Sunday, November 09, 2008

Thoughts on the All Colorado Beer Festival

No beer festival should be expected to fully come of age in its second year. That said, Colorado Springs' All Colorado Beer Festival, which took place Friday and Saturday, made some positive strides and took a few small steps back this year too. Here's some Monday-morning quarterbacking thoughts on the well-run event, which you really should be putting on your schedule if you haven't yet:

*Because of the new setup of booths, I originally had thought there were less breweries there this year than in 2007. But in checking the programs from both years, I found the number actually grew - from 20 to 24. Some of the additions were very welcome. No festival calling itself "All Colorado" should be without Boulder or Lefthand, for example, and both newcomers added credibility to the show. Also, festival organizer Randy Dipner was wise to incorporate a number of places that either started up or ramped up greatly in the past year, namely Rocky Mountain, Trinity and Trinidad; festivals are times to show drinkers what's out there that they may not know about, and having the newbies on hand is great. However, it still concerns me that a show calling itself "All Colorado" can be without Great Divide once again, can lose Avery and doesn't draw in some of the hidden gems in Colorado brewing, such as Pug Ryan's or Bull and Bush. The Fort Collins festival, which is essentially a drunken keg bash, can get many of the aforementioned breweries; a festival like this that caters more to true beer lovers should be able to as well.

*In my lauding of the ACBF last year, I noted that Dipner should push a little harder to get breweries to bring more experimentals to mix with their standard fare. And while some didn't get the message (ahem, New Belgium), others showed off their lesser-seen sides. Left Hand was gracious enough to break out its recently released seasonal Snowbound Ale, a clove- and ginger-heavy dark beer that is one of the more complex holiday brews of recent years. Trinidad rocked the festival with a 10.5 percent Wee Heavy Lassie that had the heavy alcoholic backtaste without the syrupy consistency of many other such big beers. And God bless the Colorado Springs gem Arctic Brewing, whose lineup included a peach lager, a chili lager and the only sour beer on the floor, all of which were tasty enough to inspire much conversation.

*I'll say this again: The festival has the best booklets that I've yet seen to describe to attendees what goes into these beers. A great idea especially for those geeks like me who tend to write down all of the qualities of the beer but find for this show that we don't have to.

*No two people in the Fearless Tasting Crew agreed on the beer of show. But here are a couple that left a lot of heads nodding: the butt-kicking Wee Heavy Lassie; the eye-opening Snowbound Ale, which tasted more complex than past versions; Arctic's Patientia Sour (though it is so sour that it makes others in the genre look mild); Twisted Pine's Big Shot Espresso Stout, which raises the coffee-beer genre beyond aroma and backtaste of the darker liquid and really feels like you're injecting sharpness and strength into your taste buds; and Rocky Mountain's Smoked Hefeweizen, which has a sweet aftertaste to give a unique compliment to its heavily smoked, almost barbecue-esque front taste.

*Finally, there was one last area of agreement from most of the folks to whom I talked: The music has got to be turned down. The small area at Mr. Biggs is wonderful in that you can survey the whole floor, walk easily in between booths and not lose friends even if you try. But a couple of electric guitars reverberate through the area very loudly and make you raise your voice to a point that you don't want to in order to talk to friends. Please, Randy, go acoustic for the entertainment or just let it go au naturale, as most beer festivals do. Then maybe we can even do more talking about the quality of beers in the room.

Thoughts from anyone else who attended?

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Beer of the show to me was the Left Hand Snowbound seasonal. Basically an English strong ale but with the usual holiday spices. I tasted a lot of cinnamon but balanced well with the cloves and ginger so it doesn't get on your nerves too quickly.

I spent the whole night pouring beers at Left Hand and Boulder so I didn't get out to try too much since I was, rather unintentionally, getting hammered on the beers in front of me and the nearby at Arctic, Oscar Blues and Bristol. I should have taken the time to wander more.

Chile beer at Arctic was good. Oscar Blues Gordon is still great. I liked both Milk Stouts from Arctic and Left Hand but I think by the end of the evening I was a little partial to Arctic's. And I LOVE the Mojo IPA from Boulder because they use my favorite hops... Amarillo.

And yes, many props to Left Hand and anyone else who brought a seasonal or experimental beer.

Music on Friday night was better. Grass It Up isn't really all that loud to begin with. But they sounded great! Good job on getting one of the more popular local bands to come play.
I attended the Saturday afternoon ACBF session. It seemed like only 250 or so turned out if that. Had no problems trying all of the beers I wanted. I posted a little gripe about the lack of some Northern Colorado breweries to this. No Fort Collins Brewery, Crabtree, Pitchers, Great Divide. And one of the breweries that did show up essentially just sent beer and nothing else and it was their common brews.

Kudos too to Artic Craft for their sour beer. Absolutely my favorite of the session. Also found a very good cider from Rocky Mountain Brewery - Rump Romper Raspberry Cyder.

Seeing how this is the fall/winter seasonal time of year, you'd think more breweries would feature their seaonal beers, but sadly no.

Twisted Pine came through with their Northstar Imperial Porter.

I thought Trinity Brewing had the most interesting tasting beer - their Farmhouse Saison. Wow - that white sage made for one sweet funky beer.

I think more could be done to drum up attention for this beer fest. There is still room to expand as Mr Biggs has a side room behind the back door they could expend into. Overall, I had a good time but couldn't help feeling that it could have been even better.

Supposedly the evening sessions were better attended. I just didn't want to have to drive back up north to Greeley too late in the evening.
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