Milwaukee Beer Week 2014 – There Will Be Beer

Milwaukee Beer Week is back with a new website, another passport, and seemingly bigger and better events. There will be beer.

Combing through all the bars & restaurants participating can be a little daunting. Picking your poisons can be as well. The following are events that I feel will most likely be the brightest this year.   You’ll be able to find me at the majority.

Saturday April 26
The annual 4pm beer week firkin kick-off is in full effect again, with your usual craft-pouring venues tapping casks.  I’ll probably opt for places like Hotel Foster, Steny’s, World of Beer, or Benno’s. It’s always a surprise what firkins are tapped where, so go with your heart, I guess?
Not on the official event listing is the Bottle Trade Event at Hoyt Park @ The Landing in Tosa. Craftbeercompass has officially declared this the first of its kind during the week – you can check out his event listing here. Goes from 3:30-5pm.
If you’re not into the guessing game when it comes to firkins, Finks has a Lagunitas L’il Sumpin Sumpin they’re tapping at 5pm. It’s also bring-your-own-vinyl night there, so dust off your momma’s 50′s showtunes records and show the eastsiders what’s up.

Sunday April 27
3Sheeps Brewery and Collectivo Coffee get together for a coffee & beer-themed brunch at the Iron Horse hotel from 8am-noon.  You do not need reservations for this event, just stop in between the times mentioned. The 3 Sheeps founders will be going from table to table with beer flights as well, I’ve heard. The Collectivo coffee used in the Cortado Stout and Hello, My Name is Joe porter (I think?) should caffeinate  your morning well.
After the shakes subside, it’s worth checking out Discount Liquor’s “Crafts & Drafts” event, being held at Hart Park this year.  Heard some great reviews of the charity event last year, with rare Euro & American beers abound.  As of this post, not sure how many VIP/General tickets are still available – but there is a commercial on the radio promoting it.
If you’re not able to get into C&D, Points East is showcasing big ABV% beers all week, including the Ommegang Game of Thrones series, which are usually fun. Appearances by North Coast, Avery, and Epic are on the list as well there I think.  Can’t go wrong with a dozen wings!

Monday April 28
Sanford, arguably the best fine-dining restaurant in Milwaukee, is hosting a “cellared” beer dinner. Each course is expertly paired with a brew that’s been carefully aged over a few years. Long story short – if beer dinners are your thing, this will be one that will become legendary. I’ve heard that this event has been planned for almost a year and features cellars from a few restaurants, bars, and private owners’ own reserves. If you have the money and the time, I highly suggest going to this. Not sure on price or # of seats, but I have a feeling that people will be talking about this one for years to come.
If your budget doesn’t allow a Sanford dinner, the other big event of the evening is the rare beer tapping at Palm Tavern. Barrel-aged beauties from  a variety of suppliers will certainly pack this cozy spot. 6pm is the start time, and you can bet many of the kegs are small and will run dry quickly. Don’t miss this one, if you can squeeze in.
After Palm Tavern, head northeast to the nautical-themed Blue Jacket for an evening with 3 Sheeps flights and appetizers. If the weather is nice enough (unlikely), maybe the garage-door-wall will be opened. For what it’s worth, this Monday looks to be one of the marquee nights for Milwaukee Beer Week. Tuesday a.m. outlook: sucky.

Tuesday April 29
Plenty of  food-inspired events to choose from today.  A 7-course Central Waters pairing at Palomino is intriguing. To the west in Waukesha, Bernie’s Tap Room is tapping KBS for all you hunters that didn’t score a bottle (myself included).  Both of those are neat & all, but you’ll find me at Roman’s for the Goose Island, Charcuterie & Cheese event, which starts at 5pm.

Wednesday April 30
At this point, I’ll probably need to take a vacation day to recover from the previous few days. That vacation day will come to a screeching halt as Landmark 1880 puts a few Avery specialties on tap at 2pm. (Liquid lunch, anyone?) Afterwards, grabbing dinner at Tess sounds like a good idea, as their annual Goose Island beer week beer dinner kicks off around 6pm. I can’t stress enough how great beer dinners are at Tess – I’ve been to 5 of them now. While many other venues can lack in execution, the people at Tess are true professionals when it comes to putting these on. If you’ve never been to a Tess brew dinner, make your way over and enjoy how it’s done.
Tradition does come into play though, as Burnhearts brings a flock of herons at 6pm.  Their Central Waters takeover event always brings limited and one-off suds just for beer week. A plum-infused beer, a cask of illumination with added pineapple and coconut, and the juggernaut anniversary brew ’16′ will be on tap, among many others. I’ll…need a ride home.  Might be a good time to test out Uber. I’ll never test Lyft as I will never enter a car that has a pink mustache on its grill. I mean, that just seems like common sense.

Thursday May 1st
A Surly beer dinner at Rumpus? Is this for real? Can it be?  I can barely find the words to convey my excitement. NO REALLY, this is happening! Spots are filling up quickly though, so if you want in, I’d call soon.  Don’t know much about this one right now though.
If that event is full, head over to the revamped Spin (now EVO) and play ping pong while sipping on a KBS, Sweet Repute, or Centennial IPA. That event starts at 6pm, and you’d be high not to go.
If ping pong isn’t your thing, head over to The Stone in Bay View for some specialty tappings from Boulder Brewery. Always enjoy my time at the Stone – just a great neighborhood spot that I feel needs a bit more attention.  Or don’t go, that’s fine too.

Friday May 2nd
Friday in Wisconsin means Fish Fry’s everywhere.  Beer Bistro, Trocadero, Benno’s, Tess – pick a place and enjoy regional tradition.
The barrel-aged beer and spirits event at Prodigal is where I’ll be though. One of my new favorite spots in Milwaukee. Always has an eclectic beer and bourbon list, and the food is wonderful. Virtue cider will be pouring at this event, which is reason enough to go.  A barrel-aged Oskar Blues brew is icing on the cake.  Call for reservations.

Saturday May 3
Beer week comes to a close. We’ll stumble out of bed with bloodshot eyes & shriveled livers, ready to close out the insanity. How about some cocktails to switch things up? Boone & Crockett has you covered.
In my opinion, the big event of the day goes to World of Beer on Brady St, which is throwing up 30 (!!!) New Belgium taps.  Proceeds benefit the Wisconsin Humane Society, so I’ll definitely be in attendance. Felix Rarity, La Folie, and their Lips of Faith collaborations will be mine.
Otherwise I heard great things about the Sugar Maple Sausage Party last year (a sentence I never thought I’d write), so I may check that out if there’s time between Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond.  I have a feeling Sugar Maple will be tapping some things not even mentioned on the beer week paraphernalia, so don’t be surprised if you wander in during the week and see something on draught that…shouldn’t be there…but is.
Another great event to close beer week is the Central Waters, New Glarus, Sprecher, 3 Sheeps beer & cheese pairing at Wisconsin Cheese Mart/Uber Tap Room. Decisions decisions – it’s a difficult life we all lead.

Final reminders: Drink Water. Be nice to people and your bartenders. Taxis are smart.  Enjoy good beer.

Thank you for reading.

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Q&A with The Enlightened Brewing Company

At this very moment there are more breweries in the United States than at any other point in history.  And the number is inexplicably rising.  Never mind saturated markets, limited space on the shelves or the terrible thought that there might not be enough ingredients to go around.  People are opening breweries in every corner of the country every day. Two of these people are Milwaukeeans Tommy Vandervoort (27) and Grant Willey (24), who are feverishly working to perfect their small brewery named The Enlightened Brewing Company. On a cold late December evening, I met the 2 new business owners at my favorite haunt Landmark 1850 to talk about their journey so far & what’s in store for them in the future.

Wisconsuds (W): So where did you guys meet?
Grant Willey (GW): At the Milwaukee Public Market.  I had been working at Groppi’s  in Bay View & one day they said they didn’t have work for me there, but needed help at the bar they owned at the Public Market. I was like “so am I fired?” The answer was no, they just needed extra help there that day. I went & the rest is history.
Tommy Vandervoort (TV): I’d been working there since November 2012, and when Grant came in February that’s how we were eventually introduced.
GW: I was talking about homebrewing with a different coworker & they were like “Have you met the other guy who’s into that?”
TV: Other guy? I’m the other guy?!
GW: Yeah, you’re the other guy.
TV: Initially I asked you about your homebrewing setup, didn’t I?
GW: Yeah, we both seemed to NOT know the same stuff, so it was great to get to know each other.
W: You guys bring your setup together for the brewery?
TV: It’s a combination of our homebrew equipment and a new system we put together in order to make more beer.  We definitely bought a bunch of stuff and the system we’ll be brewing on is brand new.

W: When do you think the first batch will be ready?
TV: Probably April or May.

W: How did you come up with the name Enlightened Brewing Company?
TV: I incorporated the LLC in January 2013, but have been working on the business side of it for more than 2 years now. We were running with the name ‘Enlightened Imbiber’ but the more I talked to people, the more people were like “what’s an imbiber?”
W: People don’t know what the word  ‘imbibe’ means?
GW & TW: NO!
TV: And they didn’t know how to say it either. They’d be like, “What’s an im-Bieber?” After Summer we changed our business name to the Enlightened Brewing company.
The whole thing is…
GW: We should read the mission statement to you.
W: Yes, do that
GW: “For those who love to think, for those who love to drink, and for those who are fairly certain they can do both at the same time. For those who marry their beer with merry conversation and fellow imbibers in the discourse of enlightenment.  Drink it down and lighten up.”
W: That’s deep. I like it.
TV: That’s the whole thing. The deal with beer culture – getting good friends together. People who are intelligent and can talk about religion, politics, et cetera. All that stuff that’s off limits at the dinner table – we say ‘fuck that’ – get together, have some good beers, find a good place and sit down & hash it out. Not going to agree on things all the time, but at least we can find peace over good beer.  Great beer is universal.

W: It’s 2014, there’s already thousands of breweries out & it’s gonna keep growing. Why start a brewery now?
GW: Cuz we want to. (Laughs)  I actually think there’s room for even more breweries. There’s as many breweries  now as before prohibition. However, now we have a much larger population, distribution has improved greatly. Sure we’ll probably see some of these new breweries fail, given that peoples tastes’ change and for other factors. Maybe we’ll see older breweries that have been around for awhile start to decline as well. Who knows. There’s room for competition.

W: The reason I ask is because what I think you’re doing is great, but I also think you’re crazy. Are you?
TV: No, we’re just tired of working for others. We have to do something. If we’re working on the premise that we’re going to do our own thing and start our own business, there is no other option. It’s an interesting world, because there are plenty of homebrewers out there that brew amazing beer, but it’s a lot more than that when you want to do it for a living.  So it helps that we’ve made so many connections in the industry before deciding to go forward with the brewery.
GW: We’ve collectively been in the bar industry for more than 12 years now.
TV: Going through the process in the last few months of going through licensing, and the physical space, the equipment -
GW: and the plumbing, the plumbing…
TV: Yeah, we had some issues. But I can see why homebrewers don’t take the next step.  We’re starting up as small as we can & still make a living off it. But we’re going to be big enough that we can supply beer to whoever will need it.  There’s plenty of space left for new brewers – even with all of the craft brewers in America, it’s still only a 3 or 4% of total market share.  So we both think there’s room to grow.
W: Self-distributing to start?
GW: Yeah.
W: Kegs only, or package as well?
TV: Kegs only. We’d like to package, but a bottling line in our space isn’t feasible.
GW: Only 515 square feet.
TV: Say we want to barrel-age something. Let it sit for a year. And maybe we’ll hand-bottle bombers as a super special release. Maybe. Whatever we do, we’ll be passionate about it.

W: How did you eventually decide on the space, and where is it?
GW:  A great building manager, the price, and the ability to lease were the big factors.
TV: It’s located at 1st & Becher, across from Horny Goat actually – it’s the big red warehouse.
GW: Much of the building is studio space.  You’ll hear a lot of band practices in there when you swing by.
TV: There’s really a lot of potential in that building – there’s a distillery moving in there, the guys from Milwaukee Pizza Company are going in there. And this is really the neighborhood that we want our beer in.

W: What Makes you guys different from other startup breweries?
GW: I think our big advantage is being tied in with the local community. Tommy has been one of the best bartenders in the Bay View for a long time. Just being plugged in is a great thing.
TV: That’s true. The community part.
GW: We know beer quality too. We’re not putting anything out there that isn’t perfect to us. You should retry that stout that I  shared with you awhile ago.
W: Yeah?
GW: You’ll try it again soon, I’m sure. Anyways, there’s a lot of breweries out there that are about our size, and their beers are as good as ours – but they don’t know the community and they’re trying to self-distribute and it’s proving to be very difficult. Right now we’re worried that we might be spreading ourselves too thin – there’s so many places serving such great beers already. We’d like to be a part of that.  We’ve got some crazy ideas up our sleeve; right now I’m working on acquiring some barrels from a distillery in the state.
TV: We’re not in it for marketing, or money – it’s what we want to do for a living. We try beer all the time & we trust our palates. Like we’ll try something and think “Hey it’d be awesome to make it this way, or this style.”  Sometimes even the name of the beer comes first before we brew something.
W: What happens if you make a bad beer? Will you dump it?
TV: It certainly wouldn’t go to market, that’s for sure.
GW: We’d throw some bacteria in it and call it a sour.
TV: (Laughs) No, we wouldn’t do that.  If anything we’d drink it ourselves until we couldn’t anymore & dump the rest.

W: Able to talk about any establishments that are ready & willing to put you on tap?

TV: Odd Duck has been extremely supportive. I worked for the owners for awhile, and they’ve agreed that when we’re up & running that we will be on tap there.
GW: We have our hopefuls & probables. From certain places. Not going to name them yet.
TV: I know the places we’d LIKE to be on. We hang out in Bay View, so obviously we’d like to be on at Sugar Maple, Burnhearts, Palm (Tavern).
GW: Mike Romans.
TV: Yeah. Obviously those are the *ideal* places we’d like to be on, but we really have to brew the right beers first.

