Sunday, October 30, 2011

Being There Part II

Well, I need to empty my brain for Part II. If this was in time and in sequence, then I'm a bit buzzed already, but with the excitement and adrenalin, I'm going strong.

Among the second half highlights were the Dogfish Head end cap, which had many offerings, and we all tried different ones and shared due to the long lines. None were memorable, but all good.

My brother and I took time to attend the You be the Judge area. There we had a ticket along with 25 or so others. The session was led by two experienced beer judges. They took us through their process of judging, with actual scorecards and samples of the beers within known styles.

The first was Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, a standard for it's style. We agreed before it was revealed that it did fit the profile nicely. Some people found weird tastes, but all that proved was that their palates were off. The other tasting was an IPA, again solid if only on the boundaries of some of the factors (color, nose, taste, body, etc.).

We located one of my targets - Funkworks, a Saison-only brewer in Colorado, and they had Imperial version of their standard Saison (higher in both abv and flavor), both of which were excellent. We also hit Boulevard, Cigar City (which really has some unusual tries), and The Bruery, the latter had limited selections based on timed releases. One might check there first to see the timings from this excellent Belgian style brewer.

At the end I essayed the Store, with a mere 15 minutes til close. It was a massive wall of tee shirts, hats, and such. Each buyer had a dedicated rep, who was served by the wall people, I got my few items and zinged out.

We walked about 5 blocks after release in a moderately cool night to a ritual burrito joint, and managed to navigate the bus system home.

In all the GABF remains the quintessential beer tasting. With stamina and perseverance you can sample upwards of 60 one oz. samples in your 4 hours, all beer lovers should try it at least once.

It's most fun to share and compare with friends, and in my case family - I'm lucky to have such a caring brother. Thanks Dave!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Being There Part I

If getting there was a relative snap, being there is a challenge. With 465 brewers with booths serving up to 2,400 different beers, you have to have a plan. We did, and that was one reason my brother wanted me there.

Crucially, a map is provided online within 2 weeks of the start. I noted immediately that the entrance is very near the GABF store, and figured I could buy the swag I needed at the end so as not to carry it around (it was a close call, more on that later).

Right off the entrance we had targeted the California section, specifically 21-st Amendment and Alesmith at booths A2 and A4. 21-st Amendment cans their beers, and we got a taste of a few, none particularly memorable, but the crowds from entry were so immense, we slid past Alesmith and decided to head north, toward the Goose Island's in the Group C teens.

During this Friday session, all brewers had at least 4 offerings, many 6 or more, and one had their whole lineup (see ahead)! So you had to be selective. We tended to try a few (2-3) at each location, and started with some heavier brews (like Porters and Stouts, etc.), so it was a welcome relief when we hit our first biggie, New Glarus @ D18. They were pouring their Raspberry Tart (which won another gold in it's category) and that was very refreshing. They were also serving their Black Top, a black IPA that also won in it's category. Loved it, quite a distinctive roasty malt with a very fresh hop to it (I was able to buy it when I returned). Nearby, we spied the Allagash booth, always a favorite, and they were pouring a version of their coolship offering. This is a style invented in Belgium, where the natural yeast is allowed to ferment the beer, usually resulting in a sour tone. This was no exception, one my favorites at the show, perfect sourness with a modest malt backbone, very refreshing too. I can't remember it's name, but I don't think you will find it anywhere, a one time try :(.

I had specifically targeted in my mind if not the map the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery at E14, famous for it's IPA, in this case a version on offer but with some fruit, quite good, but the star was a beer called LSD, an Herb and Spiced beer, with lavender prominent. It won a Silver, so glad we tried it. Intriguing! The other side of group E was southwest beers, so we tried a bunch from Austin, many unusual and outstanding. Had a soured Dubbel if you can believe it, not great but interesting.

The Brewery Guild pavilion in the middle of the floor was offering many unique beers from many different areas, my brother made a point of going there several times.

About 90 minutes in, we lost our two compatriots (temporarily), and Dave and I went into the panel discussion in the Brewers Studio Pavilion. There were three folks sitting around a raised dais with microphones, and an audience of 35 or so sitting. I'm not sure who the other two were, but I recognized Garrett Oliver on the right, from Brooklyn Brewery. He was flogging his new book and speaking about beer in olden times, like around the Revolution. We sat and were offered several tastings of something from Brooklyn quite good, I think it was called Confluence. The most beneficial part was the time taken to rest our legs for a few minutes, quite a relief.

