Brewers represent Summit, Eagle counties at Great American Beer Fest
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Tickets to the Great American Beer Festival’s four tasting sessions sold out in record time this year. If you were one of the lucky ones to score a pass, download the My GABF app for iPhone or Android. The app allows you to browse the attending breweries alphabetically, view the beers they are pouring, rate and add tasting notes for particular beers you’ve tried and access mini tours to sample beers by style. It also includes a detailed map of the festival and additional news from The Brewers Association. Get the app through your mobile device or at www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com.
The Great American Beer Festival will bring hundreds of breweries and thousands of beers to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver from Thursday through Sunday. We rounded up the attending breweries from Summit and Eagle counties to see what they would be entering in the festival competition, which brews they were looking forward to trying and other peripheral events, tastings and dinners throughout the metro area they were psyched about experiencing.
BACKCOUNTRY BREWERY (Frisco)
Competition beers: Double IPA, Berliner Weisse, Breakfast Stout, Imperial Saison and Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout
Suggested event: 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday — What the Funk!?, Exdo Event Center, 1399 35th St., Denver, $80 (sold out): Barrel-aged, sour and funky beers from breweries around the world.
Alan Simons, head brewer at Backcountry Brewery in Frisco, said there isn’t any particular beer or brewery that he will be seeking out at the festival but, rather, the opportunity to enjoy a full pint of beer when he can since the team is always stuck inside by their booth.
“You get to see people that you only get to see once or twice a year, coming in from across the country, and getting face time with people, consumers that you don’t normally get face time with,” he said. “Everybody tries to hit GABF. They’re long days for us, standing on concrete. It’s a good time, but it’s definitely exhausting and takes a few days to get over it. It wears you out — in a good way.”
For first-timers attending GABF, Simons suggests going with the flow. You probably won’t be able to do everything your heart desires, he said, and something else you didn’t know about might present itself.
“You can’t taste everything,” he said. “I would just go to an area that we don’t necessarily get a lot of beer from, go down the line and try what’s interesting. I would game plan specific breweries that I wanted to try and go to those, but a lot of the breweries will have lines, so it’s always good to have a backup plan.
“Even though breweries with lines have good beer, which might be worth standing in line for, I’m not a big fan of standing in line. There are lots of good beers to try without standing in line for them. But if you feel like taking a break, a line is a good thing to do.”
BONFIRE BREWING (Eagle)
Competition beers: Demshitz Brown Ale, Kindler Pale Ale, Glutart Raspberry Gluten-Free Ale, Pick Me a Winner American Dark Lager and Wood Splitter Pilsner
Suggested event: Noon to 4 p.m. Friday — Beers Made By Walking, Wynkoop Brewing, 1634 18th St., Denver, $40: Brewers go on nature hikes and make new beers that are inspired by plants from the trail; Bonfire, Breckenridge and Crazy Mountain are among more than 30 breweries participating.
Andy Jessen, co-founder and master of minutiae at Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, said this is the second year his brewery has attended the Great American Beer Festival.
“I haven’t really made a game plan yet,” he said. “I usually try to pick a style that I’m interested in trying and try as many different ones as I can. I hit every brewery that has an interesting one of those going. We’ll see, I’ll probably come up with something Thursday night.”
Jessen said the smaller festivals are a bit nicer because it’s easier as a brewery representative to talk to people and engage with them.
“With GABF, there are so many people, it’s overwhelming. You pour the beer and send them on their way,” he said. “The most interesting part of the weekend is how vibrant downtown Denver becomes. There’s a high concentration of avid beer lovers, and to have that many like-minded people in the same place at the same time creates a pretty interesting vibe.”
Bonfire will participate in a couple of events in Denver throughout the week, including a tap takeover starting at 3 p.m. Friday at the Mellow Mushroom on the 16th Street Mall, featuring three Bonfire beers paired with three small plates, and the brewery is part of Beers Made By Walking at Wynkoop, also on Friday.
“The festival had people walk around in the woods in their areas and find ingredients,” Jessen said. “We made one called the Bushwhacker with sagebrush and juniper. We’ll be tapping that at Wynkoop before the first session of GABF.”
Jessen also suggested drinking lots of water and eating before the festival and to avoid being tempted by the first tasting booth you see.
“I think there’s a mad rush to the first booth you get to,” he said. “They stop at the first booth they see, but you might consider starting at the back and working your way to the front. There’s this large mob that moves en masse. Don’t get so caught up in the overhyped beers out there. Try something you’ve never heard of rather than waiting in line for 20 minutes to try to get something that has a lot of publicity.”
Competition beers: Barrel-Aged 72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout, 471 Double IPA, Barleywine Batch #1, Oatmeal Stout, Regal Pilsner
Suggested event: Breckenridge Brewery’s Rare Beer Tour, Paramount Cafe, Marlowe’s, World of Beer, Tilted Kilt, Colorado Craft, Ale House at Amato’s and Celtic Tavern, 16th Street Mall and LoDo, Denver, pay as you go: Seven unique, rare, one-off beers on tap in seven different bars, with all locations giving away tickets to the Friday night Breckenridge-hosted Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe show at the Ogden Theater.
Everyone is always bummed because the actual tasting sessions of GABF sell out so fast and no one can get tickets, said Jimmy Walker, head brewer at Breckenridge Brew Pub, but he said it’s pretty easy to scalp tickets after each session starts.
“People are scalping tickets for face value right after the festival starts,” he said. “If you still want to go, you can go, you just can’t go the moment it starts. If you go a half hour after it starts, you can get right in. Go to Denver because all of Denver is celebrating craft beer for, like, five days; it’s nuts. Every brewery, every restaurant — they’re just going crazy. If you go to the website, you can click on fun things to do in Denver and it has a list of what every restaurant is doing every night to celebrate craft beer. So there’s tons of events all over the city every night.”
