Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Great American Beer Festival

Last year, I had no idea what the Great American Beer Festival was all about.  Reading people's tweets and Untappd check-ins, I figured out it was a pretty epic beer event.  Breweries I had never heard of along with beers that sounded foreign.  I decided that 2012 would be my year to attend the festival.

Travelling from Orange County, CA to Denver, CO is a pretty short flight.  Arriving at the airport, I was extremely excited to hope on the plane, but the airline had different ideas.  Our flight was delayed by an hour, which at first made me sad.  Thankfully, the Jack Daniels and Coca Cola I consumed aboard the flight made the delay slip into my memory.  The first highlight of my trip to GABF was not being charged for my mixed drink.  I was pretty excited and smiled and thanked the flight attendant as we deplaned our aircraft.

Arriving in Denver, it hit me, we were here!  The land of craft beer!  But first, we had to take a shuttle to our rental car facility.  I had reserved a compact car and of course, at the rental agency the employee tried to up-sell me.  Would I like to drive a BMW for only $65 extra per day?  Would I like to upgrade to a full size car for $30 extra per day?  I politely declined all of the employees offers.  When she finally checked to see which car I would be driving, she told me they were sold out of the compact cars.  At first I thought, great, now I will HAVE to drive a BMW!  To my surprise, I was told I would be able to drive an SUV for the compact car price.  Second upgrade of my trip!

After our short drive to our hotel, which was located ten miles or so from the Convention Center, we were told that the room we had requested was no longer available.  I started to laugh as the front desk clerk told me they were going to upgrade us to a two room suite.  At this point, I was really starting to love Denver and I hadn't even been to GABF yet!

Rad table at New Belgium
The next morning, we joined the owners of Bootlegger's Brewery, where my boyfriend works, and some of the other employees for a journey to some of the local breweries.  Our first stop was New Belgium Brewing.  We were greeted by an amazing selection of food and beer to sample as we waited for our tour to begin.  The beginning of the tour started with a visit to a shiny curved slide, how many work places have a slide besides fast food restaurants?  We continued with viewing the various production areas of the brewery.  Along our tour, we had a stop at a small tasting area where we were able to re-fill our glasses.  

Grabbing a bottle of fresh Fat Tire!

My favorite part of the tour was visiting the bottling and packaging area.  This is where we were each allowed to take a bottle of freshly bottled Fat Tire off of the line.  I felt like I was in the opening credits of Laverne & Shirley!  We were also allowed to taste fresh Fat Tire directly from the fermenter.
Fresh Fat Tire from the fermenter.

Our tour guide was very patient as we snapped photos and took our time trying to take in all of the sights.  I loved seeing all of the bicycles along our tour.  After working at New Belgium for a year, every employee is given a bicycle.  What a cool idea!  The sheer magnitude of the bottling and packaging facility was a bit overwhelming.  Robotic arms were moving cases of beer with ease while we just watched in awe as they were completing their tasks.

O'Dell Brewing's Tasting Room
After our tour concluded, I was able to purchase some of my favorite beer, Super IPA.  We were then on our way to our next destination, O'Dell Brewing just a few minutes down the road.  O'Dell Brewing is not as large as New Belgium but is still an impressive facility.  While we did not go on a tour, we did spend a good amount of time sampling beers in the lovely tasting room.

Oskar Blues' Tasting Room
Instead of getting a tasting flight, I opted for a full pint of beer.  Our next stop was Oskar Blues' tasting room.  I really liked the ambience of Oskar Blues which had live music as well as a no frills environment.  Just like at O'Dells, instead of a flight of beer, I opted for a pint of beer.  We were pleasantly surprised to find different years of Ten Fidy available and tried the 2009 version.  It did not disappoint!

Upon finishing up at Oskar Blues Brewery, we headed back into downtown Denver.  This is when I had my first opportunity to visit GABF.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I entered the massive convention center.  My first thought after receiving my tasting glass and entering the doors of the convention center was simply, "wow!"
Live music at GABF
I've been to numerous beer events, but nothing comes close to the number of brewery booths that are set up at GABF.  I was a bit worried that I might get lost and never find my way out until I quickly realized that the layout was organized according to region.  I was happy to see that there were not any huge lines at any of the booths, as I've seen at other events for popular beers.  Since I'd had such a long day, I didn't end up staying only a few hours during my first session of GABF.  I decided that going to bed early would be better so I could enjoy my second session at GABF more fully.

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