GABF 2014 Hangover: Brad’s Re-cap of America’s Biggest Beer Festival
Another year, another GABF (Great American Beer Festival) in the books and another taster cup added to the collection (my 4th year in a row!). Another tradition of mine when it comes to GABF is that after my mild hangover is subdued with sleep and a big breakfast, I like to go back and rate some of my favorite beers from the festival. This year was pretty cool because it so happened to work out with ticket buying that a lot of my friends had the same session. I enjoyed the member session quite a bit last year in its more intimate setting (and glass tasting glasses) but it was pretty fun to run into many friends, meeting up to plan attacks and then separating only to run into other people we knew for Saturday Night’s session. My number 1 goal this year was to stretch across the entire floor as I felt like I hung out in the Great Lakes region far too much last year and was already swaying by the time I started hitting the breweries of the southwest. I also stuck to my carefully planned list for the most part and I felt that it gave me a better experience. In addition I wasn’t too worried about pouring out the “meh” beers or being worried if I separated from my crew.
This year I wasn’t really feeling the hops. I’ve made strides in adapting to drinking hoppy beers in recent years. Especially, if we were to time travel and meet 2009 Brad, whom just survived his first Colorado Winter, after living in the desert meets plains landscape of Abilene, Texas for his first 24 years of existence. 2009 Brad was in the shallow end of craft beer and was dogpaddling to the deep end…actually that’s a pretty spot-on analogy because I’m absolute rubbish with swimming. Six years later, I’m proud to say that I’ve embraced the hops and drink IPAs quite regularly…still a shit swimmer though. However this year I drank only a few IPAs and focused largely on Sours and Barrel Aged Beers at the festival. It also would seem that this was the focus for several brewers as well, so I had lots to choose from.
Probably the brewery that had the best offerings for me this year was Almanac Brewing out of California. Absolutely everything that I drank from there was incredible and they really brought out some awesome sours. Dogpatch Strawberry, Heirloom Pumpkin and the Cerise Sour blond, was worthy of a sourgasm….I mean they were really good…it was a public place….I just liked the beers…a lot. In addition The Bruery had some greatness that I usually have to pay quite a bit to grab a bomber of such as Tart of Darkness. I was pleased to see a small and manageable line for Russian River (likely due to Piney the Elder’s keg kicking) and tried out Supplication and Temptation. Desthil had a pretty cool offering of sours as well as did New Belgium with Le Terrior. While scouring the lists of beers for anything ending in Berliner Weisse, Brett, or Gose I was sad to see that a brewery I was looking forward to called The Rare Barrel was completely tapped out by the time our session began. Saturday night does have the disadvantage of being the last session and things like that happen, but there’s plenty of beer elsewhere. To semi-quote Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget “I’ll Get You Next Time ….Rare Barrel”.
One of the cooler parts about GABF is that you can sample a beer that you probably wouldn’t buy otherwise. Sometimes your gut instinct is right on the money, other times you can surprise yourself. Right Brain Brewing out of Michigan has been one of my favorite places to check out some experimental ales since trying 2011’s Mangalitsa Pig Porter which is a porter brewed with 5 smoked pig heads and bones…a little grotesque in describing it, but it was really bacon-y in taste and it earned a gold medal in the experimental beer category. This year they had Schrute Farms Saison (a beets saison) and Spear Beer (an Asparagus beer), while I’ve seen vegetables used in beer, this was a first for Asparagus for me. Like most beers with an unusual ingredient, the aftertaste is where the Asparagus hits you…it even tasted buttery with the aftertaste like all good asparagus should be served! Very awesome! A brewery that got some buzz prior to this year’s event was Scratch. They brew only using ingredients foraged from their farm and use bitter herbs rather than hops! Very cool idea, but I wasn’t really ready for the Nettle-Ginger Saison. I tried it and decided to move on.
Another seemingly popular trend this year was barrel aged beers. While barrel aging has been around for centuries, it’s seeing a spike in craft brewing. Even with homebrewing, it’s been a hot commodity, that is if you want to shell out the cash for a barrel. Sun King Brewing from Indiapolis has been a favorite table for me to hit every year. This year I was a fan of Barrel Aged 666: Symphony for the Devil and Barrel Aged 777: Touched by an Angel. Weasel Boy Brewing brought their Russian Imperial Stout Anastasia as well as a barrel aged version so that a side by side taste test could be arranged. A few past favorites were visited this year as well but some beers that got the barrel aged variety such as Magic Hat’s Belgo-Sutra. One that I went on name alone was Solemn Oath’s Heavyweight Ticklefight Champion of the World, which is a barleywine aged in Jack Daniels barrels, I’m glad I tried it because it was awesome…and I’m also glad they didn’t ticklefight you if you wanted to try it. Probably a favorite of mine out of the Barrel Aged beer was Avery’s 5 Monks a Quintuple ale (yeah…not a dubble, tripel or Quad!) which clocked in at a 19% abv. Like other beloved barrel beers like Rumpkin, the taste was really boozy, rich and that high abv was dangerously smooth. For those that planned their visit to Avery’s booth a bit better, once each session they would fill pitchers straight from the barrel!
Another GABF tradition that seems to happen to me every year is when I find a very awesome beer and then later find out I can’t buy it in Colorado (save for if they leave a small amount of beer when GABF rolls around). Past years included 3 Floyds and Sun King, and this year Shorts brewing out of Michigan joined the club with their Key Lime Pie beer. The beer won a gold medal in both the competition and in my heart. Key Lime Pie is probably my favorite desert and Beer is something I enjoy as well and combining the two was awesome. Sadly they only distribute to Michigan. So I’ll have to hit them up next year. However, although we’re just a few months away from making resolutions, I’ve already established the goal of brewing more next year and in addition to maybe playing a bit with sours, I’m now very inspired to brew a key lime pie beer to hold me over until the festival next year.
Now begins day 1 of the long wait until GABF 2015.