Earlier this month, Denver, Colorado was home to one of the greatest gatherings of beer under a single roof… over 400 breweries from over 40 states serving over 1,800 different beers to over 46,000 beer lovers! It was the 2007 Great American Beer Festival, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.

Honestly, I must say, the entire experience was a bit overwhelming (in a good way!). And even by attending 2 of the 4 sold-out sessions, I couldn’t even attempt to take it all in. And while the line to get inside half-an-hour before the doors opened on Friday night stretched around nearly 3-sides of the convention center, I got inside relatively quickly, and with a few exceptions, rarely waited more than a minute at most brewery booths before being served. While certainly the largest beer festival I’ve ever attended (and probably the largest in the world), I’d also have to say it was also the most well-run and well-organized.

But enough about the organization… we’re here to talk about BEER. And there was some truly amazing beer to be had.  This blog entry will focus on some of the truly BIG and one-of-a-kind beers at the fest.  Probably one of the longest lines at the GABF was well worth the wait: New Glarus Brewing Company out of Wisconsin makes some absolutely outstanding fruit beers and barrel-aged beers. While the one-ounce samples were hardly enough for a full-blown detailed review, their Wisconsin Belgian Red brewed with a pound of local cherries in every bottle; the sweet and tart Raspberry Tart; the big and complex Quadruple with notes of warming alcohol and dried fruit; and their vanilla-tinged Bourbon-Barrel Aged Bock were just all outstanding. Unfortunately, they do not distribute beyond their home state, meaning I’ll just have to find an excuse to visit Wisconsin someday soon.

I also endured waits to try two perennial favorites at the fest… Alaskan Smoked Porter and Samuel Adams Utopias.  Alaskan Smoked Porteris the most-award winning beer in the history of the fest, and this year picked up two more medals…. And while medals are not always the best judge of a great beer, it is hard to argue with beer judges who keep recognizing this brew year after year.   A truly unique and delicious beer, you can read more about it in a previous blog entry here.

To sum up Utopias, I’ll leave it to the brewer I visited after savoring a sample to whom I explained I needed a drink of water to clear my palate before trying anything else.  He said to me “Utopias? That’s not beer!” And he meant nothing negative by that comment. It just really is unlike anything most people would call beer.  It is the strongest beer ever brewed at 25% ABV (alcohol by volume), which is equivalent to 50-proof spirits (some rums, whiskeys, etc.)  It is thick, syrupy, complex, with an alcohol bite, and no carbonation. It’s brings to mind whiskey, bourbon, even cognac. And at upwards of $100 a bottle, only occasionally brewed, and a very limited supply, it’s unlikely most will ever have the chance to try it again.

The entire lineup of about a dozen beers offered by Dogfish Head at the GABF consisted of brews of at least 9% ABV or greater.  Not that big beers are necessarily better beers, but brewer Sam Calagione really knows how to push the limits of the brewing process.  His World Wide Stout at 18% ABV is arguably the strongest dark beer in the world, and is incredibly dark, rich and tasty.  His Fort is brewed with over a TON of raspberries.  And his Red & Whiteis a 10% ABV witbier aged in Pinot Noir barrels, making for a very interesting merging of an earthy wine with dark fruit (cherries, raisins, berries) flavors and a light crisp beer with spice and citrus flavors.

 Next up, trends spotted (and sampled) at the GABF…

 Beer Quote:

“The Great American Beer Festival is the swirling, dynamic, luminous core of what is now the most exciting beer culture on the planet.”
                                                                                                – Garrett Oliver