Denver Rare Beer Tasting 2022
The Denver Rare Beer Tasting. The one event I’ve heard about but never had the foresight to purchase tickets before they sold out. This year’s, their Lucky 13th, did not sell out, which I’ll attribute to the after effects of the pandemic. After attending for the first time, I will say that this event should sell out every year. While the price of entry is high, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting 2022 returned its value and then some.
The Denver Rare Beer Tasting is the signature event/fundraiser for Pints for Prostates. This non-profit group was founded by beer journalist Rick Lyke after being diagnosed and successfully treated for prostate cancer at 47 years old. The main goal is to get men screened for prostate cancer early and to dispel the belief that prostate cancer is “an old man’s disease.” Other such events they hold are the NC Rare & Vintage Beer Tasting and Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest.
At the Denver Rare Beer Tasting, men have the option to be screened for prostate cancer right at the doors. Fill out some forms, draw some blood, and you’re on your way to getting your PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) number. Men under 40 are recommended to get this test once every 3 years; every other year between 40 and 50; then annually over 50. I love that the option is available and wish more fests – beer or otherwise – offered such things. I’m a man over 40 so this directly targets me. Obviously consult your doctor first, but consider getting screened if you’re in one of the above age groups. More information about prostate cancer can be found on their website.
While not at all affiliated with the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) or the Brewers Association, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting does take place during the festival. A shrewd move on Pints for Prostates’ part as most of these breweries – and brewers – are in town for the festival already, why not have them help raise money for a worthy charity? And they do show up!
The Denver Rare Beer Tasting costs $200 per ticket. I felt it was worth it (and then some) but draw your own conclusions about its worth from the article. The closest local equivalent (in terms of rarity of beer) would be FoBAB which will set you back about $95 per ticket (after taxes and fees). Keep that in the back of your head while reading the article.
The 13th Denver Rare Beer Tasting (DRBT) took place on October 6, 2022 at the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver, CO. If you are staying in the downtown area for the GABF the Civic Center is a brief 10-15 minute walk (more if you’re further away from the convention center). I was honestly shocked at how close the venue was to the convention center.
The tasting happens across three floors of the Civic Center which is both good and bad. Tables are set up on each floor with two breweries pouring per table. That results in adequate spacing between breweries and room for lines to form for guests. The bad, at least for a 597 feet above sea level dweller such as me, came from those three levels. After having a pour of some 15% beer on the 1st floor, a jaunt up to the third floor left me winded. I’m not that horribly out of shape so I’m chalking it up to the elevation. Just give yourself some time if you decide to do that and you’ll be fine.
I mentioned lines in the previous paragraph. If you read my GABF 2022 Recap article, you know I had a whole section on lines and how bad (sometimes) they were. Were there lines at DRBT? Yes, but when I reference a line here (which I probably won’t do again) I mean like 5 people. Almost all of the time you could just walk right up, get a pour and have a short conversation and be on your way. No one behind you, no rush. Even some of the beers I thought would kick early (ahem Medianoche Derivation) rarely had lines worse than 5-10 people. And if that happened? I could stroll right next to them and get an amazing pour from either Prison City or Cerebral with absolutely no wait.
The bathroom situation was about the same. Bathrooms on each level made any lines non-existent. Walk in, do what you need to do and be on your way. I never waited for a bathroom and they were sparklingly clean to boot. No need for Port-O-Land here!
The main thing everyone wants to know is who’s pouring and what. Excellently enough, the Pints for Prostates site has all the breweries and what they were pouring! Saves me some writing time! In summation, an excellent mix of rarities, one-offs and interesting breweries. One note on the beers though – it seemed a majority of breweries brought barrel-aged stouts and barleywines or things of that ilk. When a 21% 4 barrel-aged stout isn’t the highest ABV pour you can get, you know you need to be careful. And drink some water and eat some food.
The Denver Rare Beer Tasting started at noon, which sucks for getting lunch. But what’s this? They provide food? Oh hell yeah! Buffet-style food abound, featuring pulled pork, ribs, chicken, beans, rice – just about everything you could want at a beer festival. The champion of the food arena had to be the cookies, as they came individually wrapped, meaning you could take some with you for snacking while walking around during the festival. The highest level of pro-tip. The food “court” set up shop on the second floor so it was highly visible and accessible.
Honestly, I’ve never been to a beer event that has had food like this in the Chicago area. FoBAB scarcely has food available, BUG’s food trucks are tucked into the corner, even something like Great Taste of the Midwest doesn’t compare. Especially since it’s included in the ticket price and available to all attendees. And they encouraged you to eat as many portions as possible! While some options did run out near the end of the festival (at 4PM), certain foods remained available as well as those cookies. So yeah, big positive.
