GABF Hangover 2015: AKA How 6 Hours of Unlimited Beer Sampling Went For Me
So this year, my wife and I began our Great American Beer Festival visit much earlier than expected and did a double-header thanks to a last minute message from one of my friends getting rid of a pair of tickets for the earlier member’s session. We were hesitant at first just because we anticipated doing a lot of much-needed cleaning errands prior to going to our evening session, but a simple push in the right direction got us to decide to do it. We rapidly made our way home to get dressed, make arrangements for our pup to be taken out and fed, and we quickly hopped the bus to go to the session, which was already an or so hour in progress. The tasters have changed since the last time I did a member’s session in 2013. Instead of the glass cylinder shooter style glasses, we were given mini tulip glasses, which made me very happy, as tulips are my favorite style of glassware.
Our first stop was at the aptly named Bagby Beer Company. Since discovering this brewery’s existence last year, I really wanted to try their stuff! Since we share a last name with the owner/brewer, it was only fitting to try everything in their lineup! Asphalt Jungle and Yvanke was probably my favorites of their lineup. Someday if we visit San Diego, I will love to stop in and maybe snag a shirt. We decided to hit up The Rare Barrel next. The Rare Barrel has been a in demand spot due to their incredible sours. The last few times we went, everything was kicked by the time we made it to them, so we made them a priority and although everything was world class there, Home, Sour Home was probably our favorite.
Since we got in for free and had another 4 hour session that evening with our friends that we knew we’d be hitting hard, we took it super-easy. Plus we didn’t get to eat, so we really made a point to be cautious. One section that always runs out of things to eat and has one of the biggest lines is the American Cheese Society’s booth. Since we had the time, we waited the 30 minutes to try lots of really great cheeses. One of my favorites was a Chevre (goat cheese) named “Purple Haze” (It had blackberries coated around the rind) and even though I’m not a Blue Cheese fan, the ones I tried were really great! I probably wouldn’t do this section if I didn’t get into this one free since it takes away valuable beer drinking time, however it’s great if you want a beer-break.
New this year was the Meet the Brewer section where each booth required to be staffed by a representative of the brewery. Some of the smaller lines allowed fans to talk shop over what was being poured. I of course had to say hello to my peeps at Copper Kettle Brewing Company (My favorite brewery to hang out at…plus my dog loves the patio). Snowed In and Cherry Basil Blonde were great as always. Having literally seen her appearance in an episode of Brewdogs the night before (following some my own list from earlier this week), I briefly met Dr. Laura Burns of Tennessee Brew Works and got to try some of her beers. Basil Ryeman was a very fantastic beer to try with the spiciness of a saison with a hint of funk. The sweet potato stout Country Roots was a nice treat as well. They definitely was one of my favorite stops/discoveries this year. In the same proximity we got to try Deep Ellum and while I was very excited to try the Local Legend aged in Jameson barrels (as part of a Jameson /Craft beer partnership with a few breweries), I walked away enjoying the barrel aged Four Swords a lot more. In fact I definitely rank it as one of my favorites to drink this year. Santa Fe Brewing is a brewery we get nearly all the lineup of but I was interested in their Kriek (cherry sour ale) and fortunately it was very much worth the visit.
Having made it out of the first session with a small buzz, my wife and I realized that food MUST happen before the next 4 hour session began. I had a wonderful plan to make us either potato soup (lots of starch and iron) or a loaded burrito, but we had a total of 15 minutes to get dressed, take the dog out to potty, and assemble all of our stuff to catch our bus in time to hit the convention center. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat and met with our friends at the convention center for the evening session. Having been able to just waltz on in at the last session since it was a hour ½ or so in progress, we didn’t have to stand in any lines; although we were delayed by Jennifer Lopez and her security guards because she was filming something for American Idol…we didn’t really notice or care, we just wanted to get around them to the beer hall and the security guard was being really annoying and wouldn’t let us get by. One of the things that I was semi-skeptical about was the new entrance and whether or not if it was better or worse than the entrances in past years. I was very pleased with this new entrance. We were carded, armbanded, and glassed all before we got to our waiting spot. We made it in within 10 minutes of the doors opening.
Our first stop was intended to be Short’s but I was turned around and led us to Boston Beer Company’s booth instead but it was by happy luck that we got to try Utopias 2015, a very rare and ultra expensive beer that typically retails nearly around the $200 mark for a single bottle. At 25% or so, it hit like a shot of Cognac with vanilla and carmel with a barleywine sort of feel definitely a very awesome treat as I will not spend that much on a beer. In addition, Cosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru was on tap too. This was another awesome beer by them. Much like New Belgium’s Love Felix (also tried and loved) this beer is largely used to blend into their other barrel aged beers. Very awesome vanilla, cherry, oak sour funkiness taste with this beer. If you are in a city that it’ll be “touring” in the coming months, it’s certainly worth trying out.
Having wowed me last year, Short’s Brewing was another priority stop for us. Without the massive line last year, we were able to try almost all of their offerings. This time around I think I enjoyed Strawberry Short’s Cake more than the Key Lime Pie beer. Desthil had a very awesome lineup of sours and I really enjoyed their Quad as well as Dosvidanya, a Russian Imperial Stout. Funky Buddha is a typical in-demand brewery, from them I tried No Crusts, a brown ale that tasted like a liquid Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich! We also had scored some secret “can stein” holders to affix to our glass by Wynkoop (had to tell a joke and sample their beer to acquire it…small price to pay to not have to walk all the way to Oscar Blue’s booth for a hollow beer can necklace to hold our taster glasses…members session glasses did NOT work for that and we almost lost a cool glass because of it). The can stein holder worked awesomely and I’ll be sure to bring it next year so I won’t have to tell my dumb Sean Connery knock knock joke again to the poor annoyed brewer (bourbon barrel quad was good!)
It was once we hit the main hall that we started to become one ADHD mess, but we did manage to hit Rare Barrel again with our friends and we tried some really awesome stuff by The Lost Abbey. During the next few hours the beers became a lot harder to track as we bounced randomly back and forth through various sections. Without having my list, I was able to venture off and find some fun breweries and I tried to hit the ones I was interested in this year such as River Rat (fantastic Quad), Scratch Brewing (their tree experiment beers were far better than the ginger nettle concoction from last year), Brasserie Saint James (lambics and Belgian beers mmm), Surly Brewing (Pentagram is amazing) and Hopping Frog’s Barrel Aged Naked Evil BBW were fun to hit up. In addition I visited past favorites like Sun King, 3 Floyds, Allagash, Sprecher and Dogfish Head.
Unlike last year, I didn’t focus too much on swag but I did land some stickers, a coaster or two, magnets, and on the odder spectrum; a sweatband and a condom (laugh if you want but I’m not getting pregnant now! Haha! #genius).
Overall it was another awesome time, the double-header didn’t kill us which was a legit concern as we didn’t eat beforehand (one of the biggest sins to commit for a beer festival), and I found a few new favorites. I sadly neglected the East Coast area so for the first time ever I didn’t hit one of my favorites Heavy Seas or Brooklyn Brewery, so next year I’ll try to prioritize them. I definitely got some ideas of beers I’d like to try to mimic and thanks to the extra time; I finally got to do some of the stuff such as the cheese section. The bigger size, meet the brewer and new entrance were all incredible improvements to the festival and has me excited for what next year brings.