Beer festivals in Denver—and throughout the country—are becoming more and more common as craft beer sales skyrocket. It seems everyone these days has opinions on IBUs, IPAs, and ABVs, and a drop of beer shall not pass the lips until the origins of the hops and barley have been discovered. If this sounds like you, there is only one true destination for your hoppy heart: the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
GABF is the biggest and best beer fest in the country. It’s been taking place in Denver since 1984. Yes, you read that right. It started 35 years ago, with just 24 breweries and 800 attendees at its first session. In 2018, there were 800 breweries serving a crowd of 62,000—and it’s only getting bigger.
The Basic Info
Breweries, Beers, and Booths at GABF
While we can’t guarantee they will be present, there are some faithful stand-bys that you’ll almost surely find at the fest. These familiar classics still inspire long lines each year.
- Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA): Pliny the Elder is one of those beers that keeps you coming back again and again—and again. You may have had it before, but you’ve never had it at GABF.
- 3 Floyds Brewing Co. (Munster, IN): Zombie Dust IPA is putting this tiny Chicago suburb on the beer map.
- Avery Brewing (Boulder, CO): This Colorado-based, nationally known brewery is confirmed for GABF 2019, and we hope they bring plenty of limited-release goodness.
- Left Hand Brewing (Longmont, CO): Local favorite Left Hand won gold last year for its Sawtooth Ale, a supremely quaffable amber ale that has fans lining up.
- Revolution Brewing (Chicago, IL): Revolution is becoming more and more widely distributed, but that didn’t slow down 2018 demand for its Anti-Hero IPA.
- New Glarus (New Glarus, WI): New Glarus beer is available only in Wisconsin, which means demand for its flagship Spotted Cow ale is sky-high during GABF.
- Dogfish Head (Milton, DE): Dogfish Head is known for pouring its rarer beers during GABF, making it a must-stop if you’re looking for serious bragging rights.
GABF is also a place for small breweries to become legends. Last year’s beer fest saw a variety of sleeper hits chosen by the people, for the people. Here are few greatest hits of 2018:
- Bottle Logic (Anaheim, CA): The Lost Colony, a barrel-aged pecan porter, nearly broke the 2018 convention.
- The Rare Barrel (Berkeley, CA): This all-sour brewery has become a beer-geek favorite.
- Societe Brewing (San Diego, CA): Hop-heads unite in the line for the crisp pale ales from this SoCal brewery.
- Lewis & Clark Brewing Co. (Helena, MT): Enough California already! This microbrewery won Small Brewing Company of the Year plus three medals in 2018, so you better hope they return in 2019.
- Great Notion (Portland, OR): The 2018 beer fest saw lines longer than the latest “Star Wars” release for a wide variety of brews, including a Blueberry Muffin sour ale.
- Spice Trade (Arvada, CO): This one’s for the experimental types. Last year this funky brewer featured a gose called Scarlet Giant—brewed with hibiscus flowers from the Denver Botanic Gardens.
- Alarmist Brewing (Chicago, IL): In the 2018 competition, the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale category had 391 entries—and Alarmist came out on top. That’s reason enough to hope they make another appearance.
GABF also has tons of hangout spots where you can sample beers you won’t find anywhere else at the festival, take a break from the lines, and generally have an awesome time.
- The Protect Craft Guilds Pavilion features beers from its various member breweries—and also typically features shorter lines, giving you a break from the crowds.
- Hit The Backyard to play lawn games and listen to live music. You’ll forget you’re at a festival instead of a backyard BBQ—except the beer is better.
- The Heavy Medal Booth is located within The Backyard and pours beers that won awards at the previous year’s competition. It’s a great stop for those who aren’t quite sure what they’re into (or are overwhelmed by all the choices!).
- Always in search of rare beer? The Collaboration Beer Competition Booth is a good bet for unique, limited-edition beers you won’t find anywhere else.
Wandering around is always fun, but you can also pick up your GABF map when you enter the festival!
More Beer-Related Things to Do in Denver
Your beer extravaganza doesn’t have to end (or start!) with GABF. Don’t miss Denver Beer Week, beginning September 27 and ending on October 5. Beer Week has over 160 events at breweries and gastropubs throughout the city, like rare beer tastings and Meet-the-Brewer events.
Want to extend your trip after GABF? There are more than 100 tap rooms, breweries, and brewpubs in the Denver metro area, so you could be here a while. Pour your own tasters from more than 40 selections at First Draft Taproom & Kitchen or try Falling Rock Tap House, whose motto, “No Crap on Tap,” says it all. And while the air may be crisp, you should still be able to enjoy the huge patio and 60 taps at RiNo Beer Garden.
Another event that takes place at the same time as GABF is the Denver Rare Beer Tasting, which happens Friday, October 4 at the McNichols Civic Center Building. This four-hour extravaganza for true beer aficionados will see the rarest of beer pours from more than 60 breweries, including Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewing and Cigar City Brewing, plus the Rare Barrel and Stone Brewing from California.
Where to Stay
The Great American Beer Fest takes place downtown, but the Mile High City has plenty of neighborhoods where you can book Denver hotels that let you pursue hoppiness and easily get to the festival.
- Five Points and River North (RiNo): The definition of hip, this area is top of the list for many beer seekers, with 10 breweries including Epic Brewing, Thirsty Monk, and Crooked Stave. The number 48 bus runs right through it and will drop you near the Convention Center with no transfers required.
- South Denver: Home to TRVE Brewing Co. and Black Sky Brewery, among others, this up-and-coming beer ’hood also has direct access to the Convention Center on light rail lines D, F, and H.
- Downtown: When you’re walking distance from the Convention Center, transportation is never a problem. Plus you’ll find legendary brewers like Wynkoop Brewing (Colorado’s first brewpub), Great Divide, Rock Bottom, and Oskar Blues.
- Highlands: Just across the river from downtown, Highlands is home to international flavor. Check out old-world German beers at Prost Brewing and Mexican-style beers at Cerveceria Colorado. Then hop on bus 19 and you’ll be at the beer fest in no time.
- East Denver: While it’s not chock-full of breweries, East Denver is an affordable option with easy access to the Convention Center on light rail line A. And you’ll still find plenty of beer at spots like Station 26 Brewing Co. and Stanley Beer Hall.
Airport and Transportation Info
Your flight to Denver will land at Denver International Airport (DEN), which is about 25 miles east of downtown. Light rail line A runs from Denver Airport Station to Union Station in downtown and is the easiest and cheapest way to get into the city—$10.50 for a one-way trip.
Rideshare is always an option, but be aware of traffic if you want to keep your costs down. Denver at rush hour is not a place you want to be stuck in an Uber or Lyft, watching your fares rise. If you’re not staying near downtown with easy access to light rail or connecting bus lines, your best bet may be to book a shared ride via a shuttle service.
The Great American Beer Festival in Colorado is the beer event of the year, and should be on the bucket list of any connoisseur. You know you have to be there. All that’s left to do now is book your hotel and flights, and start planning your beer itinerary. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover!
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