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Gnarly Barley Brewfest Review: Part 1

Nathan Gismot, August 29, 2013 -   

On Saturday, August 3rd, I attended the Gnarly Barley Brew Festival in Loveland, Colorado. It was my first time attending, and while I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I was hopeful about it, given the thriving craft beer scene in Colorado.

I wasn’t disappointed.

First, let’s discuss the setting. Gnarly Barley was situated within the well-attended Larimer County Fair. I’ve been to plenty of fairs, but the novelty of them never really wears off for me. It was a typical, light-hearted carny atmosphere, and it supplemented my sense of anticipation quite nicely.

Finally, I arrived at the Gnarly Barley entrance. My $20 admission fee garnered me a 4-oz “mug” into which the beer I’d sample would be poured, and seven wooden tokens to serve as payment for the samples.

(Le Token in Le Plastic Bag)

Extra tokens were a dollar each. I plunked down another $5 and carefully tucked my new tokens into Le Plastic Bag (see above). Oh – before I forget, I should note I also received a white token, which, I learned, was to serve as my voting chip for the best brewery in show. That newly discovered element of competition piqued my interest even further. I stepped forward into the several-acre semicircle of (mostly) craft beer producers and absorbed the scene.

It was a really cool sight to behold. I noticed the logos of a number of local breweries I’ve been meaning to visit, such as Loveland Aleworks and Black Bottle Brewery. There were a few others I’d never heard of, such as Big Choice Brewing, City Star Brewing, and Wiley Roots Brewing Co. And there were the local standbys I’ve come to know and appreciate, such as Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins Brewery, and Wynkoop Brewing Company. And of course, there were lots of cheerful suds enthusiasts walking around, lining up at the booths, sampling beers, and just having a helluva good time. 

Odell’s is a current favorite of mine, so I stopped at their booth first. They had two of their beers on tap, and I sampled them both, in this order: Double Pilsner, and Loose Leaf. The Odell guys at the booth were especially stoked about Loose Leaf, which is a new and crafty offering. One of them said that, with Loose Leaf, their intention had been to craft a “porch pounder,” i.e., an easy drinking, yet relatively complex, summer beverage. It delivered per their intention. I agreed with the other Odell guy’s assessment in that it has an IPA nose and tame, quasi-pilsner taste.

I liked it, but I really liked the Double Pilsner.

Here’s what I noted in my phone as I sampled the Double Pilsner: “Delicious, robust mouthfeel and flavor. Pilsner x2 – kills insipidity. Hoppy aftertaste. Pilsy nose.” The Pilsner-Times-Two phrase really resonated at the time. I added to it in my Untapp’d review: “Excellent. What I always yearn for with regular pilsners.”

In retrospect, Odell’s biggest victory with the Double Pilsner is in the taste, I think. The fade on many pilsners is, to me, disappointing and (as I hinted above) insipid. Odell corrects for that by augmenting the complexity of the flavor and extending the aftertaste. The net result is, in my opinion, a balanced, full-flavored, and straight-up wonderful beer.

Behold the Odell Double Pilsner.

(The event was co-sponsored by Shock Top and my right thumb.)

Odell’s booth was the first of several more. I’d really like to tell you about it in this space, but as there are numbers of other beers to discuss, I think it would be best to save it all for future posts. Suffice to say I had fun. The esteemed J. R. Shirt and I had a philosophical exchange on Twitter concerning carny culture; and I made some general observations that seemed wildly hilarious to me at the time – sad, perhaps, given that I attended this event alone. (Cue "Forever Alone" meme, natch.)

Until next time, my sudsy wudsies.

Twitter & Untapp’d: @nategismot

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