The other insane thing at the festival was brewery representation. It was close to a 100% chance you were getting a pour from either a brewery representative or the owner/brewer themselves. This was absolutely awesome. A who’s who of brewery icons were there. The “old guard” was represented by Jim Koch (Sam Adams), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Adam Avery (Avery), and Tomme Arthur (The Lost Abbey). All were either pouring or wandering around the festival. I even got a pour of a pumpkin barleywine from Sam himself! Owners and/or brewers from Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Bow & Arrow (whom I interview for the GABF 2022 Part One show), WeldWerks, Casey, Cerebral, Prison City, Denton County, Kane were also in attendance as were a multitude of others. Sierra Nevada was pouring at the festival, but Ken Grossman didn’t make the trip out for either that or GABF. Still, an amazing and unique experience.
Being able to interact with and get a pour from the brewer themselves really defines this festival. Countless times on the GABF floor did Ryan and myself want to talk to one of the owners or brewers and they either weren’t there or weren’t at the booth (but at the festival). That would usually lead to us gently stalking the booth (our infamous Cover 2) until that person or people would arrive. There were volunteers pouring beer at some of the booths, but those were few and far between (or when the brewers needed a break). Just between the food and the brewery personnel being there I felt the ticket price was justified. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the insane beers yet!
I’ll link that list of breweries and beers again. Check it out, then come back here when your head stops spinning. I’m usually pretty good about guessing which beers will kick first and hit those first. My guess was WeldWerks/Side Project MD (Medianoche Derivation) Blend #1. Not only wasn’t it the first to kick, but it wasn’t even the first WeldWerks beer to kick. If I remember correctly MD kicked late in the festival, well after 3 PM. That’s insane, because at almost any other event in the world (like FoBAB) that would’ve been gone in under an hour. That’s the quality of beer we’re dealing with here.
What follows are the beers that I had that stood out to me – for whatever reason.
Funk Yeah Lost Time | Lambic-inspired | Beachwood Brewing | Long Beach, CA | 6.5% ABV
In my Denver haze I actually went to the Beachwood booth at GABF looking for Funk Yeah Lost Time, only to find Funk Yeah pouring. I was sad because I vividly remember seeing Lost Time on the list. But it was on the Denver Rare Beer Tasting list! So yeah, I got a pour of it. Funk Yeah Lost Time takes the Funk Yeah 3-year blend and adds a 4th year to the proceedings. Is it wild and drastically different from Funk Yeah? Not really. Funk Yeah is amazing in its own right and adding that extra year just added a little more funk, barrel, and complexity to the beer. Like with a majority of beers at the festival, it featured just the right amount of lemon tartness so as not to go overboard. Glad I got to try it!
Spiced Belgian Table Beer | Table Beer | Bow & Arrow | Albuquerque, NM | 4.9% ABV
After having some Bow & Arrow on the podcast, I was excited to try what they were bringing to DRBT 13. While it wasn’t the Navajo tea beer that I’d like to try, they brought a blend of a clean base beer, a barrel-aged mixed culture saison and a barrel-aged Belgian Pale Ale. Featuring a little bit of funk and spices, Spiced Belgian Table Beer really ramped up the lemon-y saison flavors I typically get while managing to maintain a light mouthfeel. Did I get all the nuance and depth of this beer? Hell no, seeing as how I have some insane ABV and flavor bomb beers. But I definitely could appreciate it as a light and flavorful beer. Like most of these beers, I would definitely like to try it independent of the festival.
Ode to Yggsdrasil Solar Eclipse | Quadruple barrel-aged stout | Burns Family Artisan Ales | Denver, CO | 21% ABV
Welcome to Thunderdome. Check out that ABV! While not the highest one at the fest – that honor goes to Sam Adam’s (Not So) Old Fashioned Utopias at 28% – it was the most drinkable of the highest. Aged in Laws 4-Grain Bourbon barrels, then Ardbeg Ten-Year Single Malt barrels, then Elijah Craig barrels, then finally Woodford Reserve barrels over the course of 30 months, Yggsdrasil is an absolute beast. Of course it’s boozy, but given its tenure in 4 different barrels a ton of different tastes await you. Chocolate, leather, caramel, vanilla and dark fruits join the full mouthfeel procession across your tongue. Definitely a sipper, but one where the burn wasn’t so great that I could finish the 2-3 ounce pour I received. A bottle share bottle if there ever was one!
