lovers.

So what did I drink?  I am not going to go into detail with all the beers that I had on Thursday.  I know Mike is working on a comprehensive post of his own, which will go into some detail about many of the beers.  Basically Miranda, Michael, and I had a lot of the same beers, as we tried to stick together and talk about what we thought about each one.  I tried to take notes and mark down all the beers I had, but I eventually just gave up and enjoyed the festival in this simple way: drinking beer and discussing it with friends.  We just bellied up to whatever looked/sounded good and tried something.  A couple of standouts on Thursday night were the Marble Brewing Imperial Red Ale, Hoppy Brewing Company’s Total Eclipse Black Ale, Brewer’s Alley Kolsch, and the Turmoil Black IPA from Barley Brown’s (I couldn’t help myself…I had to have it!).  We stuck around for the whole session, with “last call” happening at 9:45.  After shooting the breeze with the Bend Brewing folks and watching Miranda get some full pours from their crew, we headed home excited and exhausted all at the same time.  It was a fun first day, but it was pretty intense.  We had no idea what we were in for on Friday.

Friday– This was sort of the day where we got our bearings.  After hitting up Pints Pub, we again showed up early to wait in line…but this time we utilized the wait to map out a plan of attack (all credit to Miranda on this one). Something that we noticed on Thursday was that the well-known breweries (think Cigar City, Russian River, Dogfish Head, Stone) had incredibly long lines.  What that meant on Thursday was that we were caught off-guard and weren’t willing to wait 20 minutes in line for a 1 oz. sample.  Friday was our opportunity to hit up all the booths that would be in high demand before the majority of the entrants were in the door.  Once inside, we hit it hard.  First stop was Cigar City, where I got to try their Cucumber Saison.  It was a fantastic version of a vegetable beer, and I couldn’t have been happier to start the day with it.  Next stop was Russian River, where many were waiting to try Pliny (because many of the people there can’t get it on the East Coast, etc), but we were interested in their fresh hop (Row 2 Hill 56-great name!) and framboise (Framboise for a Cure-brewed to benefit breast cancer research/cure).  Both were outstanding and strengthened the idea that Russian River is a fantastic brewery that makes all kinds of great beers.  From there, the taste train moved to Ommegang, Stone, Kettlehouse, Pyramid, DESTIHL, Anchor…the list goes on and on.  I definitely drank more this day than any other.  Many trips to the bathroom occurred.  Lots of shitty pizza and pulled pork sammies were inhaled.  Multiple bags of free pretzels were consumed.  It was fun. I do have to point out that there were definitely more people in the place than on Thursday.  A lot more.  It was packed, and not necessarily with craft beer aficionados.  There were quite a few amateurs there, looking to get their drunk on and acting the fool.  I guess we shouldn’t have been totally suprised by that, but it did start to get old as the night wore on. This theme would be repeated on Saturday. Paricular beers of note on the 2nd day: Dostal Alley Brewpub & Casino’s English Pub Ale (best British Mild I have ever tasted) and Back Forty Beer Company’s IPA (yes, they are from Gadsden, Alabama).

Saturday– My body was in total shutdown mode on Saturday.  I managed to get to the festival (after a nap and some college football watching), but I didn’t bother trying to get in when it opened.  Instead, I decided to stand outside and see how long it took to get everyone in the door.  The first entrants got in at 5:30 on the dot, but the end of the line didn’t make it in the door until 6:50!  That should give you some idea at the sheer number of people going into the Convention Center.  And we aren’t talking about a slow line here.  That thing moves at a real nice clip, so there were a ton of people going in.  All this is my way of saying that you should show up early and wait in line…it’s worth it.  I finally made it in the doors, but spent a good amount of time checking out vendor booths and the beer bookstore they had set up.  We only made it to about 8:15 or so before we called it a night and went out for a pizza.  Michael and Miranda had gone to the afternoon Members Only session, so they were spent.  Too. Much. Beer.  Blasphemous, I know.  But it’s the truth.  No beers of note to report for this day, as I probably only tried about 10, and none of them stood out.  Many of the breweries were simply out of particular styles of beer by 8:00.  Saturday would be the worst day to be there if you had something you really wanted to try.

