Another bucket list item checked off. I'd been to Denver twice in my life, but not the Great American Beer Festival. This event has more American beers than any other festival: 4000 beers from about 800 breweries.
Denver is one of the "big three" American beer cities, along with San Diego and Portland Oregon, which I'd visited three months earlier on my West Coast trip. For several days before the GABF I visited breweries in Denver, as well as some nearby towns.
Sunday September 16. A warm, cloudy day - part of a run of moist weather Maryland was having due to Hurricane Florence, which was wreaking havoc in the Carolinas. I left my car in Linthicum Heights and walked to the Linthicum Light Rail station at 7:30 a.m. It then occurred to me that the Light Rail doesn't start running until after 10:30 on Sundays, so I Lyfted to BWI.
The flight was easy and arrived early. Southwest is my favorite airline. I've never had a problem with them. They are reliable and the first two checked bags are free.
I retrieved my checked bag and took the shuttle to Budget to get my rental car. There were dozens of people in line. C'mon people, I've got beer waiting!
It was a beautiful sunny day. Denver was experiencing record heat, with temperatures well into the 90s, but it wasn't very uncomfortable because it was dry. I drove an hour to WeldWerks, which is located in Greeley. Speed limit on the highways was 75. WeldWerks, which opened in 2015, makes many different beers, including several New England-style IPAs and DIPAs. I sampled:
On a tip from a couple from Chicago named Mark and Melissa, I went to nearby Wiley Roots, a small rustic place that opened in 2013. It was pricey: $12.50 for 3 samples. I tried:
Next stop was Odell, which has a nice biergarten. This and the breweries I would visit later in the day are in Fort Collins. I sampled:
A half mile away is New Belgium. It's a fairly big place with outdoor seating and a rolle bolle court. This brewery has always promoted bicycling, and there were a bunch of bicyclists there who had just finished a 3-day, 225-mile ride. Tours were being given but I didn't bother because they lasted an hour and a half and I had already gotten a tour of their Asheville brewery on my Asheville trip. They played great music from the late 70s and early 80s (B-52s, Vapors, etc). The staff doesn't take tips because the place is 100% employee-owned. I tried:
A few minutes away is funkwerks (yes, all lowercase). I tried all of their sour ales:
I spent the night at my first Airbnb ever, a room in an old lady's house. It was similar to a place I stayed at in Berkeley, but that place was advertised as a motel so it wasn't technically an Airbnb. I think I'll start looking into Airbnbs for future trips, since staying in someone's home feels friendlier than a motel, plus people's homes are often in quiet neighborhoods, whereas motels are often located next to loud and busy roads. I've looked into couchsurfing, but since you stay for free, you're expected to hang out with the hosts for a little while, which is great if you want to meet new people, but my trips tend to involve a packed agenda, which leaves little time for hanging out with my hosts, plus I sometimes come and go at odd hours.
Beer + jet lag = early bedtime. I slept from 8-ish until quarter to midnight and couldn't get back to sleep, so I spent the wee hours writing and getting ready for the day's adverntures.
Monday September 17. At 6 a.m. I picked up food at Safeway, then drove to Rocky Mountain National Park. There was some nice scenery on the way.
I also saw some mountain goats. Some were on a steep hill and others were by the side of the road.
I stopped at one of the park's visitors centers, and I'm glad I did because I was informed that the parking lot at Bear Lake (where I would be hiking) had filled up by 6 a.m. And this was on a Monday! Imagine how crowded they get on weekends. September is one of the park's busiest months because that's when the leaves start to turn color. So I drove to the Park-n-Ride to get the shuttle. On the way there were elk by the side of the road. It looked like a male and a bunch of females and youngsters.
There were about 50 people in line for the shuttle, and while I was waiting at least 50 more got in line behind me. The parking lot at Bear Lake was a zoo, with every space taken and cars driving through hoping to get a space as someone pulled out. (It was only a little after 9 a.m. so how many folks would be leaving by now?) Bear Lake is a very short walk from the shuttle stop.
Many of the trees in the park are coniferous, but the deciduous ones were starting to change color, and summer wasn't even over yet.
There were lots of squirrels and chipmunks, who weren't afraid of people, maybe because some visitors have fed them.
Eventually I arrived at Nymph Lake.
Later on I walked past Dream Lake.
There were fish in the lake, which could have been trout but I'm no fish expert.
The final lake on this hike was Emerald Lake.
After that I hiked down to Alberta Falls.