Pêches Sauvage | Barrel-aged milkshake IPA | Denton County Brewing Company | Denton, TX | 9.6% ABV
While standing at one of the many tables set up I struck up a conversation with the guy standing next to me. Turns out he was from Denton, TX and couldn’t stop telling me about this beer he had from a brewery from there. Turns out he wasn’t the only one raving about it. Both Jim Koch and Sam Calagione had stopped by to get pours because they heard how good it was. I saw the beer name and said, “Oh, a peach sour beer, cool.” Then I asked owner Seth Morgan about it and lost my shit. A peach brandy BA milkshake IPA? How does that work? (Check out the interview I did with them at GABF for more.) And it worked. I would not have guessed IPA, though. Tons of peach from the barrel, a nice full mouthfeel and a refreshing finish. Not a ton of bitterness though. Looks for some BA milkshake IPAs coming from Sam Adams in 2-3 years!
Tender Buttons (2020) | Lambic-style with raspberries | The Referend Bier Blendery | Kutztown, PA | 6% ABV
You knew I had to stop at The Referend. Tender Buttons feature those raspberries in front while the beer pushes your mouth to the edge of tartness and back. Upon first sip I became worried it was going to give me heartburn, but those fears subsided quickly as I finished my pour. A delicate, pillowy mouthfeel guides the beer quickly across the tongue, with only some tart raspberries left behind. Makes me long for more Referend!
SDC Blend 2022: Vanuatu | Barrel-aged stout with vanilla | Perennial Artisan Ales | St. Louis, MO | 14.1% ABV
Smooth. Everything about this SDC blend made it easy to drink. Some bourbon heat and oak from the barrel, a full mouthfeel supported by some added lactose, and the perfect amount of vanilla. This basically tasted like bourbon chocolate cake with some whipped cream. But even at 14.1%, this beer drank easy and smooth almost scarily so. But, like many beers on this list, nearly impossible to try again.
If You Must – Tablas Creek | Berliner Weisse | Rowley Farmhouse Ales | Santa Fe, NM | 5.5% ABV
Grape must always scared me until I had beer from breweries that used it correctly. Rowley Farmhouse Ales, of course, know how to use it correctly! This beer spent time in a Tablas Creek Blanc barrique on fresh Mourvedre must and, wow, did it work. Just enough of the grape comes out in the beer so as not to make it a wine. The tartness hits fast and then vanishes, leaving you with a dry finish that has you clamoring for more. Among all the high gravity business, this stood out as more than a palate cleanser. It did absolutely everything right and I enjoyed it on multiple occasions. Probably the best low ABV option at the festival and one I won’t be able to try again because it’s taproom only!
Bright Light | Dry Hopped Barrel-Aged Saison | Union Craft Brewery | Baltimore, MD | 6.9% ABV
My surprise of the fest. I saw that Union Craft Brewery had a saison and figured I should try it. Glad I did. Aged in red wine oak puncheons for 21 months, Bright Light had all the lemon, spices and red wine tannins I could hope for in a wine BA saison. The surprise comes in the dry hopping, as the aroma gives off a lovely grassy note that I typically don’t get on a saison. A soft, pillowy mouthfeel and dry finish made this one I went back to multiple times at the fest. Another low ABV option that really excelled and stood out.
MD Blend #1 | Barrel-aged stout with vanilla, maple syrup and cinnamon sticks | WeldWerks | Greeley, CO | ??? ABV
Since I thought this would kick first I made this my first stop and boy did it set the tone. MD is thick and absolutely stains the glass brown, so much so that I had multiple rinses before it vanished (including from another brewery, asking, “What was in there?”). The beer wasn’t necessarily hot with any bourbon character but enough wood/oak was there so you got the hint. WeldWerks knows how to do adjuncts, so the vanilla and cinnamon came in waves and moderation. I honestly didn’t know this had maple syrup in it. Was it sweet? Yes, but not in a cloying way. I would love to try this again but I don’t think that’ll happen.
Vanilla Moonlight | Barrel-aged stout with vanilla | WeldWerks | Greeley, CO | ??? ABV
I’m shocked this only had vanilla in it. It tasted like a cookie with waves of chocolate, vanilla (obviously) and baking spices. Absolutely insane. It squashed other pastry stouts that were at the fest. It wasn’t even close. In addition to bourbon barrels, Vanilla Moonlight also sat for 6 months in a vanilla extract barrel and then aged on 6 different types of whole vanilla beans. Yet it was not a vanilla bomb. I’m not the biggest fan of pastry stouts but when done right they’re exquisite. Vanilla Moonlight is exquisite. WeldWerks has the Konami Code for barrel-aged stouts.