Great American Beer Festival Diary: Day 3

Two members of Odd Side Ales, a Michigan-based craft beer brewery, at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado

At 9:15 a.m. Saturday, I’m back at the Great American Beer Festival grounds. The awards ceremony is about to begin BUT FIRST, we’ve a gauntlet of breakfast burritos and coffee to push through. There are regular breakfast burritos, that absolutely taste regular; and there are chorizo breakfast burritos, that absolutely taste regular but have chorizo and a different-colored foil wrapping.

When the ceremony comes around, goers have a choice: sit inside the auditorium, without easy access to beer; or sit outside the auditorium, where samples of past medal-winning beers were provided. I did the latter, but only because I needed space to work on my laptop. That is 100-percent the only reason why. No other reason.

Minnesota’s first medal is gold, claimed by Big Lake’s Lupulin Brewing in the Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest category. Less than a minute later, St. Cloud’s Beaver Island Brewing wins bronze for their Oktoberfest in the German-style Marzen category. Summit EPA, Ol’ Trusty, follows up last year’s gold medal with a silver in Classic English-Style Pale Ale. Summit EPA is now 2-for-2 winning medals at the ceremony when I show up wearing my Summit T-shirt. There’s obviously a connection there.

The Freehouse nabs a silver medal in the Gose division while I’m in line for the john. Thankfully, I don’t miss it when The Freehouse wins a second silver medal, for their No. 20 Barleywine. The Freehouse often gets overlooked in discussions about beer in the North Loop (and I’m just as guilty as anyone). It might be time to change that.

After winning silver and bronze in previous years, Bent Paddle‘s 14-degree ESB wins gold. As I’m sure you know, Bent Paddle is located in the Duluth neighborhood where I spent much of my youth. Nobody from Bent Paddle is there, unfortunately, so I meet up with Aaron Zierdt and Matt “Sugar” Schiller of Lupulin afterward and have a look at their medal. We shoot a short little joke video first. I try to wrangle them again for a real interview, but we can never quite connect. That just means I’ll have to go out to the brewery and drink all of their beer instead of just one. Tough life, I tell ya.

Frank Haataja meets the team at Roets Jordan Brewery, a Jordan, Minnesota-based craft beer brewery

At the festival, I finally get to meet one of the best call-in interviews I’ve ever had, Tim Roets of Roets Jordan Brewing. He brought the whole band out to party, and tossed his hat into the Pro-Am competition at this year’s fest. He didn’t win, but the IPA he did with Wayne Doucette was light and easy to drink. After so many hop assaults, this one was a relief.

If you’re unfamiliar with Roets Jordan, the brewery opened at the start of the year on Jordan’s main street after a 40-ton landslide wiped out his original location back in 2014. Roets is a big guy with a big smile and big energy. Chat with him once and you’ll recognize right away the kind of person who wouldn’t let something like a 40-ton landslide stop him.

I find Jeremy Pryes and Gabe Smoley of Pryes Brewing as the festival winds down. They’re doing extensive research, and I don’t mean the sarcastic “research” that actually just means drinking too much. No, Pryes and Smoley are doing very real research and it seems as though they put a lot of thought into their strategy for conducting this research. It’s just another example of how hard Jeremy Pryes works. If he ever took a day off, he’d probably just spend it working to develop the perfect day off.

The Fiction Beer Company booth at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado

While I find Roets and Pryes roaming the festival grounds, I approach Matthew Heiser of Estes Park-based Rock Cut Brewing at his festival stand. I’m never sure if I should introduce myself to past interviewees when they’re working festivals. For all I know, Rock Cut could’ve had 100 interview requests since when we spoke back in January. I decide not to say anything … and then feel like a total imbecile when he offers me a handshake and introduces me immediately to his business partner.

I’m also introduced to Funky Portal, an East Coast-style IPA barrel-fermented with Brettanomyces. I don’t typically enjoy this style of beer, but I really like this one. It keeps a hazy complexion without looking pulpy and gross, and it isn’t a “bomb” of any particular flavor. I go back for this one a few times.

