Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Hop - Day 2

We awoke in Fort Collins and just loved the weather so much that we simply had to go for a run! I know crazy right after a night of brewery hopping! Plus we had to make more room in our tummies for more beer!

After the run we headed out and about to purchase advance lift tickets for our Thanksgiving trip to Winter Park. If you are in Colorado before ski season Christy Sports has a great deal for 4 days of lift tickets (any 4 days not consecutive or 4 of 5) for $159. Catch is you have to be there to have your photo taken to have put on the pass. And I should say the prices I just quoted are for Winter Park – they have deals for other slopes in Colorado too!

We debated and debated about what we wanted for lunch. Finally we decided on this sandwich shop based on the recommendation of someone at Christy Sports. To us it is a traditional type of sandwich shop you'd find in the North. Excellent food - no frills but extremely tasty!

First stop of the day for beer – Odell Brewing Company. This was the most recommended brewery in Fort Collins so naturally we had to stop by there. We lucked out and they were running extra tours for the day since it was GABF time. We snuck into a non-publicized tour as the last 2 attendees. Woo hoo! The tour itself is much less “formal” shall we say than the New Belgium one. But you literally walk right on the floor there and production is going on so it’s loud and you couldn’t hear the gal talking.  But we did get to see their brewing area, bottling line, cellar, kegging line and their centrifuge, which is a new technique. 

We also got to sample their Isolation Ale (their Winter seasonal) that hadn’t actually been released for the year yet. As I mentioned before I love winter ales so this was right up my alley! Perhaps what was most impressive was when we got out of the tour we were chatting with the gal there about which sampler we should purchase since there were 3 options. There were so many beers to choose from! No kidding between 15-20. She gave us free tasters of 2 of her favorites and then recommended we try the pilot and the classic samplers. (She was so sweet the 2 beers she gave us weren’t on the samplers. Apparently she could tell I like to try it all!!!) The samplers were quite impressive and included
·      CLASSIC:  Easy Street (Wheat Beer), Levity (Amber Ale), 5 Barrel Pale Ale, 90 Schilling (considered their Flagship – I HIGHLY recommend!),  IPA (I was not a fan but then again I don’t like IPAs. Since Ken loves IPA he’s the one to ask about that one and I am pretty sure he was a fan.) & Cutthroat Porter
·      PILOT:  Bird Seed Blonde, OomPah Oktoberfest, Nitro 5 Barrel, Town Pump Pail Ail, Fir Na Tine, Nitro Cutthroat Porter

Honestly all of the beers were very good and I would recommend trying any and all of them! You’ll notice I’ve quit describing the beers in depth and I apologize for that. Given the number of beers I tasted this weekend it’s hard for me to articulate on most of them anymore. I can tell you what I like and what I don’t like however!! I promise to try and do better in the future!

The brewery/tap house at Odell was quite nice to just lounge about as well. Lots of tables inside as well as quite a few outside. They have some small snacks (popcorn, crackers, chocolate etc.) and you can borrow their games to play as long as you are willing to give them your credit card as collateral. Given their amazing selection of beer and the “funness” of the place I could absolutely see us hanging out there on a regular basis if we lived nearby! Worth noting – here you could buy full pints in addition to the tasters. I forgot to mention about New Belgium that you can’t buy pints there – actually you can’t buy any beer to consume it’s only the tour beers that you can get.

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 26~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I decided at this point I wanted to start counting how many different beers I tried. Worth noting what is considered in this number is any beer that I tried in a sampler, pint or even just tasted off of Ken’s pint.

It as time to get on the road to head to Denver but since we lucked into an early tour at Odell we had a little bit of time to spare so…. Where to next was the thought on our minds?

