The GABF, celebrating its 31st year, is a 3-day beer bonanza for nearly 50,000 crafty beer drinkers. This event sold out within hours on Ticketmaster ($65) and had a record 580 breweries from all over the country.
As veteran beer lover and first time attendee I was excited at what I was about to experience...
Arriving within the hour of one of 5 sessions- you stand in a line that sprawls around the Denver Convention Center all while being barked at by echoing megaphones on how you should proceed. Upon entering the massive cement room you are handed a plastic cup with an etching for a 1 ounce pour. You immediately realize the ear deafening roar of the milling crowd and notice endless rows of breweries lined up alphabetically by geographic regions. The people behind the booths wearing bright neon-yellow shirts are volunteers and are pouring out of plastic frat-house pitchers (with no visible head). It soon becomes evident that many of your favorite brewers and brewery employees won't be pouring beers from behind these tables. The most extreme was that I had an 80 year-old lady with a broken arm pour me a wince of Wasatch Red.
Here are some of the pre-conceived notions that were either confirmed or happily debunked and some other noteworthy observations...
Frat party? Not so much
Guys with ridiculous "Brewdafied" chin beards? Yes
Girls? Surprisingly, yes
Good beer? Of course
Any bad beer? Of course
Too many breweries? Yes, maybe you should have to win a medal to be invited...
Age range? Early 20's- all the way up to old lady with broken arm.
Most popular tchotchke? Pretzels looped onto a shoestring and worn as a necklace.
Viking horns? Of course
Industry rock star sightings? Astronaut monkey serving 21st Amendment beer, oh and Sam Calagione.
Funniest thing overheard? Guy loudly slurring on phone "you'll never guess where I am right now..."
Overrated breweries tasting overrated? Yes
Small unknown breweries making good beer? Not really
Huge lines for breweries like Russian River, The Bruery, & Dogfish head? Yes
Brewpubs from Alabama, South Dakota, and New Mexico? Yes -still wondering why...
Overall, I'm happy I survived the Great American sip fest. It appears that most folks that descend on this festival are from the greater Denver area. I was blown away by the beer culture of Colorado, the nice local industry folks, and the overall beauty of this beer landscape.
When you do go to this event make sure you visit the abundant (160 total) surrounding breweries such as Great Divide, Fort Collins brewery, Tommyknocker, Twisted Pine, and of course- New Belgium Brewing Co., easily one of the most impressive breweries in the world! Bar None.