Musings from GABF 2018: Dawn of the Dragon on Day 1

The variants of New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk were exceptional at GABF.

Franz Solo here. I’ve finally gotten around to piecing together my take on our second GABF experience as members of the esteemed press. (Your second, my third, Luke’s first. — S) What follows is exactly what happened, nothing omitted, nothing added, no more, no less than the truth, er, that’s what we usually do. And now for something completely different.

Metal is a must when flying.

The day started ominously, a cold, dark drizzle like some leftover tropical deluge from yesterday’s trip. Delayed en route as some strange screeching and sliding vehicles decided to collide. But, we made it anyway. There was no trouble with the guards or the weird scanners and they strangely set us loose. It begins! Omnium Gatherum pummeling my brain cells to awakening with the Burning Cold as we ascend in the clouds riding this steel torpedo through the mist. To the mountains, green and gold with flares of red as the Aspen change and snow kisses the peaks, to them we fly as clouds of a cloud or some wandering eldritch vapor the haze of such a like we had never seen.

LVX Lightbringer pierced our cloud existence with cruel harsh morning light, glare upon glare. But, those of us who had traveled all night were in desperate need of charging from a different source, our dark lord and savior of mornings: Coffeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. This, however, was no ordinary blanket of haze. She returned and crashed over us in wave after wave, steel crushing, steel battering our skulls, er, well, you’ve heard this tale before, nothing novel, all is permitted.

The various levels of Crew consciousness on the train from the Denver airport.

We of the great white moth flecked silver turned downward in a great swooping and screeching of metals wings and gnashing sharp pointy teeth. But, to what end? With Odin on our side, to Valhalla we ride! Train ticket, eh? And, here we go!

We arrived at our hotel early, but were greeted warmly and given an early check-in, which was, well, wonderful. Our room has quite a view of the convention center and feels like we are in some Bond villain’s lair with all of the gadgets and modern accoutrements. I mean, the regular patrons of the establishment looked at us in our black metal shirts with some kind of surprised shock and horror that we could possibly also be guests in the hotel. Little did they know that we had every right to the suite, just as much as they, and in the end, we were probably far less of a nuisance overall.

There were a few thoughts of taking the Denver Biscuit Company artwork home, but alas, none of our luggage could fit this masterpiece of weird.

We took our time and unwound before going down to grab our credentials and check in at the convention center as members of the press. This was swiftly and efficiently accomplished with a smile from some very nice staff. At this point, it had been some 16 hours since my last actual meal, so we hungry and caffeine-deprived trio headed to Denver Biscuit Company to refuel and regroup.

This was a weird sort of time warp, a place stuck between the days of atomic cowboys and neon, and fat man and little boy, and something quite modern as well. The coffee was plentiful and delicious, biscuits to tame the savage hunger of the weary traveler. The patio was overrun by 20 or so Stone Brewing employees, so we knew we were in the right place.

Mere blocks from our black metal friends at TRVE, we simply had to head over for a pint. Abysswalker was our choice, a lovely breakfast haze with sweet fresh grass, orange, and a mineral finish. These quaffed, it was time for a well-deserved nap in our delightfully frigid room, which was a wonderful respite from the heat which blasted off our friendly clouds and the haze of our morning flight.

The mere fact they still give us press passes is remarkable.

A quick bite and a draught later it was time. We stalked down Stout Street to the press and brewer entrance and were swiftly through the queue. The doors were opened and we flooded in to the great hall where the beer never ends. Being allowed in the venue a tad before the great hordes would stampede, I took a few moments to drink in the aromas, the sights, the sounds of what was to come. One of my favorite traditions is the pipe-and-drum band that symbolically opens each tasting session, which of course becomes all the more hilarious seeing some of the more hungover fellow travelers on the later days react in horror to the wonderful noise they make.

Hello, friends, part one.
Hello, friends, part two.

On to our assignment, we initially visited as many of our local New Mexico breweries as possible before turning loose on the plethora of amazing options for us to sample. Beyond that, we made some new acquaintances with a fair swath of brews across the spectrum. Highlights of the evening for me were the following:

  • Lagers from Skull Mechanix Brewing out of Austin, Texas, with some really great German and Czech examples quite true to the original styles.
  • Dragon’s Milk Maple Oak bourbon barrel-aged stout from New Holland was just incredible as well, like a triple stout version of liquid pancakes (Great Notion’s Double Stack is one of our absolute favorites in the same vein), decadent to the last drop. 
  • Brooklyn Brewing’s 2014 cognac barrel-aged barleywine, Hand & Seal, which they graced us with was incredibly smooth and had a lovely depth of character.
  • Mocha Machine from Beachwood Brewing of Long Beach, California, could really wake the dead with such a strong coffee character deep and earthy.
  • Avery brought out the big guns with four of their five beers clocking in at over 16-percent ABV, all of which were lovely. Fimbulvvinter and Plank’d were new to me and really excellent, especially with the barrel-tapped version of Plank’d. We may have stopped just a couple of times for my favorite beer, Tweak, as well and I had the chance to snap a photo of myself with Adam Avery, which was quite a memorable moment.
An unexpected delight, the lagers from this Austin brewery were tremendous.
This was a bucket-list brewery for Stoutmeister.
We may have revisited this local brewery a few times. Just a few.
The beard game at GABF was strong this year.

To round out this lovely beginning to the weekend were stops at Cigar City for fresh Jai Alai (a much needed hop-filled respite from the ever-ranging plethora of wonderful pastry and barrel-aged stouts), Oskar Blues for more stout goodness with JAHvanilla Ten FIDY (man this was outstanding and a much needed coffee boost), and finishing with some Heretic Goo prior to Horse and Dragon, which had many lovely stouts (more on these later).

With that, our first day of the adventure was complete, now for the rush of night air on our short stroll back to the fifth floor of our lair to re-hydrate and regroup, take in the great roar and the hum of well, the great droves such as we who love great beer. 

Cheers to Adam Avery and all the wonderful beers his brewery has bestowed upon us.

I’ll return next week with tales from day two in Valhalla. Until then, challenge your palates, drink deep, and be never afraid to try a new beer, you never know what wonders or horrors you might find!


— Franz Solo

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