GABF Recap - Brain Sparging on Brewing


Sour beer, saisons, farmhouse beer, homebrewing, ramblings

October 7, 2014

GABF Recap

I just got back Monday evening from six days in Denver for GABF and as always in Denver I had a blast. I got to try an enormous amount of beers and out of all the beers I tried I only had one beer that was bad and a small handful that I didn't care for. I went to a couple events and several other breweries and bars and had a great time. We avoided a lot of the places we expected to be swamped and I'm glad we did. We were able to enjoy an onslaught of delicious beers that way. Before discussing the places and beers I want to thank Jared and Sam, our gracious hosts from Tiny Ass Brewery, and everybody who worked and volunteered to make GABF a great event. I'll highlight the places we went and, to the extent that I remember them, some of the great beers we came across.

First I'll start off with the bars:

Hops and Pie

Hops and Pie again rewarded me with delicious pizza and beer. Tuesday night they featured a Crooked Stave tap takeover that featured all sorts of delicious beers from Crooked Stave and other breweries they distribute in Colorado. Many good beers were sampled but the favorite of the bunch was Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett, an oak aged baltic porter with brett. Good stuff.

Lucky Pie

More delicious pizza here but the best item on the food menu is the fried cheese curds. Holy crap they are delicious. Had an interesting cask version of Left Hand's Chainsaw Ale (ESB) with cedar and cinnamon. Good stuff.


Small tap list but a great selection going on. I can always count on Freshcraft to tempt me with way too many beers. You know you're in for trouble with Avery Rumpkin on tap and following it with a 2009 keg of Alaskan Baltic Porter. The 2009 Baltic Porter aged really nicely with big notes of smooth roast and dark chocolate.

World of Beer

I am not a big fan of the local World of Beer location. There is a stage upstairs that directs all the sound down right in front of the bar which makes it hard to order beer, let alone have a conversation. However, they do bring in some good beers with some fun events so I try to pick times where the band isn't there. The lower downtown Denver location is nice and on Thursday they had an Upslope tap takeover. In Dallas we only get Upslope's most basic offerings--which are good--but at the tap takeover they had thirty different beers from Upslope along with a few other fun options like Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy with pumpkin spices. There was a nice Upslope blackberry Belgian pale ale and a wine barrel saison (that they claimed was sour but wasn't) that was pretty good, but the top pick was a plum cardamom rye saison that did an excellent job of balancing the plum and cardamom so you could tell each was present but neither overwhelmed the rye or yeast character.

Now on to some breweries/brewpubs:

4 Noses Brewing

This small Broomfield brewery focuses on making standard-style beers very well. Sure, there are the obligatory imperial stouts and IPAs (which are good) but their core lineup includes more simplified lager and ale styles. Their lagers are particularly solid and there are a few lagers out of the normal German and Czech styles. For as much as I am a fan of sours and saisons and all sorts of crazy beers I am also a fan of a really well constructed beer in the more traditional styles.

Wild Woods Brewery

Wildwoods is a laid back brewery in Boulder with a small core lineup and an interesting mix of seasonals and one offs. Their beers are inspired by the outdoors and each beer is constructed to acknowledge Colorado's flora and outdoorsy attitude. There are no safe bets on the menu. No IPAs with an avalanche of popular hops or flabby blond ales to appeal to the Coors drinkers. At the same time, Wild Woods is careful in its use of interesting ingredients to create well-integrated flavor profiles. Favorites here were the S'mores Stout with cocoa nibs and some sort of dark candy treatment and the Ponderosa Porter, a rye porter aged on oak and vanilla beans.

Baere Brewing Co.

Baere Brewing is a small brewery in Denver that focuses on Colorado ingredients introduced through a wide range of beers. We only stopped in for the berliner weisse, which is quite good. They offer several house-made syrups but we tried it plain. The board listed the berliner weisse as having brett and while there is a little funk to it there is no big brett character (nor should there be). The acidity was bright and citrusy. I'm not a big fan of berliner weisse as a style but this is a really good example of the style. I wish I had checked out some other beers from these guys.