Longmont, Colorado just so happened to pretty much be on the way to Denver and I am a fan of Left Hand so we decided to stop there on route. The brewery and Taproom is about 8 miles off the main highway. We arrived and noticed that the parking lot was pretty full. Walking in sadly it became clear that the staff there was not prepared for the onslaught of people that were there compliments of GABF being “in the general neighborhood.” (To be fair – all breweries in Colorado were probably slammed because since people come from all over the world for GABF any brewery within 2 hours of Denver was “in the general neighborhood.”) There were only 2 people working the taproom and they were beyond struggling to keep up. After about 10 minutes I managed to wrangle one of them to pour us a sampler. The taproom was nowhere near as big as Odell – about 4 tables inside, plus a bunch of seats at the bar (all full at this point) and a few tables outside. (Though it seemed like there was another room full of tables off to the back that wasn’t in use – why it wasn’t is beyond me.) We chose to site outside and enjoy our choices.  Samplers were quite reasonable - $1 per taster which was good size. Unfortunately the Double IPA that Ken wanted to try was out so instead we got:

·      Milk Stout on Nitro – cream stout with roasted malt served on Nitrogen; DELICIOUS! This drink is like a meal in a glass or could be a great substitute for breakfast! They use actual cream in there to give the beer it’s depth
·      Good Juju – Light Ale brewed with Ginger; Very interesting and light but I couldn’t drink too much of it because I am not a huge ginger fan (that said of course we emptied all our glasses here!)
·      400 Pound Monkey – IPA; As usual Ken was a fan I was not
·      Wake Up Dead – Russian Imperial Stout; Very big beer, very complex, enjoyed a bit of it but couldn’t drink a whole pint I don’t think
Since service was so difficult to get we decided that instead of trying to get a few more beers it was time to head to Denver and get checked into our hotel

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 30 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This hotel is perfect for GABF because it’s literally a half a block away from the convention center where GABF is held and it is very close to 16th where LOADS of restaurants and bars etc. are located. I am a very loyal Intercontinental Hotels Group customer (IHG is Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, Staybridge Suites,  Candlewood Suites and Indigo Suites.)  With all the travel we do by being a loyal customer I have found that we frequently get complimentary upgrades and this time was no exception. We got a lovely suite that had a separate sitting room with an extra bathroom. Since there are such a variety of hotels in the chain I highly recommend joining their loyalty club called Priority Club.

Wow – where to start?
Walking into the Hall I felt like a kid in a candy store.  So many beers so many breweries…. This is Mecca for Beer Lovers.  Ken and I had to enter through a different line than Kevin, Stacey and Scott because they are Homebrew Association Members and we are not but we quickly met up with them.  Kevin, Stacey, Ken and myself decided to dress the part and wore our Oktoberfest garb. (Well to be fair – Stacey and I decided and told the husbands that they were going to!) I have to say that this added to the fun of the evening because we got lots of compliments and even some overpours as a result. You may be wondering what’s the point of the pretzel necklaces… the purpose is two-fold 1) as a palate cleanser and 2) to assist you in hopefully not getting too drunk too fast! You’ll see LOTS of people walking around with them at GABF. Many thanks to Stacey and Kev for this key tip to us newbies!

How GABF works for anyone who hasn’t been… there are breweries from all over the country in booths pouring various selections of their beers. You get a taster cup when you come in the door that has a 1oz pour line marked on it. That is all they are allowed to pour but let me tell you… you can still drink A LOT of beer that way! Throughout the festival you’ll hear large collective groans and ooohhhhhh kind of noises throughout the convention hall. This means some silly person has dropped their cup. They better hope it doesn’t break because they won’t replace it for you if it does :(

Some fun facts about this year’s GABF (according to my t-shirt that I bought there):
3 Days
472 Breweries
2,375 Beers
3,940 Beers in the Competition
2,900 volunteers
32,000 people
30 years – and still going strong
0 Larger Festivals in the Nation

You’ll notice a discrepancy between beers and beers in the competition. Many breweries will bring a special beer to be judged for the competition that they aren’t pouring because they simply don’t have enough of it. Medals – gold, silver and bronze – are awarded in a variety of categories. To win one of these is a HUGE achievement in the beer world.

