When Justin invited me to the GABF (or should I say, when I invited myself, and Justin, being a consummate gentleman, purchased me an expensive ticket out of the kindness of his own heart), I hadn't the slightest clue as to what to expect. I had never been to a beer festival before, or anything that remotely resembled a beer festival. Prior to last weekend, my beer knowledge had been limited to Mexican beers (from my time in Mexico), Costa Rican beers (from my time in Costa Rica), and Old Style Light (from my time in college). IPA? No thanks. Sour beers? Nope. As I walked into the overwhelmingly large convention center, dressed like a teacher who had perhaps gotten lost on his way home, a pang of nervous excitement hit me. I had no idea that I was in for such an educational, nuanced, and extremely enjoyable experience for my taste buds. - Barney
The Great American Beer Festival was held last weekend and there was so much beer. So. Much. Beer. I was able to try most of the ones on my short list and while some were above and beyond the hype, others were just damn good. But what if I didn’t have a short list? What if I didn’t know the difference between a Vienna Lager and an Imperial Stout? What if I’d never even known that sour beers were even “a thing?” Well, while those things don’t describe me, they describe a friend of mine (also named Justin, but from here on out I will refer to by his last name Barney, for the sake of clarification) who is a new Denver resident, the owner of the couch I surfed for the duration of the festival, and also not a craft beer drinker. That last part is exactly why I paid for his ticket to the Friday session of the GABF.
Trying to prep himself for what was ahead, Barney read two previous posts on our site regarding what you should and what you shouldn’t do at a beer festival. We briefly touched on “pretzel necklaces” in one of those posts and Barney informed me that as soon as he stepped foot out of his car, he saw a guy with a giant pretzel necklace on. His first thoughts? “That looks kinda douchey but also awesome because I like to eat pretzels. I’m torn.”
Once inside, we had to find a place to meet up and since Barney and I went to high school together in St. Louis, what better place than at the tables with all the Midwest breweries? I originally was going to ease him into some lighter styles but based on how fast it ran out during session 1, I made sure that our first stop was at 4 Hands so he could try Madagascar. This was his first barrel aged beer. Ever. His thoughts: “If I didn’t know better, I would assume that there was actual hard alcohol in this beer. It’s a really strong flavor but it’s delicious. It has a sweetness, a syrupy quality to it. It’s actually pretty great.” So far, we’re one for one!
The next stop, Main and Mill’s booth to try their Green Chile Ale (he went rogue on this one, that wasn’t my suggestion). His thoughts: “Oh my god, this is Mexico in a beer glass. I absolutely love this. This is Amazing! Where is this one from? *I told him Festus* Festus! They made this is Festus, Missouri? *he laughed uncontrollably* How is Festus Missouri making beer that tastes like Mexico?” Two beers in and he has had two completely crazy, completely different beers and enjoyed them both.
We had a few beers from the Midwest tables like Logboat’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial March (“This tastes like college for some reason. Kinda reminds me of a mixed drink because of the bourbon.") before Barney asked his first curious question: “Say that you have a brewery that you want to grow from small to medium to large. Don’t you have to dumb down your product to appeal to the masses?” It’s funny how these are the questions most seasoned craft beer drinkers ponder, yet from a complete outsiders perspective, it makes perfect sense. My response was that no, that is absolutely not the case. I gave the example of Scratch Brewing out of Ava, IL making unique, one-off mushroom beers. They’re a commercially viable operation and they aren’t doing that by making an American IPA or American Stout.
Great question, Barney! Now let’s drink more beer!
Our next stop was at the first place I saw that had a long line. I wanted to get an idea of what Barney thought about some of the most sought after beers of the festival. It didn’t take long to spot what we were looking for at the Russian River booth. At the front of a line of 40-50 people, there was a keg that was dispensing a one ounce pour of Pliny the Elder: “This is very delicious. This is an IPA, is that what you said? It’s really good. I could get past the IPA-ness of it, I think. If more IPAs were like this, I would drink IPAs.” It was at this point that I informed him that more IPAs are like this. That’s a big issue with craft beer, if people try a single beer and get turned off, it’s hard to get them to try another from the same style. Shutting that door completely is a mistake because if you have an open mind, you’ll find something that fits your palate perfectly.
We walked around from booth to booth for a while, trying different beers while I answered some of Justin’s questions and had a back and forth about some beer basics:
“You said that one smelled ‘dank’ but isn’t that a cannabis term?”
“That’s the name of a hop? I thought ‘Mosaic’ was just a clever name for a beer.”
“This beer doesn’t have coffee in it? How come it tastes like coffee?”
About two hours into this session, I heard rumblings that Oskar Blues had BA Ten Fidy pouring. We mosied on over there and I told Barney what to order. As he stepped up for his turn, he looked back at me for a gentle reminder of what he was to ask for because in a 4 second span, he had forgotten. The beer is starting to do what beer does best. Barney is at the beginning stages of intoxication. As he asked for the BA version of the beer, the man pouring asked if he’d ever had the original Ten Fidy or not. Since Barney hadn’t, he was given a pour of the regular followed by a pour of the BA. His thoughts: “Oh wow. That first one (the regular Ten Fidy) was good. This barrel one is garbage. Why would you add hard alcohol to a delicious beer? It’s an insult to the beer! Mixing alcohol and beer is what happened when you drank a cup of this, then a can of that in college and nobody has good memories of doing that. I’m not a fan.” Clearly he’s in the minority but this is the opinion I was curious of and while I may not agree with his points, I see why he’s making them.
Finally, our last two scheduled stops were at The Rare Barrel and The Lost Abbey, two of the most sought after sour beer producers in the country. These amazing breweries were Barney’s intro to sour beers as he didn’t know what they even were as we stood in line. First up was Apropos of Nothing: “What is this? Why is this so good? This is crazy. So like, can I buy this in Denver?” Awww. That’s cute. I gave him a sip of my Dubious Nights from the same brewery and he liked it even more. I’m aiding in the creation of a monster. Now on to The Lost Abbey: “The Veritas 017 is slightly better than the Cable Car (2015). I can’t articulate how or why but it just tasted better to me. All I know is that this is my introduction to sour beer and my life is forever different.”
As the festival wound down, we tried beers from lesser known breweries, finding the ones that didn’t have lines to get quick samples of things before the clock struck 9:50 and all the fun was over. Even after the high ABV beers had taken their toll on Barney’s liver and mind, he graciously gave me a parting quote as we walked toward a pedicab that would take us to eat greasy burgers:
Sometimes life hits you with unexpected experiences and they’re complete blessings. This beer festival was one of those blessings. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of things I didn’t know about or was aware of. Specifically sour beers. I feel like my life is different. I’m going to find every sour beer I can, take them all to my house, and drink the shit out of them.
Godspeed, Barney. Godspeed.
Barney’s Festival Recap
|Favorite beer: Stone Brewing Co.’s Xocoveza|
|“It tastes like Mexico, plus chocolate syrup, plus cinnamon with the texture of maple syrup. Is this the moment? Is this where you fall in love with beer? I think it’s happening to me. Can I get back in line?”|
|Favorite beer style: Sours|
|“I could definitely get down with sour beers. I feel like they’re what I am going to drink all the time now. They’re delicious. I don’t know if they sell them at stores, though. Do they sell them at like grocery stores?”|
|Least Favorite style: (some) Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers|
|“I still don’t get the idea of mixing hard liquor and beer.”|
|Shirts purchased: Two|
|“Dude, my wife will kill me but I’m buying her a shirt too so she can’t be that mad, right? Or will she be twice as mad? Whatever, I’m doing it.”|
|Onesies purchased: Zero|
|“I wanna buy this six month onesie for my daughter but she’s nine months old. You think it’s a big six month onesie or like a normal size?”|
|Cup Drops: One|
|“Only one guy saw it and he did the ‘Ohhh!’ thing pretty loud but he was the only one and people looked at him weirder than they looked at me. I was pretty lucky.”|