The Post Brewing Co.

Post is a brewpub in Lafayette that serves up chicken with a southern feel with an interesting mix of simple but very well constructed beers that pair nicely with their fried chicken. Let's get one thing straight: this place knows how to cook fried chicken. We have some solid fried chicken in Dallas and Post blows them away. They aren't doing too bad with their beers, either. Howdy, their American pilsner, took silver in the American-style pilsner at GABF. It is flawlessly smooth but keeping things interesting with some great malt flavors.

Horse and Dragon Brewing Co.

Horse and Dragon is practically in Funkwerks' backyard in Fort Collins, tucked away on the back side of the industrial park from Funkwerks. It's a fun little place with an interesting mix of German styles and classic American craft styles. It's owned by a husband and wife team and they are genuinely concerned about making sure people have a good experience and a good beer. The stout is chocolaty and complex and the Sad Panda coffee version adds further complexity and gentle coffee flavors. I also really enjoyed the Keller Kolsch which had a really pleasant hop presence that made it an interesting take on the style.

Fort Collins Brewery

Fort Collins Brewery continues to earn its spot as one of my favorite Colorado breweries. The food, service and beer is all still excellent. If there is a better brewery in the country making smoked beers I have no idea who it is. This trip FCB offered an interesting smoked IPA with grain smoked over fruitwood (which I wrongly picked up as oak) with fruity hops to create a smoky but fruity beer rather than the earthy/piney/herbal flavor profile of other smoked IPAs I have tried. There was also a smoked marzen which had that classic rauchmalz flavor paired up with caramely malt. The pumpkin stout featured nicely balanced spices and Trend, the sour black IPA, was really interesting. The sour black IPA was moderately sour and gently bitter with dry hopping to bring back freshness in the hop flavor. Not a style I expected to see soured but it really worked well. If I had to guess I would say they toned down the bittering addition to encourage and then balance the sourness.


How much more can I gush on Funkwerks than I have in the past? I'm going to try. Several new (for me) beers were available which meant I was prepared to get my drink on. Motueka is a delicious single hopped saison with Motueka hops with a delicious citrus and passionfruit flavor. Nelson Sauvin always wins me over with the big melon and white wine flavors. Dahlia is an excellent dark Belgian ale with rich chocolate and raisin flavor. Raspberry Provincial, which won a medal at GABF, is a delicious berliner weisse with raspberries. The oud bruin is deliciously sour with big cherry and chocolate notes. My favorite was Remi's Rye, Funkwerks' pro-am beer with a big hit of rye. It's definitely on the malty side of saison with an unavoidable rye punch and citrusy yeast esters.

Ok, I will say some negative things. I am sad that Casper, the lighter saison, no longer seems to be a part of the production line. I am unsure whether White has been moved out of the production line but it also was missing from the taproom in both draft and bottle. They had Tropic King on nitro, which I ordered because my wife likes the beer and often likes nitro (neither of which am I a huge fan) and I had to say the nitro pour really ruins the beer. All the flavor is muted and it turns into a pretty boring beer. So definitely not my thing but it was worth giving a try.

River North Brewery

River North was my first stop in Denver on Tuesday where they were offering a variety of barrel aged versions of their saison. My first experience with River North was a couple years ago with Unified Theory, their barrel aged imperial white. I was hooked right away so I was stoked to try these saisons. The base saison, J. Marie, is a straightforward saison with two grains (I am guessing pilsner malt and wheat malt), one hop and saison yeast. It's a little mild on the yeast flavor for my tastes but an excellent beer for barrel aging where it can let the barrel character manipulate it without competing with too much yeast character.

J. Marie was served along side four barrel variants: whiskey; barrel & brett; white wine; and tequila. The white wine barrel version seemed to be the least favorite. It was a little too heavy on the chardonnay and the beer was lost underneath the wine and oak. The whiskey barrel version was everybody's favorite except me. It was interesting with sweet vanilla undertones but I like my saisons on the drier side so I found other beers to love. The barrel & brett version was dry and oaky with a healthy amount of funk. The wood and funk was supported by a grainy backbone that let all the complexity shine through. My favorite (and my wife's least favorite) was the tequila barrel aged version. The tequila gave the saison a drier feel and the citrusy tequila added a nice fruity element that really woke the saison up and made a very good beer excellent. The oak was more subtle in this version and although I thought the tequila was well balanced my wife and others found it too heavy on the tequila. Tequila-aged saison is definitely on my to-do list.

