If you haven’t heard of the Great American Beer Festival before (GABF for short), all you really need to know is that it’s heaven for beer lovers. GABF is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition representing the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served.
The first GABF was held in 1982 at the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, CO. At that time, there were just 24 breweries, 47 beers and 800 attendees. Two years later, the festival moved to Denver, CO, and by the tenth festival, its scale grew to 150 breweries, 500 beers and 7,000 attendees. In 2000, after years of continued growth, GABF moved to the Colorado Convention Center. This year’s festival claimed the largest participation yet: 800 breweries, 4,000 beers and 62,000 attendees!
That said, GABF has been on my bucket list for years. I am thrilled to say that 2018 was my first time attending the festival, as well as my first trip to Denver (but certainly not my last!). Since I’m still riding the high from my trip, I wanted to take a moment to recap my experience for those of you who have been considering attending GABF in the future.
First, a word of advice… altitude sickness is real folks! Be sure to drink plenty of water—at least pint for pint with your beer. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
Even before I stepped foot in Colorado, I was overwhelmed by the huge number of amazing breweries that people recommended I visit while in Denver. There is certainly no shortage of good beer to drink in the Mile High City! Below is a recap of just some of the stops during my stay.
1477 Monroe Street
Denver, CO 80206
Tap list: https://cerebralbrewing.com/beer/
This local favorite had a little something for everyone! Every beer in our flight was solid—list and pictures below!
- DH International Waters – Citra dry hopped Pilsner, 5.0%
- Severance Package – Oak-aged wild ale with blueberry, vanilla & maple syrup, 7.8%
- Cheat Code – Hazy Double IPA hopped with Galaxy, El Dorado, Mosaic and N1/69, 7.8%
- DDH Remote Island – Imperial IPA dry hopped with Galaxy, Motueka and Hallertau Blanc, 8.2%
- BA Safe Word – Barrel-aged imperial pastry stout with cacao, coconut and cassia bark, 12.8%
Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project
925 W 8th Avenue
Denver, CO, 80204
Tap list: https://www.sojournerbeers.com/our-beers/
This brewery features beer styles from around the world, including a Basil IPA, a Polish Grätzer, and a Turkish Coffee Stout. I also loved to see that they offer plenty of gluten free and gluten reduced options for those who need it.
- Pahk the Cah in the Yahd – An appropriately named Hazy NE IPA with Azacca, Mosaic, Apollo & Citra hops, 6.5%
- Hickory Peach Wee Heavy – A smoky, fruity, malty treat, which brags a 2018 World Beer Cup Silver for Experimental Beer, 9.3%
- DDH Brett Barrelfruit NEIPA – Fermented in American Oak barrels with Belgian and Brett yeast strains, then double dry hopped with Azacca, Apollo, Citra and Mosaic and fruited with mango and pineapple, 8.7%
- Turkish Coffee Stout – Robust and smooth with cardamom and orange peel, 7%
Our Mutual Friend
2810 Larimer Street
Denver, CO 80205
Tap list: http://www.omfbeer.com/beer/
A short stumble away from Ratio Beerworks, this little gem offers a wide range of styles, but is probably most well known for their sour and Brett style beers. They also have some pretty awesome looking merch!
- Festbier – An all-Colorado-ingredients Märzen, 4.8%
- Saison Trystero – A brett saison, which snagged both WBC gold and GABF silver, 6.6%
- Gratitude Five – Brett ale aged on peaches, 7.8%
- Sur Framboise – Raspberry sour wit, 7.0%
- Canela Mundo – Russian Imperial Stout with cinnamon, vanilla & lactose, 10.0%
2210 California Street
Denver, CO 80205
Tap list: https://www.woodsbossbrewing.com/beers#ONTAP
The ornate woodwork in this beautiful log cabin style taproom gives off a rustic vibe, making it the ideal place to feel right at home.
- Don’t Mess With the Trail God – Imperial IPA with Chinook, Bravo, Centennial, Mosaic, and Eldorado hops, 10.6%
- Peachwald – The peach version of The Oswald, a hazy IPA, 7.5%
- Peach Camp Sweep – Imperial Cream Ale with peaches, 7.5%
Great Divide (two locations)
2201 Arapahoe Street
Denver, CO 80205
1812 35th Street
Denver, CO 80216
Tap list: https://greatdivide.com/beer-menu/
Brian Dunn first started Great Divide back in 1994, and it has been a staple in Denver’s beer community ever since. Their beers are widely distributed, well recognized and well respected. The Yeti Imperial Stout is just one of their year-round favorites.
2875 Blake Street
Denver, CO 80205
This is the Denver go-to if you’re a lager fan. They believe in tradition and brew classic lagers that can withstand the test of time. They resurrected an 84-year-old brew kettle from Germany, and stuck with a strict Reinheitsgebot process (German Beer Purity Law), using only the holy quaternity of beer: water, malt, hops and yeast.
Falling Rock Taphouse
1919 Blake Street
Denver, CO 80202
Tap list: http://fallingrocktaphouse.com/beer-menu/
Falling Rock boasts a constantly changing selection of 75+ quality beers on tap and 130+ in bottles. Simply put, it’s the place in Denver to find a wide selection of renowned, rare and limited availability beers.
13th Street & Ford Street
Golden, CO 80401
Yeah, yeah… I know what you’re thinking, but I assure you that the drive out to Golden will be worth it once you take this free—and very informative—tour, followed by three free beers at the end!
I got to see a brief history of the company, followed by a walking tour of the production space. As impressive as the massive tanks are, I think what blew me away the most was their canning line (short video below!).