I hiked back up and caught a shuttle bus exactly at noon just before it left. Then I drove to the Oskar Blues Tasty Weasel Taproom in Longmont. It's one of several Oskar Blues locations. Oskar Blues is part of a craft brewery collective called CANarchy, which includes about half a dozen other breweries including Cigar City. It gives them buying/distribution power without having to sell out to big brewing companies such as Anheuser-Busch. Tasty Weasel opened in 2008. It has a big brewery and a good size taproom. They hire special needs people to help in the taproom. My bartender let me take photos in the brewery, and one of the employees pulled a fresh can of Pinner (a session IPA) off the canning line and gave it to me. It was nice and refreshing, but I didn't drink it all because I would be hitting 3 more breweries that day. I'd already had all of their year-round beers because they're available in Maryland, but they had some rare and small batch stuff, so I tried some of those.
Next I went to North Boulder Liquors, which carries a nice selection of beers from breweries such as Wicked Weed, Odd13, Casey Brewing & Blending, The Bruery, and Lost Abbey, plus several Belgians. I bought 750s of both the Casey beers they had (beers from this brewery are highly rated and extremely difficult to find) and a 6-pack of an Odd13 juicy IPA that's supposed to be great.
After that I visited Avery Brewing in Boulder. It has a nice interior and exterior. I tried:
They happened to be giving a tour while I was there, so even though I'd already had many brewery tours in my life, I figured why not? If nothing else it enabled me to get photos of the equipment.
Then it was on to Upslope Brewing. Dogs are allowed both inside and outside. I sampled:
I checked into my second Airbnb ever. It was in a very nice residential neighborhood. People were taking walks and riding bikes. It was like the 1970s. I had the entire basement of a single family home. It had some interesting knickknacks such as these:
Also check out the chalkboard. The edges are really staright; they just look wavy because I took a panoramic shot by walking along it.
After moving my stuff in, I walked to Southern Sun, which is one of the restaurants owned by Mountain Sun. It's a "nice" (i.e., clean) restaurant with a festive vibe. Mountain Sun was having their 25th anniversary this year, and, coincidentally, so was Avery. One of the servers gave me small samples of 6 beers so I could decide which one I wanted a glass of. They weren't world class but they were better than you usually find at "nice" restaurants.
It was still nice and warm out when I walked back after dark, and there were still a few people walking around. I went to sleep around 9 p.m. and slept all the way to 3 a.m.
Tuesday September 18. Packed all my stuff, including beer, in such a way that I could roll or wear it instead of carrying anything in my hands because I would be schlepping it around Denver. My rolling suitcase must have weighed 80 pounds. It was strenuous to bring it up the stairs and load it in the car. The things I do for beer.
It was a gorgeous sunny day. Drove back to Budget to return the car. Traffic coming the other way was awful. Topped off the tank at a gas station located on the same road as all the rental agencies, and of course it was packed because everyone does that. Returning the car was a breeze: just pulled in, someone used a hand-held device to check the car in and gave me a receipt, and I jumped on the shuttle to the airport. I didn't even have to go inside the Budget office like I did when I picked the car up.
At the airport I got a MyRide card and hopped on an RTD (Regional Transportation District) train to Denver. (The train system is called the Light Rail.) I then walked to Great Divide Barrel Bar. I purposely arrived well before they opened at noon to give me time to lay a food base before I went in.
A block away is Mockery Brewing, which normally doesn't open til 3 PM, but I saw someone working there so I walked over and talked to him. He said that because of the GABF, they opened at noon all week. Sweet! I went around to their outdoor seating area and ate the food I'd brought, then went in right at noon. It's a nice little place with the small brewing area and the bar in the same room. I'd been in contact with my friend Kevin, who I've been friends with since he lived in Maryland, and he left work early to meet me. We sampled:
Then we walked to Great Divide Barrel Bar and sampled:
We then drove over to Crooked Stave, which specializes in barrel-aged sour ales. Of their 22 taps, 18 were sours. We tried:
Crooked Stave has two locations. This one is in a market hall / hotel called The Source. The vendors all seemed to be food- and drink-related.
Next stop was Epic Brewing, where we tried:
Our final stop was Strange Craft Beer Company / Wit's End Brewing. Somehow the two merged and I'm not about to research all the details. We sampled:
Kevin dropped me off at a train station. The train had stairs, unlike the one I'd boarded at the airport, and I had a heck of a time ascending with my bag of anvils. Fortunately a woman helped me. I rode to south Denver, schlepped my stuff for a half-hour walk, and arrived tired and shvitzy at my friend Jen's place. We've known each other since the 90s and she moved to Denver in 2000.
Jen runs trivia at several establishments, and I went with her to her weekly Tuesday gig at a place called Reivers Bar & Grill. But first we went to a cannabis dispensary. As of this writing, recreational cannabis is legal only in about 8 states, and Colorado is one of them. Of note is that taxes on recreational cannabis are very high. There is a state marijuana sales tax of 15%, plus state and local sales taxes, all of which total about 22%. I assume it's similar in other states. Also note that I'm not saying that I bought anything or that I took it home on the plane.
