The 35th annual Great American Beer Festival filled the Colorado Convention Center in Denver last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This year featured the largest turnout yet, with over 700 breweries represented, competing in nearly a hundred different beer categories. No surprise that the most popular category was the American-style India Pale Ale with 312 entries, but specialty beers like smoke, pumpkin-squash and experimental categories that push the creative boundaries of beer were abundant.
Over the next few posts, RMFR will give you an inside look at the GABF shenanigans, starting with a media tour of some hot Denver breweries from Thursday.
Led by Visit Denver, we stopped at Mockery Brewing Co., Great Divide Brewing Co. and Tivoli Brewing, each place demonstrating various degrees of how brewery culture in Denver has grown and expanded. (Especially in comparison to how things were when Tivoli started operating over a century ago.)
“We are constantly experimenting,” says owner and brewer Zach Rabun. “We source ingredients from everywhere so we don’t have to rely too heavily on any one place.” Mockery stays true to its niche and even “enjoys the size and scale,” says the brewer. “It allows us to have our hands in every part of the process.”
Mockery’s content serving local Colorado residents and voices no aspirations to distribute beyond Colorado borders. The brewery clearly pushes the limitations of what beer can be and served up four of their current favorites: Shout at the Pineapple, a West Coast IPA brewed with peaches, pineapple and pink peppercorns, an exciting riff on typical citrus IPA’s; Turn that Brown Upside Down, a sour brown made with cherries inspired by a warm slice of pie; Fresh Hop Brown IPA, 100 percent fresh Simcoe hops, earthy, bready and slightly malty; and Party at the Moon Tower, a bourbon-barrel-aged porter with Madagascar vanilla beans, and intense Forester bourbon inflection with rich depth. Definitely a spot to hit for eclectic beers, one that will keep you coming back because you just want to find out what’s next on tap.
Great Divide Brewing Co. was one of the first craft breweries to open in Denver in 1994, receiving a grant from the city to set up its first tasting room in what’s known as the Five Points area. In 2015, they established their second location, in the River North Arts District (neighboring Mockery Brew Co.) complete with a magnificent canning facility, barrel-aging room and barrel bar for tastings. Staves decorate the entirety of the bar area and create a rustic, warm feel that makes you just want to sit down and drink.
Great Divide also has an event space that was getting prepped to show a Canadian Mountain Holidays LP Heliskiing film; fill-ups with yogis for free CorePower yoga sessions; and is available for private functions like weddings and receptions. (Just pop the question already!)
The barrel room houses dozens of whiskey, bourbon and wine barrels and resembles what you think would be hiding behind closed doors at Stranahan’s. Great Divide rolled out their red carpet, pouring their barrel-aged series available in fancy 750 ML for bottle poppin’ good times.
Hibernation Ale, aged in whiskey barrels, starts out with mellow peat and follows up with dark chocolate. The 22nd Anniversary Dark American Sour Ale, aged in red-wine barrels, produces tart, jammy notes with a hint of smoke. The Fresh Hop Pale Ale just became available in six-pack cans for a grassy, harvest-aligned option, along with two more versions (oak-aged and barrel-aged) of their ridiculously popular Yeti imperial stout.
Tivoli Brewing sits right in the center of Auraria campus giving Met State students a legitimate reason to skip class. It functions as MSU Denver’s Beer Industry Operations program partner, pumping out more art and science knowledge for the future brewers of America. Tivoli began in 1859, brewing the first ever beer in what’s now Colorado. Although they survived prohibition and extreme economic hardship, doors closed in 1969 for many moons before re-opening in 2012, as Tivoli Distribution Co. and began contract brewing the original Helles Lager. In 2015, Tivoli came back home for good, re-establishing themselves in the historic Tivoli Building again. Now a tap room offers their line of beers and over 50 other Colorado craft options, along with a full restaurant and brewing facility to get college kids excited about something other than Natty Light.
A glimpse into the capacity of Denver’s scene — opening a brewery a week in 2016 – offers reassurance that the thirst for exceptional craft beer is still pressing onwards and upwards in Colorado. Whether you’ve been brewing since the 1800s or vying to create the funkiest sour on rotation, there is a flourishing community of brewers and drinkers that welcomes growth, just wanting to squeeze all the creative juices we possibly can out of beer.
[Images: Dionne Roberts]