They had lots of brands to choose from that day, including Coors Banquet, Coors Light, Blue Moon, Killian’s Irish Red and Sandlot Stout.
Getting an inside look at this large scale production facility certainly draws a crowd, so be sure to line up early for this tour unless you plan on killing your whole day in Golden.
One other thing to note: They don’t allow backpacks or purses, so be sure to pack light for your tour! Check their tour page for all the details.
GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL
Now on to the grand finale! There are essentially two parts to GABF: the brewing competition and the festival itself. Each year, thousands of breweries from around the country submit their beers to be judged by the Brewer’s Association in hopes of earning a token of brewing excellence. These beers are said to be the best examples of each style in the country, so you should make it a point to try them whenever you have the chance! The festival is your opportunity to walk around and try one-ounce pours of some of the best beers in the US. It’s a perfect opportunity to meet some new friends and to try some beers that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get your hands on.
As I mentioned, GABF is the largest beer fest in the country. Let’s take a moment to appreciate how big it really is…
Competition Stats for 2018
- 32nd edition of the brewing competition
- 8,496 entries plus 101 Pro-Am and 49 Collaboration entries
- Commercial breweries are allowed to enter up to four beers in the competition
- 2,404 breweries competed in the competition from 49 states plus Washington, D.C. (no Mississippi)
- 293 judges from 13 countries
- 102 beer categories covering 167 different beer styles (including all subcategories)
- Average of 83 beers entered in each competition category
- Category with the highest number of entries was Juicy or Hazy IPA with a total of 391 entries
- The next most popular category was American-Style IPA with 311 entries.
- 280 medal-winning breweries (including Pro-Am and Collaboration)
- 306 total medals awarded plus three (3) each for Pro-Am and Collaboration
- The state of California took home 72 of those medals, 11 of which were given to Orange County breweries
- 537 first-time GABF entrants
- 31 first-time GABF winners
Biggest Winners for 2018 (3 medals each)
- 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Bend, OR
- GOLD – Baywindow: Berliner-Style Weisse
- GOLD – Passionate Envy: Fruit Wheat Beer
- SILVER – P2P: American-Style Stout
- Alesong Brewing and Blending, Eugene, OR
- SILVER – Terroir Pinot Noir: Experimental Beer
- SILVER – Terroir Pinot Gris: Brett Beer
- BRONZE – Touch of Brett Mandarina: Brett Beer
- Lewis & Clark Brewing Co., Helena, MT
- GOLD – Miner’s Gold: American-Style Wheat Beer with Yeast
- SILVER – Pompey’s Pilsner: Bohemian-Style Pilsener
- BRONZE – Prickly Pear: Classic English-Style Pale Ale
2018 Winners from Orange County, CA
|The Bruery||Mischief||American-Belgo Ale||Placentia|
|Barley Forge||Grandpa Tractor||Dortmunder||Costa Mesa|
|Green Cheek||West Coast IPA is Dead!||American-Style IPA||Orange|
|Green Cheek||Fools & Babies||English Milds||Orange|
|Noble Aleworks||Nobility||Imperial IPA||Anaheim|
|Stereo||Robot||Imperial Red Ale||Placentia|
|Stereo||Wall of Sound||Oatmeal Stout||Placentia|
|Riip||Black the Ripper||American Black Ale||Huntington Beach|
|Gunwhale Ales||Hayshaker||Classic Saison||Costa Mesa|
|Beachwood||Udder Love||Sweet Stout||Huntington Beach|
Notable Neighbor Awards
- Beachwood Blendery – Long Beach, CA
- GOLD – Funk Yeah: Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale
- TAPS – Corona, CA
- SILVER – Irish Red: Irish-Style Red Ale
You can view the full list of winners here: https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/the-competition/winners/
- 37th anniversary of the festival
- Over 800 breweries in expanded festival hall
- 4,000+ beers served at the festival
- 62,000 attendees
- 584,000 square feet of festival hall
- 4,086 volunteers (festival and competition combined)
This year, I attended the Members Only session (members of the Brewers Association or American Homebrewers Association only), on Saturday afternoon. Next year, I’d love to go with a full brewer’s pass to enjoy more of the event. The members session is known to be less busy than some of the other sessions, and is also the only one to include actual glass tasting vessels, rather than plastic. Tickets for this session are also a few dollars cheaper than the others, so it’s really the most bang for your buck if you have the credentials needed to purchase them.
My friends and I were watching parts of the awards ceremony as we were standing in line and waiting to get in. Once it was go time, we headed straight for some of our top priority beers.
It wasn’t before long that I found out the almost-two-years-old brewery I work for, Stereo Brewing, won not one, but two medals this year! I was so overcome by excitement that I forgot all about tasting any beer for almost an hour!
However, once I got myself back on track from all the excitement, I was so pleased to be able to try so many amazing and unique beers, and talk to so many fellow industry people–some of whom I already knew, and others I didn’t. I even got a chance to hang out with some old co-workers and friends at the festival!
With so many beers on tap to try, there just isn’t time to try them all. For that reason, you should download the official GABF app before you leave. Prior to the festival, they will post a map of all the participating breweries, as well as the beers to be available.
By the time I got back from GABF, I had already decided to go again next year! In case you’re wondering, yes, the dates have already been announced (for the next five years), so mark your calendar now!
Great American Beer Festival Schedule
2019: October 3-5
2020: September 24-26
2021: October 7-9
2022: October 6-8
2023: September 21-23
To learn more, visit https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com
Leave me a comment below and tell me if you’ve ever been to GABF, if you went this year (and which beers blew your mind), or if you’re planning to go next year!