From there we slid over to the mecca of Shorts Brewing, which had an end-cap position @ K on which they displayed some 25 taps, most all of their ongoing offerings. It should be noted these guys don't care about style, that is they make all styles and then some, and all are well made. They are located in the Upper regions of Michigan, and don't export their beer outside the state. I was able, however, to try some when they were here in 2010 for Chicago Beer Week, thus my targeting this place. Here we tried their Bloody Beer, very much like drinking a fizzy Bloody Mary. They make a beer called Key Lime Pie that is the bomb. I will quote their website on another of my favorites:

Nicie Spicie - A Northern Michigan spiced wheat ale made with a 50/50 blend of malted barley and malted white wheat. Packed with fresh citrus zest, then spiced with coriander and a three peppercorn blend, this light bodied ale is complex yet scrumptious. Exemplified by its gorgeous golden color, this beer is crisp and refreshing.

The combination of the peppers and coriander is very interesting, it's not so spicy you think it will burn your mouth, but it dances on your senses for a long time.

Sometime during this hour we found our other friends, and entreated them to join us at Shorts. All told we spent upwards of 45 minutes sampling every beer on offer from Shorts. They were our star of the show.

Next up Part 2

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Getting There

I managed to get to the 2011 GABF due to good circumstances. I snagged a one week visit to Fort Worth for my current client, the week that the GABF was held! As a result, I flew to DFW on Sunday, worked 4 hard days, and a few hours on Friday, before getting on a mid-day flight to Denver.

Our session started at 5:30pm on Friday. As noted before, I told my brother (who did pay for my ticket, thanks!!) I would never go again on a Saturday session.

My brother and sister-in-law kindly picked me up at the airport and we proceeded directly to "the cousins" home (who for privacy reasons will go unnamed). They live in a nice section of Denver which is a converted Air Force base.

Their home is within walking distance to a bus line, which runs relatively quickly downtown. We caught the bus around 4pm, and on this short half hour ride I discovered that our tickets were not purchased until Monday - only 4 days ago!? On top of that the tickets were purchased via Craigslist from a guy on the East Coast!! (I had planned my visit some 3-4 weeks prior so I had thought the tickets were in hand shortly thereafter). I was a bit flummoxed at this news, however it was explained to me and proven at the site that tickets are relatively available, even though the show does sell out.

In any event, we had tickets and arrived in front of the site with maybe 25 minutes to spare. I had scoped out the food carts in advance, and we decided on an Argentinian sandwich prior to entry, a good solid choice. It would alleviate the need for food until we departed the session.

With the long line that snakes around the convention center, it took us some 20 minutes after opening to enter. On line I chatted with a guy from Houston about the micro-beer scene, and I saw a guy in front of me with a Finch's shirt (a relatively new Chicago brewer) but Finch's wasn't in attendance at this Fest. hmm. We also spoke with a volunteer who suggested we focus on one style of beer to taste. We did not heed this advice, and I'm glad we didn't.

After scanning our tickets, and turning these over to the glassware folks, we were in! All in all, a safe and secure entry to the world's biggest beer tasting, and we had a posse of four to enjoy the offerings.

(next time - We're in! What do we do now?!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

GABF Winners

Well, it's all over except for the shouting! We did get to taste some winners, but before a full review here are some random thoughts -

1. It might be worth sticking around the GABF for a couple of days, maybe even volunteer, because with some 2,000+ brews on hand it was impossible within a single 4 hour session to taste more than say 50 or so. By the way, 50 oz. with the high abv is like drinking a 6 pack. We did take a bus and walk a bit on the way home, no casualties.

2. It is an overwhelming experience, and it is the best way to try what you have not tried before from around the country, e.g. Cigar City, Minneapolis
Town Hall Brewery, etc..

3. Friday - a superior choice to Saturday. I've written about our Saturday experience before, and while solid, this Friday session was outstanding. Most noticeable, each vendor had 5-6 offerings, versus maybe 2-3 on a Saturday. Not to mention the End Caps, like Shorts who brought everything (some 15-20 beers). Much easier to be selective. Also, the booths were much better manned, faster and more knowledgeable service, I think many vendors go home after the Saturday afternoon session, and therefore skip Saturday eve.