Overall– I had a blast, but I learned some valuable lessons.  First, I would never go back and attend all the sessions.  The Thursday night and Saturday afternoon sessions seem like they are mostly attended by people who want to sample great craft beer and not just get crazy.  Friday and Saturday night were a shit show by 8:00, which didn’t make them nearly as fun to be at.  I saw some “disagreements” in line on the way in Saturday that said everything you need to know about the type of people heading inside: Troublemakers.  And again, they are clearly selling more tickets for Friday and Saturday, as the sheer humanity in the place was almost overwhelming.  Second, depending on the brewery there was swag to be had.  Mostly pins, bottle openers, and stickers but still…free is free.  The thing is, you gotta get to it early on Thursday to have any hope of cleaning up.  By Saturday all that’s left are beer-stained coasters and some buttons.  Although that’s not entirely true, because Oskar Blues left a pallet of empty cans out everyday that had beads attached to them.  Lots and lots of people had Ol’ Chub, Deviant Dales, and Ten Fidy cans around their necks during the festival I can tell you.  Lastly, most of the people in attendance are friendly and hella ready to talk beer.  I was impressed by the cheerful attitude that everyone working the event had, including the cops.  I had one hand me a Samuel Adams keychain bottle opener when I left the t-shirt line.  Weird.

GABF was pretty awesome, but I’m not sure I’ll be a yearly attendee.  This was a once-in-a-decade type of experience for me.  Maybe I’ll go back in 5 years or so, but between the cost to attend and the fact that you could never sit down and just enjoy a pint of something, I figure my money is best spent on beer locally.  I do recommend every beer lover check it out though. Sorta like a pilgrimage every craft beer drinker should make at some point in their life.  And not for nothing, but Denver (and Colorado) got a sweet beer scene going on.  The state alone is worth the visit if you want great beer in a beautiful setting…something not so different than this place we call Beervana.


6 Responses to “Things to do in Denver when you’re drunk (aka: attending GABF)”

  1. grotusque October 19, 2012 at 2:14 PM #

    Nicely done! From the sound of things, I’d have to agree, I should do it at least once.

  2. Chad October 19, 2012 at 6:04 PM #

    I may sound like a pussy, but the crowds would have just pissed me off. I like that you got a taste of Hoppy Brewery. I have fond memories of having a few stouts with my chicken fried steak breakfast on college football Saturday mormings at their joint in Sacramento.

    Denver is just a great town (City is a over rated term, town is more my style). Can’t think of a better spot than PDX for that event. But they got to get the fuckin light rail to Kansas, I mean DIA, for fuck sake.

    Glad u represented. You went hard and that’s all I can ask.

    • Brian October 19, 2012 at 7:59 PM #

      They are building the Light Rail now. It will be two years before it’s done, and I am sure it will take a bite out of the cabbie’s $, but it’s a ridiculous distance to travel and pay for to get into the city. I really enjoyed the town, though. Denver’s got it going’ on!

  3. Sister Schoultz October 22, 2012 at 1:06 PM #

    Thank you for the tip on a good bible belt brew!

    • Chad October 22, 2012 at 6:04 PM #

      For some other good bible belt brews check out Holy City and Weatbrook. Both are from the Charleston, SC area.


  1. Reader’s Choice 6: Alaskan Brewing’s 25th Anniversary Perseverance Stout | taphandle - September 3, 2013

    […] to that, but it was absolutely true at GABF. The closer to fresh hops, the better the beer. We had an amazing beer from Great Divide that had used fresh hops from just a couple hours away that tasted like fresh peaches. Wherever you […]

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