The Great American Beer Festival – the largest ticketed beer festival in the United States – kicked the keg on its 34th year on Saturday evening. An estimated 60,000 beer enthusiasts made their way through the Denver Convention Center doors over the course of four sessions and with close to 750 breweries pouring beer, the options were limitless.
Breweries from all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. entered 6,647 beers in the competition portion of the festival. In the end, 242 breweries took home 275 medals across 92 categories.
Highlighted below are some deserving breweries, beers, auxiliary events and craft beer stats.
Best pre-event stomach padding: EHOP Pre-Release Party at GABF @ the Corner Office
Several breweries that have embraced the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) banded together to offer some beer and food pairings to sate hunger and invigorate the palate. With duck poutine and 13% Russian Pirate from Odell Brewing Co. the event was a decadently solid way to begin the festival.
Best wild/sour lineup: Bruery Terreux
An off-shoot of the popular The Bruery, the Terreux project gave founder Patrick Rue a separate facility to “tell the story of wildly traditional biere.” The lineup ranges from a Flemish-style red ale to a sour blonde ale with apricots. And, with the line forming at The Bruery’s main endcap location, this was an overlooked booth with minimal line.
Best collaboration: (Tie) Otter Creek Brewing/Lawson’s Finest Liquids & The Lost Abbey/Wicked Weed
Talk about prestige. All four of these well-established breweries have enough beers in their portfolio to have attendees beelining for their booths. The collaborations – Double or Nothing maple barleywine from the Vermont breweries and the Ad Idem brett/sour exploration from the Cali/NC connection – certainly lived up to expectations.
Best reason to drink beer for breakfast: Naughty Sauce, Noble Ale Works
A golden milk stout with coffee, this beer hardy resembles a stout at first glance. That’s because it’s brewed oats and milk sugar, coffee as opposed to roasted grain. Plus, it’s on nitro to enhance the creaminess.
Best reason to drink beer for dessert: Shamrock Shake – Triple Digit Brewing Co & Listermann Brewery
Thankfully not as sweet (or green) as its namesake St. Patrick’s Day treat, this dry Irish cream stout is rich and malty with captivating minty characteristics. Sweet and savory is a theme for this brewery as they also poured Friar Bacon Smoked Bock and a Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter.
Best tribute: Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils, Pedernales Brewing Co.
When this Fredericksburg, Tx. Brewery got a call from Keen’s people saying he was a fan of their beer and was interested in collaborating, they hoped the party would never end. Utilizing honey from a nearby beekeeper, the classic-designed can carries the singer/songwriter’s name and signature.
Hottest fruit of the moment: Grapefruit
Certain hops already lend hints of grapefruit to beers, but throw in some zest, pulp or other byproducts and you have a drink that exceeds your daily estimated vitamin C needs. A quick sampling: Laughing Dog Brewing, Benny’s Grapefruit Pale Ale; Saucony Creek Brewing Co., Grapefruit Gose; TAPS Fish House and Brewery-Brea, Grapefruit IPA; Magic Hat Brewing CO., Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA; Main Street Brewing Inc-Turonis Pizza; Triton Brewing Company, Grapefruit; Zest IPA; Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., Grapefruit Shandy; Strange Craft Beer Co., Breakfast Grapefruit IPA.
Easiest way to get into homebrewing: PicoBrew Zymatic
The world’s first all-grain beer-brewing appliance, PicoBrew fits on your kitchen counter and takes as little as ten minutes to setup and start brewing. Pick a recipe, add the ingredients and start brewing. The device even self-sterilizes negating the need for constant sanitization.
Most unique: Skully Barrel #30 a.k.a. Salty Melons 2015, Paradox Beer Co.
Known for their off-kilter beers, this Divide by way of Woodland Park, Colo. brewer did not disappoint. #30 was a salty, sour ale brewed with watermelon juice and aged in oak wine barrels. #28, brewed with cascara (coffee cherries), was also puckering and inventive.
Best story behind the name: Whiskey Dick Cantell, Hey Matt Where’s My F’ing Pumpkin Beer, Schooner Exact Brewing Co.
As the story goes, Schooner was not enthused about brewing a pumpkin beer, but felt some pressure to do so for a fall festival. So they brewed an f’ing pumpkin beer.
Best tapping into the zeitgeist: Evil Genius Beer Co.
With creatively named beers such as Shut Up, Meg, I Love LAMP and Purple Monkey Dishwasher, Evil Genius clearly took influence from their favorite pop culture memes. With a pineapple hefeweizen, grapefruit pale ale and chocolate peanut butter porter, the beers were similarly imaginative.
Funkiest beer (in a good way): 5 Year Persimmon Sour, Bayou Teche Brewery
To celebrate their five year anniversary, this Louisiana brewery concocted a lactobacillus-soured Berliner Weisse with persimmon puree. The result is dry and crisp with a nose somewhere between stinky cheese and barnyard. Again, in a good way.
Best medals sweep: California, Coffee
The Golden State, which also took home the most overall medals with 67, demonstrated its mastery of the java ales. Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout from New English Brewing Co. in San Diego took gold. Mocha Machine from Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach took silver and the bronze went to Bacon and Eggs from Pizza Port Ocean Beach also in San Diego.
Best new festival feature: 90,000 additional square feet and Meet the Brewer section
The additional space made navigating the festival floor and sampling beer a breeze. The Meet the Brewer section invited attendees to talk to the folks behind their favorite brews. Staffed exclusively by brewery employees, the experience showcased the mutual respect between brewer and consumer.
Loftiest craft beer goal: 20% by 2020
John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery reiterated the Brewers Association goal of craft beer achieving 20% of the market share by volume by 2020. In 2014 the market share was at 11% so there is still some ground to cover. But, the craft brewing industry has averaged 12% annualized growth for the past ten years so the goal is achievable.