In my last article, I tried to entice you to go to beer festivals outside of your own city and experience the joy of traveling for beer. In October, we went to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, CO and now, I’m going to make you jealous. Very, very jealous. The number of breweries in attendance reached a record high of 624 breweries serving over 3,100 different beers. You read that correctly. Thirty-one hundred beers. To sample all 3,100 beers over the three-day, 13.5 hour festival, you’d need to drink 230 one-ounce samples each hour. I like goals, but this was a wee bit unachievable. Thus, we needed a game plan.
The festival hall was laid out by region and we purposefully started in the Eastern US to sample from breweries that never make their way to the west coast. If you elected to sample by beer styles, there’s an app for that. The GABF app lists each brewery, what they’re pouring, their location in the hall and it even sorts per beer style. We had a vertical tasting from Left Hand Brewing, tasted one-off beers and delighted our palates with over 100 samples over two days. That’s only the equivalent of 2.5 imperial pints per day so perhaps I should have set my goals a bit higher.
The breweries pulled out their A-game and included some rare and aged beers. Our only regret is that we didn’t target Lost Abbey immediately upon arriving Thursday night for their Duck Duck Gooze as that gem was Duck Duck Gone within minutes.
Some myths and facts that we had heard prior to going:
Tickets are impossible to get: Mostly true. The tickets sold out within minutes for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Although, if you’re a member of the American Homebrewers Association or Brewers Association, there is a member’s pre-sale. Even without membership, we still managed to get tickets for Thursday and Saturday night. Pro tip: If you know someone in the industry, they should have the pre-sale code – and you should start sucking up to them in July.
Arrive early: True. The line-up to get into the festival was 45 minutes long by the festival start time.
It’s so crowded, you spend your whole time in beer line-ups: Nope, false. Yes, some of the better-known breweries like Russian River had line-ups 20 people deep but most of the tables had 3-4 person line-ups. Pick those breweries. We sampled many fantastic beers from breweries unknown to us.
The bars are packed by 8pm: False. We did most of our bar and brewpub perusing in the afternoons but we checked out the Falling Rock Tap House on Friday night and only waited 10 minutes to get in. Once inside, we drank amazing beers from our choice of over 90 taps, met some friendly locals and other GABF attendees and were treated to special release beers and casks.
The festival is also host to their own prestigious and sought-after awards. GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world and this year, there were 4,809 entries. Representation came from 745 breweries encompassing 49 states and Washington, DC. Additionally, GABF has a large Pro-Am competition. In its eighth year, the Pro-Am booth hosted 100 entries from across the country. The panel of 201 judges, from 11 countries, awarded 252 medals representing 84 beer categories and 138 different beer styles. The awards ceremony draws a large crowd on Saturday morning and the winners proudly display their gold, silver and bronze medals at their booths.
As tickets for GABF are hard to come by, and because Denver is an awesome craft beer city, many of the local bars celebrate the entire week of GABF and host their own events. There are tap takeovers, beer dinners, all-day happy hour (happy indeed!) and the coveted rare beer tasting at Rackhouse Pub. Denver starts the party on Monday and concludes the Sunday after GABF with none other than a hangover beer brunch. Seems fitting.We spent an extra two days in Denver to visit breweries, pubs and of course, to do some beer shopping. Denver is a fantastic beer town and well worth the visit whether it’s for GABF or not. Do yourself a favour and add this to your wish list