Beer aficionados get a mile high at Denver gala

Somewhere among the 1,700-plus brews at the Great American Beer Festival, which dizzied Denver recently, I tasted the world’s greatest beer.

It was the nectar of the gods, a wondrous balance of malts and hops that refreshed my overworked palate and soothed my soul.

The name? Don’t ask.

It’s indecipherably inked into my notebook and blurred by the spilt suds of some drunken journalist. All that remains is a cryptic, smudged scribble: * * * * * This ish @* $$*##Copyright great!!! Got to find more.

That’s what you get when you plow into the GABF with glasses in both fists and a festival-mandated one-ounce-per-taste limit. After glugging down the first 70 or 80 beers, you tend to forget some of the details.

All is not lost. Highly paid assistants have helped me compile this thumbnail review of the festival, the largest/oldest/importantest in the world.

As for me, I am doomed to wander the earth for the rest of my mortal days, sipping one beer after the next, in search of that great beer.

GREAT MOMENT I

Meeting Sam Caglione’s dad, Sam. Son owns Dogfish Head Brewing in Lewes, Del.; Dad is a New England oral surgeon who invested in the brewery. They didn’t bring back any medals for their beer – Chicory Stout, Immort Ale and Shelter Pale Ale – but the two had a ball.

Amid the earnest hucksterism of beer marketers, running into the father-son team was a reminder that craft brewing is about people, not corporations.

LOCAL WINNERS

The guys down at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant of Newark, Del., have got to be walking on air. Their Wee Heavy took a bronze in the Strong Scotch Ale division – their second medal in as many years. Last year’s Lodestone’s Lager won the gold in the Munchener Helles category. This year’s showing is even more remarkable because Scotch ales had to be the toughest of the festival’s 52 categories. Joe Sixpack lapped up at least a half-dozen superb examples, any of which could have been judged No. 1.

Meanwhile, Independence Brewing got back into the medal mix with a bronze in the Marzen/Oktoberfest category for its Franklinfest. Two years ago, it won a gold for its tasty Oktoberfest.

BAD NEWS DEPT.

Last spring’s first-ever GABF road show in Baltimore may have been the last. Poor attendance has the Association of Brewers reassessing its plans to expand its popular festival beyond Denver.

Association prez Charles Papazian told me, though, there will be no GABF road show in 1999. After that, he’s uncertain.

GREAT MOMENT II

Watching Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery conduct a tutored tasting of India Pale Ales. You never saw such sniffing and snorting and meaningful gazes at amber ales. “The guy’s got a Ph.D. in hops,” one fan exclaimed.

Hint for hopsheads: Get your hands on BridgePort IPA. It’s not available in Philly, but you may run into it in the D.C. area.

BIGGEST SHOCK

Stoudt Brewing of Adamstown failed to win any medals. That’s a first for Carol Stoudt, who had cashed in at her first 10 festivals.

No matter. The brewery’s festival ale, served alongside a special edition from Sierra Nevada, was a huge hit.

BIGGEST SHOWOFF

Anheuser-Busch momentarily halted its assault on the tongues of America by rolling out a few kegs of chocolate lager. It was very respectable . . . and you’ll never taste it, because the brew was an experimental concoction of the beer factory’s specialty division. It will never be bottled.

I’m not sure why A-B bothers – unless it’s an in-house scheme to amuse the brewmasters by allowing them play with the toys. It’s sort of the beer equivalent of letting the Marines invade Grenada.

FESTIVAL FAVES

These didn’t bring home any hardware, but they caught Joe Sixpack’s attention.

New Glarus (Colo.) Raspberry Tart – very fruity and cider-like.

Twin Falls (Idaho) Brewing Trippin’ Trippel – strong and smoooooooth.

Oasis (Colo.) Zoser Stout – rich and chocolatey.

Bert Grant’s Hopzilla Ale – like a garden in a glass. Great name, too, but it probably won’t be used. The brewery’s a little worried that the Japanese lizard will object.

Joe Sixpack (written this week with a bottle of Le Cheval Blanc Apocalypse Buckwheat Ale) appears every other Friday.

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