Concerning a Trip to What is Called the Great American Beer Festival

  •  60,000 people are really loud
  • Sour beers are the new IPA,; you’re welcome
  • Sampling limits should be abolished
  •  Why don’t they move this festival around, like the Super Bowl? 

In the beginning, called by some 1981, when the world I know began to take shape, in the time when Def Leppard was bringing on the heartbreak and AC/DC was just getting back in black, when the decibel levels of music were rising to properly acceptable levels, a mythical figure liberated countless people from slavery to a post-Prohibition yellow beverage that had encompassed the country. This modern Moses is called Charlie and his exodus evidently ended in Denver, Colorado. There was much rejoicing. So much, in fact, that the freed slaves decided there should be a festival at that location every year for all that generation and newly liberated types to commemorate the exodus. Eight years ago I journeyed to this soiree in the Rockies and I went back this year. And there was much rejoicing. It was the Great American Beer Festival. Here’s a thing I noticed: as more come to commemorate the release from taste-neutral beer, the decibel levels at the event have risen commiseratively. To be sure, I have been and ever shall be a believer in this axiom: if it’s too loud, you’re too old. To be more sure, that proverb is turning its serpentine head on me these days as my ears become sensitive. As Brick would say, “loud noises!” I mean, blood oranges, sixty thousand people generate a stentorian buzz! Speaking of blood oranges, by the way, Revolver Brewing from Austin, Texas, tapped Sangre Y Miel at GABF and I thank their representative for being Texas friendly and steering me to their line in an unabashed fashion to sample it. The beer was tart and winey and sour.

Speaking of sours, you’re welcome, craft beer world. As I noted gallantly above eight years ago I came to this festival and wandered from table to table searching for lambics or krieks or goses, anything that would make me pucker, not in hops bitterness fashion, but in wild fermentation glee. There were approximately two beers that fulfilled this mission for me. (Cuvee de Tomme, from Lost Abbey or Pizza Port, being one of them; see, sours were so rare I remember one specifically !) I loved sour beers then. I’ve been trying to get them since I started drinking craft. The rest of the silly country has been giving themselves IV’s of hops and blazoning the virtues of IPAs and double IPAs and imperial triple ludicrous speed IPAs. Ha! My prescient palate eschewed such things and sought more sophisticated sensory input. And what did I find this year? The aether of the beerosphere was paying attention to my taste. This year, every brewery I visited had a saison or a farmhouse ale or a soured this or that. In fact, Real Ale Brewing, also from Texas (this coincidence happened because I chose to drink beers from Texas and Pennsylvania only), made what is now my favoritest beer ever, Tenebrae Aeterna. I can’t even pronounce that name, can barely spell it, but went back for more than one sample of that deliciously soured porter. I have long loved porter beers and to find a sour one is a dream I didn’t even know I had. The beer was splendid; dark, of course, as it should be, black in the artificial light of the coliseum. It still had the slightly charred ashen taste I covet, this time delightfully spoiled, tart, acidulous. Roasted grain soaked in a wine-vineagar. It was like, well, standing in line with sixty thousand people for forty minutes in anticipation – frustrating, annoying, blissful. It’s the butterflies in your stomach as you wait in that line, hoping that the stupid scanner the ticket checkers hold is not going to have a problem reading that QR code on your smartphone screen since that is your ticket and you don’t want to have an argument with the person holding the scanner, insisting that you do belong there while trying to find and unfold that anachronistic paper ticket you shoved in your pocket with all the other detritus from your long trip. Yeah, like that. There was another fantastic sour beer, a gose from Texas Beer Refinery. It was Gulf Coast Gose and was made with sea salt. What a terrific ingredient for a gose! I love sea salt in spice rubs for grilling, and it could be tasted in just the right proportion in this beer. This is right behind the sour Porter in terms of beers I want again. So, once again, you’re welcome craft beer world. My taste buds presaged your current fad. I can’t wait to discover the Craft World’s new taste. What style shall become nascent next? How about … free beers for Bottled Roger?

