The Great American Beer Festival rolled through Denver last weekend, sending a shockwave of beer lovers into our streets, breweries and bars. The GABF spirit was felt all across the mile high, but we dared to venture into the swarming epicenter of the Colorado Convention center to give you the low-down on the nation’s largest and most-loved beer festival.
To an outsider, the festival might seem like nothing more than pretzel necklaces and a beer holiday. The festival is in fact the most esteemed judging ceremony for breweries nationwide, large and small. It saw it’s 35th birthday this year, it hosted nearly 800 different breweries, and it’s awards leave lasting impacts on our national beer scene. Its awards are pared out by an elite panel of judges have the ability to make or break a brewery, and this year over one hundred different beers left decorated in silver, bronze and gold. For the full list of awarded beers, click here.
Colorado is known to be a craft beer destination, and tons of local breweries were representing this weekend. Breckenridge Brewery, Denver Beer Co, Fermaentra, Dry Dock, Black Shirt Brewing, New Belgium, and the list goes on. The "Napa Valley of Beer" not only created the festival, but has helped build a craft and microbrew culture that spreads from sea to shining sea.
Basically, more medals equal more credentials for up and coming brewers, and for those who don’t have the chance (or the tolerance) to sample every single beer, these medals give us a necessary steer in the right direction. Not to say that this festival is all stern faces and serious beer talk; the GABF is at once a make or break moment for breweries and a party. When you’re in the business of beer, it’s all about having fun too, and the GABF is proof.
I spoke with Greg the home-brew knowledge guru and member of the national GJCP about his favorite aspects of GABF. He called the festival the “longest running, annual gathering of beer geeks.” He takes his beer seriously, but the heart of the festival was the reason he attends. For Greg, the festival is a time to reconnect with once-a-year-friends, and to share a really good up-and-coming craft beer. He was buzzed on the energy in the air, not just the brews. The GABF has been bringing friends and beer enthusiasts together for decades, transcending from a tasting spree into a tradition, and creating strong connections between breweries across the nation. It’s a microcosm of the beer community at large, and it’s simply really, really fun.
The festival goers were kilt-sporting, rung with pretzel necklaces, and all in good spirits. I stopped to chat with a brewer from Hopworks of the Pacific Northwest about the attendees. They iterated, “Everyone here is stoked. Drunk people are prone to fight, but no one has. There’s a strong sense of comradery, everybody’s happy.”
In terms of logistics, the festival was a crowded swarm of costumes and shoulders to navigate through; some lines spilling out into the alley-space and it was sometimes a test of patience and dedication. It goes without disagreement, though, that the convention center, despite it’s inevitable, unavoidable closeness, was extremely well organized. Free water stations were spaced between every twenty or so booths. Huge signs marking every section and easily understood maps left little room for confusion. The crowd was heavy, but that’s to be expected.
The flock gathered often at hot-spot breweries, and the best breweries were sometimes dry within the first couple of hours of a session. The flock was a permanent fixture for Black Project Brewing, a local South Broadway brewery who touts their wild caught microbes and meticulous brewing practices. The line was over twenty minutes, but it was well worth the wait. On the upside of things, the flock would coagulate in pockets, leaving a lot of little known, great booths open for conversation and slow sampling. As long as you knew the patterns of the flock and which beers were worth the wait for, you were home free.
This festival is a chance to refine your tastes and discover what makes American beer special. Also, it’s the perfect chance to finally break out that old kilt you’ve been hiding in the back of your closet. Regardless of what you string on your pretzel necklace, the GABF welcomes all beer-weirdos and weird beers, so if you have the chance to snatch up a ticket for a session next year, don’t wait until it's too late!
Check out GABF's photo gallery to see if you made it in. If not, there's always next year!