W: I feel like there’s a point in every beer lover’s life where you experience a perfect beer moment. Whether it’s a certain beer, or the venue, or the night, you know. Can you think of your perfect beer moment at that perfect beer place?
TV: Hmm.
GW: Good question.
W: I came up with them so I can start. Mine was at The Porter Beer Bar in Decatur, GA after a long day of work – and had the best Founder’s Porter. I’d had it many times before, but at that exact moment, I took one sip of it and thought “This is the best beer I’ve ever had.” It was the perfect beer at the perfect time. Sounds hippie-ish, but if you have a memory, I want to hear it.
TV: One of my earliest ones I remember was after I turned 21. I was developing my palate at Hollander Downer and chose a beer that I’d never had – Rodenbach Grand Cru.  I didn’t even know it was sour. Popped it open, poured it out and tasted it – and my mind was blown. I had never had a beer that tasted like that before. My world has never been the same since. I was with great friends, and overall that was a pretty magical moment.
W: That’s a good one. Everyone’s got those moments.
GW: I think as far as my first ‘holy shit’ moment with beer was when my dad ordered me a Tripel Karmeliet. We were out at a bar watching a soccer match at 7am – I smelled it, tasted it – I, too, had no idea that beer could taste like that. I don’t know – every beer I had after that for a long time just didn’t compare. It just blew me away and it still does. And that’s why people pay a $8, $9 for a bottle of beer.

W: Are you going to concentrate on any certain styles? Are you going to have a flagship that you’ll make if people keep asking for it? Or will you just keep brewing different stuff?
TV: The market will have to dictate that. People ask us that all the time, but I don’t have an answer for it. We’re so small, it’s going to be a batch by batch thing. We have ideas for beers – and we’re going to make those.
If something sticks, we can dedicate more production to that, but eventually we’ll have to grow to keep experimenting. On the flipside of that – we don’t want to be shackled down to one beer.
GW: In short no – we won’t have a flagship.
W: What’s something you want to make?
GW: I had an idea for a Berliner Weiss where we go over the top for the style – super tart. And then for the syrup that would be added to it – there’s a japanese berry that they call the ‘Miracle berry’. I don’t know the technical term, but they feed it to kids before they eat fermented soybeans, because they’re disgusting – but the berry makes everything taste sweet. People call it “flavor tripping” or something. It’s way out there and I’m pretty sure that’s never been done before in a beer. Not sure how we’ll do it, or if it can be done – but that’s some of the out-there thinking we want to experiment with. I want to do an autumn seasonal where we use smoked malt and use burning leaves somehow. I wanna do shit with black truffles, I want to use squid ink -
W: 3Sheeps did that to their IPA. Sorry man.
GW: What?
TV: Did they really?
W: They really did.
GW: Ok so we won’t do that. (Laughs)
TV: What about – have you ever had sorrel?
W: Never.
TV: They use it in salads. A leafy green, it’s like a sour leaf. It’s good but I love sour everything. I want to extract that sourness – how cool would a green Berliner Weiss for St. Patty’s day be?
W: Gloriously gimmicky.
TV: Yes, but I still think it could be a green beer opportunity. It could turn brown, who knows! Eventually I want to make a great schwarzbier, I really do. That’s one I want to nail.

W: If you could be on tap in any Wisconsin bar, which would it be?
GW: Romans would be a big win for me personally.
TV: Yeah, I’d feel honored and privileged for that one too.
GW: He knows quality beer. He goes to great lengths to have a great list. It’d be very flattering. Von Trier too – I started drinking there when I turned 21 and that’s another one. Chad the bartender always put great beer in front of me. I trusted him and it was very rewarding.
TV: I still say Odd Duck. They are quality through and through. Quality over everything else there – they’re creative, great people.

W: What are your thoughts on MKE beer scene as a whole?
TV: I feel like it needs some work. It’s going in the right direction, but I don’t know. Grant and I have talked about this – the reputation is ‘brew city’, but the craft is still just getting off the ground. We’re living in Miller’s shadow still. I wish there could be more done in Milwaukee. Wisconsin is doing good, Milwaukee though…
GW: You know, but Wisconsin – we have Dave’s Brewfarm, Central Waters, Black Husky and many others doing great things. You can’t compare Milwaukee to Madison though. (In Madison) you have Ale Asylum, Karben4, One Barrel, Next Door, Great Dane, MobCraft all around. They’re above Milwaukee’s craft scene still.

W: Grant, pick one:  Horace, Amy, or Ulysses S?
G: There’s one I don’t know.
W: What? Which one?
G: The first one.
W: Horace?
TV: Really?
W: Horace Grant? Chicago Bulls? Rec Specs?
GW: I’m a soccer guy, sorry.
W: Basketball player…
GW: Well I’m still sticking with Ulysses. He’s on the $50 bill.

W: Tommy, you need to pick one: Boy, LaSorda, or Gun?
TV: Like the Thompson submachine gun?
W: Yeah. Tommy Boy, Tommy LaSorda, or Tommy Gun. Choose carefully.
TV: Wasn’t Tommy Gun a porn star?
*Silence*
TV: What, you guys don’t know your porn stars?  Also why isn’t Hugh Grant in these choices? Whatever, I’m saying Tommy LaSorda.
W: You remember when he got hit by that bat & fell like a ton of bricks?
TV: That was funny – not funny.

That was really the gist of the interview. More beers were had. More conversation was had. Laughter filled the air. You get the picture.

The impact ‘local’ beers have had on the craft beer scene in the past couple of years has been massive . I find myself torn all too often though – and have vocally expressed that just because it’s local – does not mean it’s good. In terms of the Enlightened Brewing Company, however – I *can* tell you that what I’ve had so far has been exceptional.  If the beer is good – the people will drink.  There won’t be any flashy marketing or enormous gaudy tap handles behind this stuff – it’s simply going to be 2 normal dudes making interesting, good beer. In an on-premise market that’s dominated by cash from big corporations, I really do hope they’ll be able to not only survive, but also thrive. Time will tell if we’ll find the path to enlightenment. God that was cheesy.  Here’s to hopefully seeing some Enlightened Brewing Company beer in the near future. Best of luck to these guys. May the daunting hurdles make way for big wins.

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Michigan Beer Edition

Years ago, I planned a Michigan beer trip.  The amount of great breweries in Michigan is staggering – travel an hour in any direction and you’re bound to pass by an old standby or a new upstart brewery sure to please. However, for reasons outside my control, I never got to take that expedition. The other day my wife expressed interest in taking that trip.  Like a (thirsty) Phoenix rising from the ashes, my planning got underway once again. Instead of coming up with one trip, I developed three.

