Friday was by far the busiest day that I experienced during the 2017 Great American Beer Festival.

I got up around 7 a.m. to eat some breakfast and get a bit of work done before I left for the hour drive to Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder. The brewery invited me to do a tour of its facility and I did not want to get there late, or at least not as late as I normally am.

As I pulled up to the brewery I saw a huge line of at least 200 people waiting outside, and remembered that Avery was holding its Cellar Sale at the same time and was still shocked at the number of people that were already in line.

After making my way inside, I met up with my tour guide, who ended up being Travis Rupp, the special projects manger for Avery, a job he has held since 2012.

As the name implies, he runs the division that produces the special releases for the brewery, including everything from the Ancient Ales Series to the insanely popular Barrel-Aged Series. While the tour of the brewery was fairly standard—as just about any tour of any brewery is wont to be—having someone like Rupp there to explain things was extremely interesting, to the point where I really wish I could have stayed longer than I did.

One of the coolest things we did was visit the barrel holding room, basically where barrels are filled and kept before being moved to Avery’s more permeant barrel aging building. Here, Rupp opined on all sorts of subjects, from some of the new projects he has coming down the pipes—i.e. a lot—to how long each of the brewery’s most popular beers are typically aged in barrels.

He then asked if we wanted to try something a bit different and proceeded to pull the nail on a barrel from a local distillery that he was testing out with a batch of Tweak. The beer was still—i.e. sans carbonation—but even so, it seemed to be less boozy and a bit more complex then the regular version of the imperial coffee stout I had enjoyed earlier in the year.

Following an excellent ramen lunch at Avery, it was time to say my goodbyes and make my way back to Denver, where the Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX was being held. An annual event held every year during GABF, the event brings together 68 leading craft breweries in order to raise funds for the Pints for Prostates campaign.

There were two types of tickets available for the event:  the VIP tickets are priced at $165 each and include early admission starting at noon while the general admission tickets are $115 and allow attendees to enter an hour later. In addition, each attendee receives a commemorative tasting glass, shirt, program and pen. Finally, a special beer centric lunch created by Jensen Cummings of Brewed Food is also included in the price of each ticket.

As has historically been the case, tickets to the event sold out minutes after they were put online, and the participating breweries pulled out all the stops when it came to what they decided to pour. In fact, some of the standouts for me were:

  • Ozark Beer Co.’s 2017 Onyx Bourbon Double Creamy Stout
  • New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk: Michigan Winter]
  • Mikkeller Brewing San Diego’s Nurp On Wood
  • Alesmith Brewing’s Rye Barrel-Aged Vietnameses Speedway Stout
  • Weldwerks Brewing Medianoche Reserve

One of the first beers I tried was Perennial Artisan Ales’ Barrel-Aged 17, an 11.5 percent ABV imperial mint chocolate stout that has been aged in barrels that previously held Rittenhouse Rye for more than a year and conditioned on cocoa nibs, dried peppermint and Madagascar vanilla beans. While I have always been a fan of the regular 17 stout, the time spent aging in barrels does this beer a world of good, toning down the peppermint and adding some sweetness that really bumps up the overall complexity.

After wandering around and trying various other beers, I ran across a huge line for a brewery I had not heard of before named Prison City Pub & Brewery out of Auburn, N.Y.

I talked to a couple of people in the line, all of whom were adamant that the longer than normal lol me would be worth the wait, so I joined them. Six minutes later I asked for a pour of the brewery’s Barrel-Aged Wham Whams, a 12 percent ABV imperial stout aged for six months in barrels that previously contained Buffalo Trace bourbon and conditioned on both toasted coconut and vanilla beans.

To say that the short wait was worth it was an understatement, as the beer ended up being one of the best samples I tried that day-at either the Rare Beer Tasting or the GABF-it reminded me strongly of literally drinking a liquid Mounds bar.

Sadly, after talking with a representative from the brewery I learned it was a draft-only release at the moment, but they are actively working on getting I packaged.

By that time the event was winding down, so I decided to stop by a local Dallas brewery to sample some of their wares. Lakewood Brewing Co. was not pouring at this year’s GABF, but they did bring its Cuvée de Vélo, a 5.8 percent ABV mixed culture American wild farmhouse-style ale aged in French oak barrels between six months and three years.

This was the first time the ale had been poured, and I found it to be complex, creamy and slightly tart, and it ended up as the perfect way to end the event. Honestly, I can’t wait to track down some bottles when they are released in Dallas.

From the Rare Beer Tasting I drove directly to the Friday night session of the GABF, where I immediately started tracking down some of the beers I had been looking forward to. In fact, my first stop was at the Sam Adams booth, where I waited for more than 30 minutes for a pour of the elusive Utopias, a 28 percent ABV ale that has been aged in bourbon, Madeira, Carcavelos, Cognac, and Armagnac barrels. While I was not blown away by the beer, it was quite unique, and not nearly as boozy as I expected it to be based on the ABV.

I then continued walking around, trying beers such as Stone Brewing Co.’s Vengeful Spirit IPA, Great Divide Brewing Co’s Chai Yeti imperial stout and Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s Oil of Gladness barrel-aged barleywine.

Close to the end of the Friday session, I decided to attend a talk by Travis Rupp, whom I had talked to earlier in the day. He is not only Avery’s special projects manager, but is also a professor at nearby University of Colorado, where he teaches courses in Greek and Roman archaeology, art history, Egyptology, and Roman history.

His discussion was fascinating, and included pours of three different Avery beers, all of which were produced using similar ingredients as well as some of the same processes that the ancient civilizations did:

  • KhonsuIm-Heb conditioned on dates and doum fruit
  • Ragnarsdrapa, which was a recreation of a Viking ale and was inspired by ninth century Norse brewing techniques
  • Pachamama, which was brewed with yellow corn

After Rupp’s seminar was over, I returned to the floor of the GABF, and roamed around a bit, trying different beers that caught my eye, mostly those that did not have much of a line. I then decided to try and get back to the hotel a bit early to try and catch up on work as well as get some sleep for the next day’s events.