Great American Beer Fest The Colorado Convention Center 700 14th Street Denver, CO 80202
Event Dates: October 3 – 5, 2019
Reported by: The Rabbit
Well, we went and did it… The Great American Beerfest in Denver, Colorado. This annual event is the culmination of 800 Brewers, from all over the U.S., with over 4,000 beers. An estimated 62,000 people attended the event over four four and a half hour sessions spread across three days. If one isn’t a member of the American Homebrewers Association, then only three of the four sessions are open for purchase (Saturday afternoon is not an option). The festival is held at the Denver Convention Center, which has more than enough space to accommodate the large number of attendees.
There are two stages to entry. The first stage consists of two long lines underneath the building that are the precursor to walking through metal detectors. Be warned, the line will get crazy long. However, fear not, the line moves fairly expeditiously once the ten doors, each with a staff worker to check IDs, open. After getting the ID checked, there are numerous meal detectors to move through. Then, one can turn right for the stairs, or left for the escalators. Since our team is semi-professional and semi-retired, we opted to do the stairs on Thursday night and the escalator on Friday night, respectively.
The second stage occurs shortly after charging the stairs like a contestant in a Tough Mudder event or clinging to the escalator of gloriousness. At the top of both the stairs and escalator is a gate that reads “Through this gate, great beer awaits.” Gotta say, I was excited before we left Philly, I was even more amped after reading that. Both options enter into a common threshold where attendees enter the massive space that contains beer. Again, attendees are faced with a fork in the road. Like previously stated, since we’re semi-professional (and consistent in our choices), we went right on Thursday and, since we’re semi-retired, left on Friday. Just after the direction is chosen, attendees picked up their tasting glass marked with a 1oz tasting line, as well as a sweet beerfest logo and an Untapped logo on the other side. Then, with ownership of the beer vessel obtained, attendees are ushered into several shorter, yet wider, lines that are simultaneously opened at the session start time. Please note, replacement glasses are $5.00.
At this point, eyes wide with the sheer wonder that this type of event could have so many brews to consume, I threw out all preconceived plans and ended up following Pretzel and the Stoutmeister around. I opted to hang with them due to the square footage of the space and the number of attendees. My logic included that, once separated, I would have a hard time finding them again. That was probably for the best as evidenced by the following. At the end of the Thursday night session, there was a ten minute span where Pretzel lost me and mistakenly called the Wrangler, who was back in NJ, around 1130 pm EDT. When I was able to find them (they were hidden behind a column in the center of section 25) and glanced at Pretzels phone, I asked why she called the Wrangler. We burst into laughter after realizing she called the wrong person.
Some of the components of the Beerfest are not like any we’ve experienced before. First and foremost is the mandatory 1oz pour. Second, a 47 page guide is issued, to any who want one, while waiting in the stage 1 line. The guide contains two maps (brewers are sectioned off by region) and a lot of pages that list brewers in alphabetical order (the beer names are listed under each brewer). The guide was extremely helpful as we deftly navigated a subset of the sections during each session, as well as for tracking the beers we tried. Third, there was a ProAm section, in which a professional and a home-brewer collaborated on a brew, and a medal winner section, in which brews that won medals last year were available to sample. Fourth, there was a Jameson Cask section, swag bags were handed out to each person as they entered the section, in which the Jameson whiskey barrels were used in the brewing process. There was a photo booth, a small stage for live music (the music was not blasting throughout the convention center) and a presentation section. The presentation was highly technical and required headphones to listen to the presenters, which I appreciated since the ambient noise was loud enough to drown out the presenters otherwise. Also, there was an Oscar Mayer Wiener truck that was used for pictures. Food options were spread across the convention center, instead of a designated area specific to all food options. One more thing to highlight, grabbing GABF apparel inside the beerfest is interesting in that shoppers enter into one line and pick out there stuff from a staff worker at a table. The staff worker picks up the items a person is interested in getting then the shopper moves down the table to another section where they checkout. Fair warning, the items are a bit pricey.