The basics: We’ll be leaving from Milwaukee on a Friday, returning home at some point on Sunday. A 3 day trip encompassing all things Michigan beer. Some days have a lot going on – obviously we’re not going to get hammered at every brewery, as that would make for an impossible (and dangerous) trip. Just visiting and having a pint will suffice, as well as purchasing some wearables or glassware or what have you. As much as I’d like to, we won’t be visiting Ann Arbor or Detroit area on this venture. That will be saved for another time. Either way, here are the options:

MI Trip #1:
Fri:

Leave Milwaukee in morning.
Lunch at Redamak’s
Visit Greenbush Brewery Pub
Visit New Holland Brewery Pub
Check into hotel in Grand Rapids, MI
Visit Hopcat for dinner/drinks

Sat:
Breakfast in Grand Rapids @ __?__
Some type of workout to not be fat the entire trip
Visit Founders
Visit Dark Horse (1.5 hours away.  I’d rather take I90 east to I69 south outside Lansing, but I know nothing worthwhile on that route. Our friend google maps says quickest route is straight south then straight east.)
Mid afternoon food stop @ Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.  If we’re running behind on time, Dark Horse’s food looks pretty great, so we may just eat there. I’ve been to the Eccentric Cafe before, so it is not a must-stop.
Visit Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, because I love gimmicks and this place sounds great.
Back to Grand Rapids for overnight. (No sense staying overnight in Kalamazoo, right? Then again, would cut down on trip time back home the next day)

Sun:
Leave MI to visit 3 Floyds for lunch and last beers of the trip. I’ve been here many times before and the food never disappoints.
Back to Milwaukee (2 hours)

MI Trip #2 (with Chicago detour):
Fri:
Leave Milwaukee mid-afternoon
Check in room at Longman & Eagle, Logan Sq., Chicago
Dinner @ Kuma’s Corner Belmont (While I find the ear-splitting metal music to be a bit much, the grub here is out of this world. I’ll suffer for my stomach.)
Adult beverages @ Small Bar Albany Ave
Nightcap & overnight @ Longman & Eagle.

Sat:
Drive to Grand Rapids, MI – Lunch @ Founders & possible 2pm brewery tour.
Visit Mitten Brewing Co
Visit Brewery Vivant
Dinner @ Hopcat
Overnight in Grand Rapids.

Sun:

Visit New Holland Brewery Pub 11am
Visit Greenbush Brewery Pub
Back to Milwaukee

MI Trip #3
Fri:
Same as MI Trip #1 Friday itinerary, but add Founders if possible after hotel check-in.

Sat:
Leave Grand Rapids early am, travel 2 hours north to Traverse City, MI.
Visit Short’s Brewing Pub
Do Traverse City touristy stuff.

Sun:
Leave for Milwaukee by
A) Driving south to Muskegon, MI & take the Ferry to Manitowoc, WI. This option is way too expensive.
B) Driving 7 hours around Lake Michigan.

So there you go.  Each trip has its pro’s & con’s.  Trip #1 is pretty aggressive in terms of breweries/pubs/restaurants visited. That said – it hits all the places I really want to go – Greenbush, New Holland, Founders, Hopcat and Dark Horse.  The Saturday night portion needs some work, especially if Kalamazoo is worthwhile to stay overnight. What’s there to do in Kzoo?
Trip #2 is the most expensive of the 3, with the Chicago part being very fun but putting a dent in the ol’ wallet. It also excludes Dark Horse, which I’ve heard is great.
Trip #3 includes the most driving, which is never really exciting. Although Traverse City & Short’s sound great, the 7 hour drive home on Sunday does not sound appealing. Obviously these are not set in stone and parts can be moved around, but I think I’ve got some good plans here. That said – have any comments to add or breweries/restaurants as must-visits? Let me know in the comments section & be sure to vote in the first poll EVER on this here site. Technology!

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My Top 20 Beers of 2013

2013 is gone. It’s never coming back. And sadly, neither are some of the following beers on my best of the year list.  I’ve had a lot of good ones, but here are the great ones. (* denotes that the beer is/was available in Wisconsin)

20) Ommegang Fleur de Houblon* (Belgian pale ale/Summer ale. Bottle, 6.8%) A golden-colored brew that smelled exactly like fresh-picked flowers. A huge herbal note was ever-present in this hoppy, highly-carbonated Summer ale. Very easy to drink with a hint of that Belgian yeast that’s common in Ommegang liquid.

19) Firestone Walker Parabola (Russian Imperial stout. Bottle, 13%)  Still the best tasting stout on the market for the price tag, without question.  A viscous black beer that sucks you in and keeps you there. An intriguing, perfectly balanced stout overall. Consistently awesome. Rumored to be coming to Wisconsin soon…

18) Fremont Bourbon Abominable (Bourbon barrel-aged winter ale. Bottle, 11%)  Fremont Brewing became my favorite west coast brewery in 2013.  Every offering I tried from them was absolutely stellar.  My Seattle hookup really came through for me this year, that’s for sure. Chocolate, oak, and a touch of vanilla with some bourbon warmth noticeable throughout this one. A gem of a bourbon winter ale, without being overly sugary.

17) Beachwood BBQ & Brewing Amalgamator (American IPA. Tap, 7%) Enjoyed on draught from the show floor of the Great American Beer Fest in October.  Yet another west coast-derived beer makes the list. A complex, juicy citrus zest with just the right amount of malt backbone made this  a big winner for me. Everything an American IPA should be.

16) Half Acre Akari Shogun  (Wheat ale. Can, 5.5%) Described as an American Pale Wheat Ale, this is simply a cloudy wheat beer meant for consuming in shockingly large amounts. Finishing a 16oz can comes as natural as blinking and/or breathing. This hazy, medium-bodied brew has a touch of lemongrass and a bit of sweetness, but neither was off-putting. Half Acre makes another winner.

15) Fremont The 1st Nail (Imperial stout. Bottle, 11.5%) A massive oatmeal stout packed with possibly the most discernible flavors in one beer ever. Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, licorice, cinnamon – this beer takes your senses on a rollercoaster ride to enlightenment. As the bottle states: “Pale barley, smoked barley, brewer’s licorice, cinnamon bark, oh my my.”
Indeed.  Brewed in honor of a Seattle beer bar called The Pine Box.  In a strange twist of coincidences, I met the owner of the Pine Box at Star Bar in Denver during GABF.  Best wishes of prosperity to the Pine Box owners in 2014.

14) Bruery Humulus Lager* (Pilsner. Tap, 7.2%) A “double pilsner” – a style that sounds completely ridiculous and should be mocked.  However, this imperial bubbly brew was crisp, clean, and showcased what a lager can and should be. Ended with a  stellar grassy finish that begged for another sip.  Very nice and easy-going on the palate.  Bruery has a lot of hits (and some bad misses…), but this was my favorite beer of the year from them.

13) AleSmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout* (Imperial stout. Tap, ?%) When I developed this list, I tried to pick a variety of brews that people would know, were generally available in their respective markets, and not completely obscure. This beer fits zero of the above categories. Thrown on tap at the Rumpus Room in downtown Milwaukee during their initial rollout into our market, this extremely rare brew showcased the dedication of AleSmith’s award-winning brewers to a T. Gigantic coffee-forward aroma.  A perfect velvety swirl of chocolate flavor paired with an impeccable roast quality. Ended with a frolic of hops to balance the thick, decadent body. Painstakingly produced by adding cold-brewed exotic Vietnamese coffee during the brewing process (at which point – I forget) – a single 1/6bbl takes an entire day to make correctly. A meticulous, perfect beer that I’d kill a kitten just to have another 10oz pour. And I like kittens.

