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Two words to describe America’s largest beer festival: amazing and overwhelming.

Where do I even begin?

As you know, Nick won the local pro-am competition through Ghost River/Boscos and that is what took us to Denver last week to experience the awesomeness that is the Great American Beer Festival. Nick’s best friend and brewing buddy from college, Kenneth, was able to fly in from Seattle for the fest, so after meeting up with him at the airport Thursday morning, we immediately hopped on a bus to the first brewery on our list.

After navigating Denver’s public transit and Google maps, we finally made it to Copper Kettle. They were having a barrel-aged tap takeover and Nick had read about their award-winning Mexican Chocolate Stout, so we definitely couldn’t pass them up. It’s a smaller brewery/taproom, but they certainly weren’t lacking on beer variety. The bartender was also very friendly and super knowledgeable. The guys choose the tap takeover flight which included a Cabernet Sauvignon Saison, Port Barrel Belgian Dark Strong, Bourbon Barrel Breakfast Stout, Bourbon Barrel Double IPA, and Bourbon Barrel Barleywine. I opted for a traditional flight which included their Mexican Chocolate Stout, Black IPA, Tha Hoppa, Czech Pilsner, and Bavarian Helles. All were delicious, but my favorites were by far the Bourbon Barrel Breakfast Stout and the Mexican Chocolate Stout.

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Copper Kettle Barrel-Aged Flight

Kenneth & Nick

Kenneth and Nick

We checked into the hotel after Copper Kettle, freshened up, then headed to the Denver Convention Center for the first night of GABF. Nick was issued a brewer’s pass and was able to enter the fest early through his special entrance, so Kenneth and I were left to wait in line with the rest of the minions ;) Although the line wrapped all around the building, once the doors opened it was a steady moving line and we were in the building, wristband on, and tasting cup in hand within 15 minutes.

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Ghost River Brewery Rep ; 2013 GABF Tasting Cup

At this point, I’m pretty sure we hallucinated. Picture this:  about 25 different sections, with each section containing at least 100 beers. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt and any game plan we had come up with about what beers we wanted to try was immediately thrown out the window. Instead, we went section-to-section on one side of an aisle and then repeated on the next side. Also, kudos to anyone who was able to keep track of their tastings with the GABF app — between reading beer descriptions, chatting with brewery reps, taking pictures, and of course, drinking, there was no way that was happening. I remember all the breweries I visited and since the beer list is divided up by brewery, I can pretty much figure out what I did or did not have. With that being said, I vividly remember sampling beers at Trinity Brewing because their sour beers were excellent and sours are few and far between in Memphis. Another excellent I tried this night was ‘the dissident,’ a nice tart brown, from Deschutes Brewery.

Deschutes Brewery tap handles

Deschutes Brewery tap handles

Look at all that sweet lacing!

Look at all that sweet lacing!

We were also able to track down John Palmer, well-known homebrewer and author of brewing books like How to BrewBrewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, and most recently, Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers. Considering the guys eagerly awaited their pre-ordered copy of Water earlier this month, I’d say they were pretty excited to meet him. Fortunately, we caught him during some down time and he was able to chat with us for a little bit.

Kenneth, John Palmer, and Nick

Kenneth, John Palmer, and Nick

Stay tuned for GABF, Part 2 tomorrow — cheers!