The beers, oh the beers. This Beerfest is designed for one thing, you guessed it, beer. There was so many spread across so large of a space that trying them all is impossible. I spent Thursday night going for darker beers (porters and stouts), while Friday was dedicated to sours. I had one beer that I knew I wouldn’t want again throughout both sessions. The majority of the Brewers have their beers in pitchers on the table for quick pours due to the size. Their taps are located at the back of their section and are used to refill the pitchers. This means the beers are a little warmer than otherwise would be if poured directly from the taps, but it wasn’t a problem. It would be if the same mechanism was adopted at an outdoor Beerfest in warmer weather. One four and a half hour session wasn’t enough, I’m glad we opted to do two sessions.
I had a great time at the GABF and would recommend it to others to give it a shot. Just don’t have the expectation that the Beerfest holds a lot of ancillary activities for attendees. One final note, GABF had its own website in which attendees could get badges for beer types! It listed a grouping of beers that attendees could try and check off on their way to completing the badge. That’s a good way to breakdown the Beerfest into smaller portions.
Reported by: The Stoutmeister
Since we heard that Denver, Colorado’s Great American Beer Festival was voted best in the country, we decided to take a trip there to find out for ourselves. So, we came, we saw and we drank. It was a completely different kind of beer festival from what we have experienced locally because this one covered the whole country. Our local beer festivals were somewhat regional and mostly New Jersey breweries only.
Being visitors from another state, we had to learn how to get around Denver. Public transportation was quite easy to use. RTD (Regional Transportation District) has a very comprehensive trip planner web site where you can enter your address of origin, the destination plus time of departure and it will give you up to 4 choices of transportation routes. Where we stayed in Denver, our best choices were always by bus. The bus stopped right out of the convention center but on our way back to our hotel, I do not know why we had to walk a couple of blocks to catch a bus…I guess, by the time we got out of the beer festival, our original bus route might not be operating anymore.
And now, the festival: The entrance was a huge 2 step staging area…one outside the convention center and the second staging area is inside. In the first staging area, there were people who gave out programs for the festival listing all the participating breweries and the brews that they had to offer. There was also a very nice map so you can find the brewery that you are interested in. Because of the long line in that outdoor staging area, there was somebody holding a sign that says, “The line ends here” and we found that a great idea and rather amusing. We claimed our tasting glasses after going through the first staging area and before you know it, maybe some 10,000 beer drinkers are waiting in the second staging area waiting for 5:30 pm to tick in. As soon as we got in, we started sampling the beer from all over the USA.
Even if we bough tickets for all the sessions of this beer fest, there is no way we could have tried ever beer they had. They tried to help out by giving out only 1 oz. pours (another good idea) so that we got to try more beer while staying sober for a lot longer. We looked for the New Jersey breweries participating in this festival and we were so delighted that they recognized us as we approached their booths. In the first session, some asked why we were not wearing our costumes so we promised to be back with our costumes in the second session.
I loved the fact that most brewers were offering different types of beer…this just confirms to me that the IPA-craze has fizzled out. There were lots of stouts and porters in this festival…I guess it is because autumn (a colder season) is here and that dark beer is mostly suitable for this time of the year.
It was a lot of fun but I am not sure if I want to do this again considering that Colorado is not close to New Jersey. All I can say is that I am glad I did it.
Reported by: Pretzel
Talk about dying and going to beer heaven! This beer fest does it right!
- 3 days, with one session restricted for American Homebrewers Association or Brewers Association members only
- 800+ Breweries at the festival
- 4,000+ festival beers
- 9,300+ competition beers
- 3,800+ volunteers
- 62,000+ beer lovers
- 38 years and going strong
This beer fest has 2 faces – beer tasting for us beer lovin’ people, and a serious brewers conference (both professional and amateur)/beer competition. Each brewery is allowed to enter up to 5 beers per open tasting room they own. The beers are evaluated by the festival’s Professional Judge Panel, and 3 beers that best represent their category are awarded the prestigious gold, silver, or bronze medal. I was happy to see 2 or our NJ breweries will medals:
- Devil’s Creek Brewery (Collingswood) won a silver medal for ‘Bringin Da Heat, a delicious Belgian Dark Strong Ale spiced with peppers.
- Cape May Brewing Company (Rio Grande) won a bronze medal for their Honey Porter!
