Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Celebration of Colorado Craft Beer at Denver Brew Fest

Americans travel from all over cities, counties, and states to attend popular festivals in the summertime. County and state fairs draw in residents with the allure of food on a stick, vomit inducing thrill rides, and sunburned children. These yearly rituals are performed no matter how awful of a time is had because, well, we Americans love the festival atmosphere. It’s a time for us all to celebrate and show our local pride, no matter how unappealing that local pride may seem to be to an outsider (does anyone really want to look at a huge slab of butter shaped as a cow).  But fear not, as there is another summer festival to travel to which trades in the corn dog  and Miller Lite for a grilled bratwurst and  true handcrafted Colorado brew without the tilt-a-whirl. This festival is the Denver Summer Brew Fest.
Welcome to Denver Brew Fest
Along with being a celebration of beer (which on its own is a reason to attend) the Denver Brew fest is in one of the best locations in America to spend your weekend exploring the outdoors. For anyone who has only seen Denver on TV while watching the Broncos, the “Mile High” city is so much more than snowy peaks behind a football stadium. The people of the Denver area inspire good health, great food, and amazing beer with their relaxed attitude and mountain views. The Denver area is peppered with low and high terrain biking/hiking trails and spectacular natural wonders like Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater all while offering all of the cosmopolitan luxury that you would expect from a major American city. The city is a must stop, but if you need a reason to push you over the edge to fly out then a brew fest filled with 40+ Colorado breweries ready to serve you their creations should be that last nudge.

Mile High Station, a great venue
I had been lucky enough to visit the Denver area multiple times in the past 5 years. Each time I fell  more in love with the area and Colorado’s ever growing craft beer industry (which in my opinion is in the top 3 of best brewing states in America). What made this trip special is that I would be paying homage to the familiar and new creations this state had to offer all in one place. The setting (Mile High Station) was the perfect venue for the festival. Mile High Station formerly housed a steel and ironworks factory and shipping yard for ship sections for the Navy during WWII. The building had been carefully preserved during its renovation into what it is today. Today this classic structure has the original brick exterior and I Beam steel structure along with an inviting open concept and awesome brick bar area.
The calm before the storm
I walked into this great room and observed what I love about the craft beer industry, the comradery. The time spent before the thousands of beer fans entered the event was spent setting up and then chatting amongst these great local titans of beer. There were stories being shared, jokes being told, and even a sneak of each other’s handcrafted flavors going on in the hall. As an organized event goes, this behind the scenes look let me see how well the Denver Brew Fest was run. The event staff, and brewers as well, were all orderly and organized but still ready to have a great time. Some events I’ve attended have been on either the militant side of orderly or the shambolic free for all side but the Denver Brew Fest organizers did a great job of balancing with such a large crowd and large number of vendors.

Following a quick rundown of events with the brewers, it was time for the doors to open and for me to sample some of Colorado’s finest. I obviously didn’t have time to try everything and though most everything I tasted was very good there were some clear standouts that deserved recognition and a drink if you can find them.
In no particular order, here were my Denver Brew Fest favorites:
More smores please!
Denver Beer Co Graham Cracker Porter- This creation from Denver Beer Co tasted like smores, real damn smores. Not just a thought of “well maybe I can taste the cracker”, but more like “did they just blend up some smores and add hops?” I love a good porter and the cracker addition to porter was genius. Find Denver Beer Co brews wherever you can (speaking of cans they just started canning as well) and leave the smores at home.
A steady stream of Beryl's fans
Beryl’s Beer Co. NO. One (On Brandy)Beryl’s Beer Co is new to the Denver beer scene, but with their NO. One (On Brandy) they will be around for a good long time. The NO. One original is an ESB that is just a little lighter on the hops than a bitter from England. By itself it was a very solid craft creation, but by adding brandy barrel aging for months to the original and this beer was at the top of my list. A great apricot note balanced out the original bitter and made for a great brew. Barrel aging is always awesome, but brandy barrel aging is as good as it gets for me.
Verboten and bratwurst, Sehr Gut!!
Verboten Brewing Company In Love with Summer- Verboten Brewing Company is also pretty new to the Colorado brewing scene as they have only been open for about a year and a half. They’re located in Loveland, Co (in between Denver and craft brewing giant Fort Collins) and describe themselves as a boutique brewing company able to switch out tap handles in weeks. The In Love with Summer is a traditional American wheat with a twist of fresh strawberry and rhubarb. This great brew brought me back to my childhood eating rhubarb crunch that my mom used to make (no she didn’t use beer in the recipe). Unlike some berry infused beers where the fruit is distant and only adds a little aroma, this beer had strong notes of both fruits used. These ingredients may be “verboten” in Munich, but in Loveland they were used to make a great beer.
Still some of the best in the biz
As I said, most everything I had was great but these 3 really stood out for a couple of reasons. First off the flavors were unique to the style that they came from. That creativity on top of the fine craftsmanship made for real standout flavor. The other thing about these breweries was that I’m unable to find them at home. That’s nothing against some of the great beers from Avery, Great Divide, or Oskar Blues that I had because those are all wonderful breweries worth a visit as well. These 3 brews were new to me and had great flavor that really stuck in my head which was really part of the beauty of the Denver Brew Fest experience.

My January is wide open!
If you put all of these ingredients together (awesome mountain views, cosmopolitan city, outdoor adventures, nearly unrivaled craft beer goodness) you get a recipe for the ultimate beer festival experience. Once you add in the wonderful organization behind it, the Denver Brew Fest is a must stop for locals and those traveling in from out of town. One of the bonuses is if you missed the weekend event this summer, you still have a chance to attend the Winter Brew Fest! That’s right, it’s a twice a year event which is perfect for all of the winter sports fanatics that travel through the area when the snow starts falling on the peaks. Hopefully in a few months I get an invite to Denver so I can throw on my stocking cap and drink some more of Colorado’s great local flavors.

Disclosure statement: I was a guest of The Denver Brew Fest to cover this event for free. All thoughts and statements are mine and not from the organizers of the event.