12) New Glarus Berliner Weiss*  (Berliner Weiss. Bottle, ~4%) Finally, a Wisconsin beer makes the list. Is Dan Carey the best brewer in Wisconsin? Yes, yes he is. In America? Maybe. New Glarus Berliner Weiss was my go-to beer this summer, as I probably consumed a case of this sweet, carbonated nectar. A little tart, a little sour, but overall just a great representation of a style that seems to be gaining popularity. No need to pour syrup in this one – it’s perfect as is. Refreshing is an understatement.

11) O’Dell Myrcenary (Double IPA. Bottle, 9.3%) Hops on hops on hops. As I’ve stated previously, this beer is a sticky, resinous grapefruit punch to the face. Myrcene (which I’ll name my daughter, if I ever have one) oil is extracted from the hop to give this brew it’s hopped-up nose and flavor. Finishes clean and the alcohol is very well-hidden. Has always been a favorite of mine, and thus deserves a spot on the list.

10) Saint Arnold Pumpkinator (Pumpkin ale. Tap, 11%) What the hell is a pumpkin/spice/stout concoction doing on this list? Normally I find pumpkin stouts to be a poor idea, but Saint Arnold’s version proved to be pretty good. Sweet without being overly cloying, this brown sugar & cinnamon brew had rich pumpkin flavors paired with a toffee/chocolate note of a big stout. Slightly unbalanced overall, but a fun take on a style I don’t normally find appealing.  Had this on tap @ GABF, so I’m struggling to rehash my description of it here.  (For what it’s worth, Cigar City’s Good Gourd is still my all-time favorite vegetable beer).

9) Boulevard Tank 7 (Saison. Tap/Bottle, 8.5%)  Pours a billowy, foamy white head. Belgian yeast apparent in the aroma. Medium mouthfeel, a bit prickly on the tongue. Golden in color and finishes very dry. Simply put: A perfect farmhouse ale. If you haven’t had this yet, stop reading and figure out how you can procure one immediately.

8) Olde Hickory Event Horizon (Imperial stout. Tap, 8.5%) An extremely rich stout from North Carolina. Had @ GABF – big bourbon wood notes abound in this. Heavy, a bit oily, but very fun. Would eventually like to land a bottle of this to age to see how it changes.

7) Summit Union Series Rebellion Stout* (Foreign Export style stout. Bottle/Tap, 8.5%) Truth be told I don’t normally find Summit to be an exciting brewery. My thoughts on them changed dramatically when I had their new Rebellion stout.  A foreign export style double stout that was packed full of molasses, licorice, and some dark fruit notes thrown in for good measure. The beer uses English hops yet somehow ends almost Belgian-y. The brew finishes with a slight hop bite and some astringency, but overall this full-bodied brew is one to seek out if you haven’t yet. You might be pleasantly surprised.

6) Goose Island Gillian* (Wild ale. Bottle, 9.5%) The wild/sour ale craze continues. Described as an ale with strawberries, honey, and white pepper aged in wine barrels, Gillian definitely produced a myriad of flavors. One could easily pick out the strawberry sweetness, touch of honey, and dry pepper finish within the brew. A big saison/champagne-like quality in this one, due to the liquid sleeping in wine barrels for some time. The price tag was difficult to stomach, but the beer itself was worth it. I’d be very interested to see how this one changes over time.

5) Sixpoint 3Beans* (Baltic porter. Can/Tap, 10%) An imperial porter that used 3 different beans (cacao, coffee, and romano) to create a massive, full-bodied brew. A great concept for sure – using an old brewers ingredient in the romano bean to add a bigger mouthfeel to the beer. It was incredible when fresh (early 2013), and the 10% abv was virtually unnoticeable. A beer that almost didn’t happen due to Hurricane Sandy.  I’m glad that it did though – loved this one.  A labor of love indeed – if you have 15 minutes, watch how it was made: http://youtu.be/vKLRG-eMXgM

4) New Glarus Wild Sour* (Sour. Bottle, 5%)  I’ll let the bottle do the talking for me here: Naturally soured by farm valley winds blowing wild yeast into our oak casks. Finally, after a year and a half of patient coaxing Wisconsin dark malts whirl in a kaleidoscope of cedar, caramel, and tart green plum exuberance. Available to the exclusive few who travel off the beaten paths, this is authentic Wisconsin sour brown ale. Truly unique this Sour Ale is brewed for those who live on the wild side and is suitable for laying down or consuming immediately, serve at 40-45 degrees F.
I’ve consumed plenty. As with many New Glarus products, it’s hard to lay them down at all because they taste so perfect immediately.

3) Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout* (Imperial stout. Bottle, 12.7%) Bourbon county stout aged in rye whiskey barrels with added raspberries and blackberries from Michigan.  Heavy on the fruit in aroma, with a slight rye dryness in the finish. Earthy and viscous, this beer was perfect. Say what you want about the AB takeover – if the Goose keeps on putting out beers like this, I don’t care if Enron owns them. Drink the beer. It is good.

2) Central Waters Fifteen* (Imperial stout. Bottle, 11%) We’re seeing a trend here with Central Waters anniversary stouts! A colossal, roast-forward stout made with care in little Amherst, Wisconsin. Label notes that Fifteen aged for 28 months in Old Heaven Hill 14 year-old bourbon barrels for their 15th anniversary celebration. Haters like to say that Central Waters stouts have a thin body & don’t stack up to bigger stouts, to which I disrespectfully disagree. Don’t you talk ill of my favorite Wisconsin brewery. I will verbally throw insults at you like a hungry, rabid marmoset. Anxiously awaiting my first trip to CW for their 16th anniversary party in less than 24 days…

1) New Glarus R&D Very Sour Blackberry* (Sour/Lambic. Bottle, 5%) From the handwritten-style label on the 16oz pint bottle:
Fermented and aged in oak barrels – on yeast lies – with Oregon Marion Blackberries. Refermented in this bottle – open with care. This is a Wild, Funky Sour Beer! Brewed Nov. 2010 Bottled Aug. 2013.
Beer pours a brilliant purple hue with a delicate pink head. Aroma is blackberry jam – you can smell it from 20 feet away, no joke. Taste is tongue-curling sour – you can really feel it in your tonsils. Tart as hell & moderately carbonated.  This was a clear choice for my favorite beer of the year. Lives up to the hype and then some. Unfortunately for…well, everybody – this beer was only sold at the brewery during Great Taste of the Midwest weekend.  Two thousand bottles total, I think? Regardless, be prepared to roll out some heavy hitters to attain one of these. If you do, you’re in for a rare treat.

