Fri October 12, 2012

Live Blog: Friday At The Great American Beer Festival

The second public session of the Great American Beer Festival opens tonight at the Colorado Convention Center in Downtown Denver. With over 2,000 beers in the festival hall, it’s the biggest selection of American beers ever served.

By the way, since this was a SOLD OUT event, another great way to get into the GABF, is by volunteering. Think you have what it takes? Find out with this training video:

Final Update 8:18 p.m.: I met two of my neighbors tonight. They volunteered for GABF this year and say the perks are awesome. 

Filled by an application process, all volunteers for GABF do everything from pour beer to change kegs.  Oh, and the perks. A limited edition t-shirt, multiple breaks, and (they say) all the beer you can drink.

Travis and Leslie, my next door neighbors.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

Travis and Leslie are two of the nicest folks you’ll meet. Both total foodies, they are also lovers of a good beer. They were assigned two nights of GABF and say while they have to pour beer, the breaks and free beer is worth it.

Here’s my wrap up for the evening.

If you’re a budding craft beer lover…have a plan. Simple as that.

Do your homework, latch onto a friend, or your local bartender and learn who to visit once your'e inside.

If you’re just here to drink… have a plan. Know where the water stations are (they're clearly marked and can be seen across the festival floor), and find the brewers with the least amount of people around, and have a designated driver (they get their own special area with treats…plus it’s only 25 bucks for a DD ticket.)

If you're just looking for a good time, Get a haircut... try the silent disco... or maybe some beer pong? Just some of the things you'll find on the fringes of the hall.

Honestly, it’s that easy.

Some of my favorite breweries of the evening? New Glarus Brewing out of New Glarus, WI. Amazing beer not found in Colorado, and a multi medal winner at GABF.

Red Eye Brewing out of Wausau, WI is another…the lines were minimal, but the beer was quite good. Their ‘Thirst IPA’  is 7% APV and smooth. Try it. You’ll like it.

Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst, WI…(Can you see I’m missing Wisconsin?)  Another decent and easily accessible brewery, their barley wine is exceptional.

But you don't have to attend GABF to get the latest and greatest brews. Here are some of the newest breweries in the area, many will be celebrating GABF with special events this weekend.

I think Rich Grant with Visit Denver has it figured it out. Colorado will forever be known for beer. Just like Florida is known for oranges, and Detroit is known for cars. Happy GABF!  And now, for another beer...

Update 7:00 p.m.: Things are well underway this Friday at GABF. There have already been a few dropped glasses. If you’ve not yet attended GABF, hearing a plastic glass hit the floor is a special event. 

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

The minute you hear the ‘clink, clink clink’  of the glass onto the concrete floor, thousands of people cheer…or I think it sounds more like ‘booooo!’ regardless, rule number one it seems is “don’t drop your glass.”

There are plenty of breweries you may want to hit first, before the  long lines form. Cigar City Brewing out of Tampa is a hot pour this year, as is DogFish Head brewing (although, I’ve heard they’re busy every year.)

Eric Gorski of the Denver Post says Cigar City Brewing is one not to miss, and if you can’t make it to GABF this year, it’s available on tap until it runs out Friday at the Falling Rock Tap House on Blake Street in LoDo.

The long line for a taste of the famous Dogfish Head brews.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

While the main reason many are here is for the beer (duh)… but don’t miss the many food pairing sections at the event.

My favorite (being from Wisconsin) is the cheese section sponsored by the American Cheese Society (ACS.) They’ll serve over 650 pounds of the dairy product this year, and after having a few samples of brew…it’s a much needed break for the stomach. (I’m biased, but the Wisconsin cheese is the best of the bunch).

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

Another break for the ol’ tummy? A massage. Yup. On the floor of the GABF you too can get a free massage.  Right after the doors opened this evening, there was a line to get one. I think I’ll try one later this evening…maybe.

Update 5:38 p.m.: Thousands waited under a light rain outside the Colorado Convention Center before flooding into the main festival hall for the 2nd night of GABF. Those with tickets were pumped. Those without? Well, they’re hoping that scalpers will hook them up with a good deal on tonight’s session.

A wet start to Friday's session of the GABF.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

I talked with two scalpers, who did not give their names. The first had 4 tickets and was selling them at face value. However, with the festival starting at 5:30, he was eager to say he’d drop the price after 6 if he had some left. The other gentleman, standing right across the street from the convention center was pricing his at 90 dollars a pop, and he wasn’t willing to drop the price.

It appears to be anyone’s guess as to if (and how many) tickets will be available for tonight’s session.

