After almost three full days in Denver, I woke up on Saturday a bit later than Thursday and Friday—i.e. around 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.— to do a little work before things got hectic, then made my way downtown to the Colorado Convention Center for the third—and my final—session of the Great American Beer Festival.
Unlike the previous two sessions I attended on Thursday and Friday nights—as well as the later session on Saturday night, which I refuse to go to due to the sheer number of people—the Saturday afternoon session was available exclusively for members of either the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) or the Brewers Association (BA), and as such, it has historically been the least crowded session of the festival. In addition, a number of breweries hold specific beers until this time slot, so as to give the members of the aforementioned organizations a chance to try them.
What was the most interesting new thing you noticed about this year’s Great American Beer Festival on Saturday?
As I was walking around, I noticed that the seminars were in a much larger area than they had been compared to previous years and that the section was open instead of closed off with temporary walls which helped people attending the seminar actually hear the speakers. This had been a significant problem in the past, as the noise level from that sheer number of people in the convention center could get so loud that it drowned out speakers’ voices, even when they were using a microphone.
It turns out that whoever was in charge of the seminars had thought up a fairly ingenious idea: basically, they gave each person who walked into the seminar area a pair of wireless headphones very similar to the ones used for people dancing at Oskar Blues’ Silent Disco. The speakers were also given headphones and talked into a microphone that sent his words directly to the headphones of the people listening, thus cutting out petty much all of the background noise that made attending the seminars in the past so problematic.
I was fairly impressed with the solution, but it was a bit disconcerting to photograph the seminar while not being able to hear anything anyone said when I took the earphones off. According to the people running the sound board during the seminar, the system works so well that it will be the way seminars are handled going forward.
What was the longest line you stood in and what beer did you try?
That would be The Lost Abby out of San Marcos, Calif., where I stood in line for 13 minutes and 16 seconds in order to try Duck Duck Gooze, a 7 percent ABV American Gueuze-style ale that is released in “very small quantities only once every three years.” I found it to be lively and extremely complex, easily enjoyable enough to warrant standing in line for that long.
What was the best beer overall that you tried on Wednesday?
Out of the more than 20 beers I tried, there was actually a tie for two that I enjoyed the most: the first was Sixpoint Brewery’s Master Blend: Orange Cream, an 11 percent ABV barrel-aged imperial stout conditioned on blood orange purèe, orange peels and vanilla.
While I am not typically a huge fan of adding fruit into stouts—due to the fact that most breweries tend to overdo it, which in turn means that whatever fruit flavor they are playing with typically overwhelm any other notes in the beer’s profile, including the flavor of the beer itself—however; Sixpoint nailed the profile of this stout. Instead of competing with other flavors in the profile, the combination of understated orange sweetness, bitter orange peel and (very) slight vanilla sweetness enhanced the flavors of the stout itself, leading to a very enjoyable and unique experience.
The second beer that tied for first place out of the ones I tried on Saturday was Auburn, N.Y.-based Prison City Pub & Brewery’s Wham Whams, a 10.5 percent ABV barrel-aged imperial stout conditioned on toasted coconut and vanilla beans. Long-time readers of the site may remember that I rraved about this beer during my coverage of the 2017 Denver Rare Beer Tasting, and while I had not had it since then, it tasted as good as I remember, once again bringing to mind drinking a liquified Mounds bar.
What was the most interesting beer you tried?
As I was walking around looking at the different brewery’s names and what they were pouring, one jumped out at me: the American Harvest Brewpub at Schoolcraft College. Basically, as part of its curriculum, the college located in Livonia, Mich. offers student-made beer to the public at a brewpub on the premises. The students enrolled in the Brewing and Distillation Technology certificate program learn a number of things about the brewing business, including the science, operation, business and packaging of beer and spirits while also producing beer that is sold at the brewpub.
The beer I tried was named Grahams My Jam, an imperial porter conditioned on graham crackers as well as “various fruits.” While it was a bit thin on the palate and I tasted very few—if any—fruit notes, the flavor of graham crackers dominated the profile and combined nicely with the roasitness of the base porter.
What surprised you about the event compared to last year?
The sheer number of people who were waiting to get into Oskar Blues’ Silent Disco area, which—as the name implies—involves participants wearing wireless headphones and dancing to the music of a live DJ that only they can hear. At one point the person handing out the earphones to participants told me that the line was at least 45 minutes long, which is insane when each session people pay to get into only lasts about four hours.
As has been the case every year I have attended, it was fairly disconcerting to see the expressions and hear the singing of people while they danced, when all I could hear was the sound of people on the show floor dropping their tasting glasses and the announcements over the speakers.
What was the weirdest thing you saw during the Saturday afternoon session?