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The Blurry-Photographed-Forest-Dwelling-Mammal Throwdown

When my buddy Joel  @Craftbeercompas sent out this call to action, I jumped at the opportunity.  Kinda like when someone asks Ray Stantz if he’s a God – you say YES.

The Great Divide Brewery (Denver, CO) has been around since 1994, producing Yeti for almost 10 years running now. Our tasting group of 4 (which included the craftbeer crusader of the midwest, Andy @ BeerFM – someone who I completely trust to give a fair & balanced synopsis of any beer) had imbibed in some form of Yeti at one time or another – but never every variant in one sitting. Of the six brewed (*not counting the ridiculously hard to find Stranahan whiskey barrel-aged version), I had actually drunk five of them – with the illusive new Oatmeal Yeti being the sole creature that escaped me.  The clan is currently not available in Wisconsin – the creatures can be found south of the border in Chicago land, however.

I have a storied past hunting the Yeti.  The first one I ever tried was Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti.  About 4 years ago, the chocolate-pepper beer found my tongue at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in Kansas City.  This was not a proper beer to have at that time, as I was already inebriated from an evening at the Makers Mark lounge at the Power & Light District, a complete shit-show of a place.  I remember it being too spicy for me, but that could’ve been the aforementioned bourbon talking. Eventually after trying original and Oak Aged in Chicago, followed by Espresso Oak Aged Yeti in Phoenix – it became one of my favorite stout series.  All are well-made and each quite different from the next. Few big stouts are priced so aggressively; the entire lineup is easily affordable. Yeti was truly the first big stout I remember enjoying – a father-figure type brew for me, showing me new ways stouts could be made. In addition to reviewing the beers, I’ve paired a famous father to each one. This doesn’t make much sense, but let’s roll with it anyways.

So with a spread of peanuts, pretzels, water, and 6 tasting glasses each, we poured out the mythical beasts. While I don’t remember vintages/brewing dates, I do remember what I thought of each beer, as CraftBeerCompass Joel created some handy tasting notes. Going from one to the next, comparing and contrasting without getting burned out proved to be just as fun as you think it’d be. The following are my personal results:

Yeti - From a 12oz bottle – the only non-bomber we popped. 9.5% base, bakers chocolate aroma congregates under the nose immediately. Taste is luscious, untamed and imposing chocolate with a surprising touch of hops in the finish. Was extremely surprised to learn that it weighs in at 75IBUs. Makes for a great base beer to work with. The Bill Cosby father figure of the series – imparts wisdom, is a doctor, and wears crazy sweaters (although the label is straight-forward & not crazy). Probably does not pair well with Jell-O.

Oak Aged Yeti - The first Yeti spinoff. Woody characters present throughout, with nuances of vanilla, dark fruit & oak on the tongue.  The roasty aromas and flavors are here too – time in the barrel distinguishes it from original Yeti.  Quite balanced – unlike the father I’m attaching to it – Mr. Woody Harrelson.  A man who enjoys trees and looks like he enjoys beverages that have slept in a barrel. Great Divide lists food pairings on each Yeti bottle – which is helpful if you’re a vegetarian like Mr. Harrelson. Unfortunately for him, only one green option is listed for him – roasted asparagus.

Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti - Cocoa nibs added to Oak Aged version – makes sense really. Taste is liquified Hershey kisses frolicking in the mouth.  A cayenne hotness creeps into the finish – it’s faint, but there. Having this sober obviously changed my outlook on it. This beer starts calm but ends a little crazy & ill-tempered like Jerry Stiller as an irritated Frank Costanza.

Espresso Oak Aged Yeti - Oh we’re getting complex now. Massive coffee roast, both in aroma and flavor. Like fresh brewed espresso beans dumped into a stout, this is easily my favorite and (in my lowly opinion) the crown jewel of the series. Pablo’s espresso, a Denver roastery, apparently lends its beans to the mix here. A black-as-night brew, packed with coffee flavor. Perfect if you need to be on your toes – like Step-By-Step sitcom father Patrick Duffy, who had not one but TWO families to watch over. A necessary pick me up in the a.m.

Belgian Style Yeti - Belgian Style Yeti was admittedly hard to figure out. Starts with mysteriously fruity, malty flavors that eventually leads to a slight Belgian yeasty finish. For whatever reasons, this one seemed thinner than the others.  As it warmed, this particular Yeti became quite bitter, and somehow felt a bit more carbonated than the previous variants. Personally I thought the Ommegang / HBO ‘Take the Black Stout’ was a better take on the Belgian black ale. Belgian Style Yeti’s career starts nice, but finishes with a ‘meh’.  Like Cuba Gooding Jr.’s.

Oatmeal Yeti – My first time trying. Bottle description has an annotation of ‘stout brewed with rasins’, but the addition of the rolled oats is what makes this beer stand out. You really can taste the creaminess due to the flaked malts, and there is an odd sweetness from the raisins in there as well. Almost like a dark cherry fruit quality. That aspect made both Belgian Style and Oatmeal a little too similar for my taste. Worth trying once, but not big enough to call together a search party. For the dad who can probably make oatmeal for breakfast – like Steve Martin in Parenthood, Father of the Bride, etc.  Dude can also play a mean banjo, and I think people who play the banjo probably also like oatmeal.

My top 3 favorites of the session:
3) Yeti
2) Oak Aged Yeti
1) Espresso Oak Aged Yeti

yeti1

yetiafter

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GABF 2013: My Poor Brain

It’s been two weeks since I stepped foot on the Colorado Convention Center show floor, completely blown away by the sheer amount of beer there.  Show goers were instantly bombarded with colorful banners, brewery flags, flashing lights, and what seemed like a thousand goldenrod-shirted volunteers scurrying around like worker ants. Intimidating to say the least is GABF – with it’s 6000+ beers from 300+ breweries, there’s really no way to see, taste, hear, etc. everything.

The layout within the venue was structured pretty well. Each section was dedicated to a certain American region, which is great if you’ve never had any beers from, say, the Southwest or Northeast.  Favorites like Oskar Blues, Firestone Walker, Dogfish Head, Deschutes and the like all had their endcap booth as to not clog the main walkways. Traffic flowed pretty smoothly for having thousands in the vicinity, all itching to find their next favorite beer. The Thursday session that I attended had sold around 8000+ tickets, with the Friday and Saturday sessions bringing in 10-12,000 each, from what I remember.

