Thursday was the first day of the actual GABF proper. Of the four sessions being held, we were attending the Thursday night session and the Saturday afternoon members-only session (for members of the American Homebrewers Association). In preparation for the beer tasting, we figured we should get a nice filling lunch (plus I was still starving from the night before). Going on a stroll from our hotel and using Yelp on the iPhone, we arrived at Steuben’s. Steuben’s had an amazing art deco vibe inside and a wonderful patio area for us to relax and enjoy a bit of Denver sun.
I ended up selecting the Cuban Sandwich with a side of green beans and macaroni and cheese. It was an incredible meal. I highly recommend you check them out if you are in the area.
After lunch we did a bit of Geocaching using one of Rob’s iPhone apps. This was a first for me. Unfortunately it seemed like every location that we arrived at had homeless folks hanging out staring at us so we felt a bit weird about searching for the caches. We did end up finding one microcache at a park. Not too thrilling but it was a good way for us to see parts of the city we may not have traversed otherwise. Also an important safety tip when visiting Denver, it is closer to the sun so bring your sunscreen.
While walking the neighborhoods we swung by some convenience stores in search of dental floss and pretzels. A pro tip that I learned from the Free The Hops forums was to build a pretzel necklace for the GABF to give you something to munch on to cleanse the palate between beer tastings and to give you something to fill the stomach during the event. Dental floss is key because it won’t snag on the pretzels like normal string will. Fishing line would work as well. We purchased our supplies and returned to the hotel to begin assembly. Rob used the thread the needle technique while I took a pen, aligned the floss with it and then queued up 10-15 pretzels onto it before sliding them down the floss.
After the necklaces rolled off the assembly line, we headed downtown to meet up with Rob’s friend Melissa at the Chili’s on 16th St. for some more pre-GABF foodage. We figured a little grease would go a long way to helping us get through 4.5 hours of beer tasting in 1 ounce increments. After eating some sandwiches and drinking copious amounts of tea (unsweet, of course, since sweet tea is a Southern invention), off we went to the Convention Center.
Since we were attending the members-only session on Saturday, we were given VIP entrance tickets for the Thursday session. This really just meant that we got to wait in line inside the convention center versus outside in the sun. At 5:30pm the sound of bagpipes rang out through the convention center signaling the start of the Great American Beer Festival. We began to move slowly towards the entrance, shuffling ever forward, getting closer and closer, and finally we were in.
As Rob and I looked around at all of the tables and booths and took in the awe of 2,100 beers ready for the tasting, all of our planning finally came to fruition. We had been planning this moment for about 3 months, so what did we do? We just stood there. We were so overwhelmed by all of the choices that we didn’t know where to go or what to try first. Finally we got over being shell-shocked and dove right in trying the closest thing we saw. Once that was out of the way we could think more clearly. We headed over to the Dogfish Head booth (one of my favorite breweries even though they aren’t available in Alabama) and I had the pleasure of having my 1 ounce sample of Palo poured for me by the founder, Sam Calagione. I knew at that point that this was going to be an epic experience. Here is a pic of their booth (sorry about the finger stage right).
We moved through the convention hall hitting the bigger breweries at the ends of the aisles. These had the bigger lines, but we wanted to make sure we got to try their wares. We saw our buddies from Oskar Blues.
The Left Hand Brewery folks (the fellow behind the table on the right was the MC on our Brews Cruise bus).
Of course our Boulder Beer friends (the gal on the right was our tour guide at Boulder Beer for the Brews Cruise).
Hey, Boulder Beer was Colorado’s first microbrew and their birthday was the next day.
We checked out the Alaskan Brewing company tent (Dwyer somehow comes up with a bottle of this stuff every now and then so I had to check them out).
And then we started wandering through the different sections (they were arranged by geographic location and then alphabetically) trying anything that looked interesting (neat name, neat packaging, neat looking people pouring, etc.)
One hilarious thing during the festival was that anytime someone dropped their plastic tasting glass onto the floor a roar would erupt around them and move throughout the entire facility shaming them for such a faux pas. You would think that would get old, but it really never did. Some people went all out with their attire for the event. We saw all kinds of crazy costumes from lederhosen, to St. Pauli girls, to kilts, to even animal costumes. But the big one that everyone seemed to want a photo with was the man in the Pabst Blue Ribbon pajama onesie.
This guy would fit right in on Tuesdays for $1 PBR and free deep-fried bacon night at Wando’s in Madison, WI.
We moved through trying beer after beer, munching pretzels every now and then, and started to realize that 4.5 hours is a really long time. If you were trying to get drunk at this event, you would really have to work at it. The 1 ounce samples, the lines, and the flavor and strength of the beers are inherent limiting factors to becoming intoxicated. One thing that was shocking to both of us was how many bad beers exist out there. I guess it had to be given 2,100 beers. They can’t all be homeruns, but still amazing that some beers are even too bad to consume a whole 1 ounces of the swill. Luckily they had buckets at almost every booth for pouring out any beer you didn’t want to drink (another pro-tip, don’t drink it if you don’t like it, pour and move on).
About 4 hours in, we ran into Rob’s friend Melissa and decide to exit with them and their group of festival-goers. We would be back again on Saturday and there was an important matter we had to attend to.
We had to salute Arthur Guinness on his 250th year anniversary since he signed the lease on his first brewery. (Yes, I know that we left a beer festival to go drink some more beer). We headed over to Katie Mullen’s where the Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout was on draft for $2.50/pint.
What a bargain! Of course when I asked for a Guinness they didn’t pour me the 250 Anniversary Stout the first go around, so I ended up paying around $6/pint. That was corrected in subsequent orders. Really bartender? If you have 2 different Guinness’s and one is $2.50/pint and the other $6, which one do you think I’m talking about? I was probably the only person in the bar the whole night that got the standard Guinness. But other than that it was a great time with some great people.
We outlasted Melissa’s crew and finally decided to make the trip back to the hotel. Of course first we needed some late night grub. We ended up at the most amazing late night 24 hour diner (the first of what would be 3 nights in a row at this place), Pete’s Kitchen on Colfax. Here we ran into another Alabama person. When our waitress asked us “How y’all doing?” we knew she was not a Denver native. Turns out she was Victoria from Montgomery, AL out in Denver for school. Southern people just seem to be drawn to each other like magnets, this made 2 in 2 days. I ordered the Gyros Breakfast Sandwich (scrambled eggs & gyros in pita with hash browns) and it was absolutely incredible (so good that that was what I ordered the next 2 nights as well). If you are hitting late night Denver, you have to add this place to your list to check out.
Finally with our quota of beers sampled and bellies filled we retired to our Ramada for well deserved shut-eye after a busy day.
Click to read Part 5.