Saturday, October 08, 2016
Half a mile east of the Colorado Convention Center and the hubbub of the Great American Beer Festival sits the McNichols Civic Center Building, which hosts smaller and typically more staid events. But on Friday afternoon, it was the site of what is arguably the best non-GABF event of GABF week, and it was for three hours the center of the beer universe.
Denver Rare Beer Tasting, now in its eighth year, is at its heart a plea for better health. Founded by beer enthusiast and cancer survivor Rick Lyke, it is the largest annual fund-raiser for his charity Pints for Prostates, which has brought in $1.3 million over the past eight years to raise awareness about prostate cancer and to offer free testing both at the event and outside the convention center this week.
But while Lyke can brag of how much the event has helped those who come by - more than 10 percent of men getting the testing have elevated prostate-specific antigen levels that require them to see the doctor for treatment - he realizes free testing alone won't garner so much attention. So, he uses the help of 54 acclaimed breweries, with another 40 still on the waiting list, that donate and pour some of their rarest, most complex and often barrel-aged creations to lend a hand.
Strolling through the event is like looking into the minds of the best beer makers in the country. Funky Buddha's Aged Chocwork Orange - an imperial milk porter given six months on Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels then infused with cocoa nibs and orange peel - was like biting into the fanciest chocolate you've ever tried and letting it swirl around your mouth.
The sours flowed as if they were water. Two Roads' 2015 Kriek, aged 18 months in oak barrels, delivered a phenomenally sharp cherry bite without being acidic. Russian River's Intinction - its STS Pils aged nine months in sauvignon blanc barrels with sauv-blanc grape juice added - was intriguing and easy on the palate. And it was being poured publicly for just the second time.
And if you just wanted to see how brewers could take a traditional flavor and turn it on its head, Holy City Brewing's Schmetterling, a smoked marzen aged 10 months in whisky barrels, was example number one. Both sweet and smoky, it broke all style guidelines and took you on an adventure.
Getting tickets to Denver Rare Beer Tasting isn't easy - they're $115 and sold out a full three months ago. But Lyke said that he knows of people who fly out to Denver for GABF week and attend this rather than any of the festival sessions. And after seeing the offerings the tasting has and understanding the impact the event can have on people's lives, it's not that hard to see why.