The 2012 Great American Beer Festival Recap

Beer. Event. Bar. Brewery. Sleep (a little). Repeat. That is GABF in a nutshell. It’s been a few days since the last session of the biggest beer festival in the world and only now does cracking open a beer and doing some beer writing sound like a good idea.

My brain is (slightly) fried, but let’s see if I have enough gray matter left to crank out a reasonable recap. For brevity, complete descriptions of beers are omitted and replaced with a 5 point scale. Let’s get started… lots of pictures await you at the end!


Taster Flights at Oscar Blues

Tasting Flights at Oskar Blues

Thursday started early (4:30 am EDT), with a half asleep (and slightly cranky) beer blogger navigating his way via subway and bus to LaGuardia to catch a flight to Denver. A couple of Dunkin’ Donuts and 1500+ miles later, I arrived in Denver and met up with two good friends who’d be my partners in crime for this GABF. We hit the ground running, heading straight to Longmont, CO to squeeze in some beer tourism before hitting the first GABF session later that evening. We hit lunch at Oskar Blues; all of their beers were solid, as were the nachos. I had a great time working through a sampler tray and then finishing off with a Mama’s Little Yella Pils (4/5). Not far away from Oskar Blues is Left Hand Brewing Co., where we popped in for a quick pint before heading back down to Denver. I had the Wake Up Dead Imperial Stout on Nitro (3.5/5).

I always like to remind myself that GABF is the best opportunity in the country to sample beers from breweries you have never heard of and to make new discoveries. That being said, the goal of Thursday night’s session was to hit up breweries with solid reputations that I knew would be pouring some delicious rarities. New discoveries would have to wait. Highlights included:

  • Goose Island Bourbon County Stout – loads of vanilla (5/5)
  • Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout – had right after GI BCBS, very coffee forward (4.5/5)
  • Deschutes 2011 Abyss (4/5)
  • Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Ten-Fidy – wow, great surprise (4.5/5)
  • Allagash Coolship Resurgam – very brett forward / funky (4.5/5)
  • Fat Head Head Hunter (4.25/5)
  • New Glarus Enegma – quite sweet (2.5/5)
  • Devils Backbone Vienna Lager – beautiful clean lager (4.5/5)
  • Anchor Small Beer (3/5)
  • Russian River Toronado 25th Anniversary – reminiscent of Beatification (4/5)
  • Stone 2008 BA Imperial Stout – awesome, rich and smooth, great surprise (5/5)
  • Bear Republic Tartare – yogurty lemonade (4/5)
  • Olde Hickory The Event Horizon – best find of the trip, amazing beer (5/5)


Lunch at the Buckhorn Exchange

Lunch at The Buckhorn Exchange

First rule of GABF, don’t go out hard on the first night. Whoops. Unfortunately, I did some extra-curricular bar hopping after Thursday’s session, which left me feeling a bit raw on Friday morning. My friends and I managed to make it out to The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant for some lunch. Sitting under under the glass eyes of hundreds of dead animals, we ate some meat and drank some really good Stranahan’s whiskey. Feeling fortified by protein and distilled barrel aged goodness, we caught the train into Denver’s LoDo district for some more brewery hopping.

First up was Denver’s original brewpub Wynkoop. Started in 1988 by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and leading the transformation of Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood, these folks are true craft beer pioneers. At Wynkoop, I had their equally pioneering (and slightly gimmicky) Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (3.5/5). (For neophytes, Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles.) Twenty-five pounds of bull balls were roasted and thrown into the mash of this 8-barrel batch. Apparently, bull testicles taste like licorice to me since this is the biggest flavor I got out of this beer. Maybe boiling the ‘oysters’ would have made it more ‘ballsy’?

Up next, we headed past Coors field over to Breckenridge Brewery. Open, spacious, and light, this was a nice venue to throw back a beer. I tried their Vanilla Porter, which was very nice although perhaps slightly artificial tasting (3.5/5).

Just across the street and down a block from Breckenridge is the fairly new River North Brewery. The place was packed, but of the 3 beers I sampled, they were all mediocre at best; perhaps they’re still getting their process down.

