Our mission was clear: to try as many beers as possible without throwing up or forgetting that one of us had to drive home. It sounded easy--until we were faced with the 1,200 beers available for tasting at the Great American Beer Festival put on a few weeks ago at Currigan Exhibition Hall by the Association of Brewers, a nonprofit group that is, believe it or not, "dedicated to the collection and dissemination of information on beer and brewing." This was the organization's thirteenth festival, and it was a beaut, featuring beers from 41 states and 265 breweries. I decided the only way to handle it with any dignity was to limit my consumption to Colorado brews.

Which made things only slightly easier, since there were 31 of those. With me was a trusted friend who not only knows his way around a keg but has the additional qualification of being a big guy, so he could taste more beers than I. Between us, we made it to all but two of the Colorado booths and surrendered only when the festival ordered last call--which meant if you weren't being served that second, you were out of luck. Those still in line were mighty peeved, although not as angry as the people who paid their money and didn't get one of the adorable commemorative tasting glasses, which the festival ran out of when about 20,000 people showed up to sip. But those were the only bummers in an otherwise well-run event.

Upon arriving, we'd made a beeline for Denver's Tabernash Brewing Company, mainly because I wanted to get my palate going with one of my all-time favorite beers, the Weiss; since it had received a gold medal in the German Wheat Ale category, I feared it would be gone by the end of the night. Tabernash also took two bronze medals, for Denargo Lager and Golden Spike Lager. A recent addition to Denver's breweries and already a favorite, the Great Divide Brewing Company won a silver for its Whitewater Wheat Ale, although I think the Amber is a lot better. And the Avery Brewing Company, out of Boulder, won a gold for its excellent Out of Bounds Stout. I confess that my weakness for stout forced me to taste some of them twice, and this one I had three times, partly because the guy who obviously owns this brewery (at least, his name tag said he was Avery) didn't try to cram beer down my throat when he saw my press pass. His Elle's Brown Ale was pretty tasty, too, and not just because it had a great picture of a chocolate labrador on its label.

A few other finds in no particular order, since my notes got sloppy toward the end: Heavenly Daze Brewery's Black-Out Stout tasted wonderfully of molasses--it must be something in that Steamboat Springs water; out of Longmont, the Left Hand Brewing Company's Black Jack Porter and Motherlode Golden were very different but noteworthy (Left Hand won a bronze for the porter and a gold for its Sawtooth Ale, which it was out of by the time I arrived); and Vail's Hubcap Brewery and Kitchen put out a perky Powder Pig Porter that I liked better than the Vail Pale Ale that took a gold in the India Pale Ale category.

I was astounded to see that Pittsburgh's Iron City Light, a cheap, thin-flavored beer that fueled many a spin-the-bottle session during my formative years in the Steel City, won a silver medal in the American Light Lager category. "Light" must have meant "light in flavor"; we called this Iron Shitty back home.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner