A Look Back at the GABF 2011 – WOW!

Marvin and I in beer sweatbands

Another year & some more amazing great beers are in the book, but it’s time to look back at the 2011 GABF to look at what was good, bad and get your liver ready for 2012.  This festival was my 3rd time going, and it gets bigger each year.  It’s tough to keep tabs on every beer you drink, although I did use UNTAPPD (like a foursquare for beer!) to tag my favorites (when I remembered).

I think what added some special flare was this year was the 30th year anniversary of the GABF, and it was cool to see the history of the festival on display in the back. The explosive growth of both craft beer & the festival has been insane.  No joke – there were only 800 people total at the original GABF.  This year – 49,000.  I’m pretty sure there were at least 800 people in line at Russian River Brewing just to try Pliny the Elder alone!  What was even cooler was they had beers that competed 30 years a go and are still being served today in a special section.  Love or hate all you want about some of the beers that were there (Rolling Rock, Rainier Ale, Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), but the tribute was great to beers that helped pave the road to today

Something that I inevitably notice is there are always a few beer styles that everyone tries to do.  With trends though, there is always a curve of the hot trendsetters and the plethora of followers who aren’t as great emulating the style.  That applies to beer styles at this year’s fesitval.  This year, Black IPA’s and Scotch Ales were all the rage.  You couldn’t escape them, and sadly, most were not my favorites.  I say that with a heavy heart too.  Don’t forget the name of this blog either.  I judge all things Scottish (even in name only) with a heavy awesomeness bias and leniency, but sometimes the answer is hard to swallow.  For the most part, the Black IPA’s seemed unbalanced – either too hoppy or the hops didn’t compliment the overall taste profile.  For the Scotch Ales, most were very aggressive on the palate, like they were missing that sweet, malty touch I would expect.  There were some great ones though.  Forgive my memory.  I was there for 3 days…

Some of my standout favorites:

  • Graham Cracker Porter (Denver Beer Co.). –  Porters are already a great style, but this had such an amazing, velvet smooth flavor
  • Kaffir Lime Wheat Beer (Denver Beer Co.) – Amazingly refreshing.  Tangy from lime but not an overpowering wheat taste
  • Chocolate Stout (Seven Brides Brewing) – Probably the best, most well-rounded beer with the name.  From the nose to the final taste, it was incredible
  • White Truffle Ale (Goose Island) – If you love truffles, well, then this beer was for you.  I was frothing at the mouth imagining the food pairing possibilities
  • Smashed Blueberry (Shipyard Brewing Co.) – Fruit beers normally are so sugary sweet, they are an instant turn-off, but this was more like a fruit brandy meets a beer.  Only a brewery from Maine could really pull this off
  • Grapefruit Jungle IPA (Sun King Brewing) – IPA’s have great citrus floral notes, and I think the addition of grapefruit was an incredible complement

With all the good, comes a few things I’d love to see for next year.  A fellow blogger had a great post about what he’d like to see improve, and I agree for the most part.  Here are a few more things:

  • WiFi:  Everyone there is trying to tweet, upload on Facebook, etc. and there is no signal love in there.  For the price if a ticket, seriously adding WiFi for three days would exponentially increase the ability for guests to upload and share the best of the festival
  • The farm to table pavilion felt like a bit of a rip off.  We had tickets in there Thursday night.  The food was top-notch & amazing, but everyone ran out of food 30-45 minutes before the session ended.  Either restrict entry or make food available until the end.  Also, the pairings were not well explained.  This is really me being more of a whiny beer snob, but nonetheless…
  • Space:  Some of the Aisles got so crowded, you could barely move through.  In some cases, there were very popular breweries in the middle with lines causing the delay
  • Exclusivity of special tappings:  Yes, we all want to know when the keg of Special Beer XX from YY brewery is going to be tapped.  Most beer fans don’t get to try those in the home cities, and having an idea of what and/or when they are being tapped might help people from congregating around already crowded booths waiting for the secret wink.

Ok.  Bitchfest over.  Don’t let that take you away from the sheer awesomeness of the #GABF.  I cannot wait for next year.  I’ll end on a bit of a beer blasphemy, with my personal advice.  Go Thursday & Friday only and avoid Saturday,even the day session for Homebrewers.  Three days is WAY too much.  You can try all the great beers you want on Thursday & Friday, before they run out, and then on Saturday, take the day off and walk around Denver.  There are enough breweries and pubs there to keep you busy.  Plus, you’ll avoid the crowds, since they are all at the festival.

See you in Denver, Oct. 11-13, 2012!

About Jason

I am a beer, whisky and whiskey enthusiast! Love cocktail lore & travel.
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