Tuesday, October 4, 2011

GABF 2011: barrel-aged bliss

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 10:18 AM

If there's one thing I learned at this year's Great American Beer Festival, it's this: It's all about the Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter (courtesy Ohio's Willoughby Brewing Co.).

Waldo is usually better at hiding when he hasnt been drinking.

No, wait: It's all about the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (courtesy Lexington's Kentucky Ale).

Or, it could be about one of the dozen or so pumpkin ales I tried, or Cigar City Brewing's Oatmeal Raisin Cookie beer.

Crap. You see, in trying to encapsulate a whole day spent sampling about 75 beers — hey, that's not bad considering that the GABF featured 2,375 this year, and we're talking one-ounce pours mostly, over the course of nearly 12 hours — my mind returns to a few of the standout sips that I happened to take.

Which, let's be clear, only accounts for the beers I gravitated toward while walking the seemingly endless rows inside the Denver Convention Center, and those sampled at a media luncheon and in the adjunct farm to table pavilion, where area chefs were paired with breweries for special tastings.

Obviously a ton of other beers won awards and might be among another attendees' favorites. Colorado, by the way, had a pretty strong showing overall, though no Colorado Springs breweries netted awards this year.

As I gather my thoughts, reaching deep into the back of my mind (and maybe my throat, where I could likely still find some traces of nutmeg and clove from all the pumpkin ale I sampled), why don't you enjoy this brief slideshow, and we'll meet back here afterward for some unpacking of those images.

... Great, you're back. Let's chat a bit about what you saw in that slideshow.

First, you saw the awesome 10-beer menu at the media luncheon, which is quite a treat. The Brewers Association and GABF folks, following a quick talk by Gov. John Hickenlooper and then a series of presentations by featured brewers, relays a bunch of beer statistics about the festival, craft brewing at large and issues facing the brewing world.

During this, the 30th and fastest-selling-out year of the GABF, with 466 featured breweries (the largest selection of American beers ever served) ... a large focus was on federal excise tax bills.

What? Politics at a beer-centered luncheon ... who can drink over such cumbersome topics?

Sometimes the label really sells the beer.

Journalists, beer bloggers and the like, that's who.

The short of it is that the beer folks would like to recalibrate the tax structure for small brewers via House and Senate bills H.R. 1236 and S. 534. They say this will help create jobs and growth within the industry, to the tune of $153 million in economic activity within the first year and around $865 million in the first five years, according to an impact study by Harvard University's Dr. John Friedman.

They believe this could create 4,400 jobs in the first year and around 300 jobs annually from then on.

Next in the slideshow, you saw some beer samples we tried during a quick media tour of new breweries in Denver, including Ale House at Amato's and Denver Beer Co. . Then it was on to the festival, with all those quirky drinkers dressed up in fun get-ups.

We spent a good deal of time in the farm-to-table pavilion, a $55 upcharge on top of the general $60 session charge. (Disclosure: We were comped as media.)

I won't for a second pretend that this isn't a pricey, fairly exclusive feature of the GABF, but for those willing to pay the price, the farm-to-table pavilion is a pretty awesome experience. Some of Denver and Boulder's top chefs and restaurants are on hand, offering reprieve from pretzel necklaces in the form of super-gourmet appetizers. Think: fresh oysters, pate, sashimi tuna, duck confit, sweetbreads, rabbit, sturgeon and much more.

All of this is paired with special beers not available out in the general session (like anyone would notice, with 2,300 freaking other choices), from esteemed breweries like Dogfish Head and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.

My favorite bites of the night: From Alex Seidel and Fruition, a pork skin, bacon and Marcona almond brittle with flourless chocolate cake and espresso bread pudding. And from Denver's Lola and executive chef Duane Walker: chile cured tuna poke tostada with grilled pineapple and wasabi avocado.

Anyway, I could go on and on, belaboring you with beer descriptions, but again, that would only represent a tiny fraction of all the beer flavors available at the GABF. It is beer mecca, brew nirvana, ale paradise, lager loveland and barrel-aged bliss. (I was going to go for "fermented fantasy-land, but wasn't sure if that was pushing too far.)

The real point is, if you love beer and haven't yet been: Go. If you've been, go again.

We're so lucky to live so close to such an overwhelming and fun event.

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