Great American Beer Festival 2009 – Part 2

Part 2 of a series of posts about the GABF. Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

Wednesday began with us making the brisk 1.3 mile walk from our hotel (the Ramada on Colfax next to the tattoo parlors) to the Denver Convention Center to get on the bus for the Left Hand Brews Cruise (Post from Draft Magazine about the Brews Cruise). The Brews Cruise consisted of tours of 4 breweries (Boulder Beer, Left Hand, Oskar Blues, Avery), breakfast, lunch, t-shirt, tasting glass, discounts on brewery merchandise, and unlimited samples at the breweries all for $55. This was an absolute bargain. It turned out to be one of our favorite things we did while in Denver.

We ended up arriving to the bus right on time, but that meant most of the seats were already filled. Rob and I got the next to last pair of seats towards the back of the bus. This location would turn out to be the best possible place we could have ended up. The Back of the Bus Crew was a fun, rowdy bunch. We settled into our seats and relaxed for the 45 minute ride from downtown Denver to Boulder, CO for our first stop at the Boulder Beer Company.

Boulder Beer Company Sign

Boulder Beer is the maker of such wonderful brews as Hazed & Infused and Mojo IPA. Upon arrival we were treated to as many samples as we wanted of their whole lineup of beers as well as a breakfast of wonderful Breakfast Burritos, Chips, and Salsa fixings. I admit that it was a bit hard to get started tasting beers at 9:30am but Rob and I dug down deep and made it happen.

Boulder Beer Sample

After getting some food and drink, the tour began. Our tour guide rocked. She was full of energy, and you could tell she loved her job. Of course there are not many jobs where you get to grab yourself a beer as part of your day. We got to see in progress brews being…well…brewed (mashed and sparged). We saw the fermentation tanks in the basement, got to munch on some malt and smell the hops. We saw the bottling facility in full swing and met the fine gentleman that bottle the beer.

Boulder Beer Bottling Line

They even took us into the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, the beer freezer. This is where all of their fine ready to ship brews and kegs hang out until hopping on trucks. I was in such awe I didn’t even get a picture. The amazing thing to me about the brewery was the fact that in such a small facility (it was not a large building) they create, brew, and bottle the beer that I am able to buy here in Mobile, AL. Truly amazing what they do in that facility.

Boulder Beer

Thanks Boulder Beer for the amazing welcome you gave us. Go buy and drink Boulder Beer! They deserve your support.

So back on the bus we went to begin our 15 mile trip from Boulder, CO to Longmont, CO to visit the Left Hand Brewing Company. This is when the Back of the Bus Crew began to come into full swing. One of the fellows behind us had purchased a 12 pack Boulder Beer sampler and brought it back on the bus to continue the sampling. He popped the top of each beer and passed them up the aisle so everyone could fill their sample glass and keep from being parched on the 25 minute ride to the next brewery. If you ever go on the Brews Cruise, Be That Guy! It was an awesome gesture that started a trend paying it forward the rest of the day from everyone on board. So as we sampled our generously donated beers, we got to know one another. The husband and wife from Texas, the military gals from Chicago, the young drummer formerly of Chicago now relocated to Denver, and the local that showed the bus the Beer-Love with the donated twelver.

We arrived in Longmont at the Left Hand Brewing Company, and it was obvious they had dressed up for us…or at least dressed up in the way that quirky beer-folk dress up. There was the purple tux-coat leprechaun-like outfit, the jeans, sportscoat, plaid shirt, and Left Hand tie Vice President, and even a full on serious suit back in the bottling area. Free samples again awaited with a full draft selection and even 2 casks that had just been tapped.

Left Hand Taps

Here we went in smaller groups on our tours, and our group had the pleasure of being led around by the Vice President of Operations. He was extremely knowledgeable about the brewing process and a very funny guy to boot. As part of this tour I finally saw a real world use for diatomaceous earth (DME). I remember learning about this stuff in 8th grade biology and never saw a first hand use for it. Left Hand uses it for filtration of their beer. We got to see icky cloudy beer go in one side and a much clearer beer come out the other side. Hooray science!

In the brewing portion of the facility, they showed off their Human Computer Interface as they called it

Left Hand Disco Ball

Yes, that is a disco ball adorning the top of the room. If there is a pressure buildup in the system, the computers kick on the disco ball so the brewmaster can be alerted to the problem and fix it before bad things happen. This is a good example of the really neat culture that was apparent at all of the breweries we visited.

We were able to see their bottling operation and learned that Left Hand employs developmentally disabled individuals to handle some of the mundane repetitive tasks such as putting the shipping boxes together. The repetitive nature of the tasks is very comforting to many of the disabled individuals and they are able to work, produce, and be challenged. I applaud Left Hand for this.

During this tour, we met 2 couples formerly from Alabama that had moved to Denver. One from Birmingham and the other from Decatur and proud graduates of Auburn University. People from the South stick together so from then on we were torn between our Back of the Bus Crew and our Alabama transplant friends.

We were also again shown the beer freezer where all of the finished cooled product awaits shipping. The VP of Operations reminded us that this was the place to be if the country ever broke down and anarchy ensued. With that much beer, they would be able to barter their way to any other supplies they might need. A very good point. I will have to keep that in mind and be sure to keep some beer on hand if things start looking bleak.

While others in the group were completing their tours, we continued sampling the Left Hand beers and got to try a cask that had been tapped that very day. It was a partnership brew between Left Hand and the Terrapin Beer Company out of Athens, GA. It was an Espresso Milk Stout called Depth Charge. Here is a review of Depth Charge. It was an amazing beer if you like stouts and coffee. I like both, so it was my lucky day:

Left Hand Terrapin Depth Charge

Finally we finished up and re-boarded the bus. The couple from Texas paid it forward by bringing a growler of Left Hand Milk Stout on the bus and keeping the trend going. The trend-setter that started the chain going also brought another 12 pack sampler on-board and brews were passed up and down the aisle as we headed to our next destination, the Oskar Blues Brewery.

Here is a picture of the bus crew courtesy of Aly from Left Hand. Thanks Aly!.

Brews Cruise Bus Picture

See if you can “Where’s Waldo?” me and Rob (Click the pic to enlarge).

Click to read Part 3.

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3 Responses to Great American Beer Festival 2009 – Part 2

  1. Brian says:

    Sounds awesome man! Next year I promise I’m in if you go again!

  2. Hi Doug! I just came across your posting and wanted to say thanks for the kind words about Boulder Beer Company! I was your tour guide and had a blast doing it! And yes, having a beer with you fine folks on a morning brewery tour is just about as good as it gets for an occupation!
    Hope to see you again next year!

    Tess McFadden
    Director of Fun – Boulder Beer Company

  3. Doug Porter says:

    Thanks Tess! We had such a great time hanging out with you fine folks. Keep on making great beer.


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