As with any beer festival sampling cups were provided. One is plastic, for the use of the hoi polloi and the other is glass, reserved for members only. Yeah! I attended both as commoner and as uncommoner. Thus, I have both special sampling devices. Am I not special? Exactly, I am not. Anyway, both cups have a six ounce capacity. (Yes, I did measure it myself). A line is inscribed on the cups, marking a one ounce pouring limit. That is only seventeen percent of the capacity. I guess I understand this imposition but I am not a fan of it. It’s hard to get an in-depth perception of a beer via one ounce. I would like to have more than one ounce. Well, I did get more than one ounce when I went back and drank a beer a second time, but I also want to try as many beers as possible. What I have noticed is that when the brewers themselves pour, they don’t seem to pay strict attention to the line. They pour their beer and they want you to drink it and they give you some details about it. Some are better at this exposition than others, too. Some just provide dry infodumps, like the technobabble that is ubiquitous in a bad episode of Star Trek: Voyager; others display Asimovian glee as they clearly delineate the laws of their liquid creations. Anyway, the point is that usually you get a little more suds from the makers. The volunteers, on the other hand, while lovely and nice people, tow that one ounce limit line strictly, in Vaderian fear, apprehensive of a Force-choke from the festival overlords if they over pour.

One other point: I like Denver. It is a city full of good beer. And I guess the mythical figure of Mr Charlie Papazian lives thereabouts and this beer festival is his. Wouldn’t it be cool, though, if it moved around the country? It could rival the Super Bowl. Cosmopolitan metropolises could vie for the honor of hosting the most esteemed of beer festivals. Plus, maybe it would hit Phoenix one year and that’s only three hours away from me. So, come on, let’s go for that. 

GABF rules!

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A Glass of Friday – Shiner Black Lager by Spoetzl Brewery

Word is that the Spoetzl Brewery, maker of the Shiner line of beers, took some medals at this little beer fest we call the Great American Beer Festival.  Wish I could’ve been there.  That implies that I wasn’t there.  That implication is utterly veracious.

Upon reading that my favorite Texas brewery (for now, since I haven’t really had other Texas beers – what a horrible phrase to have written!  My very knuckles feel cursed after keyboarding such heresy!) won gold medals, I forthwith decided it was time for a series of Friday Glasses featuring the Shiner beers.

That Smell …
It smells like yellow fruit.  No, not lemons.  Nor is it honeydew melons.  No, as Yoda said, “there is another.” Hmmm.  I also sense some light marshmallow-ness.

In Appearance …
It is nicely dark, if not really black, like – no, better stop there else I could get myself into trouble.  Suffice to say it was nebulous with a red dwarf star embedded in its core somewhere.  The head was very light brown and creamy. The creaminess was foreshadowed by the marshmallowy aroma.  This, in turn, foreshadows the texture noted below.

But the Taste …
Hold on, hold on – it tastes creamy!  Honestly, the soft and billowing mouthfeel made me think of fresh cinnamon rolls with fluffy whipped cream-like icing.  Just the mouthfeel, mind you.  I did not taste any kind of cinnamon.  It tasted like burnt 7Up.  It is also athletically smooth, not pudgy.  It’s a beautiful body with a transcendent , slick, carbonated aftertaste.  Whssst & gone, that’s what it was like.

Join Me For A Plate Of …
The Black Lager is perfect with stew. The roared meat and roasted grains are like two Vulcans in a mind meld. Harmonious. It tasted even better with brownies. Yes, you heard it here:  brownies are better than dead cow.

The Conclusion Of The Matter Is …
Black Lager is my favorite of the Shiner beers thus far.  The texture sold me, it was such a southern belle as opposed to an outlaw.

A Glass of Friday – Shiner Marzen-Style Oktoberfest by Spoetzl Brewery

Word is that the Spoetzl Brewery, maker of the Shiner line of beers, took some medals at this little beer fest we call the Great American Beer Festival.  Wish I could’ve been there.  That implies that I wasn’t there.  That implication is utterly veracious.

Upon reading that my favorite Texas brewery (for now, since I haven’t really had other Texas beers – what a horrible phrase to have written!  My very knuckles feel cursed after keyboarding such heresy!) won gold medals, I forthwith decided it was time for a series of Friday Glasses featuring the Shiner beers.

Even though this is November I will be drinking a beer named after two other months, namely March and October.  Livin’ on the edge!

In Appearance …
It be looking like perfection.  It seems that for many years the mainstream image of a beer is a fizzy yellow libation in a mug.  But for Crafters* I believe the image is different.  I think it’s this beer, or, to be more specific, this style of beer.  It’s mango-tango or clementine in color, a beautifully clear orange kind of color.  A slightly off white head sits atop it, like some kind of giant mushroom.  And it’s in a pint glass.  Orange is the new yellow, to corrupt a stupid modern saying.

That Smell …
Did some M&Ms take a dunk in this beer?  And were they loaded on brandy?  And there seems to be a small aroma of, maybe, Roman Meal – I mean, bread.

