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What Is The Great American Beer Festival ?

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Summer is meant to be beer festival season, but actually, some of the best events occur in the fall when the leaves have fallen off the trees. The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is held in Denver in September, and tickets for this year's event are on sale next week for the general public.

Denver is home to one of America's first brewers, Coors, and their baseball field is named after the brewery. Other far more impressive brewers that make up the Denver beer landscape make this festival pretty special. Craft breweries have taken over the landscape of the city and embrace this festival like all visitors are part of the family. Breweries like Great Divide Brewing, Avery Brewing , Oskar Blues, and New Belgium are among others that are only a short drive from the city.

This festival is for any aspiring beer geek to hang out with other beer geeks from across the country. Having attended the last two festivals, it is far and away my favorite beer event of the year. The very mention of tickets going on sale this week has gotten me excited enough to write a post for those beer lovers who haven't yet made the trek. It's hard to explain the enormity to people well enough, but it is big. Not that big is always better, but if you go with no expectations you will be impressed.


How does it work?

You must buy tickets in advance, through the Brewers Association website. General Public tickets are on sale starting June 28, 2010. You can buy each session individually, or you can buy the weekend pass. There is a Thursday evening 5:30-10 session, Friday 5:30-10 session, Saturday 12:30-4:30 members session, and Saturday 5:30-10 session.

In my experience the Thursday and Friday evening sessions were the best times in which to go. Thursday is the least crowded of the public sessions. There is a members only session Saturday afternoon that is the least crowded of any session and is primarily where brewers pick up their awards for the show.

The price of each session is $55 that includes all beer samples in a free souvenir glass.

You may need to line up for some beers, but on the whole beer tables are empty. There are obviously some breweries in the hall that will always have line ups, but you are never denied beer as long as they have not run out. Note that late in sessions there can be run outs, where a brewery will have no more for that session. The pours are only one ounce (30 ml) pours due to the high alcohol content of many of the beers. Very few beers are under 5 percent with some exceeding 10 to13 percent.

The best parts of this festival are that either volunteers or the brewers themselves are pouring the beer for you; most breweries will send representatives to talk to the public. Last year I was able to have a great chat with Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery in New York, and everyone in the hall is super friendly. Instead of bumping into locals at your pub, you're meeting and bumping into locals from bars on the other side of the country.

There are obviously downsides to this festival in that there are crowds! You should aim to arrive between two and three hours before the event starts to ensure you get in early. People complain about things at this event and yes, the line up is one of them, but the most I have heard people waiting outside once the doors open is about an hour. Everyone is there for the same thing, and that is beer, so there is a largely jovial crowd that comes to this festival.

Best Parts of This Festival

  • Chophouse Grill restaurant and numerous brewpubs in the city have great seasonal beers on tap.
  • Extremely well organized for having nearly 30,000 beer drinkers over three days
  • Strange and experimental beers from parts of the U.S. which you might never visit
  • Friendly beer drinkers from all over the world
  • Denver has great bars nearby, and breweries with special events
  • As a craft beer lover you are in beer heaven for three wonderful days
  • The Colorado Rockies baseball team, or their hockey team, could be playing while you're in town

In my years of attending as many beer festivals as I can around the world, I rate this event as a "must see" for any beer drinker who enjoys trying new styles of beers, and is open to spending the money to drink the good stuff. The comparison I make to many people is that I head to Europe every few years to drink wine in France and it costs me thousands to do that. Drinking some of the best beer in the U.S. is available under one roof over one weekend every year.

Some people have said to me that $55 for three or four hours of beer drinking is expensive, but I always retort and say which local bar has two thousand possible options? So it may cost you $500-1000 with flights/hotels/tickets and food to make the trip to Denver, but it is a special little festival that any beer lover will appreciate.

Unfortunately this September I will be in Belgium and will be foregoing the 2010 festival, but I will definitely be there for 2011. Have a beer for me this year.

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  • Gray Hunter

    Hit the GABF about three years ago. Unforgettable. Can’t wait to get back. Of course, soon I’m hoping to be featuring my own beer there!