Friday, October 10, 2008

The Great American Beer Festival

My friend, Jim Alvis, and I have known each other for like 21 years--since our early days in college together. We both went to Virginia Tech together, and now we both live just a few miles apart.

Jim's wife, Lisa, is perhaps the coolest wife ever. For Christmas last year, she got him tickets to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. But Lisa doesn't like beer, so as a bonus, I got to be Mr. Alvis' traveling companion.

That is why we now find ourselves in Denver, slightly hung over, still burping up barley malt vapors, wishing we'd brought some Tylenol.

It's a small price to pay though to be able to sample from any one of the four hundred local and independent small breweries in America.

The festival is simply staggering to behold. I've been to many, many technical conferences in my career, and this festival is just as huge. There must be over 5,000 attendees and at least 1,200 staff and volunteers pouring wee one ounce samples into our commemorative beer cup. (Thank you very much.)

The festival is being held at the Colorado Convention Center downtown. In fact, I was in this very convention center years ago for DSLCon or the DSL Forum or Supercom or some such conference. The GABF has the one very important advantage over these other conferences of not being totally mind-numbingly boring. Oh yeah, and there's free beer.

Acres of vendors proudly pour their handicraft, and the beers range from the super hoppy IPAs, through the elegant and smooth Pilsners, lagers, and ambers, to the oak barrel stouts and imperial stouts. There are, of course, some that stray far from the Rheinheitsgebot--including one very delicious beer that was soured with Lactobacillus culture! As I see it, this is not Germany, and experimentation is good. But then, I'm an Obama supporter, so what would you expect?

As we wandered the floor on the first evening, we came immediately to Bill Madden's kiosk for Vintage 50 in Leesburg. It's amazing to think that this tiny microbrewery in Leesburg, Virginia is represented here. Bill brought his Porter and the Wee Heavy, the Saison, and my favorite the Auld Abominable.

Other breweries ranged from tiny to gigantic. Of course, MillerCoors and Budweiser were present, and it was gratifying to see their booths were absolutely empty--completely void of any patrons! I know that 90% of Sarah Palin's Joe Six Pack Americans drink the stuff, but this crowd wants craft beers, not the rice malt pisswater garbage from the big industrial makers.

Leinenkugel's brought a mini-Leinie Lodge and was pouring their Cream Stout and Sunset Wheat, among others. We saw New Belgium, and Anacortes, and Sam Adams, and countless others. Tonight, I want to look out for Schell's and Deschutes. I hear Deschutes makes an excellent stout.

I think by Sunday, when this is all over, I will probably simply float home. I'll probably also disavow beer for the rest of the year, having had my fill of it for three solid days.

But for now, it will be worth it.

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