By Owen Ogletree
Even having judged for several years at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, I still find the entire experience enjoyable and exhilarating. GABF ranks as the largest and most impressive craft beer festival in the USA, and brewers from all over the country enter beers in hopes of bringing home a coveted medal.
In 2018, the GABF festival hall was arranged in simple alphabetical order (unlike the regional layout of past years), and attendees cruise the massive aisles looking for beers that strike their fancy. Beers are served in one-ounce pours, allowing patrons to sample from a multitude of booths and chat with GABF volunteers and brewers.
GABF judging is carried out in a nearby hotel, with hundreds of knowledgeable judges from all over the world coming together to sip the beers and award medals to the top beers in each category. Judges provide valuable feedback to brewers, and all judging is blind, with judges only being told about any special processes or ingredients for beers in each specified category. Judges look for off-flavors or any aspect of a beer that might make it not entirely true to style.
Here are just seven of my favorite things about GABF...
1. THE PEOPLE. Craft beer people are the best people. Interacting with brewers, judges, other media, and festival attendees brings a great deal of joy. Thousands of people coming together in one city to celebrate craft beer is absolutely amazing.
2. THE DIVERSITY OF BEER. Craft beer in the USA is a creative, artistic phenomenon, with thousands of small breweries making fun, interesting, eclectic styles and brands. "Hazy, Juicy IPA" was the largest GABF category this year - even though 2018 was the first time the category existed. Beer styles are always being updated.
3. DENVER BEER EVENTS. During the entire week of GABF, the city is abuzz with special events, tappings, side events and open houses. Check the GABF website for a full list of special events taking place during the festival.
4. EPIC BREWING'S 50 FIRKIN FIASCO. During GABF, Epic Brewing always throws a huge party featuring food trucks and 50 special cask ales made from the range of Epic beer. Each 10.8 gallon cask contains a few special ingredients to make the beer tickers and untappers super excited.
5. HITTING BREWERIES ALL OVER TOWN. It's so much fun to Uber and Lyft all over Denver during GABF week to sip beer flights at the extensive list of breweries. Each brewery offers a unique atmosphere and lineup of house beers.
6. EXPERIENCING THE PROFESSIONALISM AT GABF. This event must be seen to be believed. Every aspect of GABF is professional, and the event runs like a well-oiled machine. The Brewers Association puts in an impressive amount of work to make this massive festival go off without a noticeable hitch each year, and attendees seem to take notice.
7. THE GABF PRO-AM BOOTH. One of my favorite spots at GABF is the Pro-Am area that features a tasty range of beers produced by partnerships of professional brewers and amateur homebrewers. These guys work together to produce and showcase a delicious array of interesting recipes.