So the 32nd GABF doesn’t come without its ups & downs. Perhaps my favorite part of the fest was visiting and interacting with some extremely small breweries I had never heard of before.  Sipping on their hopes & dreams (sounds dirty; isn’t) and picking their brain on how they produce what they love was really interesting.  My only real strategy of the fest was to drink whatever I wanted at whatever brewer didn’t have a gigantic line – and it worked out well.  Fest volunteers were another plus in my book.  From ticket-taking to ‘glassware’ dispersal to pouring beer – their kindness did not go unnoticed. It takes an army to move a horde of beer geeks on the right path. (At one point a security guard on a Segway shouted directions through a megaphone)  All things considered the behavior of most festival attendees was great. Didn’t see any portly men throw down sumo style or anything, although that would have been wildly entertaining. The clear winner of GABF though was the city of Denver. The city was amazingly hospitable during my 3 day stay. And why shouldn’t they? Imagine how many millions of dollars the festival probably brings into the local economy. I digress…favorite beers of the fest time:
Beachwood BBQ & Brewing – Almagamator IPA: Everything I had heard about Beachwood prior to the fest was true. These guys really do make some great beer. Almagamator was a well-balanced tropical IPA.  This one was the only sample I went back for seconds of at GABF.  Could have used some bbq pork samples though!
Boulevard – Tank 7: I dare you to find a better mass-produced (kinda) American farmhouse ale. The finish on this always entices you to come in for more. Definitely not the first time I’ve had this, and it certainly won’t be the last. Boulevard is now part of the Duvel network – this is a good thing, people.
Kern River – Just Outstanding IPA: Name don’t lie. Double Citra & Class V stout get the big accolades, but this will do just fine.  Apparently I was on a lighter-colored beer binge during GABF – my lack of robust porters & midnight stouts was surprising.
O’Dell – Myrcenary: Still a grapefruit punch to the face.  I’ll never understand how this 9.3% abv beer drinks so smoothly. She’s a vice, that Myrcenary.
St. Arnold – Pumpkinator: Nippin on the heels of Cigar City Good Gourd for my favorite pumpkin beer. This one had a darker hue & different spice notes but was still a show gem.  Their church cathedral booth (complete with monk-priest-guy?) was over-the-top but definitely drew in the people.
Olde Hickory – Event Horizon – Not only a mediocre SciFi movie starring Sam Neil, but also the best beer in show.  Everything a bourbon-aged imperial stout should be: impossibly chewy, loaded with vanilla, oak, and chocolate characteristics next to a noticeable malt backbone. This beer revived my spirits and warmed my heart.

Other notable liquids I had included the smokey, glass-staining, bacon-aroma, chocolate-syrup-coma-inducing Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Porter. I’m not sure what I really thought of this beer – it was certainly unlike anything I’ve ever had.  Cross that one off the bucket list for sure. Ross’s’s Melange was interesting as well from Avery, a brewery I don’t normally grab. Sun King’s Stupid Sexy Flanders clearly wins best name for a beer (note – there were a ton of ridiculously stupid names abound, but this one was my favorite. Also – that  particular name made sense, where others were audacious because, well, hey – it’s beer! Try me cuz of the crazy name…!) Wicked Weed from Asheville, NC had a thirst-quenching ‘Coolcumber’ cucumber beer, and Madison’s own Vintage was there pouring a cashew cream ale called ‘Coo Coo Cashew’.

For some of the negative points of the festival, I would say my plastic tasting cup was slightly amateurish. However, given the nature of the attendees and the amount of times one dropped a cup to a chorus of “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”‘s, I guess I understand.  I’m sure the shattering glass was a large part of the Fri & Sat sessions. Notable absent regional producers like Central Waters, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Founders, et al was slightly disappointing as well. Here’s to hoping the GABF panel fixes server issues and/or gets help in achieving enough capability/support for future.  I know not every brewer can be at the GABF, but no Founder’s? Doesn’t sit well with me.  Finally, with the popularity of craft beer being at an all-time high, the commercialization of the event seemed pretty intense. Lights, cameras, action, a constant buzz, loud noises! You can’t become the largest beer fest in America without some advertising dollars behind you, but the show overall seemed like a gaudy prom dress that never really came off. No, I have no idea what that means.  Did I enjoy myself? Of course. Do I feel the need to go again – well, talk to me next October I guess.

After waiting in the merch line for 30 minutes to grab some fresh wearables from Green Flash, Cigar City, and New Holland the show finally came to a close. Happy festival folk paraded (slowly walked)  towards the exits remembering their favorites, faces buried in phones reviewing their checkins and deciding where to go next. Our group of 4 struck out at the Left Hand 20th Anniversary party at the Hyatt, so we decided to check out Star Bar, the self-proclaimed “Denver Neighborhood Bar”.  The tiny watering hole was completely packed with beer geeks & music freaks alike. Jams were brought to our earholes by the fantastic Tommy Price & the Stilettos. Stone Brewing & Cigar City seemed to have a semi- impromptu presence/takeover here with cans & tap beer abound. Not that we needed to drink more, but of course when you’re in Denver for GABF, things tend to get excessive. I vaguely remember enjoying my Stone Ruination Grapefruit Slam and a Bear Republic Berliner Weiss of some type. After being awake for approximately 19 hours it was cab time to the hotel – we had another big day ahead of us. GABF in the books, shuteye was necessary.

Intermission

Our crew woke up mere hours later at 7am. Tired, dry-mouthed, and groggy, we took a cab to Falling Rock Tap House to meet up with other hungover souls who were spending Friday on the “Oskar Blues Ordeal”.  This all-day affair promised a glimpse into the OB empire, with scheduled visits to the Hops & Heifers farm, Liquids & Solids taproom, new CHUBurger fast food franchise, and Tasty Weasel taproom.  As a long time fan, I was extremely eager for the opportunity.  About 50 others boarded a coach bus and our tour guide gave us the itinerary for the day.
Our first stop, Hops & Heifers Farm, was a perfect way to start the morning. We stepped off the bus and was greeted by the farm manager (Dave? Jeff?) who talked a bit about the sustainability of the farm. Old Chub Scotch ale and Mama’s Lil Yella Pils cans were handed out as he discussed all the ways the cows, pigs, goats were fed by spent brewery grain & the like. After, the group walked towards a large tent that was set up for brunch.  A gospel choir provided music as hungry souls gorged themselves on Danish pastries, bagels & cream cheese, fresh salmon, and more. Beverages included mimosas made with Mama’s Lil Yella Pils, as well as a local coffee grower’s homebrewed coffee stout. It was quite chilly out, so the tent was welcomed by all. Smiling OB workers then served a spread of shrimp & grits, fruit pancakes, bacon & spinach quiche and so many others I can’t recall. Without sounding like an overly sappy buffoon – it was seriously a euphoric morning. Great beer, amazing food, good people sitting outside visiting with one another. No one cared our government was shut down. Forgotten were the headaches and trivial problems of our lives. Seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Following the brunch we took a hay ride over to the hop fields that OB uses for it’s specialty tap-room one-offs. Hop harvest season was long gone, but it was interesting to see the setup.  Waving goodbye to the plump pigs who would soon become bacon on a CHUBurger, Ordeal-ers boarded the bus once more.
Next up: Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids. Opened in 2009, Longmont CO’s Liquids & Solids is home to two floors of incredible craft brews & tasty food.  Our touristy-looking group was given a private upstairs party room equipped with a stage (Blues bands jam here nightly) as our headquarters.  We willed ourselves to have a few of the tap-room only stuff here: Home Skillet Black IPA & One Nut Brown. By the time we left around noon, the restaurant was completely jammed downstairs.

