(THURSDAY, Denver.) Breweries visited : 83, Beers tasted : 224 Mood : Sick of IPA already.

OK, so I ditched my game plan about 15


GABF Opening Night

The best-laid plans meet beer. Beer wins.

(THURSDAY, Denver.) Breweries visited: 83, Beers tasted: 224 Mood: Sick of IPA already.

OK, so I ditched my game plan about 15 minutes into last night's session and decided to start tackling the room row by row. I'm forgoing my arbitrary mission to taste as many beers as possible because that would mean no time to talk with other attendees. Normally (at a wine tasting) I'd be just fine and dandy with that. But people here are so dang friendly, I'd be doing myself a disservice. My media pass makes me a bit of a curiosity. People are asking me about the PNW, my notes, and why I'm spitting, but also offering tips on their favs.

My first stop: the Midwest, where I stumbled upon what is sure to be one of the festival's funnest sleepers, from my hometown: the American Brewing Company's No Such Thing As White Chocolate Beer. In the judging, white chocolate is not an acceptable form under Herb and Spice Beer, subcategory Chocolate/Cocoa Flavored. A half hour into the festival, and this one already had buzz. It smelled like a white-chocolate mocha but managed to be rich/light, refreshing, and balanced. I give it props for originality.

Unlike wine judging, where personal tastes infect many an evaluation, beer judging at the GABF is very regimented. There are 75 categories for beer, each with a criteria for style and many with further criteria for subsets within the style. Judges only taste in a few categories and confer results. Medals are awarded to beers that manifest a certain style better than all others, not just to the top three in a category. So it's possible some categories may not yield a medal winner.

The festival has tons of beer-loving volunteers who fill in as pourers in exchange for free tickets, and they've been a great source to help me focus at the tables. Some of my favorites from last night:

Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI) New Grist — 50% sorghum and 50% rice. The brewer's sister has celiac, and he lobbied the government to changes rules regarding wheat-free beers. The problem I have with gluten-free brew is that most taste flat and have one note. This one was, of course, subtle, but had a flavor range and mouthfeel of a light witbier.

Surly Brewing Company (Brooklyn Center, MN) — Just when I was about to give myself an "IPA timeout," I got to Surly's Furious IPA. All the notes I wrote about this beer, I could have been talking about sheep's milk cheese, with its full range of sweet, herbal, and earthy hop aromas. Viscous, not furious, the luscious frontal attack of this beer held up through the huge kick of hops at the end.

Brugge Brasserie (Indianapolis, IN) ALL — I love me the Belgian beers, and Brugge's were some of the most decadent I tasted last evening. Their Diamond Kings of 7, a Chardonnay barrel-aged quadrupel ale brewed with purple plums, was flirting into lambic territory. Their Tripel de Ripple had a heady, poached pear aroma laid over its supremely balanced flavor.

Fifty Fifty Brewing Co. (Truckee, CA) — The Trifecta Tripel, made with local purple sage, honey, and palm sugar, had the most unbelievable mouthfeel, the prettiest beer I drank last night.

Kona Brewing Company's (Kailua-Kona, HI) Wailua Wheat — My favorite beer from last night, for surprise factor alone. The beer is made with passion fruit, which gives a subtle tang and brightness. The "fruity" component came off savory,  and it would be a shame to call this "fruit beer." I can't imagine a more perfect beer with fresh seafood.

Tomorrow night, I'll visit our guys, who must've collectively pissed off the GABF. The Pacific Northwest is at the far end of the venue, against the wall, hemmed in by the DRAFT beer lounge on one side. I did talk to some reps from the new Beer Northwest magazine last night, first issue on stands now. Looks like the glossy is going for the Wine Press Northwest angle, mixing the beverage with food and a little lifestyle...looks good upon first flipping.

Overall, Thursday was tons of fun. Not as many drunks as I expected. It sounded like a Chelsea match at times in the exhibit hall, what with the NLCS going on and people raising a cheer every time someone dropped their glass. There are many accessories—both clever and absurd—to help people keep a hold of the wee little mug.

My B&B is great, blood red walls and a picture over the bed that looks like it could be Rachel Shimp's G-G-Ma. Well, I'm off to a media luncheon in a few, more posts this afternoon. Oh! I also spotted a new fashion trend last night: the hipster frau, skinny jeans meets lederhosen and ballet flats. Fey Vohl.

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