GABF Hangover 2016: Dispatches from America’s Largest Beer Festival
This past weekend nearly 60,000 people packed into the Colorado Convention Center over the course of 4 sessions for the annual craft beer pilgrimage that is The Great American Beer Festival (aka GABF).
This year, I had a few connections and was able to get in as a volunteer! Volunteering was a blast and it’s very much something I want to do if asked to return. The popularity of the festival has made it a bit difficult to get in as a volunteer but I’m glad my connections came through for me. I even got to catch a glimpse of the founder of the American Homebrewers Association, Brewers Association, GABF, ect Charlie Papazian. He’s basically a Rock Star at this event and his well known motto “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew” is a very useful calming phrase for homebrewers to say to themselves when things like boil-overs, infections and overflowed ferementers occur.
For the most part I didn’t have a plan of must-visit places for the festival during my allotted floor time. I largely marked on the GABF app which places from year’s past I’d like to visit but there were no 100% priority stops for me this time around. The rest of the time would just be random stops and seeing where the hype was. Like last year, I largely gravitated towards anything sour or barrel aged. I don’t know if I’d ever go for IPAs since I prefer those with an Indian dish or just hanging out and sipping a pint, not necessarily something to drink in a fast paced situation like at GABF. However for big bad boozy monsters and mouth puckering sours that’s a different story.
This year since I had a little time each day to visit the festival, I finally indulged in the Food and Beer presentation. The session I caught was A Feast in Fermentation with Brewed Food and Jester King. Jester King is a incredible farmhouse brewery near Dripping Springs, TX and is definitely worth paying a visit to. The presentation started with a plate with both aged and fresh hop leaves, a fermented cucumber and 2 Jester King beverages. I was part of the small group that felt the Spontaneous Ale 2016 paired better than Boxer’s Revenge (a sour brown ale). Next was some porkbelly with Nocturn Chrysalis (a blackberry sour oak aged ale). Unfortunately and regrettably I drank a full Nalgene bottle prior to this presentation and it really hit me hard within 10 minutes. After several minutes of feeling the worst I’ve ever felt having to use the restroom I ate the porkbelly and then downed the beer and hobbled out of the presentation to the nearest porta potties (seasoned vets like me know that is where there is NO line and had there been one I would have had the most embarrassing night of my life). The presentation was really cool and recommended if you need a beer break. I felt bad for having to leave but wetting myself around thousands of people and taking a bus home would have been worse.
We did make it to a few special tappings. We caught Chocolate Rain by The Bruery which is a very boozy chocolately Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. I think last year it was solely blind dumb stupid luck that we got to try Samuel Adams Utopias because this year we hung nearby a good 20 minutes prior and the biggest line of the festival led to that booth so we moved on and stumbled on Deschutes doing a special tapping of both the Abyss and the Dissident both of which were excellent beers and were aged nearly 2 years. We did catch Avery’s straight from a barrel tapping of Rumpkin (their very boozy very high ABV pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels) and got to catch a few of Short’s Brewing’s pours before they ran out such as Hi Dilly Ho (Flanders Ale with a great artistic Ned Flanders doppleganger as a label).
One thing I did notice this year was how some lines have shifted. Before Dogfish Head and Cigar City had MASSIVE lines but this time around I didn’t find myself in a line no more than 9 people deep. Same for Russian River. I did see bigger lines at The Black Project which made me happy as it was a Denver Brewery and I got to meet the owner James before he opened the brewery doing a volunteer job thing to help him get his walk-in so it was cool to see them get attention. Allagash seemed to always have a long line and I found myself do the wait for Ass Clown (which had an excellent barrel aged chocolate sour stout). But catching a shorter line around places like Cigar City, Dogfish head and Desthil (which had a really cool campground setup to enjoy some excellent sours around a fake campfire).
This time around I loitered quite a bit around J Wakefield Brewing Company to get some pours of Haterade and Stay Puft (which tasted very toasted-marshmallow to me). The brewing guilds was something I realized last year would have some special treasures poured as that place had Short’s Soft Parade and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout in 2015. This year I spent a lot of time getting pours of Jester King’s Black Metal and due to the recommendations of some of my volunteer team I found an excellent sour in the Washington Guild called Huckleberry Pucker by Paradise Creek Brewing. Some other standouts I tried around the floor was Short’s Cherry Busey, Great Divide’s Strawberry Rhubarb Sour Ale, Siracusa Nera by Dogfish Head, Two Roads Brewing’s Worker’s Stomp, literally everything I drank at Freetail Brewing, and Appalachian Mountain Brewing’s very excellent Margarita Gose was all delightful on the tastebuds.
The final night we paid tribute to my late Uncle Art, who’s memorial service took place earlier in the day in Fort Worth. Due to the distance and flight cost we weren’t able to attend so we felt it would be a fitting tribute to write “AB” on our entry bands and have a cheers to his memory in front of Bagby Beer Company (no relation to owner Jeff Bagby that I’m aware of but our shared family names helped out greatly) my beer choice was a very fittingly named beer called Alt in the Family.
GABF for 3 solid days was a blast but it also (as it always does) gives me a brand new list of beers and breweries to try or be sad that I don’t get to see them out this way (although we in the past few years started to see Bells, Jester King, Sun King and Short’s leave a few things around so there’s occasional hope). I’ve enjoyed the luck I had last year with getting tickets to a bonus session and this year’s floor time due to volunteering as it gave me an opportunity to check out some of the other parts of the festival like the Beer and Food Pavilion and the American Cheese Society’s set up. This year was an absolute blast, I made some new friends (like Hopadillo) and had a lot of fun even though I felt like death Sunday morning. I can’t wait until the next round!