Heiser recommends Fiction Beer Company, a Denver-based outfit whose book-centric branding certainly stands out at the festival. Fiction has beer names like Feely Effects, Tiger Lunch, and Damned Curious Business. Their Barrel-Aged Feely Effects, a chocolate milk stout with green tea aged in bourbon barrels, reinvigorates me after I’d been contemplating wrapping it up early. It was silky smooth, perfectly balanced, simply a joy to drink.

Their Aquitarian No. 3 was specifically suggested by Heiser, and I understood why when I drank it. I got too caught up in it to take any notes, but I can tell you I wished every sour would taste just like my sample of Aquitarian No. 3. Just as Rock Cut is appointment drinking when I visit Estes Park, I may never leave Denver again without drinking at Fiction.

Two members of Odd Side Ales, a Michigan-based craft beer brewery, at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado

Make a beer called Rye Hipster Brunch Stout and bet your ass I’ll come a-knockin’, but Grand Haven, Michigan’s Odd Side Ales takes it a couple of steps further. This brunch stout wins silver this year in the Specialty Beer category, and wait – a different Odd Side beer won gold in that same category for their Barrel Aged Sweet Potato Soufflé Rye. I make a beeline to their stand after the ceremony, where I’m met with a team of dudes in tank tops, short shorts, and headbands. You could wait in line and have one of these beers, or you could have a sponge-on tattoo and skip said line. Right bicep, please.

The beers are described to me at first as “Do you want brunch, or do you want Thanksgiving?” It’s 1 p.m. on a Saturday in October. Go ahead and give me some of both.

Rye Hipster is an absolute masterpiece. Coffee, syrup, and bacon, with rye malt and aged in rye whiskey barrels. Well-known ingredients, applied to stunning effect. I drink it and think, “No way in hell this should have only won silver,” but then I try the Soufflé. To quote a Kanye West lyric, the Soufflé had me dead. Velvety and just a little bit sweet, with a warm embrace at the end. I think about it as I write this and my mouth waters.

I tell them why I’m here, and they’re enthusiastic to learn more. One of their team members assures me I’d have a great time if I was ever to, say, bring my podcast equipment out to Grand Haven and hang out for a while. He tells me it’s not far from Grand Rapids. He tells me there’s a lot of good beer to be had out that way. Sold!

*** *** ***

It’s around 8:30 p.m. now, and people are starting to behave the way you’d expect. Conversations are louder, more glasses are hitting the floor, and people just look lost out there. I stop by the Lupulin Brewing stand, and find their station and those around them starting to be broken down. As I turn back around, a young woman kicks me in the shin performing a dance move. Yeah, I decide, it’s time. I have one more glass of water and leave.

The whole thing has left me exhausted. At one point, I abruptly went from rushing to waiting. At another, I went from unadulterated joy to barely-contained rage in a matter of minutes. At one point, my nose just randomly began bleeding. I spent probably 10 minutes in a port-a-potty, plugging my nostril with wads of toilet paper. I left after the first Saturday session, and gave serious consideration to not going back for the second.

I trudge to Rhein Haus, where Left Hand and Victory Brewing are hosting a GABF farewell party. Joe Shea ignites a “Beat the Brewers” challenge at the Rhein Haus bocce fields. A member of Left Hand’s team and I take them on. I once again showcase just how incredibly awesome I am at finding a partner to carry me in a game of bocce. We win, 15-12. Joe and I shake hands and hug probably 20 times over the course of the night.

I spoke about Left Hand’s hospitality in my Day 1 post, and I really can’t overstate how hospitable they are. After long days like this one, it’s nice knowing I have a welcoming crew of people I can hide out with while I recharge. Eventually, though, I decide to seek out some alone time. I slide off to Euclid Hall and find a dark, quiet two-person booth to dump myself into. I plop my bag in one seat, and take the other. A charismatic young man approaches, and a great next chapter begins.


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