Reivers is located in a section of Denver called Washington Park, known by the locals as Wash Park. It's on Gaylord Street, which has lots of nice shops, bars, and restaurants. The vibe was friendly and fun, and several restaurants had sidewalk seating.
I had never played trivia before. Jen hooked me up with some of her friends and I was on their team. Seven teams competed for prizes such as bar bucks and pitchers of beer. My team won, with little help from me.
I was quite tired when we got back to her place after a long day of traveling, brewery hopping, and staying up late. Oh, by the way, Jen is a Star Wars fan. How do I know? Well...
Wednesday September 19. Got a pretty good night's sleep. Loaded an app on my phone that enables one to navigate around town using the RTD system. This would come in handy several times today. After a morning of writing, packing food, shaving, showering, etc, I headed out at noon. It was another beautiful day. Using the RTD app I figured out the least time-consuming route to my first brewery. I hopped on a bus, which took me to a train station. Then I took the train downtown. Unfortunately the train had a shortened route that day due to RTD track replacement, but the app helped me find a bus that took me where I needed to go. As I waited for the bus I noticed that downtown Denver is like any other big city: crowded, trafficky, smelly, noisy, polluted, and teeming with homeless people. It has some great breweries but that doesn't make the city as a whole any prettier.
First stop of the day: Great Divide Brewery & Tap Room. I had been here during my 2012 Denver trip. (Recall that the previous day I visited Great Divide's other location.) They allow food inside, so I ate most of the food I'd bought in order to lay a base, then got samples of:
I had plenty of time to reach my next brewery, so I took my time. It was nice to not feel hurried. I spend months planning my vacations and I'm very good at executing my plans so that I get everywhere on schedule, but it's also nice to have some time that isn't structured. I just ambled along and enjoyed being rather than doing. We need a balance of being and doing for optimal mental health. Too much rushing around and "getting things done" without stopping occasionally for repose can cause too much stress, as evidenced by how stressed out many people are.
As I was walking I encountered a Buddhist temple, which seemed a little out of place in a big city. Coincidentally, Buddhism is all about just being. A little while later I hopped on a bus, and after a few stops a man sat next to me reading My Spiritual Journey by the Dalai Lama, who is a Buddhist. Coincidence? Sometimes related events happen to us within a short time, and it can seem as though some intelligent force made them happen, but is it so? The more we experience things in the world, the greater the chance that related things will happen to us by pure chance. Plus, these related events happen only occasionally; most days we don't experience coincidences. So these events could simply be random.
I arrived at TRVE (pronounced "true") about 20 minutes before they were scheduled to open at 3:00, but, like many downtown breweries, they had opened early due to the GABF. TRVE has been in business since 2012. It has a very goth décor, and many of the customers and bartenders had tattoos. They played death metal music. The walls had some neat paintings such as these:
Most of the beers they make are funky/sour, but they also have some clean beers. The beer names have dark names such as Suffering Soul, Solid Hex, Cursed, Cosmic Crypt, and Exhumation. Unfortunately they don't do small pours; you have to get at least 10 ounces of clean beers and 12 ounces of funky beers. I ordered a clean beer but later one of the servers gave me tiny samples of two funky beers.
Using the RTD app I hopped on a bus that took me close to my next brewery. As I was approaching it I discovered another brewery called Dos Luces. It had just opened 6 weeks earlier. It has a Mexican/Peruvian theme, and all of its drinks are made with corn or maguey (agave). No barley is used, so everything is gluten-free. I tried:
Then it was on to the last stop of the day: Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, which also opened early due to the GABF. As the name suggests, they make only sour/funky ales. They started in 2012. All the beers names are related to government projects or aviation. The bar top was built from an old airplane wing. I sampled:
I walked to a train station to catch the H train back to Jen's, but it never came. It could have been due to the rain or to an accident downtown where a train hit a car. The RTD app told me that I could take an E train, then a bus, to my destination, so that's what I did. The app really came in handy that day. The only thing that bothered me was that with all of our modern technology, the app couldn't be updated in real time to let riders know that H train service was disrupted.
I made it back to Jen's, crashed shortly thereafter, and slept almost 8 hours (which is about 3 more than I usually sleep).
Thursday September 20. A nice day - the "heat wave" seems to be over. (I used quotes because the humidity in Maryland makes a Colorado heat wave seem tame.) Walked to a local dispensary called Ascend (just to look around, of course) and then to Walmart to pick up food. Had several hours to kill before leaving for the GABF, which gave me time to make sandwiches to take to the fest, pack the beers I'd be taking home with me, and work on this web page.