I can’t even begin to tell you all the beers I tasted. Here’s where my beer count falls apart…. I would say I tasted 75 beers this night with an error factor of +/- 30… I drank a few from Sierra Nevada that I have not seen in the bottle before and they were quite good (Sierra Nevada also had some nice swag – posters, carabineer keychains, beer tasting booklets and pens). Other breweries I made at least 1 taste at include Figure Eight (Out of Valpariso, IN – right down the way from where I grew up. I can assure you I will be checking them out on my next trip back to Northwest Indiana), Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee),  Metropolitan Brewing (Chicago), Goose Island (Chicago – but more about them in the bit about my second day of GABF),  Laughing Dog Brewing (ask Ken about the Laughing Dog tattoo application),  Napa Smith Brewery (A beer called Lost Dog – Stacey and I tended to gravitate towards beers and breweries that  had dog names when we saw them… I am sure you are all so shocked about that!), Oskar Blues Brewery (they also had some great beer can “necklaces” that held your taster glass quite nicely that they were giving away), Firestone Walker (They had a beer that had Ken’s favorite name! Of course he had to try that one!!!! What was even more hilarious was the gal pouring had no idea what it meant!!),  Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que (Austin), Snake River Brewing (Had their beers when we were in Jackson Hole before as well – I told the guys at the table that they saved my life because that was the trip I learned to snowboard and I was soooooooooo in need of beer when I got off them mountain and their brewpub was right there for me!),  Trinity Brewing Company (Colorado Springs; Our friend Brock – the owner of Saint Arnold – recommended that this was the one place we absolutely had to try. Ken loved “Slap your Mammy” a huge double IPA. On Brock’s recommendation I tried “The Flavor” a very complex and interesting black kriek as well as “Brain of the Turtle” which was a sour with some coffee and cheery notes. This is where I started to come around to the idea of sours.), Boulder Beer, Bull & Bush,  Pub Dog (Westminister, MD), Icicle (Washington State), Il Vicino Brewery (Albuquerque), Flossmoor Station Brewing Company (Illinois)… and definitely more. These are just the ones that I took pictures of the banners etc. And I know I did not take pictures of every banner where I drank beer. Are you getting the picture that there is a bit of beer at GABF? :)

I mentioned our friend Brock – he perhaps had the toughest ;) job… he was not only there representing Saint Arnold, he was also a judge. So he had to start drinking at 9:30am! I have to be honest – I wouldn’t want that job. There are so many great beers that I would have a heck of a time picking what beers were best! We did go by the Saint Arnold area and said Hello to our buddy Lennie. We were quite happy to see that many people were coming by to enjoy their beer. I’ve been telling Ken that when we move to Annapolis every extra inch of space in our cars will be stuffed with Saint Arnold since I have become so fond of it and we won’t be able to get it in Maryland!

Perhaps a highlight of the evening was that I got to meet Sam Calagione the Dogfish Head Founder & President. If you are a beer fan and you have not watched the movie “Beer Wars” you really need to. You will never buy a beer from one of the major crappy beer companies again. Sam is in this and quite the character. Was glad when I met him that he was just as I expected :) And a really nice guy!

At 9:45 after 4 hours and 15 minutes they hollered at us all that it was last call :( While it was a sad moment it was probably just as well! We got our last taster from the Pro-Am area (there’s a competition where a professional brewery partners with an amateur home brewer and enters a beer into a competition. Some of them were fantastic!) and headed out.

We need a bit of food so we trued to go to The Yard House but it was PACKED so we wandered further and ended up at a better non-chain place…

Fantastic service, good food and a great beer selection. In fact they had a specialty list that the server was trying to sell 1 of all 4 bottles (because if he did he would get to go on a trip to a local brewery for work) so we helped him out by ordering 1. I had the bison burger which was quite excellent. At this point we all started to crater because we were tired…. So after we finished our chow we headed back to our hotel to get some sleep so we could get up and continue our beer festivities again….

~~~~~~~~~~~BEER COUNT: 53 +/- 30!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stay tuned for Day 3 of The Hop......

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