As The Rabbit, The Stoutmeister, and I made our way through the festival, I made sure we stopped at each NJ brewery to show our support. I was happy to see Bonesaw, Tonewood, Mudhen, Cape May, Jersey Girl, Icarus, Manafirkin, River Horse and Jersey Cyclone pouring their great beer. I loved the 1 oz pours, since you were able to taste more beer, and didn’t get so full right away. We did 2 sessions, and I feel like we hardly put a dent in the number of breweries we hit. I think I could have gone for a third session!
One of my only complaints, is there wasn’t a lot of available seating. And since I’ve been having an issue with my foot, and just got rid of my walking boot, I needed to rest it a bit. So I meandered into a forum discussion area, basically because they had some empty seats. The Rabbit and The Stoutmeister joined me. We were given 3 beers and a set of headphones to listen to the expert panel. For this session, 3 brewers had been given a common beer recipe, but they were each to use a different strain of yeast (hence the samples). I really enjoyed the sampling part, but the panel discussion got a little too involved in the chemistry specifics of their processing. BTW – I think all the other people in the audience were professional brewers. I started taking pictures of their Power Point slides for future reference (no that ain’t gonna happen, I’d need an interpreter). Soon The Rabbit and The Stoutmeister got bored and wandered off. I tried to hang in there, pretending I was following the conversation. But once they started talking about the specific gravity and Plato degrees, I knew I was done. The only Plato I know was an ancient Greek philosopher, and the clay you played with as a kid, although we spelled it Play-Doh. So with my foot rested, and my beer glass empty, I happily strolled back to the beer tasting areas.
I also have to rethink my standard pretzel necklaces for my next beer fest. There were many creative food necklaces at the festival. One girl had a cool pretzel headband woven together with ribbon. But once I gave that more thought, who wants eat food that has been sitting in your hair all evening????!!! EWWWWW! Many people had small bags of potato chips, Frito’s, and pretzels attached to their necklace, while I also so one dude who had a zip lock bag attached to his necklace that contained a hoagie. Now that was a little overkill in my opinion. You just need some light snacks, there were plenty of food trucks for your big meal.
The day after our second GABF session, The Rabbit, The Stoutmeister, and I found ourselves checking out Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Denver. So now I am happy to say, after 2 sessions at the Great American Beer Festival, we hit Rock Bottom! Can’t wait to go again!
Favorite Beers of the Day:
- The Stoutmeister – Lakefront Brewing Co, Black Friday barrel aged Imperial Stout
- The Stoutmeister – Chula Vista Brewery, Brewner Than Ivan
- The Stoutmeister – Paducah Beer Works, Irish Red
- Pretzel – Fretboard Brewing Company, Fugee Breakfast Ale
- Pretzel – Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House, 1st Anniversary Barrel Aged Grand Cru
- Pretzel – Pontoon Brewing Co, Pecan Pie Paradise
- The Rabbit – Lakefront Brewery, Black Friday
- The Rabbit – PFriem Family Brewers – La Mure
Additional Posse Comments:
- The Rabbit – With approximately 400 beers, I was unable to act normally. I appreciate the quality of the beers much more as a result.
- The Rabbit – This is “the” beer festival, all about the beer without a lot of other activities.
- Pretzel – The cost of the ticket is a little high compared to other beer festivals, but it was worth every penny!
- Pretzel – I loved the souvenir program. It had everything! Festival map, list of breweries with their beers, activities, entertainment schedule, collaboration booth, pro-am competition, Brewers Studio, State guild pavilion, Jameson Barrel-aged Beer Garden, hangout spots and more.
- The Stoutmeister – I can not compare this with other beer festivals b/c their focus is definitely on the BEER!
- The Stoutmeister – I wish they would have containers everywhere that would be available for solely dumping unwanted beer.
- The Stoutmeister – When buying paper tickets from the ticket app, they charge you shipping for each ticket. I bought 3 tickets, and had to pay shipping 3 times. They should just charge more for the paper tickets if their intent to to encourage electronic tickets.
- Great American Beer Festival – https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/
- Great American Beer Festival Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/TheGreatAmericanBeerFestival/?ref=br_rs
Overall pretzel score (8.89 out of 10):
Final Scorecard (click to open): GreatAmericanBeerFest