Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, and maybe it’s because fall also means it’s time for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver. The show sold out in what seems to be a record twenty minutes this year, so it’s not an easy task to secure tickets to this outstanding event. With over 3,100 beers and 600 breweries, it’s impossible to sample every beer there (heck, or even an entire category or region…you get the gist). You can imagine it’s not an easy task to summarize this year’s popular event.
The GABF festival is not only a place to taste new and existing beers, but the festival offers many interesting components. The Farm to Table Pavilion for food (locally grown) and beer pairings, awards for best beers, educational sessions, a silent disco (a must see) sponsored by Oskar Blues, and even a place to get your hair cut or your beard trimmed, thanks to sponsor Wahl.
Since you simply cannot sample even close to the majority of beers at GABF, I find it helpful to arrive with a plan. To each their own. My plan was to try to sample anything out of the ordinary, unique, and of course a few of my favorites (pumpkins and sours). For two years in a row now, my hands down favorite is the Hot Blonde by Barley Brown’s Brew Pub out of Baker City Oregon. Hot Blonde is a citra style beer with lime zest and lemongrass with the key flavor being fresh jalapenos. This beer is extremely light and fresh, with an invigorating yet spicy kick of jalapeno. I could drink this beer all summer long, unfortunately they don’t distribute outside of Oregon. The brewery won medals for two of their other beers at this year’s event, their Pallet Jack IPA and Fresh Hop Pallet Jack.
Another favorite this year comes out of Portland Oregon, Coalition Brewing Co.’s Sourpuss. Sour beers can be an acquired taste for some, especially as they aren’t a mainstream type of beer. If you haven’t tried one already, Sourpuss is a great place to start. A Belgian wit “extremely limited special release”, is brewed in collaboration with Wyeast Labs and Briess Malting, soured with Lactobacillus, and finished with a Belgian Yeast. The beer is light and tart. Get it while you can, according to the brewery it could be a one time only recipe.
Popular New Belgium Brewery debuted its Coconut Curry Hefeweizen this July. A unique blend of flavors, mainly coconut and curry, but also a hint of banana (from the hefe yeast), cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, kaffir lime, and cayenne pepper, give this hefeweizen a fun spin and a perfect pairing for your Thai take-out night. Hefeweizen lovers should give this a try as it’s the most unique of its form while still tasting like the typical wheat beer.
There is certainly a growing popularity of pumpkin beers, with endless breweries creating recipes of their own. The biggest standout (after trying an uncountable number of pumpkins) was unquestionably Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company’s simply named Pumpkin Ale. I found the beer to have a creamy taste reminiscent of pumpkin pie with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg spices. This medium-bodied ale is also a great orange color as it’s originally “cooked” with 144 pounds of pumpkin meat. One must travel to the restaurant brewery to try their beers as they do not distribute outside. I know where my first stop will be if I ever make my way to Wisconsin…
Recommended by another brewer, I made my way to El Toro Brewing Company & Brew Pub’s Ghost Chili Golden Ale. Served with a “Caution!”, “Spicy” and “Hot!” warning, I still wasn’t quite prepared. While spicy and hot food lovers might love themselves a whole glass, the less avid spice lovers might only be able to handle one or two sips. Anyone who’s tried a ghost chili will most likely understand this. Proceed with caution, and I’d recommend sharing with friends before committing to an entire glass. The Brew Pub’s Cocoa Chocolate Stout made for an excellent chaser.
Just in time for the holidays approaching, Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s Christmas Ale makes for a great seasonal. Not yet on tap for the season, us lucky GABF attendees got a first taste. This holiday ale brewed with honey, cinnamon, and ginger tastes like Christmas. The special seasonal ale has won many awards and has high ratings on ratebeer.com and BeerAdvocate. The ale, which has been packaged and released annually since 1992, is around only for eight weeks each year so try it while you can and make sure to stock up for your holiday celebrations.
Another year, another GABF in the books, and another number of beers I can add to my list. See you all October 2-4, 2014 for the 33rd annual Great American Beer Festival!