As I have for the past three years, this week I am in Denver for four days in order to cover the 2019 Great American Beer Festival. Starting today, each day through Sunday will feature coverage from the previous day’s events.
What Is the Great American Beer Festival?
GABF is the largest collection of U.S. beers served in the format of a public tasting event, consisting of four different sessions taking place over three days: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the latter of which has two different sessions. As with past festivals, this year’s event is being held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.
This year’s GABF will see an estimated 62,000 attendees—an increase of approximately 2,000 people compared to 2017—who will be able to try 4,000 beers from close to 800 breweries. This is also the 38th consecutive year the event has been held, and there are some significant changes this year compared to previous years.
While the vast majority of beers being served are from kegs, there are a number of breweries that serve exclusively from bottles, or a combination of both. It also includes a privately judged competition.
Why Do People And Breweries Attend The GABF?
This is primarily a consumer event—i.e. consumers are allowed to purchase tickets to attend, as opposed to a retailer or brewery exclusive event—with attendees allowed to walk around and sample an unlimited number of beers from any breweries they choose. However, there are a number of reasons breweries attend the show as well:
First and foremost, it is a chance to have your beer sampled by an enormous number of people from every walk of life, all within a very short timeframe.
Secondly, quite a few of the breweries that attend also enter beers into the annual Beer Competition, where beers are judged by the festival’s Professional Judge Panel. The judging takes place over five different three-hour judging sessions during a three-day period, and there are 96 beer styles that breweries can enter.
Finally, as with any event where a number of people get together, there is the social aspect. A large number of breweries pouring at GABF have attended multiple years, and the show is sometimes the only time during the year that people can see each other in person.
What Has Changed This Year?
One of the major changes concerns how it arranges the breweries on the show floor: after switching to alphabetical order last year as opposed to grouping them in specific regions as historically been the case, the GABF decided to revert back to the former way of doing things, meaning the regional ordering is back.
Also, while the Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden is returning for a second year, it will be housed in a larger 14,000-square-foot section of the floor that will feature 22 small and independent Jameson craft brewery partners and their limited-edition creations aged in barrels which previously held Jameson whisky. There will also be multiple stages dedicated to different mini-sessions throughout the show, including master cooper Ger Buckley, a Bow Street education experience and various “interactive activities.”
What Are Some of the Most Interesting Things at GABF 2019?
Not surprisingly, they have to do with either music or beers: the Ikon Pass Stage—presented by WinterWonderGrass®—will feature three 30-minute sets of live music during each of the four sessions. The lineup will include four bluegrass acts, including Leftover Salmon frontmen Andy Thorn and Vince Herman.
The Washington Beer Commission will also have a section featuring some of the freshest beers of the 2019 hop harvest, with each session dedicated to five exclusive fresh hop beers from 10 breweries. While this section has been part of GABF before, it was not held at last years festival due to the fact that fresh hops were not on exhibit.
As was the case last year, there will be 20 unique educational presentations taking place during the four GABF sessions, where attendees will be able to hear from “both veteran and up-and-coming brewers as well as other top industry professionals.” The list includes presentations from notable brewers like Vinnie Cilurzo and Natalie Cilurzo (Russian River Brewing Co.), Juice Drapeau (Oskar Blues Brewery) and Kyle O’Loughlin (Great Divide Brewing Co.)
How Was Your Trip Into Denver?
While my flight to Denver last year was uneventful, this year was anything but that. Due to issues my Uber driver experienced while on the way to the airport, I ended up missing the cutoff for luggage for my flight, meaning I had to switch to another flight a bit later in the day. Unfortunately, my problems did not stop there, as my luggage went missing for a few hours. It was found eventually, and I was on my way but was unable to travel to Weldwerks Brewing Co. as I was hoping to photograph the brewery there.
However, I did manage to shoot a sunset photograph of the mountains before I went to bed exhausted, hoping that Thursday held no more surprises.