Here’s a video on it from their website – http://vimeo.com/61220735

Back on the bus after an hour or so, we saw the OB dynasty in action again as our next stop was CHUBurger. Like a Culvers on steroids, this venue featured OB slathered/infused/pressed everything – and that’s not a bad thing. Also not bad was the ~4oz sample of Ten Fidy milkshakes that everyone had. Vanilla ice cream injected with everyone’s favorite jet black imperial stout. Anyways, the beef provided here comes from the delicious-looking cows we had just seen at the farm – who are fed with grain from the brewery.  I didn’t have a burger here, but I can imagine it tastes pretty perfect. If you go to Coors Field next year there will be a CHUBurger inside the stadium. Righteous.
We exited there with a brainfreeze buzz and drove 5 minutes south to one of the OB production facilities, strangely titled Tasty Weasel tap room. By the grace of God we did this trip on a Friday. My affinity for Ten Fidy would be rewarded here, as ‘Fidy Friday’ was in full effect by mid-afternoon when we arrived. 7 different 4-ounce variants for $17. It was if the gates of Heaven opened before me, and an angel knelt down and said “Here you go son, earn it.”  Appleton Estate rum barreled, Four Roses Whiskey barreled, Nitro, 2011 Vintage…the list went on. I thought I was over the barrel-aged stuff – I thought wrong. Roasted chocolate motor oil in a glass. We ate peanuts, talked about how awesome the day was, and sat amazed watching the bustling tap room try to keep up with all the out-of-towners wanting to visit the canned craft brewer juggernaut known as Oskar Blues. A truly spectacular day to say the least.
When we got back to our drop-off point at Falling Rock, pure chaos had unfolded. This morning it was a ghost town, (obviously, it was 8am…) but now at 4pm the craft beer bar Mecca of Denver had transformed into a flailing beast. Hundreds of thirsty people lined the inside bar, outside tables, and additional outside tap bar. Not wanting to leave a good party, our gang snagged a table as another foursome was leaving & had a few more pints.  My first ever Russian River Blind Pig was consumed – not angry about that. Firestone Walker’s DBA was another low alcohol gem that I desperately needed as well. We had some spicy fries that would later light our insides on fire and require each of us to swallow 10 tablets of Tums.  Per usual, Falling Rock was awesome, and the people watching was top-notch.  It needs to be said (again) that the local Denver establishments really open their arms for all the amazing breweries that come to town. If there’s anything to take away from this much-too-long post, it’s that even if you DON’T have tickets to GABF, do yourself a favor and visit the town over the weekend & take advantage of the ridiculous tap takeovers, releases, and beer dinners and pairings that will take place.

Saturday was our free day to visit some of the surrounding breweries/brewpubs. We decided on Breckenridge (downtown), Boulder, Twisted Pine, and Upslope.
Drinking all day means a solid base is necessary.  Breckenridge Brewery (Colorado Craft Blake St location) conducted a ‘brewers brunch’ in the morning.  Vanilla porter maple syrup French toast hit the spot with a Nitro Thunder Stout. Another example of a tap room that had great guest features, which was great to see.  Colorado truly has an outstanding camaraderie when it comes to brewers showing each other love. After our breakfast, we hopped in our rental car (we rarely drove anywhere – cabs were pretty much a necessity over the 3 day period) and headed to one of Colorado’s original microbreweries.
Boulder Brewery, nestled around the many mountains of CO, was picturesque and worth the trip. One of the originals in the state, it was good to see it so busy around noon when we stopped.  I had the chocolate milk in a glass ‘Shake’, a rich velvety porter. Any place that has an homage to ‘Nitro’ of American Gladiators on their taps is good in my book – even if he was kind of a dick. Surprisingly small place that pumps out a lot of beers.
Onward to Twisted Pine. Colorado has so many breweries, you can drive for 5 minutes & expect to run into one. I’d heard of Twisted Pine before, due to their over-the-top ghost pepper chili beer titled “Ghost Face Killah“.  ‘Hottest beer this side of hell’ proclaimed the label – yup, this beer is not for me. But I had to try it just once, and once is all it took. They should have milk on tap here, just a thought. Their other seasonals I imbibed in included a raspberry stout, a peanut butter stout, a whiskey-aged red ale and a few others. Hot pretzels with an array of mustards kept my stomach at bay.  GABF brewers awards were streamed live on a flatscreen as well. Cool little spot, definitely go if you can.
After Twisted Pine, we somehow got lost in a detour of the mountains on our way to Upslope.  Hidden in a plain strip mall, the extremely tiny Upslope location on Lee Hill featured an extensive barrel-aging program that could be seen from anywhere inside. The Bulleit bourbon one piqued my interest immediately; I believe the bartender told me that it will eventually morph into an anniversary barleywine. The group played a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit that was probably produced in 1981 and also petted the numerous dogs that wandered in with their owners. The Thai pale ale was the brew that I chose to sip on while the others shared a sampler.
“Food! We need food. We should probably head back to Denver before we get drunk in Boulder.” So that’s what we did. Without going into too much more detail, (are you still here?) we ventured to Freshcraft for a fantastic dinner. Sun King was in the house and brought along their fantastic ’666 Sympathy for the Devil’ Belgian black ale, which was typically great.  Sun King only distributes 70 miles outside of Indianapolis.

Sunday arrived.  My body weighed 10 extra pounds and my cranium held a perpetual headache, we gathered one last time at the New Belgium Hub at the airport and had one more beer. And then some more. Completely unnecessary, but also inevitable. Wisconsin breeds drinkers.  No need to feel sorry for me; I don’t want you to.  But, my poor, poor brain.

We did a lot of other stuff too, but this is already painfully long as it is.  If there’s one thing you take away from this, it’s VISIT DENVER DURING GABF.  If you can get in the convention – great. Do it once. Otherwise, the real treats are the insane releases the week before the event and the fact that everyone around you enjoys the same sudsy goodness that you do.  And there’s plenty of it to go around.

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GABF 2013: Are You There, Liver?

So I guess I’m going to GABF.
The Holy Grail of beer festivals. The Mecca of Mash. THE fermentation fest.  A grandiose spectacle of suds. The be-all, end-all.  What else is bigger? Where else can you find this many breweries, this many beers? How overhyped can one event get?

I’m about to find out.

I fully plan on not going in with a plan.  My only strategy is to avoid the long lines and not take anyone or anything too seriously.  It’s just beer, after all. For I fear if I get too caught up in the semantics or beer-making, beer-judging, or beer-politics, my time there will be for naught. Denver is a gorgeous city and I’m going to have a good time. Dammit, I’m going to have a great time. I just don’t know it yet.

As this blog steadily becomes a dumping ground for other, better blog sites, I give to you a few lists that I’ve stumbled on lately for events & whatnot surrounding GABF:
The GABF site
The Full Pint’s GABF-tagged articles
Beerwhisperer GABF Calendar
FermentedlyChallenged Oct 2013 Calendar
Brewtally Insane Calendar

I’ll be adding more to this list in the foreseeable future. Be sure to swing back in late Oct to browse the many photos I’ll take & read the recaps.  Until then – yup, still thirsty.

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