4. Many one offs that we'll never see again, but well worth it. The highlights - a coolship offering from Allagash, the LSD from Minneapolis Town Hall ( which won a Silver award), and a soured Belgian dubbel from an Austin brewer I have forgotten.

5. This year there were a few scheduled side sessions. As you age, getting off your feet for a few moments, and listening to the likes of Garrett Oliver or a certified Cicerone, is crucial.

6. Fun, lots of happy slightly buzzed folks enjoying the moment. Chatted with more than a few, I remember the couple from Indiana, the guy who was as amazed as I at the sour tasting we stood at.

Plus we made another side trip to Avery - wow, more on all of this soon.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anticipations for the GABF

Though I might be more like a Savor guy, that is older and wiser about beer and a need to avoid large rabid crowds, I will be attending my second Great American Beer Fest in Denver a mere two weeks from now.  My brother obtained the tickets, and the timing worked out for me.  While I attended my first in 2009 with him and cousin Daniel, they both went last year as well.  We had some learnings from both.

One learning that I will follow absolutely, including this one, is avoiding the Saturday evening (last) session at all costs.  In 2009 we attended the Saturday session (there is one on Saturday afternoon for industry participants, that one I would attend if I could).  Our session seemed to bring out all the frat boys who made it a bit crazy.  Not the worst part, however, the worst part was that most of the booths were down to the dregs, like a party where it's almost over and the host pulls out the Blatz (no longer Milwaukee's finest!) that has been in the back of the fridge since last Christmas.

Another learning is to make a side trip to Avery, in Boulder, as they pulled out some special brews not to be seen beyond their little brewery pub.  And tastings were emphasized, that is small pours for quite little ($2-$3 bucks a pop).

Finally, the session itself is long, 5:30 to 10pm I believe, far too long to be sampling constantly, and this year the organizers have added lots of side sessions (ala Savor) at the pavilions that seem interesting and worthy of attendance.  This will be a good break, and allow for better consumption patterns.

All in all, a beer lovers mecca with over 2,200 different beers served, and some swag to boot.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Musings on Fort Worth

I have spent at least one week per month since March in Fort Worth, Texas for work with a local company that is growing and needs much assistance, from me a Management Professional. I do enjoy teaching people how to do things right. Never had a complaint afterwards.

In any event among my travels I have found a few gems in the Fort Worth area.

The first that comes to mind is the local NPR station, KXT, a progressive Rock station, or that's my take on it. Lots of vintage tunes, not the anthem rock you here on most oldies, but solid tunes from the classics to Texas rock to plain progressive. It manages to hit the right notes that I find in Chicago-land from WXRT, without the commercials which is a great relief. Always worth popping on the car radio. With online availability, I may make this my go to....a quote on the home page says it all, "The Doors, The White Stripes, and Bob Marley all in one set, just another reason I love @kxtradio."

I can't think of one beer mecca here, but I do like the Flying Saucer. It has a nice bar food lineup, is easy to find in downtown Ft. Worth, has about 80 taps if memory serves. Usually a good local selection, Rahr and Sons, etc. and $3 pints for Texas brews on Sunday, worth a special trip that day. Ginger Man is very good as well, more contained, but try sitting outside at the Flying Saucer on a lazy Sunday afternoon and you can watch the day go by in heavenly bliss.

There is a great deal of good basic barbecue, the kind where you get a two meat platter with 2 veg and cornbread for $12, a pretty standard go-to for lunch or dinner. Though Tex-Mex abounds there is not a whole lot of real Mexican that I've found in a limited time here.

One place I don't miss on my trips is a Chinese place called Szechuan. Their menu has hundreds of items with many variations, from Mu Shu to black beans sauce dishes to hot and spicy. I good place to come if you crave seafood. Another is the Japanese restaurant Tokyo Cafe. Very inventive Sushi chef, recently went and tried a pork fat appetizer, like the fatty part of bacon, lightly grilled, delicious. Pigged out one evening by telling the chef to give me his choices up to $40, I was amazed and bloated afterwards. Just lovely, fresh, and different.

Finally, a parting shot. When I have enough time prior to an airline departure back home, there is a restaurant in the A terminal of the DFW airport that kicks. It is a small chain seafood spot called Pappadeaux's. They have nailed the sauces to go with really nice seafood that will kick your ass. Last time I had a crab cake with a buerre blanche and capers sauce that was sublime.

I hope the heat will be off soon and my remaining trips will be cooler. It is a delightful area.