Walker also said to plan for cell service to be spotty because people trying to use their phones will overwhelm towers in the area.
“Don’t plan on posting all 200 beers you’re going to drink on Untappd because you won’t be able to get online, you won’t be able to text your friends, so plan ahead,” he said. “Don’t plan on being able to use your phone, so have a Plan B. And don’t miss the silent disco, which is freaking hilarious.”
BROKEN COMPASS BREWING
Competition beers: Chili Pepper Pale, Coconut Porter and Strong Pale Ale
Suggested event: Noon to 8 p.m. Friday — Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour, Microbrew Tours, $30 in advance or $35 day of: Get shuttled between some of the area’s top breweries; drop off, visit and drink, get picked up and head to the next stop, including Epic, River North, Our Mutual Friend, Wynkoop, Great Divide, Rock Bottom, Falling Rock, Breckenridge Colorado Craft and Stem Ciders.
This will be the first Great American Beer Festival for Broken Compass Brewing in Breckenridge and the first time co-founder and head brewer Jason Ford will be on the pouring side of the table.
“The whole thing, it’s been a dream of mine for a lot of years to be on this side of the table,” Ford said. “It took a lot of people to make it happen, but it’s super exciting to own a brewery and have some beers at GABF. The fact that I’m there and part of the festival has been a dream of mine for quite some time now.”
Having lived in Portland, Oregon, for a decade, Ford said there’s a ton of Northwest breweries that he loves and can’t get in Colorado that he will be visiting to bring back good memories.
“Ninkasi is my favorite out there, which you can’t get in Colorado,” he said. “Flying Fish has some organic ales that are fabulous. Some stuff Rogue will bring beer that you can’t get here.”
Ford suggested downloading and spending some time with the GABF app and making a plan to help navigate the festival. It’s also prudent to drink water every time you pass a water station, he said, and avoid dropping your cup so you don’t experience the shame of hundreds of people yelling a collective “Ohhhhhhh!” in your direction.
“It’ll be so much better if you have a game plan,” Ford said. “If you start wandering around, you’ll be overwhelmed. The new app is awesome. Do a little research; find the breweries you want. I find it easier to pick breweries rather than beers I want to try. It tells you where to go, how to find them. Invest some time, and you’ll have a better festival.”
CRAZY MOUNTAIN BREWING
Competition beers: None
Suggested event: 9 p.m. Thursday — WinterWonderGrass Festival pre-party, Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, Denver, free before 9 p.m.: Tap takeover with Crazy Mountain, Great Divide Brewing Co., Left Hand Brewing Co., Breckenridge Brewery; WhiteWater Ramble performs.
“We’re not big believers in beer competitions,” said Kevin Selvy, co-owner and head brewer at Crazy Mountain in Edwards. “But we’ll be pouring Sticky Fingers Fresh Hop Ale, Neomexicanus pale ale, Lawyers Guns and Money barleywine and Horseshoes and Hand Grenades American ESB.”
Selvy said he’s looking forward to seeing friends in the industry at the festival that he only gets to see once or twice a year and catch up with them.
“The best thing about GABF, there’s a ton of after-party events that we put on and sponsor around town, two or three a night all week,” he said. “It’s a good time to celebrate down in the city. … It’s a good time to see a lot of people in the beer industry, one of the few times a year when a good majority of the folks in the industry come together. I get to see friends on the East Coast and West Coast I’ve been working with for a long time that I don’t get to see that often.”
If you’re going to the tasting sessions, Selvy said to avoid Saturday night.
“It’s just crazy, it’s crowded, people are yelling and screaming,” he said. “Go as early in the week as possible, Thursday or Friday. The best thing about GABF is the events afterwards.”
DILLON DAM BREWERY (Dillon)
Competition beers: Here’s Your DAM IPA, Extra Pale Ale, Sweet George’s Brown, McLuhr’s Irish Stout, Chili Lager
Suggested event: 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday — TRVE Brewing and 3 Floyds Brewing GABF After Party with Surly Brewing Co. and Real Ale Brewing Co., The Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake St., Denver, $15: Heavy metal rock with EYEHATEGOD, Valient Thorr, Primitive Man, Call of The Void, Khemmis and Abrams.
Mike Bennett, head brewer for Dillon Dam Brewery, said as a brewer, it’s good to go to the first session on Thursday evening right when it starts and begin trying beers while many people are still at work and haven’t yet arrived at the convention center.
“A lot of the beers haven’t run out yet,” he said. “Go to the more popular booths, like Russian River, Dogfish Head, some of the newer guys I’ve been hearing about like Crooked Stave, others that are popping up everywhere. Otherwise, I like to stay behind my booth and talk to our customers and put in my time there.”
Former head brewer Cory Forster will also attend GABF on the Dam’s ticket. Forster is the new founder and brewmaster for The Bakers’ Brewery, set to open soon in Silverthorne, and he said he didn’t have a chance to enter anything in the festival competition.
“I did not have any beer ready by the time judged beers had to be there before the end of August, so that was a while ago already and I didn’t have anything ready at that point,” Forster said. “I was pretty sure I was going to be up to my neck in construction and not having any time to deal with that.”
Forster will be researching everything from new brewing techniques to new equipment to retail sales and marketing while he’s at the festival.
“As our industry blossoms, more and more there’s new technology, and I’m talking everything from the brewing side to the serving side and the packing side — new technology across the board,” he said. “There’s so much to learn. Obviously, we’ll be sampling lots of beers, seeing who’s popular and why are they so popular so suddenly. Who has the huge line?”
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