(mis)adventures in Denver: GABF part 1

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It’s a packed house at Freshcraft

By Daniel Reifsnider

As I’m sure all of you already know, the Great American Beer Festival ended over two weeks ago, and the subsequent hangover is finally starting to subside for us here at Stay Hoppy. Suffice it to say we hit it hard, and GABF hits hard back. Sadly, we were warned last year, but we thought we could overcome, but if this ongoing hangover is any indication we should’ve listened better.

Let’s just start at the beginning and see if we can find our way back. Be sure to check out the end for the highlights if you’re one of those tl;dr people.

Before we even left for Denver, the pressure seemed too great for our intrepid leader Matt, and he had to back out several weeks before our trip. He had some excuse about “closing on a house” he just bought or something. Yeah right Matt, whatever you say.

Nonetheless, Carlos and I trekked on to Denver, where our beer dreams would either come true or cast us into complete despair. Oddly enough, both happened by the end of the trip, but that’s usually how these beer festivals go. Carlos ended up flying into Denver on Wednesday 10/1, while I took more time to plan some last minute details and flew in bright and early the next day.

Side-note: If you want to avoid carrying your luggage around Denver for hours while getting increasingly more intoxicated, take my advice and do not arrive seven hours before you can check in to your airbnb. Sure, by some miracle, my bags didn’t get stolen, but they were definitely in the way.

With that said, I flew in way too early on Thursday, too early for me to even check in to the airbnb so I had to get a little creative with carrying my laptop bag and full sized duffel bag around. I think it worked in the end, but I definitely stood out.

beerliner_outsideUpon arriving and taking the shuttle from DIA to Union Station in downtown Denver, I proceeded directly to the Beerliner, which was only a block away parked outside of the awesome Wynkoop Brewing. Of course, the venerable Tony Drewry was already wide-awake as was the motley crew of beer folk that had been calling the Beerliner home for the past two weeks. After spending some time at the Beerliner talking beer, I grabbed some breakfast at Illegal Pete’s, which consisted of an excellent breakfast burrito with some of that Denver green chili. Man, if someone bottled that stuff, I’d probably end up buying it.

With a full belly and a thirst only GABF can provide, I headed to a place some Austin friends have been harping on for a while now called Freshcraft. I soon found out that not only is the draft list incredible, but they also have some excellent cans (Surly FTW) and bottles that aren’t on any menus. Oh and the food? Yeah, it’s excellent as well — primarily the crispy pork schnitzel, which comes with kraut and potatoes. It’s incredible to me how something so basic and unassuming can contain flavors that perform transcendence. And yes, it’s that good.

After meeting up with Carlos and drinking at some other excellent places that every God-fearing, proper beer nerd probably knows about, including Crooked Stave, we ended up at a new location for both of us: River North Brewery.

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River North now holds a soft spot in my beer heart, since its tiny outfit produces some great barrel-aged beer, and their taproom is mildly reminiscent of one Austin brewery’s early taproom days (Hops & Grain anyone?). Also, they have a killer flight, where they literally give you a four-ounce sample of every beer on the menu that day, which usually includes eight beers. Even though their patio is tiny with about four wooden benches running alongside the taproom, it was enjoyable on a mild October day. For me, the barrel-aged J.Maries were standouts, which included a bourbon barrel J.Marie, a tequila barrel J.Marie, and a chardonnay barrel J.Marie.

They have a killer flight, where they literally give you a four-ounce sample of every beer on the menu that day, which usually includes eight beers.

Carlos and I then moseyed back to the Beerliner, and at that point in the day it was time for Carlos to head to the session hall. As for me, I mistakenly decided to skip Thursday night’s session and instead choose to attend only Friday night and Saturday night. There will probably be more on those sessions to come, but we like to keep you on your toes here at Stay Hoppy.

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Without Carlos, I had the whole night to myself, and I decided to head to a Deschutes Brewing pre-party at the Wright Room above the Appaloosa Grill. It was a cool little venue, and by “little” I mean it was basically one open roughly 600 sq ft room with a bar and some warming trays filled with nachos and chicken wings. Oh and some killer small-batch Deschutes beer that’s brewed only at their brewpubs. Included on the beer menu was Big Red, Planéte Rouge, and Zarabanda, with Planéte Rouge being the clear winner for me.

After filling myself on chicken wings, I finally headed to the airbnb located at 18th and Logan and after dropping off my bags I decided to search for a real dinner that didn’t make me feel like I was back in college. Steuben’s was the obvious winner in that search, since it was proclaimed to have top-notch southern/diner cooking and it was only two quick blocks away.

While I was hoping Steuben’s on a Thursday night during GABF would be completely devoid of people, I was sadly mistaken. However, I still had an excellent meal there comprised of fried chicken, biscuits and mashed potatoes, or in other words, a true southern cooked meal. Everything was perfectly cooked, or as perfectly cooked as my somewhat intoxicated mind could determine, and the beer list was gratifying if somewhat disappointing at the same time. All in all, it was a great meal, and I’d love to go back just for those biscuits and chicken.2014-10-03 03.23.37

Since the night was already getting late, and my drunken self still wanted to party like it was GABF, I quickly returned to the Beerliner and once again started drinking some outstanding Texas beer. I can’t recall exactly what I had, but I don’t have a doubt it was damn good.

Carlos soon called me after and informed me that he was back at the airbnb and that I had the only keys. Bummer. So I sadly left the Beerliner a bit early; however, it was probably for the best, since Friday would turn out to be a day that would test my beer drinking abilities in ways that I could only imagine (cue dramatic music).


TL;DR:

  • If you’re staying at an airbnb, be sure to check the check in time. Don’t make my mistake and arrive seven hours before your check in time.
  • Head to Freshcraft as soon as possible. Seriously, pass go and get there ASAP. They have a great tap selection (especially during GABF) and great food as well. Get the crispy pork schnitzel and an Upslope Sour Belgian Pale Ale.
  • If you ever get a craving for some good ol’ Texas beer, stop by the Beerliner, where they pour nothing but. From gold medal award winners, to brand new unreleased beers, the Beerliner is the place to go in Denver for a taste of home.
  • Be sure to drop by Crooked Stave‘s taproom, which can be found at The Source. Located at the back of a multi-use building that houses other businesses such as a bakery, cheese shop, and cafe, Crooked Stave’s taproom is a must for wild, funky beers that you can’t find anywhere else. Everything is delicious, but the Nightmare on Brett series and the Mama Bear’s Sour Cherry Pie were standouts for me.
  • Don’t miss the chance to visit River North Brewery. Their barrel-aged Belgian style beers are top notch, plus their open walled taproom and patio are perfect when the weather is mild and the sky is blue. Any barrel-aged J.Marie is a great choice.
  • Steuben’s is a great place for southern food if you’re in the mood and neighborhood. Don’t expect an extensive beer list, but they’re selections are on par and the fried chicken and biscuits are delicious. Highly recommended.

Check out the photo gallery, and stay tuned for another post about our (mis)adventures in Denver. Seriously, I’m going to write it soon(ish).

Cheers!

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