The second day of the 2018 Great American Beer Festival was very different from the first, if only because I spent most of my time either at the event or within the Denver city limits. There were more beers to try—at two very different events, more on that below—more people to talk to and more new things to see.

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

That would be the Collaboration Competition Booth, a separate section dedicated to pouring and showing off the entries of the new Collaboration Competition, which included 48 collaboration beers evaluated in a best of show format. While it was nice to be able to walk around the booth and try most of the different beers—including Mother’s Milk, an 11.6 percent ABV imperial milk porter aged for nearly one year in rye whiskey barrels with sea salt that was a joint effort between Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Creature Comforts Brewing Co.—it was basically just a few different tables located on its own, so not all that visually interesting.

What was the best beer you tried?

Although I loved the Coconut Marshal Zhukov’s Russian Imperial Stout—which was originally released earlier this year in 12-ounce cans exclusively for members of Cigar City’s El Catador membership club—I actually had a tie for the best beer of the day.

The first was Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Paravanilla, a draft-only version of its extremely popular Parabola imperial stout that was aged in Willett Rye whiskey barrels with Madagascar and Indonesian vanilla beans that kicked in about 15 minutes; while the second beer was Abnormal Beer Co.’s Barrel-Aged All the Lights, a 13.6 percent ABV “Coffee Nutella Imperial Milk Porter” that was a collaboration with Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing and brewed with barrel-aged Mostra coffee beans.

What was the most interesting or unusual beer you tried during Friday’s GABF session?

At the end of the night, there was one beer that stuck with me as my choice, something I knew virtually from the moment I tried it for the first time. As I was running around, I had been drinking a number of stouts and porters in a row and decided I wanted to change things up a bit with a sour beer of some sort. It turns out I was right in front of the Avery booth, so I decided to try one of the brewery’s Barrel-Aged Series from 2016. That beer was Scarlata Cucumis, a 5.4 percent ABV blonde sour ale aged in neutral oak barrels and conditioned on cucumber and hibiscus.

I thought it sounded interesting, but I was not prepared for just how harmonious the profile was, with each flavor not only easily recognizable but also perfectly balanced. In fact, it was so good I am making it a point to try and track some down the second I get home.

What did you do other than wait in line for small samples of beer for hours on end at GBAF?

Somewhat ironically, the answer to this question is: I waited in line for small samples of beer at another event. Of course, this was not just any event, but the Denver Rare Beer Tasting 10, an annual event held every year during GABF that brings together 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.

As in years past, there were two types of tickets available for the event: the VIP tickets included early admission starting at noon while the general admission tickets allowed attendees to enter an hour later. In addition, each attendee received a commemorative tasting glass, shirt and program as well as lunch.

While I purchased the regular admission last year, this year’s event had a number of beers I really wanted to try that I knew would most likely not last the VIP session, which turned out to be correct.

The beer I was most looking forward to—and incidentally, the best beer I tried during my entire five-day trip this year—was Side Project Brewing’s Derivation Blend #9, a 15 percent ABV imperial oatmeal stout blended from beers aged in rum barrels, BLiS maple bourbon barrels, cinnamon whiskey barrels and Willett bourbon barrels before being infused with freshly ground cinnamon and Vermont maple syrup. To say this was an amazing beer would be an understatement, as it tasted like a thick, chocolate version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Other standouts I tried during the event included Jester King Brewery’s Atrial raspberry farmhouse sour—always a personal favorite—Forager Brewery’s Nillerzzzzz imperial stout aged in bourbon and rye barrels with vanilla beans from five different origins and Cerebral Brewing’s Barrel-Aged Ancient Ruins – Rocky Road, a 14.4 percent ABV imperial chocolate stout aged for 19 months in Breckenridge bourbon barrels and conditioned on cacao nibs from the Dominican Republic, marshmallows, vanilla beans and almonds that tasted just like Rocky Road cereal.

However, one of the best things about the event was the time I was able to spend a bit of time one on one with various brewers and people from the breweries that were present, including Neil Fisher from Weldwerks Brewing Co., Adam Avery from Avery Brewing Co., Austin Jevne from Forager Brewery and Averie Swanson from Jester King.

What surprised you about the event compared to last year?

It seemed to me that the lines took noticeably less time to get through for the vast majority of beers, even for heavy hitters like the aforementioned Paravanilla and Barrel-Aged All the Lights, despite the fact that it was Friday night.

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

Interestingly, the longest line I stood in Friday—a total of 13 minutes and 12 seconds to be exact—was Rhinegeist Brewery, where I tried Feeling Good, a 7 percent ABV “hazy IPA.”

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

Well, it is not every day you see a man in an elephant mask playing the saxophone while dancing with a man dressed in an American flag outfit.

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