Disney may have already trademarked the phrase, but we're pretty sure that Denver's Great American Beer Festival is actually the "happiest place on Earth." As soon as the doors open, thousands of wide-eyed beer aficionados storm the enormous hall, gleefully hustling to their favorite brewery booth faster than a child traversing Main Street en route to Space Mountain. The festival, broken up into four sessions over three days, offered unlimited sampling of 2700 beers (no, there's not an extra zero in there) from 580 breweries. To put things in perspective, it takes a whopping 132 tons of ice to keep that much beer cold.
After recognizing the sheer immensity of the event and carefully scraping your jaw off the floor, it becomes readily apparent that this festival is impeccably organized. The floor plan allows for an easy flow of guests, with the vast majority of booth lines taking only a few short seconds (although we admittedly waited in the longer Dogfish Head line for tastes of a chocolate lobster brew and a warm carrot ginger beer called "Hot Thoup!"). Every conceivable style of beer is represented on the floor, from traditional and historic brews to sour beer aged with 5 types of Hawaiian fruit -- and even a beer brewed with bull testicles (no joke).
Numerous programs offered exposure to brewer panels and educational seminars, with a dedicated Beer and Food Pavilion that explored the intricacies of pairing food with all manner of beer styles. Our favorite section of the floor was the Farm to Table Pavilion, where 24 craft beers from around the country were paired with small dishes from a dozen restaurants. A hearty congratulations is owed to Abbot's Cellar and Monk's Kettle Chef Adam Dulye, who was once again selected to coordinate the entire pavilion. Dulye partnered with Firestone Walker Brewing, whose Pale 31 brew punched up the citrus notes in a dish of lemon roasted chanterelles, cannelini beans, and chardonnay grapes. Dulye also created a lovely plate of smoked venison loin with chestnut puree, crispy peanut potato, and huckleberry. The smoky notes of the meat integrated nicely with the rich, roasted flavors of Walker's Reserve porter. Chef Dulye's prescence at the event is a major force in keeping the Bay Area's beer and food culture on the map.
It's easy to get swept up in gluttonous festival carousing, and sometimes attendees forget that the heart of the event is the beer judging competition. GABF is our largest and most revered professional brewing competition, and medals garner immense respect and instant bragging rights. Congratulations to the following Bay Area medalists, whose beers can be counted among the best in the world:
Category: Rye Beer
Gold Medal: Gramarye, Heretic Brewing
Category: Session Beer
Bronze Medal: Bitter American, 21st Amendment Brewing
Category: Fresh Hop Beer
Silver Medal: HopTime Harvest Ale, Russian River Brewing Co.
Category: Imperial (Double) India Pale Ale
Silver Medal: Cafe Racer 15, Bear Republic Brewing
Category: Brown Porter
Bronze Medal: Peter Brown Tribute Ale, Bear Republic Brewing
Category: German Style Wheat Ale
Bronze Medal: Weizeneisbock, Gordon Biersch Brewing
Though not technically in the Bay Area, we'd be remiss to not mention Sierra Nevada Brewing, who took home a Gold Medal in the Fresh Hop category for their Estate Homegrown Ale, and a Silver Medal for their Imperial Stout. Additionally, San Diego's Pizza Port Carlsbad won a Bronze Medal for their 547 Haight Imperial Red Ale, a tribute to our beloved Toronado bar.