Our last brewery stop of the day was Great Divide Brewing Co. To accommodate the crowds they had a jockey box set up out back, along with tents and large tables. Cheap (great) beers, a friendly crowd, and plenty of seats made this an excellent place to have a beer or two. I had their Berliner Weiss which had a great funky nose, but fell flat on flavor and lacked the quenching acidity I like to see in Berliners (2.5/5). They also had Hibernation on tap, which is always great (4/5).

After the afternoon’s pub crawl, it was time for the Friday night session. Luckily, I was slated to pour at Big Time Brewery’s booth for that session, giving me a break from heavy beer sampling for a few hours. I did get the chance to finally try my pro-am beer. While not nearly as tasty as my original homebrewed version, the pro-am beer was still quite good with an enjoyable dark sugar character and just a whisper of the fig character that was so prevalent in my beer. I’m hoping to get a couple bottles shipped to me so I can do a side-by-side tasting.

The Basement 'Dead Soldier' Bottle Share

The Basement ‘Dead Soldier’ Bottle Share

After the session, I met back up with my brewer friends and attended the bottle share that is held in the basement of the Marriott hotel and features all of the leftover competition beers. This was a great perk of having a brewer’s badge and was one of the funnest moments of the weekend. It was entertaining to watch so many brewers scrambling through bins to find their beers. The point being that if you found one of your beers, it probably wasn’t a winner since they didn’t need the extra bottles for judging in later rounds of the competition.


Saturday started bright and early with the GABF competition awards ceremony. It was great to be able to watch the brewers get their awards. It seemed like this year a lot of the awards typically won year in and year out by a few select brewers were instead given to up and coming and sometimes off the beer-geek radar breweries. I think this is great as it challenges old breweries to constantly evolve and push their standards and creativity. I was especially happy to see Devils Backbone win one of the brewery of the year awards. Their awesome lagers made a huge impression on me last year and it’s great seeing them recognized.

Saturday afternoon we attended the members-only session where we tried a lot of great beers. The highlight was probably Sam Adams Utopias (nearly 26% ABV) which is something I wouldn’t normally buy, but is fun to try. I also went back to Olde Hickory and tried a few more beers in their lineup, which were all quite good. New Belgium’s Love Felix (actually poured by Kim Jordan) was also fantastic.

GABF is a great time. Each year I am blown away by not only the sheer number of beers poured and breweries in attendance, but more importantly by the overall quality that gets pushed higher and higher each year. Looking forward to next year.

Revisiting Krampus AKA Miss Figgy

Krampus in the Glass

Krampus in the Glass

Krampus, AKA Miss Figgy, is a beer of strength and contemplation that begs to be sipped. Inspired by traditional English Barley Wines and complemented by flavors of fresh fig and dark rum, this beers packs a punch at over 10% alcohol. Traditional English malts and a long boil are used to give the beer a rich malt profile of unmistakable depth. Subtle spicing is present but fleeting on the palate leaving you questioning whether you’re tasting intentional spicing or simply the play of fruit, malt, and yeast. A light touch of oak becomes apparent on the finish bringing structure to the rich malt profile.

This beer was re-brewed on a commercial scale at Big Time Brewery in Seattle, WA as part of the 2012 GABF Pro-Am Competition. It will be poured during the Friday night session of the 2012 Great American Beer Festival at the Pro-Am Competition Booth. Below I’ve outlined the beer’s recipe as well as tasting notes from a sample of the homebrewed version.

The Recipe

Size: 5.25 gal
Efficiency: 74.0%
Attenuation: 73.0%

Original Gravity: 1.106
Terminal Gravity: 1.029
Color: 20.93 SRM
Alcohol: 10.32% ABV
Bitterness: 49.4 IBU
Mash Temp: 155° F

13.5 lb Crisp Maris Otter (65.1%)
3.75 lb Weyermann Munich TYPE II (18.1%)
1 lb Crisp Crystal 77 (4.8%)
8 oz Belgian Special B (2.4%)
2 lb Star Thistle Honey (9.6%)

28 g Magnum (12.5%) – added during boil, boiled 60 m

1 tsp Cinnamon (ground) – added during mash
.25 ea Star Anise – added during boil, boiled 5 m

1 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10 m

1 ea WYeast 1728 Scottish Ale™

4 lb Figs – added dry to secondary fermenter
.5 lb Dark Raisins Soaked in Aged Dark Rum – added dry to secondary fermenter
.5 lb Golden Raisins  Soaked in Aged Dark Rum – added dry to secondary fermenter

1 oz Oak Cube Blend Soaked in Aged Dark Rum – added dry to secondary fermenter

– Build 2800ml 1.040 starter on plate.
– Ferment primary 2 weeks.  Start at 58*F and hold 60-62*F.  Let ramp up to  72*F at end.

