Beer Nirvana: Great American Beer Festival 2018

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!

DENVER BREWERIES

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.

Cerebral Brewing
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!

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  • 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%

Woods Boss
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
–and–
1812 35th Street
Denver, CO 80216
Tap list: https://greatdivide.com/beer-menu/

Great Divide.jpgBrian 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.


Bierstadt Lagerhaus
2875 Blake Street
Denver, CO 80205
Website: https://bierstadtlager.com/

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.


Coors
13th Street & Ford Street
Golden, CO 80401
Website: https://www.millercoors.com/breweries/coors-brewing-company/tours

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.

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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

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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

Medal Brewery Beer Category City
GABFbronze The Bruery Mischief American-Belgo Ale Placentia
GABFbronze Unsung Lumino American Lager Anaheim
GABFgold Barley Forge Grandpa Tractor Dortmunder Costa Mesa
GABFbronze Green Cheek West Coast IPA is Dead! American-Style IPA Orange
GABFbronze Green Cheek Fools & Babies English Milds Orange
GABFgold Noble Aleworks Nobility Imperial IPA Anaheim
GABFsilver Stereo Robot Imperial Red Ale Placentia
GABFbronze Stereo Wall of Sound Oatmeal Stout Placentia
GABFsilver Riip Black the Ripper American Black Ale Huntington Beach
GABFbronze Gunwhale Ales Hayshaker Classic Saison Costa Mesa
GABFsilver 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/

Festival Stats

  • 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.

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Waiting in line, before the madness begins!

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!

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The #BeValiant crew!

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!

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OC Beer Week is April 21-28, 2018

We’re halfway through OC Beer Week, so today I’ll be talking about what it is, when it is, where it is, and how you can participate!

In short, it’s a week long craft beer celebration throughout Orange County, CA. Many of the local breweries hold special events (including tap takeovers at local restaurants and other venues), releasing special beers, and of course, the OC Brewers Guild sends the week off in style with a giant beer festival to conclude the festivities.

Why not take some time this week to explore some of the 40 breweries in OC, and the amazing beers they have to offer—I mean, do you really need one more reason to go out for a beer?

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Similar “craft beer week” events happen all over the country, especially in April and May. If you’re not local to Orange County, then research your area to find out what breweries around you do to celebrate craft beer!

Dates: April 21-28, 2018

Events you can attend:

Third Annual Orange County Brewers Guild (OCBG) Invitational

  • Date: Saturday, April 28, 2018
  • Time: 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
  • Location: Newport Dunes
    1131 Back Bay Dr.
    Newport Beach, CA 92660
  • Tickets:
    • General Admission: $65 if purchased online (link below), $80 at the door
    • VIP Admission: $75 (admittance at 3:00 pm)
    • Designated Driver: $20
  • Ticket includes: Unlimited beer tastings from your favorite OC breweries (100+ beers to choose from!), commemorative festival glass, water, live entertainment
  • Buy tickets on Eventbrite

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First Class Pizza IPA Fest

  • Date: Wednesday, April 25, 2018
  • Time: 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Location: First Class Pizza Woodbury
    6420 Irvine Blvd.
    Irvine, CA 92620
  • Beers on tap:
    • Noble Ale Works: Because You’re Worth It, Big Whig
    • Bottle Logic: An Elegant Beer For A More Civilized Age IPA
    • Unsung: Metaplex, Cygnus Loop
    • Chapman Crafted: Have A Nice Life
    • Beachwood: Citraholic
    • Artifex: So Choice IPA, Orange You Different Hazy IPA
    • Stereo Brewing: Astral Plane Hazy IPA, Childhood’s End DIPA
    • Tustin Brewing Co.: Old Town IPA
    • The Good Beer Company: Monopoly On Truth
    • Offshoot Beer Co.: Taste that Taste NE DIPA, One (1st Anniversary) NE IPA
    • Karl Strauss: All The Single Hazies

Tustin Brewing’s OC Beer Week Beer Dinner

  • Date: Thursday, April 26, 2018
  • Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
  • Location: Tustin Brewing Co.
    13011 Newport Ave.
    Tustin, CA 92780
  • Price: $50 per person
  • Includes: Prix fixe menu with beer pairings for each course. Reserve your spot ahead of time, seating for this event is limited.

Special Limited Beer Release at Stereo Brewing

  • Date: Friday, April 27, 2018
  • Time: 4:00 pm – 10:30 pm
  • Location: Stereo Brewing
    950 S Via Rodeo
    Placentia, CA 92870
  • Beer Details: To be announced; but trust me, once you find out what they’re putting on tap, you won’t want to miss it!

You can also visit the OC Brewers Guild website, where they’ve posted a calendar with a more complete list of events.

So this week, go out, enjoy a local craft brew, and appreciate all that Orange County has to offer!

Drink Local, Drink Independent, Drink… Whisky?

OC Brewers Guild Invitational 2017
OC Beer Week (May 19-28) is in full swing, which means there’s no better time to drink local! Kicking things into high gear is today’s marquee event: the second annual Orange County Brewers Guild Invitational, taking place at Center City Anaheim. The brewery lineup isn’t limited to those located in Orange County though—prepare to take your pick from over 140 beers provided by 70+ of California’s best craft breweries!

Asylum BrewingIf you’ll be in attendance, be sure to hunt down Asylum’s booth and get a beer from yours truly! If not, what are you waiting for?! Tickets are still available here. The pours are unlimited, so naturally I recommend you get a tasting of both Monsters We Breed (double IPA) and Casanova Frankenstein (imperial stout). Even if you’ve already had a chance to try them, come say hi!

World Whisky DayFor those not in Southern California this weekend, you’re still in luck! Expanding beyond the reaches of OC Beer Week are two other equally important and much larger libation celebrations: American Craft Beer Week (May 15-21) and World Whisky Day (today, May 20)! So make sure you support an independent craft brewery near you (or two, or three…), or sip on your favorite bourbon, rye or Scotch! If you’re a bourbon fan (like myself) and want to try something different, check out this year’s signature WWD cocktail: The Oak Tea. If beer is still your one-and-only, don’t worry. There are plenty of killer bourbon/whisky barrel-aged beers that I think more than qualify as a celebration of both American Craft Beer Week and World Whisky Day! Check my suggestion list at the bottom of this post!

If you want to earn some extra credit in the good karma department, don’t just drink local and independent beer yourself—save a friend from the perils of terrible, corporation-owned macro beer! And don’t just preach to them about it, buy them a round and prove you care! In 2016, craft breweries composed 99% of all the breweries in the U.S., but held less than 13% volume share! If you’re going to drink those beers regardless, make them count and support small, local businesses! You’ll find greater variety, higher quality and best of all, just better tasting beer.

Wherever you are this weekend, cheers, prost and salud!


Here’s those barrel-aged suggestions:

  • Bottle Logic – Fundamental Summation, BA imperial vanilla coffee stout, 13.8% ABV
  • Prairie Artisan Ales – Barrel Aged Bomb!, BA imperial stout, 11.2% ABV
  • The Bruery – Mash & Vanilla, BA vanilla barleywine, 13.3% ABV
  • Boulevard – Bourbon Barrel Quad, BA Belgian-style quadrupel, 11.8% ABV
  • The Bruery – Black Tuesday, BA imperial stout, 20.3% ABV