I know Colorado is a little outside of the Brew Brahs jurisdiction, but when the good people over at Mobile Canning Solutions (more on them in another post) invited myself and the famously infrequent contributor, greatstrikespencer, out to Denver for the Great American Beer Fest, I felt it was my patriotic duty to learn about and sample as much as I could about American brews and bring that knowledge back to Canada. Having sampled dozens of amazing brews, I think I speak for all beer lovers when I say: “God Bless America.”
International Relations. There are some amazing things going on locally and Canada-wide within the still evolving craft beer scene, but we are behind our neighbours to the south. I say this from a place of love – I’m as Canadian as they come: Mullet? Check. A deep and profound understanding of hockey? Check. Denim top to bottom? Check. Ability to sing every lyric off Road Apples? Check check. But the Canadian craft brewing scene still has room to grow. The market and the culture of craft beer is not yet at that level, but I’m confident it we’ll get there.
The event. GABF is an annual event put on by the Brewers Association that began in 1982 and has grown exponentially to the largest ticketed beer event in the US of A. A ticket to the event gets you access to the centre, a tasting glass and unlimited 1oz (30 ml) samples of beers. This year’s version ran from October 10th to 12th and featured over 745 breweries offering 4,809 beers. For context, there are about 60 breweries in Ontario – I’ll let those numbers sink in. There were more beers in this conference centre than I could ever sample in my few hours session, many that I will never have the opportunity to sample again and others that I won’t remember sampling in the first place. Tens of thousands of people participated in the main event as well as the various events taking place at the many Denver-area breweries. The sheer volume of people and beer made my head spin – though that may also have been an effect of the elevation.
The crowds are unleashed on the unsuspecting beers
Essentially, it’s a massive beer-centric show, but you probably gathered that from the name. Aside from the brewery booths, there were professional and amateur brewing competitions, book sales, educational talks, film crews, merchandise and a beard trimming station.
The negatives. As with any large-scale event, there were some lumps along the way. Food is scarce and expensive at the event and outside food is frowned upon. Adversity breeds innovation: Some brilliant reveler from years past realized that outside food can’t be carried in but there nothing to say it can’t be worn in. The birth of the pretzel necklace tradition. Yes, wearing and eating a necklace of food is unsanitary (wearing that thing into a mens washroom for instance…) and it’s unfashionable, but it does help prolong your ability to taste and sample the thousands of beers on tap. Worth it! Some guys are next level with this tradition – I was witness to bagel and donut necklaces, some smoked meat jeweler and a fella wearing a bottle of mustard on a string. Another event hiccup was the lines – lines happen, especially when tens of thousands of people are involved. If it this was small or line-free event, it probably wouldn’t be worth flying across the continent for. I thought the volunteers did a great job organizing people and moving the lines along with early ID and ticket checks. Get there before your session begins; any festival goer knows this. Lastly, there was a karaoke stage; Outside of the guy that got the crowd going with a Bohemian Rhapsody cover, it was dreadful.
The future. I often feel like the Canadian beer industry takes its cues from Uncle Sam and here are some styles I discovered at GABF that I could see taking off here. Chili Stout: a delicious creation that replaces the dry finish or the acidic chocolate/coffee finish with a little heat. Black IPA: I know these exist here but the floral balance along with roasted coffee bitterness and hoppy bitterness was exceptional (notably Wookey Jack). Hopefully these style takes off here…
The highlights. My beer of the night came at the very beginning. Looking for the mens room as soon as I entered the main hall with the initial flood of humanity, I headed to the back of the event space and passed the Goose Island booth, who, by chance, was just about to run out of their Imperial Bourbon Coffee Stout. Being a polite Canuck, I helped them be rid of the rest of the delicious 14% thick mead. Obviously there were too many others for me to properly assess but other notable samples include Atwater’s Vanilla Java Porter and Stone’s Sublimely Righteous.
The conclusion. This event is the mecca of beer lovers. If you have a crush on beer and are in the Denver area around the beginning of October; don’t even question it – go. Hopefully, we’ll see you there.