Secondary 1 (Rack to Purged Carboy) (Age 1 month):
4 lbs of figs
1/2 lb of dark raisins
1/2 lb of golden raisins

Secondary 2 (Age 2 Months):
1oz oak cubes

Tasting Notes:

Brewed: 12/4/11
Sampled: 10/7/12
Alcohol: 10.3% ABV

Aroma: This beer presents a great layered bouquet of fruit, malt, and various sugars. Initially apparent is a blend of tart cherries and prunes. As it warms, an earthy fig aroma becomes much more apparent and is reminiscent of biting into the skin of a fresh fig. Flavors of turbinado sugar and molasses sit in the background. There is a light touch of oak which is very vanilla-like. Ethanol is apparent, but not hot or distracting. The aroma is very complex and continually evolves as the beer is consumed. It seems like every sniff presents an opportunity to detect additional aromas. 12 / 12

Appearance: Deep brown with garnet-like highlights. Beer is fairly hazy. Head retention is poor, likely a consequence of the high alcohol levels. 1 / 3

Flavor: First up are flavors of heavily caramelized Belgian candi sugar that have characteristics of dark dried fruit. There is a solid amount of toasty melanoiden-rich malts (like Munich). The sugar flavors leave an impression of sweetness that is balanced with some tart-cherry like flavors. Ripe fig skin blends with some of the vanilla and oak flavors creating an interesting flavor combination. Very smooth balancing bitterness. Alcohol is barely perceptible. 19 / 20

Mouth Feel: Medium body and bitterness with soft carbonation. This beer feels like it could benefit from a heavier mouthfeel to increase its richness. 2 / 5

Overall Impression: This beer is quite nice. There are many layers of flavor which make it an enjoyable sipper that evolves in the glass. When fresh, this beer had a huge earthy fresh fig character that seems to have stepped into the background and become more integrated as the beer has aged. It is amazingly drinkable for the ABV. Really enjoyable beer. 9 / 10

Score: 43 / 50 (Outstanding)

Note: Evaluation done according to BJCP Scoring System. This beer was reviewed as a Category 20 Fruit Beer – English Barley Wine Base.

GABF, Here I Come

The Festival Floor at the 2011 GABF

The Festival Floor at the 2011 GABF

GABF (Great American Beer Festival) is becoming an annual pilgrimage for me and a tradition I hope to carry on well into the future. There is nothing more sacred to a beer geek than this festival, which is an amazing opportunity to try thousands of beers not available locally. This will be my first year actually covering the event and I’ll be posting live updates via Twitter and Facebook throughout. ‘Follow’ or ‘Like’ The Pour Report to get live information straight from the festival. Once home, I plan to do a 3-part wrap-up covering each day of the event.

Highlights for me this year include:

The Sessions
I am excited to be attending the Thursday and Saturday Members Only sessions this year. There are in excess of 2,200 beers from over 500 breweries being poured. While I certainly won’t be trying all of them, I plan to do some serious ‘research’, focusing on breweries outside of my distribution region. The Brewer’s Association has published a list of the breweries attending. Needless to say, it is amazing.

Miss Figgy on Tap at Big Time Brewery

Miss Figgy on Tap at Big Time Brewery

The Pro-Am Competition
This past spring, I was chosen by Big Time Brewery in Seattle, WA to collaborate on a beer for the GABF Pro-Am Competition. The winning beer that I created (and chosen by Big Time Brewery) is Miss Figgy, an English Barley Wine that was brewed with honey and aged on fresh Mission figs. Having moved before I was able to taste the finished product, I look forward to trying Miss Figgy at GABF. Miss Figgy will be poured during the Friday night session at the Pro-Am Booth (booth 35 in block C on the convention floor).

