I don’t have a ticket to the GABF, but I can still drink beer

The Great American Beer Festival is on, and it’s beer time in Colorado! That is, if you could afford the $75 ticket. And buy it in the first 20 minutes that they were on sale. I could do neither.

BUT, I’m not blogging to complain. No way. There are too many ways to find some excellent beers in this part of the country. And now that I live in Denver, I finally have time to check out all those breweries, beer bars and beer (liquor) stores around the Front Range.

Preparations started Tuesday night when I more or less purged myself of my pre-GABF beer selections, which had been sitting in my fridge for the past few weeks. Don’t worry people, I spread them evenly through the day (there were only three). I just wanted to start my adventures with a clean slate.

On Wednesday I made it to Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora – just 15 minutes from where I’m staying – for a shot at their Geeks Who Drink trivia with Danielle. We came in dead last because we were too good for the “visual round,” but the brewery was an excellent surprise. The outside’s strip mall exterior betrays the solid neighborhood brewery feel of the interior, with wooden, popcorn-riddled floors and barrels lining the walls. And most importantly, good beer.

This afternoon I traveled to Rockyard Brewing in northern Castle Rock, which had a similar feel (and name) to the quasi-legit Rock Bottom Brewery. The food was good. The beer was good. It was all good. Check it out if you’re traveling south of Denver.

As for some beer reviews, I’ve picked one of my favorites from each day: an imperial porter, a sour ale and a pumpkin ale.

Tuesday: Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter: 4

First of all, love the artwork on the bottle, which is some kind of skeleton cowboy. It’s weird. But its contents pour more like black sludge with a HUGE tuft of foam placed on top. It smells a bit like milk chocolate, but it tastes like velvety roasted malts and black coffee with a bit a vanilla. The flavor sticks around – you could almost marinade a steak in it – but not enough to make you want to wash out your mouth.

Wednesday: Ambassador Oak Aged Sour Ale: 4

This beer is amazing from start to finish. Its hazy, tawny brown look makes it seem like it was poured right out of the barrel (which it might have been). I only got a 3-ounce sampler, but the scent kicked me back: thick oak, cherries and everything good with a sour that stings the back of your nostrils. And unlike a few Dry Dock beers I’ve tried, the taste matched the smell’s high expectations. It was very sour, with a full mouthfeel and woody tannins that stuck to the roof of my mouth. And of course, there were more ripe, fresh cherries that pulled all the way through. The only complaint was that I didn’t get more of it.

Thursday: Plymouth Rock Pumpkin Ale: 3.75

For me, there are two types of pumpkin beers: The subtle, “fall is coming” kind and the in-your-face “drink your pumpkin pie” kinds. This is a great example of the latter. Plymouth Rock Pumpkin Ale pours a hazy autumn brown that positively reeks of molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg. More nutmeg and brown sugar comes out in the taste, which comes with a full, cider-y mouthfeel. It’s just like liquefied pie. But as a result (or consequence, I think) it also comes off as a sweet beer– even in the pumpkin beer category. Still, the flavors leave plenty to chew on.

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