The adrenaline rush of GABF 2015 has subsided as we all return to our regular routines. The beers we drank, the people we met, and the experiences we had quietly fall into the recess of our minds, and sometimes memories on a page.
As a blogger, this is my time to push out thank you messages and follow ups while softly reminiscing over the picturesque contents of my camera. “How can I tell the proper story of GABF?” Much can be said; not all can be told. My idea is to parse together a series of spontaneous – in the moment – photographs alongside recollections of a sobering GABFer. So without further ado, here are some reflections of a newbie attendee, running amongst beer geeks and gurus.
I started my unofficial GABF week by visiting a few local microbreweries scattered around Denver. The event was officially due to start on Thursday evening but the local spots were already up in arms with events and showings. River North Brewery was a natural first stop given I’m a huge sucker for strong Belgium beers. They were hosting a vertical tapping of their Belgium-inspired quadrupels – the Quandrary. Needless to say, I did well given the potential altitude sickness (Denver is the mile-high city, remember?) and this served as a pre-lunch drink.
The explorer in me was compelled to walk around and see the city so I decided to head over to a cozy food joint called Lola Mexican Fish House, where they were having a Left Coast IPA tapping. At $2 bucks a glass, I’ll take at least 4, please. The most difficult part was pacing myself this weekend. I knew that many more beers awaited at the show. But the octopus (w/ pickled cabbage and chile crema) tacos had no chance against me in my famished state. It was a fantastic meal with entertaining bartenders, helpful guests (who love talking about food, beer, and traveling), and hyper fresh IPAs.
Now, it was time to head to the grand event: GABF. As I arrived at the convention center, the first thing I saw was a big blue bear. It welcomed me and other volunteers, chefs, and brewers into the gigantic 90,000 sq ft building where I spent the next few treasured days.
As one of the premier craft beer national festivals, GABF attendees have high expectations. If you don’t bring your best foot forward, then don’t bother at all. Many breweries see it as an opportunity to showcase new or never-before-seen beers, trying to one up last year’s showing. Others might brew twists of their most infamous beers through the latest barrel-aging or blending processes. The caliber of beer is simply higher here. With that said, it’s competitive aspects are a great opportunity for budding brewers to get recognized for their ingenuity and craftsmanship. Meeting the right people and getting the recognition can potentially serve as a huge platform for success for years to come. It’s true when they say how, “consumer hype is largely influenced by what’s popular in industry circles”.
This year welcomed even more space, entrants, and a revamped section celebrating food & beer pairings called: Paired. Many celebrity chefs (several of which are James Beard Foundation Award nominees) showcased their offerings alongside “craft beers not served anywhere else in the festival”. For a full list, check out the 2015 Brewery + Chef Pairings. I find this rising trend to be especially exciting for several reasons. Not only is food/beer pairing a more interactive way to experience craft beer but also it’s more conducive to connecting with the consumer. As home cooks, we can take these lessons back and apply them into our cooking and pairing pedigrees, ultimately exercising the natural aesthetics of good food and beverage.
With beers on the rise, we also saw a resurgence of the craft lager; lighter bodied beers without hop forward ingredients. Examples like Pilsners and Kolsch are gaining traction with contenders such as the STS Pils from Russian River (GABF Gold 2015) and Pivo Pils from Firestone Walker (GABF Gold 2014) leading the way. Traditionally, these beers have been stereotyped by commercial lagers like Miller Coors and Anheuser Busch Budweisers but can be quite enjoyable if done masterfully, as they’re known for their clean, crisp, and refreshing characteristics. And masterfully being the key word given the difficulty to hide flaws in lighter beers. Breweries are making a conscious economic trade-off when lagering beers due to their slower maturation cycle, thus producing less beers in the same amount of time. So say thanks next time you drink a good lager!
Lastly, we can’t ignore that this year will be a huge one for sour heads. The longest lines this year usually belonged to some variation of American dry-hopped sours, hoppy Brett-fermented beers (a new GABF category this year), and other types of blended wild ales. For example, the line of people vying to try Russian River’s Beautification was massive! Denver is also well known for its sour houses like Crooked Stave Artisan Project, New Belgium, Avery Brewing, Casey Brewing and Blending, Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, and the list goes on…Events like the “What the Fuk!?” festival, a celebration of barrel-aged wild, sour, and funky, has continued to gain traction among beer afiocionados.
Though I consider my palate quite insatiable, I think it was the most beer packed weekend in my life. The plethora of choices was overwhelming, yes, but it still didn’t stop me from visiting and saying hi at every booth there was – all 800 of them. I saw ales and lagers of all kinds: light, dark, all colors in between, barrel-aged, sour, casked, you name it – there was even a cannabis brewed beer. In all, I would highly encourage this event to any beer lover, it’s simply the best and one not to be missed. Stay thirsty!