The Great American Beer Festival

We hit up the GABF in Denver, CO. Three days later, we pieced together what we think might have happened from the following photos.
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We hit up the GABF in Denver, CO. Three days later, we pieced together what we think might have happened from the following photos.
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We hit up the GABF in Denver, CO. Three days later, we pieced together what we think might have happened from the following photos.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

I'll bet when I mention the words "beer festival", some very distinct imagery comes to mind:  Most probably you’ll imagine a convention hall stuffed with dudes, swirling their beers a la snifters of brandy like low-rent sophisticates.  I'll have you know that is barely what 87% of them are like. The Great American Beer Festival is a whole other animal. This festival whips Denver, Colorado into a frenzy of beer worship, drawing true believers from across the nation to stand in utmost piety of over 2,700 beers from 580 breweries.

Still, Denver understands that not even the diehards that attend GABF can drink continuously for 72 hours. Somewhere in that span people need to eat, sleep/pass out, and maybe enjoy some of Denver's cultural highlights. For example, I understand that every year after the opening of GABF, Denver commissions multiple artists to leave vomit installations all over the city for passerby consideration. And if the avant-garde isn't your cup of tea, there's still plenty to do.

What follows is not simply a photo essay: The rudimentary cataloguing of the GABF became a descent into inebriation that involved lesbian Oompa Loompas, drunken luchadores, and some of the best beer the world has to offer. Prepare to be jealous.

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

GABF Preseason  - Day 0.5

Avery Brewing, local heroes of the Colorado Brewing scene, take their GABF warm-ups very seriously. They know the last thing you want to do is get into the festival and sprain your liver's hamstring on the first sample. Accordingly, they produced a "Beers, Bratwurst and Burlesque" event designed to get the blood flowing, often to places you'd have to explain away with "sorry, these jeans just lay funny when I sit." Clearly, they had the beer covered. How about the burlesque?

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Oh yeah. They covered it. The burlesque show is a wonderful throwback.  The word "burlesque" itself comes from the French, originally translating to "DAMNIT WHEN IS SHE GONNA TAKE IT OFF?!" It's a reminder that once upon a time, all it took to get a gent's heart racing was some frilly costuming and about 5 square inches of exposed flesh.

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

To those who have never attended a burlesque show, imagine a strip club where the fanciful yet deliberate removal of clothing is actually the focus, not negotiating a clandestine tryst with a dancer.  For those that doubt its potency, I'll refer you to the gentleman onstage sweating bullets while, if he’s anything like Maxim’s staffers, silently counting down the ways he'll be unable to please her if given the opportunity.

That's not to say that burlesque hasn't evolved.  The burlesque at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret is practically post-modern. There was a NASCAR-themed burlesque, a burlesque performed through the eyes of a unnervingly sexy russet potato, and even...

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

...booty-popping lesbian Oompa Loompas.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Oompa, Loompa, Doopity DO ME.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Sorry to belabor this point, but when you've experienced the unprecedented levels of sexual confusion that I was stricken with that night, you tend to reflect on it a bit. I don't know if it was the perversion of Willy Wonka's labor force or Avery's bourbon barrel aged "Uncle Jacob's Stout" (a 17.4% ABV wonder that reminded me of dark chocolate, cherries, and what I imagine unicorn tears taste like) that ultimately exhausted us, but with a 7 AM wake-up call scheduled for the next morning, my intrepid photographer and I departed.

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GABF - Day 1

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When you roll with Oskar Blues Brewery, this is breakfast. Since GABF didn't technically start until 5 PM, we needed something to kill most of the day and whatever brain cells still harbored images of Sapphic Oompa Loompas. Oskar Blues obliged by taking us on a tour that could only be described as 100% pure, uncut brewery porn.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Oskar Blues Brewery is largely known for two things: Being an early adopter of canning craft brew (it's already their 10th CANniversary! Sorry) and their commitment to bittering their beers until they taste like a left hook.