It was beautiful and sunny when I rode into town. Arrived well over an hour before the festival started in order to have time to eat and to make sure I'd be able to find my way to the train when I left the festival (it would be dark out by then). Lots of volunteers were arriving. I made my way to the ticketholder line, figuring I'd be near the front, but there were already thousands of people waiting. I ate in line. Eventually they started letting us into the building. First we had to go through security, which was similar to airline security in that we went through a metal detector and were not allowed to bring in liquids. Food was also prohibited unless it could be hung around one's neck (many folks wore pretzel necklaces), so I had to go off to the side and finish eating before I could go through.
After security they checked our tickets (which are delivered to cell phones via AXS/FlashSeats), gave us our tasting cups, and herded us into several long lines. This is a photo of just one small section of the crowd:
At 5:30 they let us in. I had mapped out more than 30 breweries that I wanted to hit, and I carried a map with me in order to navigate the space, which was the size of 8 football fields. As expected, the lines were ridiculous at some of my preferred breweries, such as Russian River, Melvin, New Glarus, and Crooked Stave, and I didn't spend time waiting for them because beer would be poured for only a little over 4 hours and waiting for one brewery could mean missing several others. Also, lines were surprisingly short or even nonexistent at some of my faves, such as Shmaltz and Wild Barrel. Here are the beers I sampled, in order:
Afterward I somehow managed to find the train, not miss my stop, and walk back to Jen's. I hung out with her on her balcony for a while, and I don't remember anything after that.
Friday September 21. Woke up before dawn, a little hungover. By the fuzz on my teeth I could tell that I hadn't brushed them. Also I wasn't wearing my night guard (keeps me from grinding my teeth). I couldn't get back to sleep. After Jen woke up she sent me this pic, which explains the previous night.
I spent most of the day writing, preparing food, and recovering from the previous night. The morning was chilly, but by the time I took a walk at midday it had warmed into the 70s and was brilliantly sunny - a picture perfect day.
I arrived at the festival earlier than the previous day - an hour and a half before it started - and there were "only" several hundred people in line instead of a few thousand. But of course the line steadily grew. Here's a shot of part of the crowd in the cattle lines:
Having hit most of the breweries I wanted to hit the previous day, I had time to visit some of the specialty areas. Jameson had a section with beers that had been aged in their barrels. Most of them were stouts. I sampled:
There was an area that served collaboration beers. I tried:
Most of my beer tastings came from the main floor. I even waited in the long lines at the most popular breweries.
Every time someone dropped their cup, folks would yell "Ohhhhhhhhhhh", like Andrew Dice Clay. Oskar Blues had a silent disco, where people were given headphones so no one but those folks could hear the music. Melvin Brewing played music and had a guy playing sax while wearing an elephant mask.
Afterward I made it back to Jen's in one piece and managed not to pass out with the light on.
Saturday September 22. Another cool but sunny morning. Today's session started at noon so I left mid-morning to give me plenty of time to get there and lay a food base. It was another gorgeous day. I arrived more than a hour and a half before the session started, and there were fewer people in line than the day before, but still several hundred. The rule on food is you can bring in anything as long as you can wear it around your neck. This led to creative methods such as this:
Of course, if you put stuff in your pockets, they're never gonna know unless it sets off the metal detector. Anyway, here is a shot of the cattle lines:
Since I had done just about everything I wanted to do the previous two nights, I was able to walk around at a leisurely pace and visit many of the less-known breweries. But I also waited in line at a few of the more popular breweries. There were only two beers I'd sampled over the previous two days that I liked enough to drink again: Odd12 Intergalaxtic Space Hunter and Wild Barrel Hipsters Demise. My samples included:
There were long lines at some breweries (as expected), while other breweries had very few customers. If a brewery isn't well known, people tend to pass it by. New Holland had a lounge where they served samples of four barrel-aged stouts, which were different from the ones they were serving on the main floor (beers 29-32 above).
Toward the end of the session I visited the area that had breweries from many different state brewing guilds. I think I had been to it on Thursday. I tried:
That's 114 beers, which was surprising because I took my time and the session was a half hour shorter than the previous two.
Getting back afterwards was a breeze because it was still light out. The weather was quite warm and very sunny. I took some photos of the grounds at Jen's apartment complex as I was walking back from the train station.
Then I relaxed for a few hours before dozing off.
Sunday September 23. Jen and I got up at o'dark thirty and she drove me to the airport. There was a surprising amount of traffic at 6:00 on a Sunday morning. The airport was very busy, so apparently this is a popular time to travel. Anyway, the flight home was a breeze. So ended a great trip. I saw a few friends, did some hiking, visited 18 breweries, attended the world's largest beer festival, and sampled 442 beers. Not bad for one week.