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The Great American Beer Fest 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Since I had been lucky enough to win the local homebrew contest sponsored by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and also brew 15 barrels of the beer on their system, I only found it fitting to make the trip out to The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.  Not to mention, the beer was entered into the Pro-Am competition along with 93 other entries.

This way to the brewer’s entrance

We hooked up with Ballast Point for the Thursday night session, which kicked off the entire weekend of festival activities and were thankful that we had the chance to get in with brewer’s passes.


The Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits booth

This has got to be the best way to experience the event with perks like no entry lines, no waiting in line to sample beers, VIP restrooms and early entry into the exhibit hall to check out the venue and all the booths.

That is exactly what we did and it was so awesome to have no crowds to contend with while we wandered through the huge exhibit hall, checked out all the creative booths put together by Stone, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic and Victory, just to name a few.

The Pro-Am booth

My pro-am beer “Time to Panic” brewed with Ballast Point was on that night – tap #2

The Stone Brewing booth

A closer look at Stone’s serving taps

Just one corner of the Bear Republic booth

The Sierra Nevada set-up

Odell Brewing

New Belgium

Of note though, was stopping by the Heretic Brewing Company’s booth and bumping into Jamil Zainasheff.  For a complete homebrew nut, it was awesome to chat with a legend from the homebrew world turned pro brewer and also catch a quick photo (hey, is that John Palmer in the back?  Ha!  More on him later!)

Meeting Jamil Zainasheff in front of his Heretic Brewing booth

Finally, just before the flood gates opened to let in the other million people, we made a quick stop to say hi to The Brewing Network people and their booth.

The Brewing Network booth

When 5:30 PM rolled around, it was time to get started.  The exhibit hall slowly began to fill with eager craft brew enthusiasts from around the globe and we headed straight to Dogfish Head for our first sample.

Sam from Dogfish Head pouring our first samples of the evening

Right to front of the line we went, only to be greeted and served our samples by Sam Calagione himself.  I choose the Midas Touch.  From here, we wandered around aimlessly in search of beers we couldn’t get out in So. Cal.

Just one hour into the evening, the first event happening in the Brewer’s Studio Pavilion was a panel discussion with Deschutes Brewery and a five-year vertical tasting of their Black Butte porter vintages XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII and XXIV (2008 – 2012).

The vertical tasting (2008-2012)

The panel included the owner and founder of the brewery, Gary Fish and brewmaster Brian Faivre.  During the discussion which was also open to the audience for questions (standing room only), samples of each vintage were poured for everyone to taste while the panel talked about the beer and its evolution from year to year.  Out of the entire flight, my favorite vintage was XXII.  Interestingly enough too, was that this vintage was never released!

The Deschutes vertical tasting

In addition to the ridiculous amount of breweries and craft beer, there is quite an abundance of other activities to enjoy at the GABF.  These would include a booth sponsored by Ford with a gimmicky soccer game to win a car (of course, we did not win) and the infamous silent disco that is put on my Oskar Blues Brewery.

The Oskar Blues silent disco

Carved out in the back of the exhibit hall is a dance floor, DJ and lots of GABF-ers dancing with headphones.  We never made it out to the floor because the line for headphones was so long (I guess a brewer’s pass doesn’t work too well for this line), but the next time we make it out to GABF, this is something we will not miss.

After checking out the silent disco, I thought to myself, “What one last thing would a homebrewer not miss and who would he want to meet?”  You got it, the one and only John Palmer!

Just before the final pour was announced, we stopped at the Boston Beer Company’s booth and after sipping on their Tripel, I had to jump in and grab my first ever photo with a cardboard cut-out.

Indeed, that is Sam Adams himself.  Sorry for the reach around!

The end of the session reminded me of the end of a concert when the house lights are turned back on.  The hall lit up and people started to make their way to the exits and pour into the streets of downtown Denver in search of bars and after parties.

We met back up with the Ballast Point crew, snapped a quick photo with them for West Coaster and were invited to join them at the White Labs after party.  Of course we took them up on the offer and headed over to The Shag Lounge just a few blocks from the convention center.

We made quick work of the short line to get in and were pleasantly surprised to find out the bar was hosted by White Labs.  And we even bumped into Chris White at the bar!

The host himself!

He definitely wasn’t the only ‘celebrity’ in the place.  We hung out with Neva Parker for a little, the Societe guys and Tasty McDole from The Brewing Network.

Helena and Neva

Hanging with Tasty McDole from The Brewing Network.

After a few drinks and a long day, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  We had such a good time and would love to go back in the years to come.  The only thing is that we are certain the experience without a brewer’s pass might not be nearly as fun!

Below is a list of all the breweries we were able to visit during the session and the beers we sampled:

1. Dogfish Head, Midas Touch, Indian Brown and Sah’ Tea

2. Pro-Am, Time to Panic (Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits)

3. Pro-Am, Red Hop Ale (Ghost River Brewing)

4. Flying Dog Brewery, Dogtoberfest

5. Shorts Brewing Co., Peaches n Cream and Bludgeon

6. Victory Brewing Co., Headwaters Pale Ale

7. Ninkasi, Tricerahops and Spring Reign Ale

8. TableRock Brew Pub & Grill, Rye Saison

9. Wynkoop Brewing Co., Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout

10. Rockyard Brewing, Hopyard IPA

11. Deschutes Brewery, Black Butte XX (20th), 21, 22, 23 and 24

12. Russian River Brewing Co., Pliny the Elder

13. Uncle Billy’s, Bitchin’ Camaro

14. Terrapin Beer Co., Hopsecutioner

15. Brick Town Brewery, Kolsch

16. 4 Hands Brewing, Reprise Red Ale

17. Heretic Brewing Co., Gramarye (won gold medal in category 10: rye beer with 62 entries)

18. Kinetic Brewing Co., Afterburner Imperial IPA

19. Iron Springs Pub, Stout

20. Allagash Brewing Co., Curieux Ale

21. Darwin’s on 4th, Lemongrass Saison and Charapa

22. Back Forty Beer Co., Kudzu Porter

23. New Glarus Brewing, Raspberry Tart and Moon Man

24. Miller Brewing Co., Mickey’s

25. Lexington Brewing, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

26. Boston Beer Co., Tripel


One response

  1. Great inside on the Pro-am side of the GABF…A once in a lifetime event.

    October 26, 2012 at 15:20

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