Another delicious beer we sampled was Barrel Blonde, a barrel aged blonde. At first I thought the idea was a wasteful way to use a barrel but it is actually a very nice beer. The base beer is malty but simple enough to let the nuances of the oak come through in a way heavier or more complex beers tend to overwhelm. Woody vanilla notes with hints of fruit made it a pleasant and interesting beer.

And last the events:

Beers Made by Walking

Outside of GABF our beer-saturated group knocked out Beers Made by Walking at Wynkoop, which was a charity event that challenged its brewers to brew beers inspired by ingredients in the brewery's native habitat. The event must have undersold because the crowd seemed light but that was a bonus for those of us who were smart enough to attend because we were able to sample as much beer as we liked. The beers included a number of unusual ingredients, many of which I had never tasted before like paw paw fruit, horehound, stinging nettle and wild carrot seed. For the sake of space and memory I'll just mention the beers that were particularly interesting:

  • Bonfire Brewing Bushwaker blonde with juniper and sagebrush. Deliciously herbal beer which, like River North's Barrel Blonde, used a simple base to let the interesting ingredients shine through. The juniper was restrained to allow the sage to intermix. 
  • Boulder Beer Co. Spikeberry Saison with dried elderberry, yarrow, prickly pear syrup and hops grown on site. An interestingly complex beer with floral, fruit and herbal character well-mixed to create a distinct saison that could easily pass as a tea-infused saison with a very complex tea blend. 
  • Breckenridge Brewery High Mountain Harvest double IPA with raspberries. What's interesting about this beer is that all the bitterness disappeared. There was an unmistakable herbal hop character to it but the bitterness disappeared. I suspect the acidity from the raspberries was covering up the bitterness but it's unusual to lose so much IBU to fruit. Even the brewers were mystified by what they had created. 
  • Copper Kettle Brewing Horehound Chocolate Stout with Hershey's syrup and horehound. Ok, I said horehound a lot while I was drinking this beer. Horehound tastes like a very anise-forward root beer, which is a very medicinal kind of flavor. In the stout it came across like licorice and mint, which was very interesting. 
  • Fonta Flora Brewery Salted Sunflower Saison. I actually didn't like this beer but I thought it was interesting. The sunflower seed flavor came through very distinctly, which wasn't too bad. The problem with the beer is that the salt was noticeable in the flavor and gave the beer a heavy mouthfeel. I think the sunflower seeds would be interesting in a beer where a nutty flavor would be more in line like a brown ale or amber ale.
  • Former Future Brewing Golden Feather Batch II brewed with peaches and lavender and aged in a sherry cask. The fruit and flower notes survived the aging very nicely and the sherry cask flavors were also prevalent. The combination of flavors produced a beer with gentle light stonefruit flavors, which is unusual in brewing where dark stonefruit is a more common flavor profile.
  • Fremont Brewing Imperial IPA with spruce tips and elderflowers. Spruce and elderflower is an interesting mix of herbal, floral and woody character. It was surprising to find these flavors well integrated into a beer that could easily overwhelm the elderflower or be overwhelmed by spruce. Fremont did an excellent job of blending hop flavor with both the spruce and elderflower.
  • Horse & Dragon Perambulation amber ale with juniper and cedar. This beer had a unique profile. The malty amber ale brought out the expected herbal juniper flavors but the fruity flavors of cedar came out more than the woody notes I often find in cedar beers.
  • Pateros Creek Brewing Hike to the Falls milk stout with juniper and sage. Another beer with the juniper and sage combination but unusually placed in a milk stout. The herbal character worked well with the chocolate and roast notes of the milk stout. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
  • Scratch Brewing Wild Carrot Seed amber ale with wild carrot seed roots and seed. I didn't know what wild carrot was (it's also called Queen Anne's Lace). The seed is actually a small fruit and it tastes like a very peppery carrot. That flavor came through in the beer and surprisingly the carrot flavor did not seem as unusual as expected. 
  • Wild Woods Brewery Roasted Root amber ale with chicory and burdock. Neither ingredient are popular brewing or culinary ingredients although you can find some coffee/chicory blends and a few chicory beers out there. Chicory has a coffee-like flavor but it is more earthy and less chocolate. Burdock, on the other hand, has a earthy root beer flavor when roasted. The combination of the two in this amber ale produced a beer with roasty, earthy and herbal flavors that was really delicious. 

