Where to even begin talking about the Great American Beer Fest. I will begin by saying that I thought the GABF couldn't live up to the hype that others and myself had built it up to be, but I was indeed incorrect about that assumption. My first thought was 49,000 tickets? That isn't really an issue though. There are so many brewers that show up to the GABF and the Denver convention center is so massive that during the Thursday and Saturday day sessions there isn't really a line for any brewers except for a select few. Friday night session and Saturday night session are more highly attended, but even then you can get right up to any table and get a sample without much hassle, but those sessions and those crowds are a little more.....drunk and obnoxious.
I really have to tip my hat to the people behind the Brewers Association and the GABF though. Here are some of the numbers for the beer fest:
3400 volunteers that help run the festival
2200 beers in the festival
3500 beers to be judged for competition
largest selection of beer ever on the convention floor
Some of my personal highlights:
Trinity Brewing from Colorado Springs, CO brought some really great beer. I didn't hit many brewers twice, but I think Rod and I hit Trinity no less than 15 times. The Flavor was one of the best beers there as was Old Growth. They were sour style beers that were showcased the talent of the brewer. Some sour beers I've had the brewer tends to have more brett cultures than talent, but these were some of the best sours I've ever had in my life. I am trying my best to trade for one of these beers on the beer websites.
The Bruery from California brought Black Tuesday and Oude Tart. I thought both of those were really tremendous.
Cascade Brewing from Portland, OR is another fantastic purveyor of the power of sour. I loved their kriek, bubonic plague, and Vlad the Imp Aler.
Iron Hill Brewing out of Pennsylvania won a gold metal for their pig iron porter that was really fantastic. I hit them more than once before the awards ceremony because I liked that beer that much.
Someone that I've never heard of before, but now I am considering a trip to Vermont just to hit them up is The Alchemist Pub & Brewery. I had the pleasure to hear a demonstration by owner and head brewer of the Alchemist, John Kimmich. He is serious and passionate about his beer. They only brew about 450 barrels a year, but they do not bottle and they do not allow growler sales. He also took home some hardware from GABF after the awards ceremony. If you are ever in Vermont they are a must hit. I had their double IPA called Ouroboros. It was one of the cleanest tasting DIPA's that I've personally ever tasted. I usually can't drink a great deal of hop bomb style beers, but I could have had several of these in one sitting.
Duck-Rabbit brewing from Farmville, North Carolina: They call themselves the dark beer specialists and I sampled everything they brought. I've had them before but their schwarzbier was tremendous and had reignited my passion for that style.
For my first GABF I couldn't have asked for a better time. Rod luckily was my tour guide the whole time and helped tremendously with knowing where to go. I've read some negative things about the fest, but quite honestly you are going to get that when you get that many people in a room full of beer. I can say that I will never again go to the Saturday night session. Most of the brewers don't show up for that session, people start running out of beer, and the crowd is just there to get as drunk as possible. The other three sessions were really great, but the feel of the last session is just a whole different animal. The city of Denver is a great town and I plan to head back when I can just to check out some other things outside of GABF. I will certainly go back again next year.