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Big Beers Abound At The 11th Annual Avery Strong Ale Fest

The 11th Annual Strong Ale Fest has come and gone.  Our hosts at Avery Brewing had to reconfigure a bit in order to accommodate this years event.  As they continue to push their facility to the limits and fill every nook and cranny in their building with beer, they’re just flat-out running out of space.  Until their new facility is ready next year, they’ll just have to keep thinking of creative ways to make it work.  Thankfully, this past weekend, they still managed to find enough room for a few hundred of their closest beer lovin’ friends to sip, sample and share 100+ high ABV brews.

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The tasting room was slammed as usual, pouring the first 20 beers on the menu.  Samples from Allagash, Asher, Avery, Boulevard and others were ready and waiting for attendees as they walked through the door.
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The menu seems to get a little longer each year.  105 beers were on tap this time around and with only 16 tasting tickets, some tough decisions had to be made.

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The Barrel Room was reduced from a wall of roughly 40 taps, down to only 10.  Personally, I thought this was a great improvement, as it allowed for several tables and chairs to be placed in the barrel room and gave attendees additional space to spread out and talk.

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Side note – The barrel room was lined with barrels full of Uncle Jacob’s stout.  This is a phenomenal Imperial Stout that will hopefully be released again later this year.

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The back of the barrel room opened up to a pair of massive tents, where the remaining 75 beers were flowing.  Except for the BA Ten FIDY, which sadly, none of the staff or volunteers could coax out of the keg.  So close, yet so far…

In addition, there was a tent out front, next to the patio area, which seemed to be a well-kept secret during Friday’s session.  Plenty of tables, chairs and even a heater were inside to keep the crowd happy and allow for a little more room to spread out.

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As expected, Russian River’s Pliny the Younger was a hot commodity and the usual suspects were proudly pouring this highly coveted brew.  Gang signs and all.

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Everybody has their own take on live music, but we enjoyed it.  This little trio rocked it with their covers of Zeppelin, Neil Young, Phish, etc…

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With so many great beers on the menu, it’s a little silly to try to pick a “Best of Show” beer, but here are a few that really stood out for us.  Pizza Port’s Barrel Aged Knight Rider, is an Imperial Stout that spent 9 months in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels.  A great beer that we recently had during our trip to Pizza Port last month.  Pizza Port also impressed with their Poorman’s IPA.  Poorman’s took Gold last year at the World Beer Cup.

Avery’s Tweak is a coffee infused version of their 16% Mephistopheles Imperial Stout.  Formerly known as Meph Addict, this beer NEEDS to be bottled.  You hear me Adam Avery?  Bottle this beast. Pretty please???

We also really enjoyed Wynkoop’s Barleywine, known as The Chancellor.  It’s just a well made beer that could easily stand its’ ground against some of the top examples in the style.
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Although we didn’t attend on Saturday, we did catch a few bits and pieces from the Colorado Craft Beer Show and American Craft Beer Radio, both of whom were broadcasting live from the festival.  If you missed out, be sure to look for the podcasts, which should go up in a few days.

Strong Ale always makes our list of “must-do” beer fests and this year was a great time as always.  Hats off to the Avery Crew for another fantastic event and for all of the breweries for sharing their wonderful beers.

Cheers!


Avery Strong Ale Festival 2012 Recap

I had been looking forward to the Avery Strong Ale Festival for weeks.  Unfortunately, these things always seem to come and go so quickly.  I’m a little sad that another one is in the books, but wanted to share some highlights with you.

My wife and I checked into our hotel at around 2PM on Friday and walked to a nearby restaurant for a big dinner.  We wanted something that would stick with us late into the night and the big ol’ NY style pizza we ordered really hit the spot.  After dinner, we tracked down a few bottles of water and called for a cab to pick us up.

The festival opened at 5PM and we arrived about 20 minutes after the hour.  There was no line, so we strolled right in, but were still early enough that it wasn’t packed with people just yet.  We got our glasses, tasting tickets and a beer list.  Avery was nice enough to post the list on their Facebook page on Friday morning, so atendees could get an early glimpse at what would be pouring.

They set the festival up in alphabetical order by brewery name, so it’s relatively easy to navigate.  The Avery tasting room housed the first 20 taps, from A-B.  The barrel room had an additional 35 taps, from B-G.  The remaining 69 taps, from G-V, were in the warehouse.  We figured the least amount of people would be in the back warehouse area and decided to hear there first.  Kind of like when you’re a kid going to Disney World.  You want to hit Space Mountain first to avoid the long lines later in the day.  Same principle.

