GABF and Denver, one 1oz pour and biscuit at a time

Hey Madison, Denver's got weirdly anatomical public art, too!

Breakfast on our last day in Denver was at the Denver Biscuit Company. The biscuits there are huge -- "occasion biscuits," my friend Lauren calls them -- and they're delicious. The Bloody Mary comes with a shot of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout in the cocktail, not alongside it. Our party was made up of four beer geeks and a master cicerone. And right next door was one of Colorado's now-legal marijuana dispensaries.

Denver during the Great American Beer Festival, ladies and gentlemen. This is how it do.

We didn't partake of the marijuana, but biscuits and a hell of a lot of beer filled the weekend in ways we could only have hoped for going into the trip. The flight into Denver was uneventful and right on schedule, so we had time to unload our luggage at our friends' apartment before heading out for the first of three sessions at GABF.

Yes, three sessions is a little luxurious, but my boy Kevin in particular -- having gone to two sessions last year -- really wanted to take a good whack at this thing, and I'm easily convinced when it comes to beer tastings. My final tally of tasted beers came in at a cool 150 over those three days, which doesn't average out to much more than what I was able to do at the Great Taste of the Midwest -- but the ability to sample beers that don't bottle or will never distribute even close to Wisconsin was totally worth the effort.

 "And apple butter, too," whispered the succubus.

As much worth the effort was the dent we put in this marvelous proliferation of the biscuit arts in Denver. Rise and Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe produces a fine biscuit for sandwiching, as well as some GABF-special beer biscuits. I had a great hefeweizen biscuit that really highlighted the sweetness of the beer. Sassafras American Eatery serves biscuits that are sheet pan-style, cut into squares; they're buttery and delicious, but do their best work conveying Sassafras' excellent house jams to one's face. And the aforementioned Denver Biscuit Company -- oh man. "Biscuit French toast sausage sandwich" could be the whisperings of a succubus.

There were other fine eats to be had that didn't come on or in or were comprised entirely of biscuit. A plate of crisply fried chicken wings at Row Fourteen; pizzas with impertinent names like Natalie Porkman at Lucky Pie (plus an unlikely meeting with a fellow Madisonian); international comfort-ish foods -- think bastilla, pork buns, and devils on horseback -- at the swanky Linger; massive Park Burger burgers. We ate well, my friends.

But who's kidding whom, the beer was the intended star of this show. My hopes going into GABF were twofold: hit the unavailable-in-Wisconsin all-stars, and stumble onto the unknown unknowns that are doing great work off my radar. In both aims, I call the event an unqualified success.

Inside the convention center on Day 1.

Much time was spent cycling through the lines at California heavy-hitters Russian River, The Lost Abbey, Almanac, and The Bruery.  Almanac brought some serious sours (thoughtfully, as it turns out), and the Farmer's Reserve No. 3 delivered a payload of fresh strawberry flavor. Bruery's Chocolate Rain was a timed tap, and kind of bizarre -- an ultra-sweet 18% ABV vanilla bean and cocoa nib variant of Black Tuesday -- but absolutely worth the wait. I even got a hit of Sam Adams Utopias 2011, which is as much a cordial as anything found in the spirits section.

Actually, there wasn't much of a wait. Unlike some of the white whale lines at GTMW (Dark Lord, for example), the GABF lines seemed to move pretty quickly. Except, of course, for the jerks who'd get to the front, stand there with their pour and chat, then quick down it for a second pour of something else. This behavior cannot stand, and it's nonexistent at GTMW. (Midwestern manners count for something.)

Of the surprise finds, three come to mind as exceptional. Dad and Dudes Breweria (Aurora, CO), The Funky Buddha Brewery (Oakland Park, FL), and McCoy's Public House (Kansas City, MO). Dad and Dudes -- great name, right? -- poured standouts like a tart Prickly in Pink, a watermelon basil wheat that stands toe-to-toe with 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon, and a fine rum barrel stout called Rum, Forrest! Rum!

The Funky Buddha's line was long, due in no small part to the Maple Bacon Coffee Porter that was filling the air around this booth with the smells of breakfast. Indeed, it was quite good; the bacon was the weakest flavor, but the whole package was remarkably true to type. It also tainted my glass for two or three pours afterward. Better to go with the Last Snow, a porter with coconut, coffee, and white chocolate that is significantly better and less saccharine than it sounds. But you'd be smartest to cut immediately to the Passionfruit Berliner Weisse. Tart, sweet, amazing, this was the first beer gone from the Funky Buddha lineup.

McCoy's turned out to be the most buzz-proof of the bunch, because there was no line. None. I walked up, ordered a Ginger Shandy, and was hooked. Walked right back up and ordered the Gose. Salty, like Schell's recent Goosetown release wasn't, this beer is apparently the brewer's first shot at the style. Nailed it in one. The sour brown Duchess of Westport stuck the landing, too.

Other highlight beers:

  • Avery Lilikoi Kepolo (passionfruit wit): non-bottled taproom beer. Went back probably 3 times.
  • coffee beers: Drake's Black Robusto Porter, Mother's Winter Grind Coffee Stout, Palmetto Espresso Porter, Smog City Groundwork Coffee Porter. 
  • Renegade Wheat Wine, with cascara (coffee cherry flesh). Spicy, totally unique.
  • Anderson Valley Gatlin Damnosus: sour bourbon-barrel barleywine. How does that make any  sense, and why is it as good as it is?
  • AC Golden Peche (wild sour with peaches): Like the Almanac dude said in that Serious Eats article I linked above, this one's legit. Many many props to Miller-Coors for promoting so much experimentation in the brands it has both incubated and acquired. 

If I can make it back for future GABFs, I absolutely will. Crooked Stave's What the Funk party seemed like it'd be a worthwhile ticket, too. (Tried the Stave's Musty Cedar Box sour visiting the taproom at The Source, and oh man, was that one great.) Whether three sessions is necessary, I dunno. Two, definitely. Okay, maybe three. And a biscuit.

The lines are bonkers, the crowd isn't *quite* as polite as a Midwestern one, but it's a hell of a party.