But The Taste …
Dang, it tastes yellow.  No, more caramelly than yellow.  Does that even make sense?  No.  All right, fine, I got nothing.  I am totally without inspiration right now.  Fine, it’s like the Dallas Cowboys.  I hear people say they are spectacularly talented, just like the judges say this beer is medal worthy.  I want to believe.  I taste hints of greatness within the beer.  There’s a suavity it gains as it warms.  Sometimes it seems mediocre, though.  Unlike with the Cowboys, however, I will trust what the judges of GABF say – this is a good beer, I just ain’t educated enough to dig it yet.  As far as the Cowboys, well, whatever, I still watch cuz I am Texan, but …

Join Me For A Plate Of …
I have no idea.  Sorry.

The Conclusion of the Matter Is …
Will I drink this again?  Duh, of course I will.  Was it worth drinking this time around?  Duh, of course.  Let it warm up before you drink, because, seriously, this drink gets way better the warmer it is.

*A note on the word “crafters.”  You know how Star Trek fans are sometimes called Trekkies?  And the so-called hard-core Trekkies insist that they should be called Trekkers, because, I guess, it sounds more “official” or what-not.  So, using similar logic, I will call craft beer drinkers and enthusiasts “Crafters.”

A Glass of Friday – Shiner Blonde by Spoetzel Brewery

Word is that the Spoetzl Brewery, maker of the Shiner line of beers, took some medals at this little beer fest we call the Great American Beer Festival.  Wish I could’ve been there.  That implies that I wasn’t there.  That implication is utterly veracious.

Upon reading that my favorite Texas brewery (for now, since I haven’t really had other Texas beers – what a horrible phrase to have written!  My very knuckles feel cursed after keyboarding such heresy!) won gold medals, I forthwith decided it was time for a series of Friday Glasses featuring the Shiner beers.

Since my last beer was a British blonde it seemed appropriate that this week I should try a Texan blonde.

In Appearance ..
It’s very fizzy, bubbly, champagne-ish.  The yellow is very bright.  The white collar is foamy and bouncy.  Bright and gorgeous and alluring it is.

That Smell …
Just like you’d expect a Texas blonde – a little earthy, slightly harsh.  It’s grain and hops, to be sure, in an odd conflation.  Honestly it’s not that appealing.  It smells like Boddington’s and other innocuous “pub” ales.  Maybe a tad stale?

But The Taste …
It’s light and watery (or ‘aqueous’ if you prefer the descriptor used upon a time by the snobs over at Craft Beer Radio).   Maybe there’s a bit of sugar in that body.  It’s a non-lagered pilsner without the hops.  It’s not bland, so to speak, but it isn’t overly exciting.  That’s, uh, disappointing.  No one wants a non-exciting blonde.

Join Me For A Plate Of …
Creamy potato soup with ham.

The Conclusion of the Matter Is …
Meh.  I can’t stand that word, not sure why.  But, alas, it was so appropriate I used.  It looks pretty good, it’s a better beer than most mainstream artists – uh, beers, but there’s not a whole lot to it.  It’s a fun diversion.  Move along.

Down the Double Barrel

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Throughout the years that craft brewing has been on the rise, I’ve heard the name Firestone Walker bandied about.  Not with reverence, like Lost Abbey or Dogfish Head, but certainly with respect.  I recall them winning some award a few years back at the Great American Beer Festival.  I may have tried some of their beers then, I don’t really remember.  But I know I haven’t had any since.  Part of the reason has been the inability to get them in the town in which I live.  It finally arrived, though.

I’ll just say it now, I wasn’t filled with wonderment.

I had their Double Barrel Ale.  It’s their version of a British pale.  It’s an adequate beer.   The crystal and chocolate malts come through during the initial aromatic escape upon pouring, as do the noble hops.  It’s a good mix, really, not dominated by any one smell.  The head is the right color and consistency of a good pub pale.  The collar stays throughout the life of the beer nicely floating on the body.  It’s amber in color, orangey-brown.  It reminds me a lot of a Sam Adams Boston Lager although this is not, of course, a lager.

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The body is, well – I hate to use this word from the chumps over at Craft Beer Radio but it does come to mind – aqueous, or watery.  They state that there are vanilla tones in the body along with toasted oak flavors.  But I just couldn’t find them.  It’s a standard pale.  Maybe I expected too much.  Maybe there’s so much good beer out there these days that standard isn’t really a demeaning description.  I can deal with that.

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