My comrades in arms. This was the first GABF for all of us.
Words & Pictures by Ryan Allan.
This was my first Great American Beer Fest (GABF). It was a bucket list item that, if I am being honest, I thought would suck. Crowds of people. Lines for beer. Nerdy arguments about the merits of breweries selling out. (Okay, that was me). It sounds like one of those things that is a good idea in theory but not in real life.
GABF is a big ass three day long beer festival held in Denver, CO every year. It is like the World Series of beer. Breweries from all over the country bring their beer to be tasted & judged, and hopefully awarded a Gold Medal in anyone of dozens of categories. In addition, all over Denver bars like Falling Rock Tavern & local breweries like Great Divide or Our Mutual Friends Brewing are hosting events, street tastings and GABF industry parties. I was prepared to hate it.
Instead, I fucking loved it am ready to plan for next years festival.
Wednesday: After getting dropped off in front of Coors Field I find myself (on the advice of a good local citizen) drinking good coffee & learning my fortune at Huckleberry Roasters coffee shop. My fortune leaves me with a lot of questions. Then lunch at Breckenridge Brewing. I have a Breckenridge IPA which leaves me wanting more beer. Better beer. I hop on a B-Cycle bike and head east into the gentrifying wilderness of RiNo & Five Points.
I snag a taster of Ratio Brewing’s American Standard Ale before settling in at Our Mutual Friends Brewing down the block. I plan on trying a few things but one sip into their Novo Coffee Stout and I’m hooked. I won’t be ordering anything else but more of these. My comrades on this trip, my father & beer nerdy friend join me here and we head to Falling Rock for Pliny & Blind Pig taps just because. Then finish the night at Coors Field for the Rockies game that sucks but they have some decent beer.
Thursday: Pigtrain Coffee in Union Station then, Great Divide Expresso Yeti at the tasting room leads to lunch in a bar & a nap on the grass in front of the Convention Center before GABF.
The line up for GABF is set up inside a 100,000 square foot room. We get in an hour early and are in the first of 10 or so aisles set up. There are more than a few “herded like cattle” jokes. We lay down on the floor and wait. This is where we have our only GABF complaint. Would it kill ya to have a little entertainment in the waiting hall? A Sports Illustrated? A local rock band wanting some attention? A movie on the wall? 60-90 minutes is a long time to wait in line in a whitewashed room.
Promptly at 5:30 PM the garage doors roll up and 10,000 + people start to cheer. A band of Bagpipers launch into a tune and we begin to shuffle, then march into four football fields worth of beer. It feels big. It feels epic. And it is.
Knowing this is only day 1 of 2 we’ll be at the fest we go with no plan other than to avoid lines. We needn’t worry. The thing is so damn big the lines for most breweries were minimal. Unless you wanted that special bourbon barrel whatever or anything from New Glarus Brewing all weekend you could walk up to anyone of a dozen breweries you probably never heard of and get a pour. It was kind of like being in beer heaven.
Then when you wanted a break from the beer there was live music, food pairings, art show, beer education, photobooth, Ms. Pacman and food. We bounced around for several hours and left for Wynkoop Brewing down the road to check out our haul of free swag. If you needed a bottle opener, button, sticker, baseball cap, coozie or any other sort of beer swag the breweries at GABF had you covered.
Friday: Day two started with more purpose. Epic Brewing for a Hop Syndrome & some variations on their Brainless sour series (try the raspberry if you can). Then a classy haircut downtown and back to the convention center for a nap & to wait in line once again.
Day 2 at GABF was more of the same. More beer, more food, more stuff, more fun. We were prepared and hit up our favorite breweries or the specialty stuff first. Looking at you Surly Brewing. It was busier than Thursday, but still not to bad. And the bands were better. Somehow we found a corner of the fest we had missed the day before.
The fest was sectioned off by region. I.e. “Pacific” “Midwest” “North East” making it easy to head for a region you might not have access too. Despite there being more than 15,000 patrons on day two we continually ran into our SoCal brethren in the Pacific Northwest section. Some good beers up there. It felt like the entire SoCal beer scene had transplanted to GABF for the week.
We left early for steaks& fish tacos across the street at Stout St Social. Then headed out to the airport for a few hours of sleep before an early flight home. While the folks from Craft Brewer’s Alliance were getting things set up for the awards ceremony & Day 3 of the fest I was 35,000 feet up planning for next year.
The Great American Beer Fest was well worth the trip. Despite it’s size it was one of the most well-run & organized beer festival experiences we’ve had yet. There is something for everyone from beer to entertainment. Plus you’ve got all of Denver to explore during the day. If it is even close to being on your beer bucket list don’t think to hard about it. Just go. You won’t be disappointed.
Check out the full list of 2015 GABF medal winners here.
I had grand plans of reviewing every beer I tried over the weekend, but that was an epic fail. Check out BeerBoner.com soon for the few reviews I did manage to write & a full list of the 72 beers I tried at GABF.