Big beer fests aren't easy to pull off. They require enormous logistical coordination, adherence to strict alcohol regulations, management of a huge number of people and deep understanding of a niche audience. Over the years, the granddaddy of these events, the Great American Beer Festival, fought with these issues as it got bigger and bigger, going through some awkward growing pains before finally maturing again into a more confident entity.
The four-year-old Collaboration Fest, which has become Colorado's marquis statewide craft-beer party, is also going through some growing pains. That was evident on Saturday at the National Western Complex, even as the fest itself provided a whopping variety of stellar beers (see our list of some of the memorable brews below); in total, there were 112 collaborations from 188 different breweries in Colorado and nationwide.
"Overall, were were really pleased," says Tobias Krause, events manager with Two Parts, the event management company that works with the Colorado Brewers Guild each year to create, plan and host the festival. "The brewers came together with the friends and created something special and something specific just for this."
Some staffers had a blast; others not so much.
But Krause acknowledged several problems that were evident at the new venue — Collaboration Fest was held at Mile High Stadium the past two years — and says Two Parts will work to fix them for 2018. "Things always come up that need to be trouble-shot. We made a lot of notes on some of the complaints. We are listening, and we're excited for the future of Collaboration Fest and for where it is going."
Chief among the complaints from both brewers and attendees were the staff of Stock Show concessionaire, which holds the liquor license at the Stock Show and is therefore required to work all events. While some of the staffers were clearly enjoying their jobs, others showed outright disdain for the festival. Some filled glasses halfway full or all the way, which isn't a good idea at a tasting festival, where people plan to drink just small amounts of many beers. Others walked away from their posts or made no effort to talk to attendees or answer questions.
Lines were long outside, but not bad inside.
Other problems: the tasting glasses were, oddly, wrapped in black graphics that made it impossible to look at the beer, which is important to craft beer drinkers, especially in a year when hazy IPAs were so popular at the fest; the music was uncomfortably loud in places, making it nearly impossible for brewers and drinkers to hear one another; there was very little water for rinsing beer glasses, an important detail at beer fests; it was overcrowded; there was no guidebook or directions for figuring out what and where the beers and breweries were.
On the other hand, the booths were closer together this year, which made it easier to try more beers, and the lines, while occasionally backed up, were mostly short. In addition, the spirit behind the festival was pronounced and smiles were wide among most brewers, who were able to chat with attendees rather than pour beer. The area around the five collaborative Makin' Noise: A Pussy Riot beers, in particular, was very community-minded and fun.
Krause says Collaboration Fest is considering having the event at the Stock Show again next year, but will also examine other venues. If it does return, there are likely to be some changes, including a larger space and more training for the concessionaire staff. Krause will consider other changes as well, based on feedback.
There was a wide variety of styles represented.
Finally, the beers themselves were terrific, ranging from New England-style IPAs, to stouts, lagers, Belgian styles, wild and sour ales and some obscure and off-the wall offerings. Here are some of my favorites from the festival, followed by their official descriptions on the collaborationfest.com website.
Living the Dream Brewing and Alter Brewing Company
A German Chocolate Cake Stout with flavors of pecans, chocolate, vanilla and coconut.
Comrade Brewing and Uberbrew
Überpower Triple IPA was hopped with more than 10 pounds per barrel of Mandarina Bavaria, Chinook, Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops. ABV 10%
Halfpenny Brewery and Seedstock Brewery
Note: There was no description of this beer, a Lichtenhainer, which is an obscure German style. But the beer was one of the most unusual I have every tried, light, smokey and tart. Really cool.
Independent RiNo Collaboration
DRiNk RiNo ALTimate Secret is a Dopple Sticke Alt (Double Secret Alt-Style Beer) with Colorado malts and Colorado hops. The independent breweries in RiNo are working together more in terms of collective marketing and promotion, and decided that they should also create a beer together for Collaboration Fest.
Lone Tree Brewing and Platt Park Brewing
Unicorn Nectar ISB is a steam beer or California Common, one of the first truly American styles of beer. The brewers took the “America” to a whole new level, adding a healthy dose of hop bitterness and flavor. The beer was a clean, full bodied amber with notes of biscuit and a slight touch of sweetness, surrounded by copious amounts of earthy hop flavors.
Spangalang Brewery and The Real Dill
Birth of Cool is a gose with cucumber water. This slightly sour, salted wheat beer had fresh cucumber water added post-fermentation and was gently spiced with coriander. ABV 4.6%
Ratio Beerworks and WeldWerks Brewing
Chocolate Orange Belgian Tripel is a Belgian Tripel with pure liquid cacao and orange zest.
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Upslope Brewing and Resolute Brewing
Oaked Weissenbock featuring neutral, first use, medium tasted French oak.
Spice Trade Brewing and Cheluna Brewing
Empress Mora Imperial Stout is an imperial stout aged in Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with blackberries. ABV 10%
For more photos of the event, see our complete Collaboration Fest slideshow.