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

For the uninitiated, hop cones are the ingredient that give beer its characteristic bitterness (or, in the case of Oskar Blues, a bitterness best described as delicious sadism).  They're the little lovelies I've got floating in my beer above, mostly because I can't appreciate a beer unless it renders my palate scorched beyond recognition. By the way, the hair on my knuckles didn't sprout until the first sip of that beer. It's that manly.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

This is where the magic happens.  Within those steel behemoths resides the labor of tiny organisms that take ordinary materials and convert them into alcohol. Just like Jesus did.  Millions upon millions of very tiny Jesuses. One of these tanks held Oskar Blues' "Deuce", an imperial brown India pale ale (a collaboration with Sun King Brewery) using 70 lbs. of popcorn and hickory syrup.  As the jokes related to using corn in the deuce are entirely too easy, we'll simply move on to the next picture.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Oskar Blues also understands that the only way to possibly make their Dale’s Pale Ale taste better is to have it served up by nice ladies. Well, shy of adding more hops to it, I mean. That should be a given. It's hard to describe the feeling I got from these beers. If only there was a pithy way to encapsulate it, preferably on a t-shirt...

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Concise and to the point. I like it.

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The tour was coming to a close and the promise of GABF was just moments away.  We were readying our departure when Dale himself emerged from behind a velvet curtain like the great and powerful Oz, begging us to abandon GABF's first night and party on with them.  This was a great honor, one rarely bestowed and only to the bravest of drunkards.  We accepted, grateful both for the opportunity and our foresight in donning urinary catheters before we left the house.

The party was apparently raucous enough that the camera got a contact high from our breath, blurring its vision in concert with ours. We were only able to photographically confirm two specific elements of the festivities.

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

#1 - Their new imperial pint cans are perfect for when you want a beer the size of your forearm, and ...

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

#2 - The band featured a guitar with a smaller conjoined twin and a stand-up bassist who had the look of someone with bodies stacked in their basement like firewood. We vowed that GABF would not escape our clutches again.  We would not rest until we made it into the festival, minus the 13 to 14 hours of sleep we needed to recover.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

GABF Day 2

I awoke to a mouth devoid of moisture and my liver perched atop my chest, lethargically waving a white flag of surrender. I didn't have the energy to argue with it, so instead I sat it down in front of a basic cable marathon of the Rocky movies while I hit the bathroom. One shower and a few training montages later, we were both ready to tour the beer universe, one cautiously-portioned ounce at a time.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

GABF is an absolute orgy of the senses. The sea of humanity surrounding you generates a dull roar that doesn't cease until the last pour.  You cannot plot a path more than 5 feet at a time without colliding with a wave of fellow drinkers, which means the amount of dry-humping rivals that of a middle school dance.  And since each brewery trots out a variety of beer styles, your taste buds are being constantly jolted from bitter to sweet and everything in between.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The Pro-Am table is the entry point to the festival and it's a fitting one. It's a table full of concoctions that will more than likely never see the inside of a bottle. If you ever want to experience it, this is your moment.  Multiply that urgency by an entire hall of geographically disparate breweries, and you have GABF in a nutshell. For most, this instills a carpe diem sensibility that propels them through the beer gauntlet. For others, it apparently inspires copious note-taking, like this toolbox who must believe there's a pop quiz afterwards (yes, it’s me).

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

GABF rules explicitly state that no outside food can enter the convention hall, but there's a long-standing loophole that wearable food is okay. The exception is structured so that attendees can don the traditional pretzel necklaces for quick, palate-clearing snacks, but as you can see, people tend to embrace the letter of the law rather than the spirit. All that prevents you from bringing a Peking Duck in with you is a sufficiently load-bearing cord and a highly stain resistant shirt.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

I'm not sure if it is the festive spirit that GABF fosters, or I missed the announcement of "Let's Make A Deal" taping in the convention hall, but costumes were surprisingly common.  For example, these gents are clearly transplants from a post-apocalyptic alternate universe where, somehow, beer and beef jerky are still plentiful. As apocalypses go, it doesn't sound too shabby.  It probably would have chilled Mad Max right the fuck out.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Wonder PBR Twins Activate! Form of probable inbreeders!

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

One thing is for sure: if you tap these kegs, no dignity will come out

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The beer costumes are a bit silly, but at least they're thematically appropriate.  Most of the other costumes were not overburdened with relevance, which tells me folks were overly eager to reap the full value out of this year's Halloween attire. That said, you can't hate on chicken-head-guy. I've never seen a look that better encapsulated, "Yeah, I've got a chicken on my head and I'm entirely fine with it."

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

This lively bunch was sadly kicked out of the festival. GABF didn't have any specific rules against delivering a devastating flying Hurricanrana to other patrons, but evidently it is frowned upon.

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Not everyone insisted on looking exotic. Some rightly knew it was an appropriate time to focus on just being hot, even if that hotness was largely superfluous after a few dozen beer samples were onboard.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Of course, courtesy of the same beer, some hotties were less compliant with our photographic direction than others.

