Great American Beer Fest ~ Denver Colorado (Saturday and Recap)

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Beer Drinking Adventures
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As we woke up in the morning, our big group of 9 people had dwindled itself down to myself, my wife Justine and my best friend T.  We woke up a little late as we all kind of needed the sleep.  We checked out of our hotel as we were staying in our third hotel in four nights.  We went to breakfast at the little mexican place next to our hotel, which provided a little more substance to us than your typical bad coffee, stale bagels and waffles provided by the hotel.  We made our way over to our new hotel (Hampton Inn ~ Downtown Denver) to check in and start making way our way over to the convention center for the Brewers Reserve session of the GABF.

The Brewers Reserve Session of the GABF happens on saturday from Noon to 4pm, tickets are limited to American Homebrewers Association members only, ticket sales are limited to 30,000 tickets (as opposed to 45,000 for a normal session), you receive an actual tasting glass and the ticket price is much cheaper too.

We arrived at the convention center at about 1130am and got in line about half way around the building.  The good thing about the brewers reserve session (other than the cheaper ticket and less people) is that the winners for each inidividual category are starting to be announced starting at 1030am.  As we were waiting for the doors to open, we were able to follow along with the winners of the festival…so that kept us entertained.  I was not a fan of actually having to wait in such a long line but by 1205pm, we were walking at a brisk pace to get inside the convention center. (Again, I stress that this is the most organized festival I have ever attended).  Some of the good things about the brewers reserve session is that all the brewers are at their respective tables, some excited to have their medals hanging around their neck (ala Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey Brewing) and some were sulking big time (the table of Saint Louis Brewery/Schlafly Tap Room complaining how they got snubbed for not getting a medal on their pumpkin beer).  It was very easy to spot the winners and try beers you may have normally passed on.   On the other hand, being that this is the third of fourth sessions, lots of popular beers were gone already and by the end of the session, some brewers had packed up as they had completely run out of beer.  I can only imagine the saturday night session being a complete shit show as you would arrive to some empty tables and most/all of the really good beers being drained dry.

From the afternoon session, we managed to make our way over to Falling Rock Tap House.  Falling Rock Tap House is located in the heart of downtown Denver and is listed as a Top 100 Craft Beer Bar in the US.  Upon arriving, it was crowded as hell…especially given that they open a sixtel of BA Hunapuh earlier in the afternoon (which was also suppose to be a disaster as almost no one got any except for the Cigar City contingent on hand).  They have roughly 100 taps on hand with all really great craft beers but the place was chaotic crowded and the bartenders were not very attentive.  I had heard stories from several people throughout the week that Falling Rock was too be avoided unless you didnt mind waiting 30 minutes to get served and ever changing taps.  The taps were rotating so quickly in some instances that the bar staff didnt really have a handle as to what was on tap and it literally took 20 minutes to finally get the beers I ordered.  Given the over crowding nature of the place, we bailed out after one beer…although, that one beer was something that I will never have on tap in my lifetime.

  • Russian River Blind Pig (CA) ~ American IPA ~ 6.1% ABV

Well, we had planned on killing more time at Falling Rock but it just wasn’t worth the efforts, so we headed back to Wynkoop Brewing for a couple more beers before our dinner reservation that night.

  • Wynkoop Brewing Drunkin’ Pumpkin Ale (CO) ~ Pumpkin Ale ~ ABV Unknown
  • Wynkoop Brewing Belgorado Harvest Ale (CO) ~ Belgian Strong Pale Ale ~ ABV Unknown

Our dinner reservation was located just outside of downtown at a place called Buckhorn Exchange Steakhouse. (pitcure courtesy of Mike T.)

Buckhorn Exchange

The Buckhorn Exchange is located in the oldest neighborhood in Denver and still draws that traditional old school steak house with lots of old wood paneling on the walls and an obessive amount of animal busts hanging from the walls on both levels.  As it being a steakhouse, it should be pretty obvious what kind of food they serve there.  I went with the 12oz Blackened Bufalo Prime Rib, which was cooked perfectly (medium rare) and tasted great.  While I say that the food was really good and not horrible on the wallet, it was just way too much to take in after 4 days of non stop drinking…and put me right to sleep as soon as we got back to our hotel.  If you have any interest in the Buckhorn Exchange, here is the website for this great National Historical Landmark…

My Top 3 Beers Sampled at the GABF:

  1. Lost Abbey Track #7 The Devil Inside (CA) ~ American Wild Ale ~ 8.1% ABV
  2. Bear Republic Tartare (CA) ~ Berliner Weissbier ~ 4.0% ABV
  3. Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXI (OR) ~ American Porter ~ 11.0%ABV 

My Top 3 Biggest Surprises at the GABF:

  1. Mustang Brewing Brandy’s Imperial Sundae (OK) ~ American Porter ~ 9.1% ABV
  2. Spring House Brewing Satan’s Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Chip Stout (PA) ~ American Double / Imperial Stout ~ 9.0% ABV
  3. Pub Dog Pizzeria & Drafthouse Wild Cherry Porter (MD) ~ American Porter ~ ABV Unknown

The Week in Review….a recap of the trip that was…

  • Four Days is not enough time to spend in Denver and the surrounding area if you are a craft beer lover
  • Attending all four sessions of the GABF does not seem to be a good idea…I did two sessions and it was plenty
  • Book your hotel early….cheaper is not always better
  • Spending one night in downtown Denver was really convienent (and worth it)
  • Although staying up all night may be fun, sleep is a necessity if you want to survive
  • Reviewing beers on BA is not a necessity…I am a ticker but you can either tick or have a good time
  • For the record, I only reviewed 11 beers the entire time I was in Denver…using Untappd was very quick and easy to track beers
  • Going into the mountains is really cool (and there are brewpubs up there too)
  • Bring lots of spending money, it goes quick.  If you think you have enough, bring an extra $500 with you
  • A good rental car is much better than a cheap rental car…Dodge Grand Caravan held 5 of us very comfortably and was great on gas
  • 2013 is definitely on!

I think the GABF makes for a great craft beer getaway for any craft beer fan.  As it is the largest in the US, there is nothing better that could possibly top it in size and quality.  Not to mention, if you have already been to Denver and hit every single brewery/brewpub…then you have close enough options like Boulder, Loveland, Longmont, Fort Collins, the mountain towns and if you are feeling a little more adventureous, then Cheyenne or Colorado Springs.  I have friends of mine who have gone to the GABF for 5 years now and keep insisiting on going back for more…now I know why.


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