Great American Beer Festival

We only attended the member's only Saturday session where we saw the award stickers go up on the beer lists. We had a plan to tackle New England and midwest beers because we have very little exposure to those but somehow we ended up spending a lot of time in the west coast regions, which was fine because we were able to find many of our favorite beers from the west coast. Overall GABF was very smoothly run and we were able to try almost everything we wanted due to the short lines. Often we walked right up and tried beers, even at breweries with significant hype.  The worst part was the line getting in. It took us about an hour from the time we parked to get in and we got there about half an hour before the doors opened. Fortunately we were able to get beer so quickly that it made up for the line. One hidden gem seemed to be the pro-am booth, where there were several excellent beers but it wasn't very easy to see where the beers came from so I had a couple of my favorite beers over there and sadly no idea who to thank for them. At any rate, here is the list of beers we tried:

  • Pro-am (unknown): sour beer with cherries; double IPA aged in tequila barrels
  • 10 Barrel Brewing P2P Stout
  • Central Waters Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter; Sixteen
  • Jack's Abby Oktoberfest; Fire in the Ham
  • Troegs Troegenator
  • Two Goats blonde doppelbock; bourbon barrel aged oatmeal stout
  • Karl Strauss Red Trolley
  • DC Brau The Citizen; Penn Quarter Porter
  • New Helvetia Thurston
  • New Holland Blue Sunday
  • Cigar City Blue Sound
  • Atwater Brewing Blueberry Cobbler Stout; Vanilla Java Stout
  • Horny Goat Oktoberfest
  • Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  • Upland Campside
  • Nebraska Brewing Co. Apricot au poivre saison
  • Allagash Coolship Resurgam
  • Saranac Pale Ale
  • Kamala Bitterama; Smoked Austoner
  • Base Camp Rye Pilsner
  • The Commons Flemish Kiss; Myrtle
  • AleSmith 2014 Old Ale
  • 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat; Monk's Blood
  • Bottle Logic Lagerithm; rice lager
  • Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta; Tripel
  • Heretic Tafelbully; Gramarye
  • Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
  • Rare Barrel Egregious
  • Societe Brewing The Harlot; The Butcher
  • Firestone Walker 17; Agrestic
  • New Belgium Leopold's Love; La Terroir
  • Deschutes Planet Rouge; Fresk Hoptoberfest; Dinkel Doppel Bock
  • St. Arnold's Pumpkinator; Bishop's Barrel 4; Bishop's Barrel 2 with brett
  • Real Ale Imperium
  • Noble Ale Works Naughty Sauce
  • Karbach Hellfighter 007
  • Lakewood Rock Ryder
  • New Glarus IPA
  • Breakside Passionfruit Sour; IPA
  • Bend Brewing Co. Salmonberry Sour
We made good use of our time. My favorites were St. Arnold's Bishop's Barrel 2 with brett, Deschutes Planet Rouge, Rare Barrel Egregious, The Commons Flemish Kiss, Heretic Tafelbully, Logsdon Tripel, Central Waters 16, Central Waters Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter and the mystery tequila barrel double IPA. The Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter was the winner out of all of them but many good beers were had.

1 comment:

  1. That looks like a solid six days and a great experience! A rye barrel chocolate porter sounds like something that would get you through the cold months of winter really well...I will have to try brewing something like that.