Saturday, November 09, 2013
With so many beer festivals in Colorado, a lot of them tend to blend together. And for the first six years of its existence, the All Colorado Beer Festival in Colorado Springs fell into that category of fun but unspectacular.
Something was different about this year's version, though - different enough where the ACBF might have to move into that don't-miss category in 2014. And it was a combination of things that elevated it.
First, the sheer number of breweries set the festival apart. Last year there were 37 beer makers pouring their products there. This year the number rose to 68 - all from Colorado, many small, some just barely open. Kudos to organizer Randy Dipner for that.
Second, one of the drawbacks of this fest in the past, like many massive beer gatherings, was that many of the breweries crammed into the space were offering the same beers you could find on any shelf all year long. That wasn't true this year.
From Gravity Brewing's intriguing Belgian Peppercorn Ale to Epic Brewing's fabulous coffee bomb Big Bad Baptist to Verboten Brewing's Good Day to You - a chocolate porter with sea salt - the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center floor was lined with new and different offerings. Even when a brewery brought something that missed wildly - such as Fort Collins Brewery's overwhelming Mesquite Chili Lime Ale - it missed by trying, not resting on its laurels.
Third, the VIP area continues to shine and is well worth the extra money. It was there that Grimm Brothers poured the tastiest beer of the festival, if not of the entire year, in its Devil's Riddle Ale, a strong ale aged nine months in Buffalo Trace barrels packed with Brettanomyces to complex effect. And it was there where the likes of New Belgium, Three Barrel and Trinity could happily turn an ordinary festival into a sour festival.
Finally, as a "celebrity judge" for the second year, I had the privilege of helping choose the winners in the IPA/imperial IPA category, and I noticed a huge difference in the quality of entrants just from last year. So when we blindly picked New Belgium's Rampant Imperial IPA for the gold medal and Dry Dock's Hop Abomination IPA for the silver (as shown in the photo at the top), it felt like we were honoring about the best in the state, not just the best there.
The ACBF typically occurs about a month after the Great American Beer Festival. If you haven't been yet, it's worth making a trip to Colorado Springs next year to do so.