Great American Beer Festival: A prologue - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Great American Beer Festival: A prologue

Next week will be a week without my column. I am sure 5 or 6 people are quite disappointed. My hope is that my time off will create a backlog of writing material, as I will be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO. To say I am excited about going to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) would be a gross underestimation. I am expecting this to be one of the best experiences I have had in my love affair with beer. My only regret is not being able to spend more time in Denver prior to the start of the festival. After my travel plans were rock solid I learned that some of the more interesting events occur before the actual festival begins. And as I learned on a recent business trip, trying to change a flight these days requires a significant investment.


Beer and Headbands

The Great American Beer Festival started in 1982, by Charlie Papazian. Papazian a former nuclear engineer had become an avid homebrewer in the 1970’s and in 1976 authored his first book on homebrewing, titled Joy of Brewing. He went on to found several brewing organizations, such as American Homebrewers Association in 1978 and the Association of Brewers in 1979. Papazian is pretty legendary in the world of brewing. His book, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing is a book that almost every homebrewer owns. His accomplishments in the world of brewing are innumerable.

The first festival in 1982 was served fewer beers than a typical beer bar of today. Held at the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, CO there were a mere 22 breweries and 40 beers with 800 attendees. But the festival grew quickly, and by 1984 it moved to Denver. And by the 10th festival at the Denver Merchandise Mart it had more than 7,000 attendees with 150 breweries and 500 beers. This year at the Colorado Convention Center there will be 616 breweries, over 3,000 different beers. All of this will be consumed by over 49,000 attendees. And of course this is 100% American Beers. Not an Import in the house. Pretty incredible.


Hop Heads off to get their Nectar

There is certainly an overwhelming nature to this festival. I have had tickets for a few months now, and I am still trying to devise a plan of attack. I have read some tips on ways other people choose to attack the festival, and some seem pretty good. One tip that made a lot of sense to be, was to start in a region where you don’t see much of their product. For me that would be the Southwest (New Mexico and Arizona, not California) and Northwest. There are also a lot of great smaller brewers in California that deserve my attention as well. Lucky for me the GABF organizers were smart enough to have smartphone apps available for both iPhone and Android. The app is great. There is a ton of information about each brewer, prior festival winners, event map, and way to plan the visit. It has the capabilities to bookmark brewers you would like to visit, and mark them visited once you’ve been there. Apparently alcohol and memory loss go hand in hand. There are also ways to plan flights through styles. Whether it be Hop Bombs or Barrel Aged, you can have a pre-planned trip through a style. At least I think that is how it will work. That feature really won’t work until the beers at GABF are announced next week.

Judging beer - What GABF is really about.

Judging beer – What GABF is really about.

I can’t write this like I’ve been there 10 times and have some vast database of knowledge about GABF. All I can do right now is tell you what it is, and what I expect. Obviously I expect lots of beer. Lots of really really good beer. What I also expect to see is a beer centric atmosphere that extends far beyond the walls of the Convention Center. Denver is a great city for beer even without the GABF. And next week it should be alive with beer culture. A place where a late night trip to any of the area beer bars could have you running into the luminaries of craft beer. Another thing that I expect is to be able to speak with many brewers about their beer, and try to hear some interesting stories about how their business formed or where a particular beer came from. There’s usually a story behind each.

Left Hand Brewing Co pouring some samples

Left Hand Brewing Co pouring some samples

I am also really looking forward to seeing a lot of my Maryland heroes of craft beer. Some of the usual suspects will be there like Flying Dog, Evolution, and Heavy Seas. But some of the newer Maryland breweries will also be there. Union Craft Brewing, who recently celebrated their first birthday, is heading back this year to defend their Gold Medal for Balt Alt. The newest Maryland brewer that will be present will be Full Tilt Brewing.

I really hope to get some ideas of things to look for, do and see from those of you who read this blog. Please post comments on ideas of what breweries I need to visit. Also visit my Twitter feed for updates throughout GABF. I am going to give away some GABF goodies if I hit 750 and 1,000 followers on Twitter. So if you want some SWAG, follow me. So wish me luck, as I hope to survive and be able to retell some stories here.

About the author

John Thompson

John Thompson is a beer enthusiast who began evangelizing craft beer a few years ago on his blog John has been homebrewing sporadically for almost 20 years, and also is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server. When not enjoying a cold malty beverage you will find John spending time with his spouse and two young children or working his day job in Financial Services Technology. Make sure to find John on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @TheHopLocal and Untapped. at : Contact the author.

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