Ready to roll with the first 20 beers in the Avery Tap Room.

In the warehouse, I grabbed my first beer, Russian River’s, Pliny the Younger.  I couldn’t resist the hoppy goodness and wanted to get a pour before the keg kicked.  I figured it wouldn’t last long.  It was the perfect start to the night, until I went to reach for my camera…  Yeah, so, uhm, no camera…  I had left it back in the hotel.  A blogger without a camera is like a stormtrooper without his blaster.  Pointless.  Oh well, I’m new to this.  Lesson learned.  Still, I wasn’t going to let this get me down.  I used my quick thinking, ninja skills and hijacked my wife’s iPhone to use the camera feature.

Anyway, moving on, I headed down a few taps to get a pour of The Bruery’s, Melange No. 3.  I’ve got a bottle of this in the cellar at home, but I’ve been been waiting to try this one for a while.  It didn’t let me down.  Melange # 3 is a blend of three different beers.  White Oak Sap, a wheatwine, their Anniversary Old Ale and Black Tuesday, their famous Imperial Stout.  Big, sweet nose, chocolate, bourbon and dark fruit flavors.  It’s a pretty special beer.  Mmm, delish!

Moving on down the line, I found what would prove to be my favorite beer of the night, Surly’s Five.  Brewed in honor their recent 5th anniversary, this is a 100% Brettanomyces fermented dark ale, aged in red wine barrels.  Sour cherries, oak, along with some tartness and bretty funk.  A beautiful brew.  I love my sours and this one was top notch.  Now for the bad news, Surly doesn’t distribute outside of Minnesota…  Sigh.  If you’re a beer trader, you’ve got to seek this one out.

Surly Five. My favorite beer of the night!

We came across plenty of other highlights along the way from all over the U.S.  Some of my other favorites were Alpine – Bad Boy DIPA, Cigar City – Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, Avery – Bourbon Barrel aged Meph Addict and Pizza Port – Nose Rider DIPA to name a few.  The lineup seems to get a little better every year.

We saw lots of familiar faces and good people from around the beer world.  Plenty of local brewery representation, bloggers and even some out of state breweries.  Avery, Great Divide, Lone Tree (Jason, please bring beers next year!), Strange, Dry Dock, Bull & Bush, Oskar Blues, Redstone Meadery and many more.  We also met the gang from COOP Aleworks out in Oklahoma City, OK.  These guys were really cool and have some interesting projects going on that they were eager to tell us about.  Well worth checking out if you’re ever out that way.

Gary V. and The Gubna. Nothing like a little friendly competition.

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They don’t call themselves Strange Brewing for nothing.

No bathroom lines, the ability to go in and out of the fest to get some fresh air, good food, even better beer and some high school kids laying down some nice jazz tunes.  Another job well done by the good folks at Avery!

As the night began winding down, we called for a cab and headed back to our hotel.  It was time to head back and grab some zzzz’s.

American Craft Beer Radio host Gary V. had asked us to help him with his show on Saturday.  He was broadcasting from the Avery lot on Saturday morning and wanted us to pull some winners from his facebook page for a few brewery prizes he had to give away.  The good people at “The Kitchen” offered their upstairs bar for us to set up shop and connect with Gary.  His show is on 102.3FM from noon-1PM on Saturday’s.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that The Kitchen people really know their beer.  If you’re ever up in the Boulder area, check them out.  They’re right on the Pearl Street Mall and have a huge beer list.  They were pouring not just tasty locals like Avery IPA, but also harder to find beers like Russian River Supplication and Firestone Walker XV.  They also host beer dinners and have a Dry Dock beer dinner scheduled this week.  The food looked good too.  Being a sucker for cheese, they had a pretty impressive selection.  Like I said, check ’em out.  The radio show went off smoothly and it’s always fun to help when we can.

The Kitchen, Boulder, CO

After we wrapped up, we cruised the Pearl Street Mall for a bit and headed back to Avery to do a little beer trading.  I had set up a trade ahead of time and just needed to make the switch.  I left with a case of Avery bombers, so be on the lookout for some upcoming reviews.  The weather was perfect and people were really digging the outside patio area.

Again, awesome weekend, great people, amazing beer and perfect weather.  Avery, you guys rock!  Let’s do it again next year.  Cheers!