BREWTAL TRUTH: Beer-Soaked Doom at the GABF

Great American Beer Festival, Denver, ColoradoOct. 10-12, 2013

It would be an overstatement to say that this was the Year of Metal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, but the handful of extreme music diehards—from TRVE, Surly, Real Ale and Three Floyds pictured above—among the 600-plus breweries present at the festival, definitely made their presence known in a big way, both during the festival and in the many extra curricular events surrounding it.

Thursday, Oct. 10
As detailed in previous coverage of this annual event both on the Deciblog and in Decibel magazine, the GABF is three days filled with literally thousands of beers to sample. To even make an attempt to drink, let’s say, five percent of the brews on tap in any one of the festival’s four sessions would require a drinker to down close to 150 samples in less than five hours. We don’t doubt that it would be physically possible to consume that much beer—about a 12-pack—but with all the lines and walking around, it just ain’t gonna happen. So there you are in an enormous hall filled with more beer than you might ever know in a lifetime and you get to drink a teensy tiny bit of it. It’s, honestly, too much to think about.

Our plan this year was to just hit breweries whose beers we’ve never tasted before, who we don’t have access to due to limited distribution and who, quite simply, we want to try. This led us to one tasty beverage after another from the likes of Kuhnhenn, Fat Heads, Crooked Stave, Boulevard, Destihl, Real Ale and many, many others. One of the best tastes was handed to us by our old pal, Brett Porter, the head brewer for Goose Island in Chicago. GI has gotten some grief from the craft beer elite since it was sold to A-B InBev, but Brett was the head brewer before the sale and he’s still the brewer, so that’s good enough for us. He gave us a taste of his Kisetsu, a saison/saké blend that was boozy, complex and somewhat surprisingly light and drinkable.

The first day’s session of the GABF went until 10 pm, but we buzzed out an hour early to attend a craft beer and metal event, Bonded By Beer, at the nearby Moon Room. Put together by the aforementioned metal-loving crew from Surly, TRVE, Three Floyds and Real Ale, each brought several different offerings which the respectable crowd chugged while watching unrelentingly brutal sets from Denver’s Rottenness, Stillborn Fawn, Primitive Man and Stoic Dissention. We started with a pint of Three Floyds’ wet-hopped (with fresh Michigan hops, no less) Broo Doo and finished up, fittingly, with a can of Surly Hell. Hopefully this will be the first of many such events at future GABFs, where metal-loving craft beer drinkers can get brewtal with some of the best beers available at the GABF (more on that later).

Stillborn Fawn at the Summit's Moon Room

Friday, Oct. 11
Day two for us didn’t involve another session at the festival. Anyone who attends regularly will tell you that there’s plenty of action to be had at multiple venues/brewpubs/breweries around town, pretty much all day and night. In fact, the craft beer brotherhood/sisterhood is so tight, a lot of the visiting brewers check out the local scene themselves. Case in point when we rolled into TRVE’s blackened bar/brewery an hour before they opened, we discovered folks from San Diego’s Ballast Point and Durango, Colorado’s Ska Brewing already there sampling brewer/owner Nick Nunn’s wares. Nunn set us up with samplers of not only everything they had on tap, but also his first bottled release, Vexovoid, and his upcoming bottle release, Eastern Candle. There were 10 brews in all, and not a single one that wasn’t superlative.


Bear with me here, but coincidentally enough, the Denver Doom Fest happened to be taking place during the GABF this year. And the Skull, a band featuring three-fifths of the members who played on Trouble’s album of the same name—drummer Oly Olson, vocalist Jeff Wagner and bassist Ron Holzner—were the first night’s headliner at the 3 Kings Tavern on Friday. What does this have to do with craft beer and the GABF, you may ask? Well, Olson works for Allagash brewing in Maine, for one thing, and secondly, TRVE provided the official festival brew, Doombier, a “blackened grätzer.” We enjoyed both immensely. Particularly, the Skull’s excellent versions of numerous tracks from Trouble’s Decibel Hall of Fame-inducted, Psalm 9.

The Skull at 3 Kings Pub

Saturday, Oct 12

OK, we’ll admit that we weren’t actually around for the last day of the GABF. But it’s worth noting that three of the four breweries responsible for bringing the metal to the festival this year, scored medals of their own in the various categories of competition at the awards ceremony that day. Three Floyds even won one for their Pig Destroyer collab, Permanent Funeral.

Real Ale
Silver: Brewers Cut Altbier, German-Style Altbier

Three Floyds
Gold: Blot Out the Sun, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Silver: Permanent Funeral, Imperial India Pale Ale

Bronze: Pentagram, Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer

The metal minority made a good showing at the GABF this year. Hopefully this is the beginning of something bigger, as new metal-centric breweries like Black Sky come on line. It wasn’t exactly the Year of Metal at the GABF, but it was a big first step in the right direction.