Pouring at the Festival
This year I was lucky enough to be able to obtain a brewers badge from Big Time Brewery. This means I can get into select brewer events and don’t have to wait in long lines; although I’ll probably forgo this privilege for the sake of not pissing off those in line. I’ll also be pouring Big Time Brewery beer at booth 2 in the Brew Pub pavilion (in the middle of the convention floor) during the Friday session from 5:15-8:00 pm. Come say hi if you’re around!

The Awards Ceremony
In the past, the GABF awards ceremony was held during the Saturday Members Only session on the festival floor. This year, in order to accommodate more breweries, the Brewers Association has scheduled a separate ceremony at a different venue to be held before the Members Only session on Saturday. As part of the Pro-Am Competition, I was allocated tickets to this event, which are not available to the general public. I’ll be live tweeting some of the results as they occur.

Breweries I’m Excited About

There are far too many breweries to create a broad and encompassing list of beers to try. That being said, last year there were certainly some highlights which I plan on revisiting, as well as some new breweries making a splash that I’d love to be able to try. In alphabetical order:

  • Alaskan Brewing Company – Poured verticals of their Smoked Porter last year. Their barley wine is also one of the best.
  • Allagash Brewing Company – Previously poured some of their amazing and low-circulation Coolship Series beers.
  • Alpine Beer Company – Currently making some of the best hoppy beers in the country.
  • Bear Republic Brewing Company – Hopefully they’ll be pouring Racer X again this year.
  • Bell’s Brewery, Inc – Out of Michigan and not available in NY.
  • Big Time Brewing Company – I’ll be pouring here, so come say hi!
  • Boston Beer Company – Poured Utopias at numerous intervals last year.
  • Cambridge Brewing Company – I was able to eat at their brewpub recently and the beers were great. I’m hoping they’ll bring some sour beers.
  • Chuckanut Brewery – They brew the best lagers in the country. My favorite is the Helles.
  • Cigar City Brewing – They had some great limited release beers last year.
  • Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – Doing really interesting wild beers. First time at GABF (I believe).
  • Deschutes Brewery – Poured The Abyss last year — amazing beer.
  • DESTIHL – Surprised me quite a bit last year with their sour beers. Some of the best sours on the floor. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ve been able to maintain the quality.
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – Good opportunity to try World Wide Stout and 120 minute IPA. Last year, Sam Calagione was pouring.
  • Fat Heads Brewery – I need to try their Head Hunter IPA.
  • FiftyFifty Brewing Co. – Hopefully they’ll be pouring Eclipse.
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Company – They don’t do anything that is less than world-class. Really hoping they bring one of the sour beers they are starting to develop.
  • Goose Island Beer Company – If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll have Bourbon County Stout on tap.
  • Great Lakes Brewing Company – Their Edmund Fitzgerald porter is amazing and not available in NY.
  • Jester King Craft Brewery – I’ve never had them before, but they seem to be producing some very well-respected beers.
  • Kuhnhenn Brewing Company – Another small brewery with limited distribution that is gaining a lot of national attention.
  • Nebraska Brewing Company – They are producing some excellent standard and barrel aged beers.
  • New Glarus Brewing Company – Always popular on the floor due to their limited distribution and popularity of beers like Wisconsin Red and Raspberry Tart. Last year they had their Oktoberfest, which was great.
  • Odell Brewing Company – A Colorado favorite. Need to try Myrcenary Double IPA.
  • Pelican Pub & Brewery – These guys make some of the best beers in Oregon and don’t distribute much.
  • Pizza Port – Visit all of their booths. They consistently win many awards at GABF.
  • The Lost Abbey – GABF is a great chance to try some of their very limited and delicious beers like Angel’s Share, Red Poppy, and Framboise de Amorosa.
  • Russian River Brewing Company – Best brewery in the world. Well… maybe not, but all their beers are fantastic.
  • The Bruery – Last year they poured Black Tuesday, Oude Tart, and a few other very limited release beers that are fantastic. They posted the times they were going on and the lines started forming about 30 minutes prior. Well worth the wait.
  • Three Floyds Brewing Co. – Limited distribution and a killer lineup make this a must visit booth.