While I wanted nothing more than to sleep in a bit on Friday after the hectic starts I had on both Wednesday and Thursday, that was not to be. I had to be up around 6 a.m. in order to get downtown and stand in line for this year’s Denver Rare Beer Tasting, which was being held later that day.

What do you mean you had to stand in line, didn’t you already purchase tickets?

Indeed I did, but there was a significant change in how those tickets were distributed this year compared to previous events: while previous years have featured two different class of tickets— regular tickets and V.I.P. tickets that let attendees enter an hour earlier—this year’s event had only one ticket priced at $200 each, which allowed all attendees to enter at the same time.

Unfortunately, in order to find out what place in line you held, attendees had to line up at 8 a.m. sharp and draw numbers from a random stack of cards, then return at 11:30 a.m. to actually stand in line and gain entrance in that order. I ended up with number 143.

Wow, that sounds kind of annoying, what is this event that people would go through those lengths to attend?

Historically held during GABF, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting includes more than 75 leading craft breweries pouring their best creations—some of which are brewed specifically for the event—in order to raise funds for the Pints for Prostates campaign.

Included in this year’s ticket price was entrance to the event, unlimited beer samples, a buffet lunch, a collectible tasting glass, a custom printed t-shirt, a program and a pen. In addition, this year’s event was limited to 650 tickets sold— 24 percent few tickets compared to last year—and attendees could participate in the Brewers Health Initiative, a free men’s health screening.

This was the third year in a row I attended the event, and it was an amazing time as always. Some of the beers being served are almost impossible to find anywhere else, and the fact that you have them all in one place makes for a very entertaining time, even if you are standing in line for quite a bit of it, albeit with other people around you that share your passion.

That does sound pretty awesome, but what were some of the best beers you were able to sample this year?

I was able to try about 28 different beers, but one stood head and shoulders above the rest: Side Project Brewing’s 5 Candles, a 15 percent ABV imperial stout aged for 19 months in barrels thats previously held StilL 630 rye whiskey and conditioned on five different varieties of vanilla beans. Interestingly, there were only six kegs of this stout still in existence before the festival, and it had previously only been release on draft at the brewery’s tasting room in Maplewood, Mo. for Side Project’s fifth anniversary celebration.

Other standouts included:

  • Utopias Aged on Cherries from Samual Adams
  • 2018 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cherry Vanilla Darkness from Surly Brewing Co.
  • Sun King Brewery’s Magpie Muckle Scottish-style wee heavy aged in blackberry mead barrels
  • Weldwerks Brewing Co.’s collaboration with Cerebral Brewing named Medianoche Is My Safe Word, an imperial oatmeal stout aged in 10-year-old rye whiskey barrels and conditioned on roasted Belize cocoa nibs, organic toasted coconut and organic Indonesian cassia bark
  • Hair of the Dog’s Matt, an ale aged in bourbon and calvados barrels
  • Forager Brewery’s Millerzzzzz, an American double stout aged in both bourbon and rye whiskey barrels conditioned on maple syrup and freshly scraped vanilla beans

Were there any beers that did not live up to the hype?

For me, a good example was Bottle Logic Brewing’s Fundamental Theorem, a 20.59 percent ABV imperial stout aged for 28 months in four sets of bourbon barrels and conditioned on a blend of both Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans. It was the third beer I tried during the event, and I found it to be a bit harsh on the palate and a bit thin in terms of mouthfeel, with the extremely obvious alcohol clashing with the vanilla sweetness that was present.

What did you do after that?

I went back to the hotel and worked a bit until it was time to go to the Friday session of GABF.

What was the most interesting new thing this year about the Great American Beer Festival you noticed on Friday?

That would be the Ikon Pass Stage presented by WinterWonderGrass, a stage that featured 30-minute sets of live music during each of the four sessions. I stopped by multiple times over those three days and was rewarded each time with great music from different bluegrass musicians.

However, my favorite of the four different musicians I saw had to be WinterWonderWomen, a band made up of four women, each playing a different instrument: Bridget Law from Elephant Revival, Shelby Means from Della Mae, Courtney Hartman and Bonnie Sims from Bonnie & the Clydes.

While every song they sang was excellent—I stayed and listened for longer than I probably should have, considering all of the things I needed to cover—their rendition of the Dixie Chicks Long Time Gone was particularly inspired.

What was the best beer you tried?

While I sampled more than 25 beers over a 3 1/2 hour period on Friday night, the best I tried was More Brewing Co.’s Arketype: Coco Flux, an 11 percent ABV imperial stout conditioned on organic coconut, toasted coconut and Ghanaian cocoa nibs. Rich and decadent but not too sweet on the palate, it is a great example of the style, with both the coconut and dark chocolate notes from the cocoa nibs each very distinct in their own right.

What was the longest line you stood in, and what did you try? 

The longest line I stood in on Friday was for Melvin Brewing Co., where I tried Killer Bees, a 5 percent ABV honey ale that tasted exactly like it was described: huge honey sweetness on the nose and palate and quite enjoyable, albeit a bit linear.

What was the weirdest thing you saw during Friday’s session?