(Is it just me or would this be way hotter if they were Oompa Loompas? Anyone?)

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Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

In addition to collecting beers and pervy leers from passerby, many lady folk assembled a noteworthy collection of temporary tats from the different breweries.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Lest this article leave you with the impression that we attended a sloppily themed comic convention, I'll get back to the beer. As mentioned previously, each individual beer sample was only 1 fluid ounce.  If you regularly enjoy your beers in a thimble this probably won't strike you as odd, but for most other consumers it looks downright pathetic.  Still, if you acquired samples at the modest rate of one per minute, you'd be about 26 beers deep by the close of the session.  In short, thanks to GABF for protecting us from ourselves.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When being intoxicated is a core component of dutiful brewery employees, creativity is bound to flow. Here's just a short list of the best beer names I encountered:

- Czech Your Head (by Hop Valley Brewing)

- Tricerahops Double IPA (by Ninkasi Brewing)

- Effinghamburgerbrau (by The Prodigal)

- Donner Party Porter (by Fifty Fifty Brewing)

- Denamelizer IIPA (by Wrecking Bar Brewpub, a reference to the beer's potency stripping enamel from your teeth)

- Smoke on the Lager (by Widmer Brothers)

- Dance Wit Somebody (by Twain's Billiards and Tap)

- Dubbel Entendre (by Sound Brewery)

- Modus Hoperandi (by Ska Brewery)

- Skidmark Brown Ale (by Pizza Port Ocean Beach)

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

For those that are a bit more immersed in beer culture, GABF is prime territory for star sightings.  For example, Sam Calagione, president and founder for Dogfish Head Brewing (pictured here with someone who is certainly far too handsome to be a journalist) has not only appeared in television and movies, he has been a huge catalyst for growth in the craft brew world.  Not to mention that when you make beers with 40 pounds of lobster and cocoa nibs (the "Chock Lobster") it's not hard to find attention.

Not pictured: the serpentining line of men awaiting their chance to give him uncomfortably lingering bro-hugs.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

After wading through a sea of samples, even the most resilient of palates can fatigue - it's pretty easy for most beers to start tasting unremarkable. However, the flipside of that coin is that when you encounter a beer that suddenly makes you weak-kneed, it's likely you've found something really special. Here's a brief tribute to the beers that had me uttering "Whoa" in a distinctly Keanu Reevesy manner:

World Wide Stout (by Dogfish Head Brewery)

* A beer that was as much a port as a stout, that lumbered in at 18% ABV. 

Magnificent 7 (by Boston Brewing homebrew contest winner)

* A sticky IPA with almost jarring pine and grapefruit notes

Enjoy By 11-09-12 IPA (by Stone Brewing)

* An exceedingly fresh IPA designed to be consumed a matter of days after production. Vibrant and delicious. I understand it was such a success, they're going to be following it up with the Enjoy By 2:37PM IPA, consumable only by fermentation tank nozzle.

Elevation IPA (by Renegade Brewing)

* A brand new Denver brewery that has beer savvy beyond its years. It was purported to be 100 IBU (i.e. approaching the theoretical limit for how bitter you can make a beer) and 12% ABV, but it was exceedingly smooth.

Wee Heavy (by Sun King Brewing)

* A syrupy scotch ale awash with caramel and cinnamon notes.  Honorable mention: their "Popcorn Pilsner" which had the unmistakable aroma of Corn Pops.

Baltic Battle Axe Porter (by Fat Head Brewing)

* The smell was pure dark chocolate and coffee, but the flavor resonated with lighter milk chocolate and malt ball notes. 

Pumpkinhead (by Shipyard Brewing)

* A crisp wheat ale with pumpkin and spices that managed to not taste like potpourri.

Silva Stout (by Green Flash Brewing)

* If you like cherries, bourbon and roasted malts, this is the beer for you.  If you don't, I'd appreciate it if you'd avert your gaze from this article and pick up a copy of Marie Claire instead.

Humidor IPA (by Cigar City Brewing)

* An IPA aged on Spanish cedar, imparting a woody aroma and a peppery flavor with hints of lemon. This one most certainly garnered at least a triple take.

Photographed for Maxim by Nate Wiger | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Normally this is where I'd brag about how I conquered the GABF and returned home to throngs of lesser men, lauding the tales of my capacities, but it just wasn't the case. GABF kindly, mercifully granted me safe passage out of its clutches with nary a dry heave. My liver resembles Swiss cheese now, but it was worth it.  Besides, that's why we have two livers, right? Uh…right?

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