I believe that, despite it’s 29 year run, this past weekend marked only my fourth visit to the Great American Beer Festival. Running a brewery takes some concentration I guess, so you can’t always indulge yourself in 3,523 beers (this year) from 516 breweries!
My how things have changed since the first one Ron and I attended, in 1988! This was my thought as I escaped the din of the main hall for the Farm To Table Pavilion where two of our beers had been selected to be paired with great creations dreamed up by Pizzeria Basta of Boulder, CO. The Pizzeria Basta crew consisted of Alan and Sean who were tireless in their production and enthusiasm to educate the crowd. Chef Kelly, if you are reading this, know you are a lucky man with those two on your team!
As I poured for and educated guests on our Helios Ale and V Twelve, I listened to them rhapsodize as to how great the pairings were. So when Pete came to help me out, I too indulged in a sip of Helios paired with wood-fired “Helios” chicken liver mousse and stone fruit gelee with house pickle and apple and thyme foccacia. Grant Family Farm, Rancho Durazno Farm and Red Wagon Farm were the providers, here. Wow, no wonder Boulder just received Bon Appetit’s nod (October issue) as “America’s Foodiest City” with local producers and creators that can pull of such taste sensations. There was a deep, but dry and woody note expressed in the mousse that harmonized wonderfully with the same note in Helios, while fruit and herb flavors swirled all around and faded.
More work and then the reward of a break for V-Twelve with house-made pork sausage, smoked fingerling potato mash with mixed cabbage and pear slaw. This one was very resonant with the deeply rich V Twelve. Though the sausage was surprisingly lean there was ample fatty richness in it and the savory mashed potatoes for the fruity warmth of V Twelve to wrap it’s liquid arms around, encompassing the entire experience sublimely.
Just about then, Jeff Mendel of Left Hand Brewing Co. strolled by, as we caught up we found ourselves marveling over the flightpath of the GABF over our many years to a cultural event so expansive that it could put on this stunning exhibition of cuisine that we were currently reveling in. We joked that the Oscar Mayer bologna and Wonder Bread days of our youth were gone for good! It’s a new world now.
Over two sessions I tried many of the 14 pairings, Odell’s Woodcut with Hazel Dell wild mushrooms and thyme with creamy polenta being outstanding, as well as this lovely pairing of Rogue Juniper Pale Ale with smoked trout, corn cake and tomatilla chutney.
With no Farm To Table action on Saturday, and a break between sessions, I was shanghia-ed by Mike Saklad from Stone Brewing Company and coerced into visiting the newly opened Euclid Hall. Robin got us seated in a flash as a swirl of beer industry folks descended. This place is great. Open and inviting like a warm, iron grey dining hall, lively with meat-centric seduction. It’s a Valhalla that you’d not mind perishing to haunt forever. Mike took it upon himself to delve into cocktails with a Rye Old Fashioned that seemingly turned him into a younger version of the legendary British beer bard, Michael Jackson in this shot.
By the way, can you tell that I am currently obsessed with my new Hipstamatic app for iPhone? So Here’s how “moody-ful” this device can make Euclid Hall’s Stilton sandwich with tomato jam and rocket on grilled sourdough look, and, later, two Stone IPAs. Nothing could make the sandwich taste any better as the tomato jam was still summer sweet, tempering the pungent Stilton with the flavor of gently yielding rocket striking in their intersection point.
As a GABF wind-down and staff thank you, we booked a table at Colt & Gray to indulge a bit more. The staff at Colt & Gray were beyond accommodating, clearly demonstrating their pleasure in delighting us. Sensational flavors included their roasted marrow bones that imbued a heap of exotic mushrooms and caramelized mushrooms with silky seduction, and the Summer Braised Long Farm Pork Shoulder with stone grounds grits, bacon and bourbon glazed nectarines. Wow, look at that nectarine radiating sweet, summer glory!
Apparently, Colt & Gray’s reputation for their dessert of Sticky Toffee Pudding and Bourbon Ice Cream is well established, but, ignorance is bliss in our case, and so was that gooey-warm-rich-cool experience. After the swell of free flowing Prima Pils that had accompanied appetizers and the entrees, bartender Kevin approached our table to unleash the coup d’grace. Throughout our meal he had the kitchen rendering Prima Pils into a reduction that was destined to replace vermouth in his Prima-inspired take on an after dinner negroni. Clean Beefeater Gin and citrus aromas merged seamlessly in this elixir as the Prima provided bitterness in a floral manner with any traces of it’s mineral firmness now melted away. Now as our newly minted ‘king of spirits,’ this photo captures a ‘spirited’ Kevin, grinning back at our ear-to-ear grins, and his staggering creation.
So maybe it’s not the GABF that has evolved, but simply my appreciation of flavors, and the foods and drinks they may been previously hidden away from me in. I’d say it’s both. As we as consumers experience more new flavors, those who are more experienced in conjuring up flavors are encouraged to share their expertise with us. So, it’s totally natural that the good folk out there in Boulder, the Brewers Association, who put on the GABF have embraced this latent opportunity to expand our world of experiences. Good for them and great for us!