There are around 400 press attending the Great American Beer Fest, and as Rich Grant with Visit Denver told me, that’s helping propel Denver into the spotlight as the place for not just craft beer, but beer in general. He added that over 7 million dollars will be spent in the city over the next few days alone.

“And that’s just the money that will come out of someone’s wallet and be spent. You can’t even calculate the amount of money that comes into the city from the publicity. We have the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, USA Today, we have every media you can possibly think of in the world, because number one Beer is the most popular beverage in the world after tea.”

I spoke with Ed Sealover, who you met earlier in my post, and he says GABF is perfect for Colorado, and despite its growing size and some local frustration, the event showcases the craft brewing boom occurring in the state.

A quick chat with Ed Sealover, author of "Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado's Breweries."

They've just allowed everyone on to the main festival floor to the sounds of bagpipes. I'll check a few more times tonight...and will be sure to give you my final thoughts on GABF later this evening.

Update 3:51 p.m.: Last stop on the tour is at the Wynkoop. We're here for Pints for Prostates. Hmmmm? Yes, Pints for Prostates. It's a campaign that uses beer to raise awareness of prostate cancer - and the need for screenings and PSA testing.

We've heard in the past that coffee can lower the risk of prostate cancer, so why can't beer do its part? Besides, from the look of this picture, that's a lot of awareness.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

Update 3:14 p.m.: As promised earlier, I'm on a tour at two different breweries. Currently at River North Brewery, more on both later. But first, I had to pass this pretty sight along. This is River North's Unified Theory Oaked Imperial Wit beer:

Unified Theory Imperial Wit beer- a whole bunch of 'em
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

Update 2:45 p.m.: via Twitter

Update 2:13 p.m.: If you have any questions, recommendations or comments for me, send them my way on Twitter: @Hefflen. Every bit helps right? Plus, if you find me on Twitter you'll see things like this:

Update 1:25 p.m.: All quiet on the western front, boys… The Colorado Convention Hall in the heart of Denver is nearly vacant right now.

the entrance to the GABF festival hall.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

I’ve secured a spot on a tour of two local breweries this afternoon before the festival opens, none of which I’ve heard of or been to.

Vine Street Pub and Brewery is owned by Mountain Sun, and produces 2500 BBL (barrels) of beer a year. A barrel equals 31 gallons. They began brewing in their new brew house this year.

I’ll also visit River North Brewery, which was founded by a former engineer last year. Specializing in Belgian beers and American beers with a Belgian twist, this is the first year the brewery is entering the GABF competition.

It’s dead calm in the convention hall now. Kind of eerie. But just wait until 5 p.m. rolls around. Just wait…

Update 9:27 a.m. - If you’re like me, your palate may have moved away from light beers, however, you’re definitely not a craft beer connoisseur. Sitting with a few of my friends earlier this week at a pub in Northwest Denver, I explained the situation. I would be covering, and blogging about GABF.

Instantly the group turned to preparation tips, what areas of the festival hall I should access first, and of course what to watch out for.

“You have to eat a lot of carbs. Just like you do before a race.” My friend Jeffery said. “Yeah, and you have to have a plan,” interrupted my other friend Colin as he took a sip of his Deschutes Mirror Pond. “With so many beers, things can quickly spiral into a giant frat party.” Jeff nodded in agreement adding, “And, if you get there 15 minutes after the doors open, there’s never a line to get in.”

Eat carbs, have a game plan, arrive late. Simple enough. So…some pasta for breakfast today?

The festival hall floor plan has been changed this year to allow for 110 additional breweries over last year. According to GABF officials, that’s a 25 percent increase. Here’s a map to help you get started.

There are also plenty of events happening before and after tonight’s session if you’re interested in starting (or continuing) your beer odyssey. These are great if you would love to experience GABF, but failed to get tickets to the main festival hall.

Thanks to the Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover, a true beer lover and author of Mountain Brew, a Guide to Colorado’s Breweries.

*9:30-11:30 a.m. Freshcraft hosts the first Colorado Brewers' Brunch, featuring five local beers with big enough flavors to wake up your hungover taste buds. $30.
*11-5: Avery Brewing hosts a poker run with five barrel-aged beers at five of Denver's best beer bars. $45.
*10 p.m.: After the festival closes for the night, Falling Rock will host a number of Colorado breweries tapping rare one-off beers.

I’ll be blogging my experience this afternoon, and hopefully providing some good practical advice for those GABF newbies out there, since I myself am a 'noob' to this wide world of craft beer.